John Gray knew he was “called” at an early age. His Motto,“Preach Christ, He is the hope of the world,” is evident in all he does. Declaring the gospel from the pulpit, and through artistic forms like music and comedy, has taken him across the globe from South Africa to Australia and many places in between. As the presiding Associate Pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas under the leadership of Pastor Joel Osteen, spreading the word continues to be one of his top priorities, though nothing compares to the joys of his life – his wife Aventer, their son John W. Gray IV, and their newborn daughter, Theory Aspyn-Sky Gray.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with the multi-talented Man of God to get his thoughts on the ever popular hit NBC series, A.D. The Bible Continues, and its impact on a brand new generation of viewers. As an added bonus, the series has received rave reviews and is credited for bringing many biblical characters to life in a real and some- times provocative ways. The season finale airs this Sunday, June 21st and promises to be as enthralling as the mini series that started it all. We caught up with John as he prepared to appear on the program’s after-show discussion, Beyond A.D…
L2us: The latest episode is filled with fast paced action and intrigue. In your opinion, what has been the biggest personal take away from the latest episode?
J.G.: I guess that would be the battles between empires. We see the Romans attempting to maintain power and control, the Zealots trying to start an uprising, the Ethiopians coming in from the East… and the emerging church… All of these different people with different motives but the undercurrent is a message of hope and salvation rising out of nowhere under the most fierce opposition imaginable— as the power of the spirit of God permeates people to the point when they are willing to lay down their lives for this. In this episode, the message for me was like a microcosm of today’s society because everyone wants some monacle of power or influence. That’s what [in essence] you see in episode eleven. Here in the middle of this message of control and the attempt to dominate and subjugate other people, is at its core a message of liberty, a message of freedom, a message of newness, and of a second chance at life.
L2us: There are many parallels in the series that are relevant to the present day persecution of Christians. In what ways can we support the plight of those being persecuted today?
J.G.: I think The Church is going to have to fight for unity. In John chapter 17 we see Jesus praying a very powerful prayer before He is betrayed into the hands of sinners… He says, “ Father I pray that they will be one as You and I are one… I in them and You in Me.” This prayer was a prayer of unity but what we see today is a fractioned church. We need to lay down our denominations and pick up the kingdom. What happens there, is not necessarily a unity of thoughts, but unity of a singular message that declares Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. Once we can do that, then the other practical things such as the financial and social aspects can be applied—because truth is, if we are going to be a valuable and valid movement in today’s society, they are going to not only need to see strength in numbers but also in our dollars. What we support with our dollars will scream the loudest. If you look at what happened with the controversy with Duck Dynasty some months ago, when one of the cast members said something that a lot of people found objectionable [and I’m not here to say whether is was right or wrong], certain companies pulled out and the people stopped going to those particular stores, to the point where the stores had to turn around and say, “We apologize,” which made me realized that they don’t care about the message—but they care about the money. In today’s society, we as The Church are going to have to exert our influence not just in spiritual matters but also in practical matters, such as, commerce, finance and entertainment.
L2us: Give us your thoughts on A.D’s. relevance to our culture.
J.G.: To those who may be detracted by thinking this is a story from over 2000 years ago, or ask why is it relevant today— I say there is no more relevant central figure in the history of the world than Jesus Christ. And we need to make it very clear that Jesus Christ is still the same, today, yesterday and forever. We have to make people aware that Jesus is not just relevant to church services… He is relevant to society, he is relevant to politics, and His life and teachings are echoed in every Fortune 500 company ‘best practices’. The person of Jesus is still the most central figure in human history. Here is a man of peace and a man of integrity whose detractors could not find anything to accuse him of, other than saying that in their estimation he was crazy for thinking he was The Son of God. At His worst, He was insane, at his best, He was the son of the living God but neither one was worthy of death. But he did it for you and me. So is this message relevant? Yes, it’s absolutely relevant in a culture and climate that wants to mute the church, mute the gospel and cause people who are believers to be shamed into silence and apologize for what we believe, this show screams that we are relevant, that we are central and that we have a voice and a seat at the table.
L2us: Please tell us about some of your personal favorite moments from the series?
J. G.: Well, honestly for me that would be the first episode. People may not remember what happens in the middle, but they certainly remember what happens in the beginning and at the end. For me the very first episode with the introduction of its characters, has blessed me from then until now because of the diversity of the nationalities of its characters. That to me is one of the singular strengths of the series. To have a diverse cast that brings in people from different nations and different colors, so that the message is not lost because it only looks like it’s accessible to one type of group was brilliant. I also love the overall cinematography and the level of excellence of the production. My favorite moment was when the angel rolled the stone away and the Roman soldiers began falling backwards seeing this beautiful angel standing there. I almost cried. And I think I might have, because it brought to life the faith I’ve lived since I was seven years old. That’s when I made a commitment to Jesus and I’m now forty-one years old. I made that commitment in a small Baptist church in Cincinnati, Ohio and now I am the Associate Pastor at Lake- wood Church in Houston Texas, which is the largest church in this country. So for me to see my journey in a sense put on screen in a way, that’s honorable, articulate, artistic and creative gives me a sense of joy and pride.
L2us: You just mentioned being called to ministry by age of seven. I find it intriguing that you knew this at such a young age. What was it like to just know what you would be doing with the rest of your life at such a young age?
J.G.: At seven years old I knew who Jesus was. At thirteen I was called to ministry at a revival. At that time, I didn’t want to do ministry… I wanted to be a singer and actor among other things. I remember saying to The Lord, “I don’t want to be a preacher” because I had seen how disingenuous some of them were. But then He said to me, “That’s why I let you see it, so that you’ll never repeat it,” I had an opportunity to create a new legacy and to infuse my sharing of The Gospel in every aspect of my life. At that time, I thought that I had to lay down my personality to serve The Lord. When in fact when I was saved, He didn’t change me into a robot, but he unlocked the very things that made me, me. So all of my creativity is now funneled into The Gospel. You can expect to laugh, dance, shout and cry when I preach because that’s exactly who I am.
L2us: What do you know now after watching the series that you didn’t know before?
J. G.: That’s an interesting question. I guess I found the Ethiopian uprising piece most surprising. I felt it was more for dramatic effect, but understanding the climate of the day and the political connotations, I could see that actually happening. I don’t think anything really caught me off guard. I’m pretty conservative when it comes to biblical interpreta-tions, so where the creators may have taken license, I was aware of it. For instance the Ananias and Saphira storyline and the way it was portrayed, was the episode that I shared on Beyond A.D. People were like if they genuinely didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong why was the punishment so severe? I had to let them know that the connota- tion in the scriptures was that they knew exactly what they were doing and that they were being purposely deceptive as a way to gain profit. And because the story that we saw made it seem more like they didn’t know what they really did [for non believers], I wanted to make clear that God is not being judgmental, angry, or waiting for us to mess up as you’re trying to get to Him. And so that was one of the things I talked about because I wanted people to know that there are creative licenses when you are doing a story like this. And though, everything you see is not recorded in scriptures, the things that are recorded that you do see, are done with authenticity.
L2us: How do you Juggle so many hats… acting, comedy, Pastor, Husband, Father, how do you keep it all in line?
J. G.: Honestly, I have no clue [laughs]. I don’t know what I’m doing [laughs]… Most of the time I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off [laughing]. I’m just hoping to stay alive… No, seriously, God has given me strength to endure and persevere. I continue to press and do the best I can. And it is a juggling act, but I’ve learned that family is priority, and then the other things will all fall into place.
By April French