UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — Growing up in First Baptist Church of Glenarden, Pastor John K. Jenkins had dreams of being its pastor, although he can’t remember exactly when they began.
But he knows the extent of his dream in 1989, when he was called to be FBCG’s seventh pastor.
“We were at 3311 Brightseat Road and there was a small parking lot behind the church,” Pastor Jenkins says. “Next to that parking lot was a house owned by Mrs. Adams. My dream was to buy Mrs. Adams’ house, knock out the back wall of the church and add 200-300 seats.
“We were also pursuing a piece of property across the street from the church, where I wanted to build an education building. If I had been able to do those two things, I would have felt like I fulfilled my dream.”
The last 25 years have far exceeded Pastor Jenkins’ dreams, not to mention the congregation that voted him in.
FBCG had 500 members when Pastor Jenkins arrived. Weekly attendance now numbers 11,000. Instead of adding 200-300 seats, the church now holds services at the 4,000-seat Worship Center, which sits on 160 acres. “Auxiliaries” used to provide a substantial portion of church revenue; they have been replaced by 118 full-fledged ministries and the church is funded solely through tithes and offering.
One of FBCG’s greatest results under Pastor Jenkins is the ability to “develop dynamic disciples,” which means more to him than anything else.
“One of his big dreams was having classes in Christian education every night of the week,” says Reverend William S. Berkeley Jr., a member since 1991 and one of the church’s first full-time employees. “He wanted something going on every night to minister to our people so that they wouldn’t be biblically illiterate.
“There wouldn’t be any excuse, no matter if you worked at night or worked a 9-to-5. There would be something to meet your spiritual needs.”
Pastor Jenkins expressed concern about people’s spiritual lives early in his life. He was licensed to preach at the age of 15 and developed a successful evangelistic ministry. By 1986, when he accepted the pastorate at Union Bethel Baptist Church in King George, Va., he was travelling around to preach in different churches every weekend.
After applying to be pastor at numerous churches and being rejected each time, he had decided to stop. Union Bethel wanted him to serve as interim pastor, initially, but he was unwilling to give up being an evangelist. They came back and offered him the full-time position.
“I went there thinking it was an opportunity to get some exposure and experience as a pastor,” he says. “It was 55 miles – one way – from my house. But it was training ground and I met some of the most wonderful people, some of whom I maintain relationship with to this day.”
Pastor Jenkins returned to his home church after his mentor, Pastor John W. Johnson, passed away.
“Pastor Jenkins was a son of the church who Reverend Johnson licensed amid a lot of criticism from other Baptist churches,” says Deaconess Joan Austin, who served as an assistant under both. “They said Reverend Johnson was ordaining babies. But few were as old-fashioned as Pastor Jenkins.
“He was so square, he couldn’t be nothing but a preacher.”
He went from pastoring a small flock at Union Bethel to five times as many at First Baptist. About three years later, FBCG outgrew the Brightseat Road location and converted an old Hechinger’s warehouse into what’s now known as the Ministry Center.
“We already were out of space by the time we completed it,” Reverend Berkeley says.
From moving into a non-traditional space, to discontinuing several traditions that existed when he took over, Pastor Jenkins brought a sea of change to FBCG. Getting 100 percent cooperation and agreement 100 percent of the time is unrealistic. But the vast majority of members accepted his vision and the church grew exponentially.
Reverend Thomas Sims Jr., who was serving at FBCG before Pastor Jenkins arrived, said there’s a reason the congregation was so accepting of the new direction.
“Everything Pastor Jenkins wanted to do or change, he always taught it through Bible study or the Scriptures before he did it,” Reverend Sims says. “Because the people heard it and saw how it could be done through Scriptures, they would buy into it.
“His teaching before implementing is one of the biggest things pushing the growth of this church.”
The 25-year ride has been tremendously exciting for longtime members such as Robin Randall, a classmate of Pastor Jenkins. A member since she was two years old, Randall said none of her contemporaries could have imagined going from the pot-belly stove in the original Brightseat Road church, to the rebuilt church at that address, to the Ministry Center and now the Worship Center.
“When we rebuilt the church (at 3311 Brightseat Road), we thought we were big time,” says Randall. “Deacons stomping on the floorboards of the old church was part of our music ministry. I don’t think Pastor Jenkins was thinking about a school and all the institutes and raising the roof to create a second floor (on top of the warehouse).”
Pastor Jenkins readily admits as much. The growth, the properties, the places he has preached, the people he has meet, the planes he has flown in (including a Blue Angels jet) and the planes he has piloted … it’s enough to make him want to pinch himself.
“Pinching is not even the word,” he says. “Sometimes I wonder: ‘Have I been in a dream?’ Am I going to wake one morning and find I’m not the pastor of First Baptist and I’m still in King George?”
On top of everything, he has shared it all with the love of his life, First Lady Trina Jenkins, whom he led to the Lord after they met as teenagers. She has become his wife of 34 years, the mother of his six children and an integral part of FBCG as head of the Family Life Ministries Department.
Having his children alongside him throughout the journey has made the last 25 years even more incredible.
“This experience is just a dream. I cannot describe how God has blessed my life. It brings tears to my eyes.”
Pastor Jenkins isn’t the only one with moist eyes due to the countless testimonies, souls saved and dreams fulfilled in his 25 years of service. FBCG members join him in the celebration, too, with tears of gratitude and thanksgiving, as well as joy and laughter.