An Agent for Change—from the Inside Out

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About 20 years ago, says Charles Fleming (DMiss '11, MAGL '06), "My whole worldview turned upside down."

The denomination for which Charles worked, the Worldwide Church of God, was undergoing a sea change in its doctrine and practice—moving "from the fringe to the fold," as has been well documented in missiologist Ruth Tucker's Christianity Today article by that name.

"Our move from cultic existence to orthodox Christianity required that after decades of legalistic thinking, we all learn to minister out of the grace of Jesus Christ," says Charles. Originally from the island of Grenada, he had served as a WCG pastor in Jamaica for 13 years before moving into missional leadership for the Caribbean and Latin America regions. As his own core beliefs shifted with those of his denomination, Charles came out of that tumultuous period "determined to do my part in helping to bring renewal to the pastors and members in the areas I served."

"Helping to renew a denomination involves more than just changing its official teachings," he stresses. "Ultimately, renewal means a transformation of the heart."

In 2001 Charles received a new charge from the leadership of his denomination, now called Grace Communion International. "As regional director, I was challenged with two things: to develop 'mission eyes' and become a 'resource linker'—and to figure out what that meant for my region. I had no idea what that might look like, so decided to go back to school! 

After two years of looking for the right program, Charles met Shelley Trebesch, a Fuller faculty member at the time, who told him about a new program he could pursue while staying in the field—the Master of Arts in Global Leadership. In 2004, Charles joined the MAGL's first cohort.

With his experience and prior education, it wasn't long before Charles was serving as a teaching assistant for the Organizational Dynamics course. After completing the MAGL, he went on to join one of the earliest cohorts of the revitalized Doctor of Missiology program. Today, he teaches courses in both programs himself.

Charles is quick to articulate the influences of his Fuller professors. Ray Anderson gave him "the language and mental models" to describe what he'd been experiencing through his denomination's transformation. From Bobby Clinton he learned about convergence: "how your life experiences come together in a holistic way . . . you discern who God is making you to be, and operate out of that."

Shelley Trebesch gave him "both the eyes to see and the heart to care about organizations and the people in them—people who need to flourish as individuals. The effectiveness of the organization and the wholeness of its people go hand in hand; Shelley helped link those things for me."

Insights like these helped Charles fulfill his mandate to understand what it means to be a "resource linker" with "mission eyes." In his role now as Mission Developer for GCI's Caribbean region, he's ready to spot mission opportunities and then facilitate them by connecting people to each other and to the resources they need.

He met a pastor in the Bahamas, for example, who had begun ministering to Haitian migrants, but needed help to grow his ministry. Around the same time Charles met two other pastors, one from Ohio and the other from Georgia, with backgrounds in construction and an interest in international mission trips. The American pastors brought teams over who upgraded the Bahamian church, refurbished a youth center, and helped expand an ongoing VBS targeting their Haitian neighbors.

"There was a need, and there were people who wanted to help," Charles says simply. "They just needed someone to make the connections. Now that Bahamian church has a system in place: they are better equipped to identify new mission opportunities, and then plan for and host short-term mission teams to come help them."

That's what it means to be a resource linker, says Charles, and he loves it: "Life is sweet!"

Another of Charles's core passions is recruiting and mentoring emerging leaders. "Because of the nature of our denomination's change, we have a gap," he notes. "Most of our leaders are in their 50s and 60s; we need more young people who are prepared to lead!"

Betsy Glanville, his DMiss advisor, helped him in this arena. "I learned from her about the power of 'life on life': rather than spreading yourself all over the map, pour yourself into a handful of people—coaching them, giving them resources and opportunities."

That fire for mentoring has also led Charles to become a spiritual director for a side ministry, Odyssey in Christ, leading retreats and seminars to help individuals in their spiritual formation. Especially meaningful to Charles is serving in this jointly with his wife, Carmen. Now that they are empty-nest parents to three thriving adult children, "it is great to able to travel and do ministry together!"

Having traveled through a "gut-wrenching time" of reexamining everything he held true, followed by a period of refining and stretching as both a student and now an affiliate faculty member at Fuller, Charles has learned well what it means to be, as he puts it, "both a facilitator of individual spiritual growth and an agent of structural change."

"Foundational to my own teaching on leadership and change," he says, "is the question: How are you being formed as a person who can lead her/himself and can bring change? Our 'presence' as leaders and change agents is the core from which flow the strategic use of the techniques and skills we possess."

Charles Flemming
Charles Fleming (DMiss '11, MAGL '06)

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