DALLAS -- Bishop Thomas Dexter "T.D." Jakes listened as Oprah Winfrey, Emmitt Smith and other celebrities praised him for his 35 years in the ministry."You are a prophet. You are a teacher. You are an American treasure," Winfrey told Jakes in front of hundreds of people last week at Dallas' Winspear Opera House. "You are a beacon to all."Jakes, pastor of the 30,000-member Potter's House Church in Dallas and a bestselling author, said he was "overwhelmed" by the event, which also celebrated his 55th birthday.His wife, Serita, planned the gala as a surprise to her husband of 31 years, and their children --Jermaine, Jamar, Cora, Sarah and Thomas Jakes Jr. --took part.Jakes, labeled by Time magazine as "America's Best Preacher," said he had no idea Winfrey would be there. She told a cheering audience she had been raised in the church."I have heard a lot of preaching in my life," she said. "I had heard about Bishop Jakes. I came to his church and I had never experienced anything like the bishop. I got all of the bishop's tapes. I heard sermons at night. I heard sermons in the morning, for about two weeks. I OD'd on the bishop."Celebrities galoreCelebrities honoring Jakes lined up along a red carpet outside the opera house. Signs with a TD logo quoted from Jakes' sermons: "A setback is just a setup for a comeback," one asserted. Another borrowed from Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, declaring, "You can have the best of times and the worst of times at the same time."One of Jakes' more famous church members, former Dallas Cowboys star Emmitt Smith, said Jakes has changed many lives, including his own. "He helps people get on the right path and get straightened out," said Smith, who said he lived in Dallas for six years before finding a church home."I heard Bishop Jakes preach at a manpower conference on PMS -- power, money and sex," Smith said. "It was an unbelievable message. He'd been my pastor ever since. He tells people they need to get connected to God. I'm now connected to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."Moviemaker Tyler Perry, master of ceremonies of the event along with CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien, related how Jakes was told as a youth that he could never become a preacher because of his bad lisp.In 1979 he started a storefront church in Montgomery, W.Va., with 10 members, Perry said."He was digging ditches to support his ministry before his ministry could support him," Perry said. "Tonight we celebrate a remarkable man. To be a pastor for 35 years you need to have the hand of God all over your life.'"Jakes started the Potter's House in Dallas in 1996, taking over the old Eagle's Nest Family Church, which had been led by E.V. Grant. He also has a Potter's House branch in the Woodhaven area of Fort Worth."We're really excited about Fort Worth," Jakes said in an interview this week. About 1,400 people are meeting in two services each week in a shopping center at Interstate 30 and Woodhaven Blvd., he said.Part of the center is being remodeled into a 2,500-seat auditorium."It's taking us a little longer and a little bit more money than we thought, but we're getting there," Jakes said.Jakes said his church's goal is to help transform lives.Offenders initiativeThe Potter's House, for example, operates the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative to help former prison inmates acclimate to society and reduce the number going back to prisons."We've had 7,000 graduate from the program so far," he said.Jakes said his church works with homeless people, picking them up, giving them haircuts and clothing and inviting them to worship."We recently turned our church into a dental center, giving treatment not only to the homeless but people who had no insurance," he said.Role modelAmong those giving tributes to Jakes was the Rev. Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill. Jakes has preached in his church."Who would ever imagine Bishop Jakes and a middle-aged white guy would become close friends and confidants," Hybels said. "T.D. has invigorated millions and has kept thousands of pastors from throwing in the towel."Actresses Loretta Devine and Angela Bassett, who had lead roles in a recent Jakes-produced film, Jumping the Broom, also attended."I think he's a very powerful man, and I think he makes everyone's lives easier and more understandable," Devine said. "I've done two movies he's produced and that's had a great effect on my life. I thank him for being such a positive role model for all of us."Cory Williams of Dallas, a member of the Potter's House who attended with his family, said Jakes relates to young and old."He's really helped my 18-year-old son," he said."He stands flat-footed and speaks the truth," Williams said. "He never wavers from that. In our society there is a lot of lack of integrity. When they see a man that has integrity it draws people in."