James Gleason has a heart for outcasts. Whether they’re ex-convicts from the county jail, homeless wanderers or immigrants settling down in brand-new soil, he knows he’s been called to love those the world has tossed aside. That’s why Gleason is a perfect fit for the Doctor of Ministry program’s missional leadership track; he can’t stop ministering to others.
After graduating with his master’s from MU in 1998, Gleason had formed solid relationships with the professors and community. So retuning for his doctorate was like coming home. And because he’s a perpetual learner, he was eager to return to classes.
For Gleason, one of the highlights has been the relationship he’s built with his cohort group. “Through the cohort I’ve found lots of knowledge and instruction in fellow students, and I’ve seen what it looks like for them to pastor,” he says.
Fellow Doctor of Ministry student Alex Mutagubya, a pastor in Kampala, Uganda, has become a close friend to Gleason. The two have engaged in constructive dialogue about their theses, and Gleason has visited Mutagubya’s church on several occasions. “I wouldn’t have gotten connected with him without a program like this,” Gleason says.
Gleason is also making connections in what he’s learning. Studying the Bible in an academic setting has offered him a different perspective. “I’ve always read books and studied, but the intensity of this setting changes you,” he says. “You can’t just slide along. The pace is very challenging, but it’s workable.”
But the connection between study and action is the most important. Sonrise Church in Hillsboro, Ore., which Gleason has pastored since 1994, is intentional about reaching out to the downtrodden in their community, especially ex-convicts. “I have to transfer everything I learn to (my ministry),” he says. “I am no longer just a bucket to receive, but a conduit to give.”
Gleason is not only giving in his own community, but also internationally. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from this program is how to take the gospel across the intercultural boundary,” he says. For eight years, Gleason has been traveling to East Africa to train and learn from rural pastors. He hopes to do more of this after he retires from pastoring himself.
As his time at Multnomah comes to a close, Gleason is grateful for all that has been poured into him. “I feel a sense of loss that I won’t be in classes anymore,” he says. “But it’s been a tremendous journey — challenging, but lots of fun.”