On August 10, 2022, Converge’s Board of Overseers unanimously approved the appointment of Pastor John K. Jenkins, Sr. as Converge president. Jenkins’ appointment is historic: he is the first African American to lead our 170-year-old movement. Jenkins officially assumed the presidency on September 1, 2022.
Recently, President Jenkins spoke with Converge director of communications Mickey Seward to discuss his history and current role with Converge, the significance of his appointment and how the Converge movement helps to start and strengthen churches together worldwide.
Mickey Seward President Jenkins, thanks for taking the time to talk and introduce yourself to the Converge family. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Converge President John K. Jenkins, Sr. Of course. My name is John Jenkins, and I am the husband of Trina Jenkins. Together, we have six kids and seven grandchildren. That’s my primary responsibility ― to be a husband to my wife, a father to our kids and a grandfather to our grandkids. We just celebrated 42 years of marriage this past August.
I am the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, which is the largest church in the state of Maryland and one of the largest churches in Converge. We’ve been a part of Converge for close to 25 years. I’m the chairman of the board for the National Association of Evangelicals and the chairman of the board for Skinner Leadership Institute. And I’m on a bunch of other boards, too. So, I’m actively involved in managing, leading and supporting organizations.
MS Let’s go back to the very beginning of your ministry. How did your faith journey begin?
JKJ From the time I was a small kid, my mother brought me up in the church. I grew up in church. At some point, I recognized that there was something missing in my life. I saw a joy others had that I didn’t have. And I’m grateful for the fact that Jesus opened my eyes to that need. I remember one Tuesday night in a revival service going forward and saying, “I want Jesus in my life.”
I started preaching when I was 15. I felt a passion and a call on my life. I would sit in church, and my peers would be laughing, joking, passing notes and eating candy. And I felt that I could take the message that the pastor was preaching and communicate it in a way my peers could understand. And that’s how it started.
I started holding little mini services on the street corner with young people ― children, kids, teenagers. That’s how this whole call on my life got started.
I remember going to my pastor and asking him what it took to be called into ministry, because I felt called. And he told me I was a little young, but to pray about it. And I did. And I kept going back to him and saying, “I feel this is what my calling in life is.” Eventually, he licensed me. I was 15 years old.
MS You mentioned earlier that First Baptist Glenarden has been affiliated with Converge for about 25 years. First Baptist is a predominantly African American congregation, while Converge has a Swedish Baptist background. Why did you and your church leaders guide First Baptist toward Converge?
JKJ First, we joined Converge because we saw an organization focusing on empowering and helping local churches versus denominational organizations focusing on the church empowering the national office. We belonged to denominations whose focus was on how the local church could help the denomination. But Converge was the opposite.
Secondly, we joined Converge because of its church planting focus. I had ― and still have ― a passion for planting churches.
Thirdly, I pastor a primarily African American church. Some of the people in my church lived through the Civil Rights era. They lived through the Jim Crow laws. They lived through hoses and dogs and coloreds-only and whites-only. They lived through that, and their image of white people was not a positive one.
I wanted them to know and see that not all white people embrace those beliefs and values, I wanted them to see the white people that I had learned from, loved and connected with who love Jesus and love Black people and love people of color. I wanted them to see that because I found that in Converge.
MS While you are new to Converge’s presidency, this is not your first role as a member of Converge’s senior leadership. How did your previous experience as vice president of National Ministries help shape your understanding of Converge?
JKJ When I was the vice president of National Ministries, it helped me see Converge on a national level. I was able to connect relationally with people whom I would have otherwise never been connected with, never developed a relationship with or never been to their church. To that point, I had never had them at my church. So, it just deepened the level of relationships that I had. It just deepened my understanding of both the movement and the people that are in the movement.
Watch President Jenkins' message at the 2020 Reach Conference
MS Have you been able to communicate with and get to know Converge regional leaders since your appointment?
JKJ I have a level of connection with most of our regional presidents, and I’m getting to know the ones I didn’t know well. So far, my relationship with them has been amazing. They’ve been very receptive and very open. My heart is wide open to hear and receive suggestions and ideas from them.
MS You mentioned your love for church planting. Why are you so passionate about church planting?
JKJ I believe ― like Converge believes ― that church planting is one of the best ways to win people to the Lord. Not every church is going to be a megachurch. And not everybody is going to be attracted to large megachurches. Church planting, which allows you to develop strong meaningful relationships, is one of the best strategies for spreading the gospel throughout the world.
And, by the way, Converge is the church-planting movement in America. Converge’s church planting processes are phenomenal.
MS After Scott Ridout resigned as Converge president, Converge’s Board of Overseers acted swiftly in appointing a new president to lead the movement. When the board approached you about becoming Converge president, what went into your decision-making process as you considered the opportunity?
JKJ President Ridout’s resignation was unexpected. As the board discussed appointing a new president, I was honored that my name came up. I prayed about it and talked to the elders board at First Baptist. They were honored and were fully behind it. I wouldn’t have done this if they didn’t support it. I’m grateful that they’re trusting me to be able to maintain my primary duties at First Baptist as well as provide leadership to Converge.
MS President Ridout and you have worked together pretty closely in the past. But your relationship goes beyond that of colleagues, doesn’t it?
JKJ Oh, yes. We are dear friends. I know he views me as a supporter. And I think he views me as a coach or a mentor in some ways. And so, we respect and love each other. We have a wonderful relationship, and I love him deeply and dearly.
MS You are the first African American man to become Converge president. What are your personal emotions surrounding that? What does your appointment say to the African American community in general ― and to Converge?
JKJ When President Ridout was selected to become Converge president in 2014, I was the chair of the selection committee. And there was at least one strong African American candidate for the presidency then. He came from outside Converge. I asked the committee if we thought Converge was ready for an African American leader. After much discussion, we concluded that at that time, we weren’t sure that they were. We might have been ready for a person from inside Converge who was African American, but we didn’t feel that an African American from outside Converge would flow well in our movement.
I’m delighted that they are receptive now. I’ve received nothing but encouraging comments and words from people. Ultimately, I believe that people are willing to give me an opportunity to lead this organization to become everything God wants it to be. And I’m excited about that. I’m humbled and honored.
Converge appointing an African American president shows that our country is progressing and moving forward. And it’s not just happening in our organization but in a multitude of organizations across the country that have been traditionally led by Anglos ― Anglo males in particular. These organizations are opening up to other ethnicities and people. In so many ways, organizations are opening up to minority leadership.
MS Looking forward, what do you think Converge could become? What is Converge’s potential?
JKJ Converge is a great movement, and I’m honored to be a part of it. It’s a huge, dynamic church. It strengthens churches and plants churches and increases collaboration between churches. I hope to see Converge model before the rest of the country and the world the ability for diverse communities to work together collaboratively. I think we’ve already made a big start in that regard with all of our ethnic ministries and churches. We have churches that minister to Haitian and Hispanic and Vietnamese and Filipino people ― we have a large diversity segment in Converge.
I think we can model before the rest of the world that it can work, even though we might have different tastes, passions and interests. We can work together for God’s kingdom.
So, I see us ultimately being a role model, not only in church planting, but also in how we collaborate, not just among churches, but also among ethnic groups.
MS How has First Baptist Glenarden's strong focus on international ministry helped your church, and how do you feel it could help other Converge churches?
JKJ Unlike the Anglo church, missions in the African American community have not been at the forefront. Most of our churches view themselves as missions. When I became the pastor of our church, our involvement in missions was minimal. For us to be able to raise up missionaries from our church, like Tania Martin (Converge International Ministries director of mobilization and a former Converge global worker in Ukraine) and others, is a huge step forward for us.
For any church, whether African American, Anglo, Hispanic, Asian or whatever, you have to look way beyond yourself. If you only see what you can do in your community, you’re missing the mark. Taking the eyes of our church beyond Glenarden and our local environment to see the world and other cities, other states and other nations has been huge in terms of planting in the hearts of people the mission and mandate that Jesus gave us to take the gospel to the hedges and the highways and to the uttermost parts of the world. Missions help you to see that it’s possible to take the gospel anywhere.
I remember my first missions trip. I went to South America. My life changed when I went there and saw how people lived in other parts of the world. I saw that they didn’t have nice, air-conditioned and heated houses and that they walked everywhere, had outhouses or had to go to the bathroom outside.
Missions broadens your heart. It opens your heart when you see how mothers are having to raise their kids and what their homes look like and they have dust floors. They don’t have brick houses; they have broken pieces of tin and wood that they piece together to make a shelter. When you see how other people have to live, it changes your heart and your mind about what the assignment is that God has for you.
Once I went on the mission field and saw how people outside my world lived, my life changed, my passions changed, my heart changed. Missions helps broaden the church’s mindset and its heart as it relates to our call from Christ to take the gospel to the world.
MS You are the president of Converge. You’re also the senior pastor of one of the largest churches in America, the board chair for the National Association of Evangelicals and the Skinner Leadership Institute and a board member for multiple other organizations. And, most importantly, you are a husband, father and grandfather. How do you do so many things and do them so well?
JKJ You know, I’m a highly structured, highly organized person and I function through structure and systems. I run my church through systems. I hire and surround myself with people who help me only do what only I can do. I’m only involved in the things that require me to do them. That’s the best principle I can pass along to other leaders.
I’ve hired good staff and empowered them. I provide leadership, but I give them the authority to make decisions. I set some parameters but give the staff the authority to make choices and decisions. I’ll say this to pastors: If every decision has to come to your desk before it gets approved, that is poor leadership. You have to empower people around you to function and do the job. That takes some of the load off the senior pastor.
MS You have committed to serving as Converge president through our next biennial meeting in 2024. Do you see your role as a transitional one in which you’ll steer the ship until a longer-term president is voted into place in two years, or do you see this as a role you’ll continue to serve in past 2024?
JKJ I don’t know what the future holds. I’m not sure. We’ll see how much we’re able to accomplish, how I feel when the time comes and how the organization feels. We’ll just have to see how things go. There are no plans to go beyond two years, but there are no plans not to go beyond two years. Let’s just see what we can get accomplished and where we are, how the organization feels about my leadership and how I feel about being the leader of the organization.
Converge is a movement of churches working to help people meet, know and follow Jesus. We do this by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. For over 170 years, we’ve helped churches bring life change to communities in the U.S. and around the world through church planting and discipleship multiplication, leadership training and coaching and global missions.
We start new churchesbecause the message of Jesus brings hope to the world. We’re committed to starting missionally minded churches until every people group and community has heard the gospel. Converge Church Planting provides a clear pathway for you to plant a new congregation or multiply your church. We’ve created proven strategies, systems and training, all designed to improve your success so that more people will have the opportunity to accept Jesus.
We strengthen existing churches. Strong churches are led by strong leaders. So, we equip leaders to expand their ministry impact and fulfill the unique calling God has given them. Through assessment, coaching and covering, strategic planning and supportive networks, Converge’s Church Strengthening team helps pastors and churches maximize their God-given potential to fulfill their mission.
As we anticipate the second coming of Jesus, many in the world haven’t heard of his first coming. So, together we ask God for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group ― in our generation. Because most Christian missionaries serve in already-evangelized countries, we focus on the world’s least-reached peoples. We equip churches and leaders to create movements that impact individuals, communities and regions through the power of the gospel.