Pastor John Gray: Influenced by his mom and relentless in his love of God and music
Relentless Church Pastor John Gray describes his preaching style The Greenville News
Pastor John Gray III describes his preaching style as “James Brown meets James Taylor meets Lady Gaga meets Run DMC meets Billy Graham meets Michael Jackson."
Gray wants his congregation to laugh, cry and sing — to echo his range of emotions and energy during his sermons infused with music and comedy.
“I want to be who I was authentically created to be, and the best way for me to reach people is to be authentically who God made me to be,” Gray said.
This Mother's Day, Gray's charismatic style will take center stage in Greenville as he delivers a sermon at his own church for the first time. Gray, the former associate pastor at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, now leads Relentless Church, formerly called Redemption.
Gray comes to South Carolina with his wife, Aventer Gray, and two young children, John W. Gray IV and Theory Aspyn-Sky Gray. He also brought 12 other families from his former church to usher in a new chapter at the megachurch off Haywood Road in Greenville.
“I am floored, I am humbled, I cry a lot out of a heart of thanksgiving,” he said. “I’m in shock. I still have that awe, that wonder and a heart of gratitude. It means everything to me. I’ve been searching for peace for such a long time in my life.”
Past coverage: Q&A with Greenville-bound pastor John Gray
Gray realizes the challenges ahead of him. He will have to allow people to get to know and trust him, while trying to understand the religious construct of the community.
For members of his congregation, he said the Relentless experience will be “a sound that awakens their spirit, encourages their soul and ignites their passion."
The influence of Alice Gray
A native of Cincinnati, Gray grew up in a single-parent household. His outlook on life, faith and politics were birthed from watching his mother, Alice Gray.
She was a church pianist who often invited the homeless into her home to feed them. She provided for Gray, her mother and any other family members who may have been in need.
“The moral code that I have came from her,” he said. “My conservative approach to scripture came from her. I don’t try to make the text say something that’s not there, but I do listen to the Holy Spirit for revelation."
A musician at heart, Gray wanted to be an R&B singer when he was growing up.
However, he said God called him to the ministry when he was 13. He cried because he wanted to "have fun and laugh."
“I was like: 'You know, I don’t see preachers having fun. It stinks. I want to be me,'" Gray said. "God said, 'That’s why I called you.'”
Gray made a name for himself as a comedian and singer on Christian tours. He said he met Pastor Ron Carpenter more than a decade ago while Gray was traveling with a Christian singer. Gray and Carpenter became friends and stayed in touch.
Gray later became the associate pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston and the focus of the reality TV series "The Book of John Gray" on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Lakewood Church is one of the largest nondenominational Christian megachurches in the nation with about 50,000 attendees in its seven services throughout the week. Joel Osteen said via email that Gray is becoming "one of the most respected and influential voices of this generation."
"His scriptural insights are brilliant and his charismatic speaking style is like no one else," Osteen said.
Ron Carpenter's call to John Gray
During a Wednesday night sermon in October 2017, Gray told the Lakewood Church congregation that God is going to do something remarkable in 24 hours.
The following night, he got a call from Carpenter. He founded Redemption Church in 1991 and grew its congregation to more than 20,000 people. Carpenter knew Gray had never had his own church
“As we talked, he always had a lot of things in his heart he wanted to do but didn’t have the place to do it,” Carpenter said. “I wanted somebody that I felt like was actually better than myself – a better leader, a better preacher, a better speaker. He fit all those categories.”
Carpenter said Gray has long been popular on somebody else’s program or in somebody else’s world. Carpenter asked Gray to take the helm of his church on that night in October.
“I immediately said ‘yes,’” Gray said. “I had already prayed. And for a couple of years, I’d been feeling in my spirit that something else was coming. I never quite had full peace that Houston was my final stop.”
Gray said he had other offers and other significant opportunities. But God didn’t tell him to go to any of the others.
“In the eyes of people who look at ministry from a career standpoint, you don’t go from the largest church in America to a smaller town,” he said. “To them, it doesn’t make sense. To me, it makes perfect sense because church is not Chick-Fil-A. You don’t get to franchise it and do what you want."
How he arrived at the name Relentless
Gray said there was no struggle in the decision to come to Greenville. But he did have a "vulnerable moment," which led to how he came up with the name for his new church.
It was right after Christmas, he said. He was driving to the music store to buy a stool and a stand for his son’s new keyboard.
“I said,’ God, I’m scared because I don’t think that I can do this,’” Gray said. “I don’t know that I’m cut out for this and I just thought I’d tell you because you already know.”
Gray said God spoke to his heart and told him: "You know why I chose you for this. Every time I’ve told you to do something, you’ve gone after it and even when you’ve failed, you got up again.
"‘And, if there was anything between you and the thing I told you to do, you didn’t let it stop you. You were relentless.’”
When he heard the word "relentless" in his spirit, Gray said he called his wife, and with tears in his eyes, he gave her the new name of their church.
“When I think about God’s love for me, that’s a relentless love,” he said. “A love that leaves eternity, comes into time to redeem me to give me the opportunity to come back into eternity with him.
“Because we are recipients of relentless love, we will pursue God relentlessly,” he said. “We will pursue families relentlessly and we will pursue lost, hurting, and broken people relentlessly.”
The transition to Greenville
In the months since Carpenter and Gray made the December announcement about the church shakeup, Gray has traveled between Texas and South Carolina, preaching at Lakewood and Redemption.
Gray is staying in hotels with his family while in Greenville until he finds a home.
Joel Osteen’s schedule is so concise, Gray said, that 2018 was mapped out last October.
Gray said out of respect for Osteen and as part of the discussion with Carpenter, he wanted to honor the commitments at Lakewood, though some dates have been amended. Gray said he will be doing select Wednesday services and some weekends for Osteen throughout the rest of this year.
Meanwhile, the filming of "The Book of John Gray" has already begun in Greenville. He said Oprah Winfrey, the network and the executives are 100 percent behind the move to Greenville. If they weren't, "it wouldn’t matter because I was coming anyway," he said
“I’m home because I feel the presence of God, and I believe I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “I haven’t always felt that.”
Gray said his first order of business at Relentless is to build the hearts of the large core team from Redemption to let them know they are still loved and valued.
Gray said he is eager to learn the region and meet other pastors, school board members and elected officials.
“I just want to do God’s will, treat people right, be respectful, walk humbly and occasionally go to Waffle House,” he said. “That’s it.”
In the meantime, he has at least one other major decision to make as he settles into the Palmetto State. He loves sports, especially basketball and college football.
“My wife is from Alabama, so I know that’s not going to fly around here,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out if I’m a Gamecock fan or a (Clemson) Tiger,” he said. “Whoever gives me the best jersey, that’s who I’m going with.”
Pastor Ron Carpenter, founder of Redemption Church shares why Pastor John Gray of Lakewood Church was who he wanted as his successor. Carpenter is stepping down in May to pastor in northern California.