Welfare seemed like the only answer. In her book, The Princess Within, Serita lamented on how painful it was to have to get public assistance. “It was often so degrading to sit and be insulted by the social worker who seemingly mocked our circumstance,” she shared. T.D. dug ditches for gas lines to subsidize their income, and eventually dug them out of their financial hole.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the hardships for the Jakes family. In the early years of their marriage, Serita and her husband were involved in a devastating car accident. As a result, her entire heel cap was dislocated to the side of her foot. The emergency room doctor took one look at her injury and informed her that she would never walk again. She was distraught and sank into despair and self-pity; but her husband, unwilling to accept the prognosis, slowly rebuilt her spirits and showed her how to put one foot in front of the other. “My husband, my pastor, my friend, taught me how to walk again.”
Devastation hit, yet again, when her beloved mother was suddenly stricken with an extremely rare disorder called Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which paralyzed her from the neck down. Despite the fervent prayers of many, Serita’s mother was called home to be with the Lord.
Despite the chain of hardships, God had plans for the young and resilient ministerial couple, and the road led to Dallas, Texas. While pastoring in Charleston, the Jakes’ business accountant discovered a property that could be used to host conferences in Dallas. Initially the Jakes’ intended to commute from West Virginia to Dallas; but when they prayed in the sanctuary, they realized that Dallas was to be their home. Fifty families agreed to move with them from West Virginia to plant the new church, and the first service at The Potter’s House was held in July of 1996. The church now has an attendance of over 30,000 members.
Much of the church’s explosive growth resulted from its focus on helping hurting people. “The thrust of our ministry — even in West Virginia — was to those people who had found that they were wounded in places that society often overlooks, like abuse and incest, [which] leads to other symptoms. The root cause would be something that happened to them somewhere along their life, but the symptoms would go into all types of different behaviors that were destructive.” As the Jakes’ ministry moved to an inner city environment, the need to serve hurting people were multiplied exponentially.
Among its many accomplishments, The Potter’s House serves as a model for ministering to youth. According to Serita Jakes, the Christian Church needs to be relevant to the next generation. Today’s young people are often leery of the Church, and in order to engage them, she believes that ministers need to speak their language. “Even though our God doesn’t change, His method has changed, and we have to be very acutely aware of His methodology in reaching the next generation. [...] We’re learning that we can’t just preach about the characters in the Bible; instead we have to become relevant [...] addressing social woes and coming from behind the walls of our pulpits and our posh churches. We have to go into the hearts and places of people where they live.”
The Jakes try to remain in touch with the needs of young people by remaining very involved in the lives of their five children, whose ages range from 14 to 27. “They’re a real good compass for what we minister and the issues that we address,” she shares.