Charles Jenkins knows a thing about SEASONS... He had a two-decade season at the helm of the historic Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, IL, succeeding his mentor, the late Rev. Dr. Clay Evans (Founder) as the Senior Pastor. Evans passed the church to him at the young age of 25. When Jenkins knew his season was over, he discussed his exit plan with pastor Rev. Clay Evans and was given his blessings.
Born in Saint Petersburg, FL, Charles C. Jenkins II is a graduate of both the Moody Bible Institute and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His socially relevant and impactful services drew thousands of new members to Fellowship church while impacting the community as well.
His ministry has been marked by extensive work in the Chicago community where he serves as founding President/CEO of Fellowship Educational and Economic Development Corporation (FEED), a 501c3 that focuses on education, job creation, and urban development in Chicago inner-city neighborhoods. The nonprofit previously led a $26 million effort known as a Legacy Project dedicated to creating new jobs in Chicago Southside.
He has received countless awards and citations including the induction into the Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers and Scholars at Morehouse College, the Black Enterprise Magazine's Urban Business Game Changers under 40, recipient of the Gift of Hope's highest honor, as well as the Lifesaving Partner Award for leading thousands of African-Americans to become organ donors in Illinois.
Under his record label, Inspire People Music, Jenkins is an award-winning songwriter and acclaimed gospel artist 9 times Stella Award winner, recording artist a music producer comes with two number one albums on Billboard's Gospel charts (The Best of Both Worlds and Any Given Sunday) as well as hit singles "Awesome, "#War," and recently his newest single, "He'll Make It All Right" (Charles Jenkins & Fellowship of Chicago) landed at #2 on Billboard's Gospel National Airplay Chart.
And now he continues with his new book entitled 'SEASONS: How To Grow And Succeed During Times Of Transition,' written to give readers clear direction on any transition in their lives.
N'DIGO is glad to be given the opportunity to chat with Charles Jenkins and share the conversation with our readers.
N'DIGO: Let's begin with a question that begs for an answer. HAVE YOU REALLY RETIRED?? (LOL)
Charles Jenkins: Hilarious. Yes, I have retired. At least from the role of senior pastor at Fellowship. Most people don't realize everything the role entails. It is such a privilege to sit in such an honorable seat. But, there is not a piece of paper that could fit the spoken and unspoken job description. You are a spiritual leader and a nonprofit management leader simultaneously. You must spiritually feed, lead, and serve people in every single area of their lives. Then from a business perspective, you are a full-time fundraiser, while your task is to also curate, organize, administrate, and oversee departments, systems, structures, staffs, teams, hundreds of volunteers, and many other components just like in any for-profit business. Then you are called to preach, teach, develop or oversee the development of spiritual and secular educational programming, build curriculum, counsel, marry, bury, and give leadership in the community, civically, politically, and much more.
Additionally, championing, advocating, and offering social services holistically is a massive function of the church. It was the honor of a lifetime to serve for a total of 23 years. I felt like my primary role was to transition the church from where it was in 2000 to where it is today. Not from good to bad. It was iconic before I was born. It went from glory to glory. I'm always encouraged when I hear from leading leaders in business, faith, politics, entertainment, and beyond who speak of Fellowship's innovative model, and functional relevance in this present day. I think that affirms my mission was accomplished.
Did you have second thoughts after stepping down as Senior Pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, and passing the mantel to Rev. Reginald Sharpe, Jr? Did you ever feel or once thought "Maybe there's a few years left in me to do this"?
I didn't have second thoughts. Once God gave me clear confirmation that my mission was accomplished I was fine. I still have vision and ideas for days. But, vision for a role and timing in a role are not mutually exclusive. I knew I would miss the people. But I knew it was time to pass the baton. I was encouraged to stay by many beautiful leaders inside the church and outside.
I remember when I first spoke to Reverend Evans. He said, "Jenk, do you want more money? If you want more money they would do that for you." I said "nooooo Bishop. You know it's never been about that. I gave my salary back twice and didn't take my raises I earned for five years. I'm good. I just feel like God has placed it on my heart that my season is up." He gave me his blessing, shared very kind words, and told me he trusted me to select whoever I thought should replace me. He said, "Jenkins don't mess me up. Whoever you select I trust you." Talk about pressure. Lol. I said "Bishop I've got you and The Ship! I'm leaving the role, not the family." He said, "alright that makes me comfortable, go on and do a good job."
It's ironic that the late Rev. Dr. Clay Evans was 25-years-old when he started Fellowship, you were 25-years-old when you started serving at Fellowship in a pastoral role and Rev. Sharpe's life began to channel yours at 27-years-old. What led you to appoint Sharpe to pastor Fellowship after nearly 21 years in the helm? Have you become his mentor? His advisor?
That is the kind of stuff God does for you when you ask him for his guidance. No one could write a better story with clear signs of divine involvement. When God first placed on my heart to identify a successor it was daunting but I prayed and God brought Reginald Sharpe, Jr. to my mind. I had heard his name in passing but I did not know anything about him, nor had I ever met him. I get into granular detail about this in my new book Seasons. But, it was a divine connection like mine was with Reverend Evans. I am Pastor Sharpe's biggest supporter, second to his wife of course. I've always told him whatever he needs I'm always available to him. He is a phenomenal human being, we have a great relationship and he is doing an amazing job.
Culturally a lot of Black pastors will stay in the saddle 40-50 years but apparently, that was not God's plan for you. Did you have a plan? Were you prepared to "fly without wings?"
Some people are supposed to stay in their role for life. But, many are not. I don't think many people even knew leaving could be an option. I've been told by so many pastors and business leaders that I have given them permission to dream. Some pastors, in particular, told me they want to go into the educational field, some want to be in the business sector, some want to run other entities. I had a big business leader call me and share she was inspired to leave a place of comfort and take on a new role she was a little apprehensive about taking. A very well know Bishop told me "you've turned this thing on its' head, and you have everyone rethinking everything." That wasn't my goal, but I'm glad people are thinking about tenure and timing. But as an addendum, I'm not saying everyone should just up and leave a role. What I am saying is to pay attention to timing, and traffic lights in your life. I was mindful of timing from my start. I started really asking myself and my friends' serious questions about two years prior to my clarity. Then it was an eighteen-month transition/succession plan process.
You were once quoted as saying "God has called you to a life of adventure," can you explain?
My life has been a constant journey of unpredictable twists and turns. I never wanted to be a minister, I became one. I wasn't thinking about pastoring a church when that journey began. I have never wanted to be a singer in my life. Over 300 million streams, views, and awards later.... I can keep going. In my home, we have learned to stay open and enjoy the ride wherever it takes us.
You launched your own record label, Inspired People Music. What inspires you to start writing songs? Did you ever imagine that your first song "Awesome" would launch your gospel music career as it did? It was such an inspiring song!
I started writing songs when I was fourteen. It was a hobby, or a stress relief activity. Fast forward, in the early 2000s, I asked famed drummer Teddy Campbell to listen to a song I wrote. He called me back and said, "Jenk this is a hit. Call Tina (his wife and one-half of Grammy winners Mary Mary) she's the songwriter in the family. Tina said, "Jenkins you are a songwriter....." From there I did some work with Chicago Legends Percy and Gerald Gray, then received Grammy recognition for writing on Israel Houghton's Grammy Award-Winning "Live In South Africa" album. Hence, by the time Awesome had rolled around I had already been writing quietly for a few cool people. I never intended to release Awesome. It was a devotional song we sang around the house. It has really been amazing to watch it go around the world.
When did you realize you had a gift of writing songs? Initially were you afraid to let someone hear them? Do you have a writing partner? Who are some of your music mentors?
I probably realized it officially in January 2013 when the late Andre Crouch told me he thought I was one of the best songwriters of my generation. I was mortified, humbled, and honored simultaneously. We were sitting together at an official ball at The Second Inauguration of President Barack Obama. A day or two prior "Awesome" had won song of the year at The Stellar Awards. Mr. Crouch said "The Gospel is timeless so our songs should be timeless. Keep writing timeless hits." He then intellectually dissected the lyrics to Awesome like the genius musical surgeon he will be forever and showed me things I hadn't even seen in the composition. It was one of the biggest moments of my life.
I have had the privilege to work with some of the best musicians and producers in the world. People like Warryn Campbell, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, Rodney East, Harmony Samuels, Ira Antelis, Rodney Jones, Willie Jones, Larrance Dopson, and many others. My music mentors range from Quincy Jones to Stevie Wonder, to Gamble and Huff, to David Foster, to Warryn Campbell, to Andre Crouch, to Babyface, and many more. I listen to every genre of music. But Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Carl Carlton, Guy, Keith Sweat, SWV, and The Doobie Brothers are in heavy rotation with a few others.
With the ever-popular gospel music trends, how important is it to you to keep a traditional gospel song in rotation?
I think traditional gospel is the soulful sound that feeds and fuels all genres of music. Hence, it's vital to continue to embrace it. I have continued to write and record traditional gospel along with my other stuff even though radio formats have changed to more inspirational or urban contemporary programming. But it's hard because if you record traditional how can listeners hear it and business-wise how can you recoup your investment.
There is a thin line between the gospel listener and the urban a/c or r&b listener. This is why gospel stations changed their formats, to compete with r&b formats for listeners which means advertising. This is why we've seen the decline of traditional gospel on the radio and thusly in culture. But I tell artists and writers, traditional gospel music is alive and well in The Church, and if you are in gospel your base is The Church. Because of that reality, I always share "no matter what you have on your album, have something for Sunday morning." We love to clap, rock, stomp, wail, shout, and dance with messages of love, hope, and inspiration. That will never go out of still.
How exciting was it to create/perform the video for "Can't Turn Back"? Who's idea was it to have the church meet Cab Calloway? It was like having church at the Cotton Club!
Hahahaha! I had the idea because the radio initially wouldn't play Can't Turn Back. I was told it was too traditional. I told the program directors it was a fresh take on traditional. It was my way of getting traditional gospel on the radio. The song was my heartfelt tribute to the big band, sweeping live instrumentation, black excellence, after-five attire, choreography, synchronization, etc.
The radio executives needed a visual to get the concept of the song so I obliged. I've often had videographers, and young dancers tell me they wish they could use the gifts God gave them in church. That is what inspired me to do videos, and include dancing, to give youth and others a positive outlet. The church has always been that place in our community where our young could have space to learn, grow, and be creative.
So, I watched Cab Calloway videos, I studied the Nicholas Brothers, and I asked the church to come dressed like that era and let's have some fun sharing a melody with a message based on scripture. We had a ball, it went around the world. After the video, radio stations played it to death, and it peaked at #4 on the Billboard chart. I got invited to be the guest artist for media icon Cathy Hughes and perform it at her private birthday party in front of a host of the biggest stars in the world. I was also invited to close the Urban One Honors Show with the song, and it became the theme for the TVOne/Radio One/Urban One Companies for their 2020 business calendar year. The honors multiples from a small idea to honor an era with a gospel number.
How timely was your new release "He'll Make It Alright" during this COVID-19 moment of our lives? Was it written for such a time as this? What follows "HMIA"?
I saw so much pain, and I've lost several people I will love forever during the pandemic. I was inspired to write a song to make all of us feel better. HMIA is faith, hope, encouragement, and hopefully uplift all wrapped up in one. I said to myself how can I help put a smile in someone's heart and get people bouncing, or dancing in the rain of the pain. I am very grateful that HMIA peaked at #1 on Billboard for multiple weeks, and we are now prepping for my next single, which is a remake of the 80's classic Never Knew Love Like This Before. It's gonna be fun!
Tell us about your new book SEASONS: How To Grow And Succeed During Times of Transition. Will it provide answers to questions someone may have with all the change in their daily lives and in the world? What about the frustrated creative person that needs an outlet to express their creativity? Can you help the people? (LOL)
"SEASONS" is a masterclass helping people learn how to know what season of life you are in, how to discover your purpose, how to hear from God, how to recognize traffic lights in your life, how to navigate transitions, succession, reinvention, and more. It's loaded! It's everyday life, leadership, and beyond. It will help people make bold, thoughtful, calculated steps towards their current effectiveness and highest present potential.
How do you juggle being a husband, father, spiritual leader, gospel artist, and author?
I get that question all the time. It's hard but each role has its own support team. Also, my entire family is always involved in whatever I am doing so we make it fun. I am a partner in an all-natural drink that can support healthier blood pressure called 120 Life. Everybody gathered around and threw in marketing ideas. I'm executive producing a hand full of movies and dinner time becomes table reads and idea-sharing. They are always in the studio when I am writing or recording so they think they are mini producers. It's always a riot.
Congratulations! You recently celebrated 23 years of marriage to Dr. Tara Jenkins. In the words of James Ingram and Patti Austin "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?"
Thank you so much. Dr. Tara is the best! I think the power of our sauce is our friendship. We are genuinely best friends. I know who she is, and I understand her heart. She knows who I am and understands me through and through. Friendship is the bedrock of any strong, longstanding relationship. Like every good movie, every good marriage has its' moments. But, we have a Blockbuster relationship! Most people don't know my wife is a full-time comedienne. It is nonstop entertainment. Also, she is very involved in whatever I am doing and I am very involved in whatever she is doing. She has a book out called 'Enoughness' and I'm the director of marketing. Lol. We have a ball.
You have 3 beautiful children, Princess, Paris and Charles III. How is it parenting in the midst of your creative endeavors and most importantly in the midst of the pandemic?
Thank you so much! My wife and I view parenting in a few ways. We view ourselves as personal trainers for life, our kid's closest friends, and we see ourselves as their tour guides to show them around this thing called life. I know some people will disagree with the friend role, but we believe it is biblically and practically justified. In scripture, God calls Abraham his friend and Jesus calls us his friends. The word friend at the core means one who has your best interest at heart. So, we tell our kids you will not meet a person who will have your best interest at heart more than your parents. We have worked hard to create a fun, educational home environment so the pandemic has been tough and enjoyable simultaneously. There's lots of cooking, games, contests, karaoke, movies, and TikTok's so the pandemic has been palatable for them.
So, what does Charles Jenkins do when he's not making music, recording audiobooks, doing book lectures, or teaching?
So, I am the house cook. LOL! So I am generally cooking, baking, or watching movies, or binge-watching a tv series. I also have a fashion collection in development so I am always studying fashion, and doing lots of reading and learning about that industry.
What are some of your "favorites"? Favorite scripture? Favorite meal? Favorite Gospel Artist? Favorite Secular Artist?
My favorite scripture is Matthew 6:33. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
My favorite meal is oxtails and rice, cabbage, potato salad, mac and cheese, and apple pie.
My favorite gospel artist is Kirk Franklin. My favorite secular artist is Michael Jackson.
Is there anything about your journey that you would change?
Honestly, I've had an amazing multifaceted journey. But of course, if I could have a few do-overs I would take them.
Where can N'DIGO readers find your music and book?
The book is available at CharlesJenkins.com and Amazon. My music is available on YouTube and on all digital platforms.