There was a moment when things drastically changed for Pastor Charles Jenkins. In that moment, life became more than just a mandate to minister. For Jenkins, the need to completely embody the message of Christ instead of just delivering it became paramount.
Don’t just give the example … be the example.
It sounds simple enough, until you actually have to walk a mile in those shoes. That metaphorical shoe hasn’t always proven to be a perfect fit for Jenkins (or any man of God), but it’s a responsibility that he approaches with a zeal that we should all want from our spiritual leaders — and political ones if we’re really interested in going there.
In this exclusive interview with rolling out, the Chicago native reflected on a number of topics ranging from his personal evolution, to the powerful messages in his latest release, Think About These Things. What you’re about to read is unfiltered, unadulterated Charles Jenkins … in retrospect, we were all better for having experienced this moment in time.
Change and evolution are topics that people never seem to tire of discussing. How do you handle your continued evolution as a man?
I actually wrote a book about it, Change Management. I think helping people understand the inevitability of it and in knowing that pragmatically whether you embrace [change or not], it’s going to embrace you. If you don’t believe me, look in the mirror. I also wrote a book called Thriving in Change. Most people either survive, barely survive or crash. But this concept of what it means to thrive in change is there are two forms of change: There is basic change, which is change for change’s sake — just changing for no reason at all, just because I feel like [it] or because I want to. Then there is applied change, and that’s change with results in mind. And I think helping people to understand being relevant, helping people understand being progressive, helping people understand that as much as we like to make it about us, it needs to be bigger than us and about other people; [it needs to] be about outcomes, and be about impact. And I think in embracing all of those varying ideas and concepts personally and professionally I’m able to adapt to change and help other people adapt.
Why do you think that topic resonated so much with you that you chose to write a book about it?
It was my first Sunday inheriting one of the most historic churches in the city of Chicago. My predecessor, a guy named Reverence Clay Evans: iconic guy, 22 albums, friends with Martin Luther King, pioneer in the civil rights movement, ordained Jesse Jackson, Minister Louis Farrakhan calls him father … he is legendary on so many levels. When I got there, 75 percent of the church was 70 or older. So I had to transition this historic institution that was holistically Grand Central Station in Chicago. But at the time, the church’s membership was on 5 by 7 cards; there wasn’t a computer system so to speak, and nothing was networked. We had a monitor, and we still had typewriters in the building. So the journey of bringing change — applied change, meaningful change — became the story of my life. And so I was trying to be progressive while not being a bull in a china shop. As with a woman’s hair, if there is going to be new growth, you have to cut the dead ends off. And so [I was] strategically trying to tell people that growth is not going to happen unless we adjust something that you love. So out of all the scars and stars, I wanted to help other people — whether you’re transitioning professionally or personally. I wanted to help people work through what those processes looked like and what those mindsets needed to look like if you’re going to be effective.
I’ve always wanted to discuss “War” with you. Take me to that moment in time.
When I wrote the song “War,” I was hanging out in my dining room. And if you’ve ever seen the movie Bruce Almighty with Jim Carrey, there’s a moment where there [are] all these prayers in his head. It was like every counseling moment I’ve ever had in the last couple decades of leadership; all those counseling moments came to my mind and all the people I’ve sat with, from people losing jobs to people getting new jobs; from people burying a loved one, to someone marrying someone they love; just all those moments.
And the common denominator, from one extreme to the next, whether it was success or failure or it was helping or hurting … the common denominator was that everybody was fighting to win somewhere, fighting through something, or fighting to somewhere. They were fighting to be successful, fighting a sickness, fighting to raise children or fighting to recover from a raggedy relationship. Everybody is fighting. Fighting to make more money or fighting to graduate, fighting to have a good family, or peace of mind or stability. And personally and even in culture, whether it’s fighting an unfair criminal justice system or fighting inequality in educational [opportunities] or [fighting] for health care or access to capital or whatever. And the common denominator across the board is if you’re breathing, 9 times out of 10 you are fighting to get something or somewhere. And so the song is that fight song to motivate, to inspire, to uplift, to get you to the place where you feel like, “you know what, I’m not gonna lose today … I’m not going to be defeated today and the enemy is not going to win in any way, shape, form or fashion. I’m going to double down and I’m going to give everything I’ve got to get the victory that God has given me access to.”
What would you say to the 24-year-old you to help you handle and take on everything that you had to take on at that age?
Man, what would I say to the 24-year-old me? That wasn’t too long ago. Among many things, as a leader I probably would’ve said build systems and structures from a strategy standpoint. I probably would focus more on systems — building systems, and training people. I would also tell myself to pray more. When you’re young and you have some gifts and you’re in demand, you can say your prayers but maybe not be as devout as you should be.
Talk about the album. What can people expect?
People are going to be dancing to the new record. There are messages of hard work and all the biblical ideas and concepts that should lace our culture; things we want all of our kids to know.
Do people give you a hard time when your music doesn’t sound like traditional gospel?
The expectation is if I’m doing music it can only be an organ in it with strings, and it can’t have big beats and bass, and if it does it’s worldly. No man, when it’s worldly that means being in sin … that doesn’t mean bass. And so it does get a little frustrating at times but I’ve learned that it’s a lack of knowledge not a lack of love.
How do you deal with that negativity?
[There is] so much negativity in the world all the time, in our personal space … in our immediate space. I’ve found that people, in general — non-Christians, Christians — without us even thinking about it, we skew negative. Even when it’s conversation. But this album changes that narrative. It’s a record full of music that’s going to push your mind toward what is good. The lead single on the album is “Winning.” God wants us winning everywhere and wants us to constantly have that mindset.