Saving Grace: John & Aventer Gray

Categories // LA Focus, Saving Grace Monday, 05 June 2017

Saving Grace:  John & Aventer Gray

John Gray never wanted to be a pastor. He couldn’t relate to them and felt they were corny. Instead he felt better suited to be an attorney—even an R&B singer or comedian. He ultimately settled on the latter, releasing two CDs and touring with Kirk Franklin, DC Talk, Out of Eden and The Katinas. 

John Gray never wanted to be a pastor. He couldn’t relate to them and felt they were corny. Instead he felt better suited to be an attorney—even an R&B singer or comedian. He ultimately settled on the latter, releasing two CDs and touring with Kirk Franklin, DC Talk, Out of Eden and The Katinas.

 God, however, had other plans and while it took Gray eight years to say yes to them, the Cincinnati, Ohio native has never looked back.

  That faithfulness has more than paid off. In 2013, he was appointed Associate Pastor at Houston-based Lakewood Church—ranked as the largest church in the U.S.—under Pastor Joel Osteen. Last year, he was one of four co-hosts on The Preachers, a talk show on Fox—a test run that would earn him an Ebony Power 100 honor. He also hosts a daily show, John Gray World, on the Hillsong Channel and TBN

In April, he and his wife Aventer made their television debut on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network with the premiere of the hour-long reality series, “The Book of John Gray”. That same month also marked the release of his first book, I Am Number 8: Overlooked and Undervalued, but Not Forgotten by God—all of which has made Gray somewhat of a media sensation in the Christian world and beyond.

 But for the musically-gifted preacher, whose down-to-earth demeanor and boisterous and edgy humor make him oh so approachable, that was hardly the goal.  

 “The goal was not to be on TV. I was just trying to stay obedient,” Gray states. “The goal was to serve God in whatever door He opens and be faithful to Him.

 Gray’s fight between light and darkness on behalf of those he seeks to help has him tackling a number of issues from gun violence, demons and adultery to infertility and low self-esteem, while also taking on he and his wife’s own personal challenges, including his ongoing battle with diabetes and growing up fatherless and her weight and thyroid issues. And with all the negative imaging born of previous Christian reality series, the Grays were clear on what they were not going to do.

“Where we are as a nation and how people see individuals of faith, it was important for us to show another picture of what that looks like, without belittling anybody else,” said John, who grew up in church and was directing the church choir at seven. “I grow wary of people blasting the entire church because of the negative imagery coming from one particular segment.”

 Instead, they wanted to present what they felt was a more accurate picture of the intersection of faith and humanity.

 “This is not religious programming — it’s hope programming. Our goal was let’s be who we are and to give them encouragement and hope, and show them what faith in action looks like which is we serve a supernatural God, but we have issues just like everybody else,” John explains. “One thing my wife and I had to agree on was whatever we do those cameras are going to capture the real us not some made up version.”

  They admit that many in the religious community were nervous.

 “They thought it would be some mess, but here’s the thing: we work at Lakewood Church so Pastor Joel’s name is also on the line,” John states. “It was important that every show reflected well upon the legacy of the pastors and the history of the church, so were not going to be doing salacious things. That’s just not who we are.”

“Our primary focus,” Aventer adds, “is to make sure people are deflected from us and seeing Jesus in a real way and how Jesus meets you where you are, how you don’t have to look at people in leadership and feel like they don’t struggle because nothing could be further from the truth.”

To that end, there were no limits on where they could shoot except as Aventer points out, their bedroom.

 “As a pastor and my wife as a minister, CEO and mother, we need to have some boundaries,” John says. “If you see everything, it becomes common.  If the one thing my wife is not, it’s common.”

 Ironically, the experience was at times just as enlightening for them as it was for viewers. For Aventer, it was the impact a childhood incident of sexual abuse had on her husband.

“Some of those details she didn’t know,” John points out. “Opening that door caused me to have to address some things that had been dormant or that I thought were non-existent. That was difficult on my part.”

For her part, Aventer shared on her thyroid issues, the treatment of which led to a major blow up between she and her husband.

 “I pondered whether or not I would share about my thyroid issues because I hadn’t figured out a balance of what diet I need, but thyroid awareness is becoming more prevalent now for women and our bodies are so super sensitive.

 “People are like, she used to be so small or ‘Oh, she let yourself go’”, she continues, “when it’s actually a health condition. I’m trying to find a way to balance what I eat to combat the condition I have so it was hard to share, but it also was freeing when I did. They credit the success of their marriage to staying power. Says John, “Marriage is always under attack, particularly marriages of faith. There have been many times I’ve felt inadequate and unable to be what my wife and children need me to be, stemming from deep-seated issues of not having my father present and not seeing a marriage. My wife, on the other hand, her parents have been married 49 years, so she saw something different.

 “So I knew how to quit, I didn’t know how to stay, but what this woman has done to my life is nothing short of a miracle because where I was weak, she was supernaturally strong,” says John, who co-produced the film, Unconditional—starring Michael Ealy—in 2012. “There have been times in this marriage where I’m sure my wife wants to put me in the garbage, but the reality is she loves me and has made a commitment to me in spite of everything she sees and knows is an inconsistency."

“That’s what God’s love looks like. My wife reflects the loving character of Jesus towards me in the way she loves and forgives me, the way she covers me and the way she fights for me."

 “If my wife leaves me,” he continues, “I’m leaving me and going with her and I’m passionate about that. Every time the enemy attacks, I say I’m staying. Some people quit and others stay. The ones who are successful are the ones who stay.”

 With his growing success so often comes the question why doesn’t he start his own church, to which he is quick to respond, “We have enough churches.

“I believe I’m called to help build multiple churches. It’s not that I’m afraid to do it, but I don’t need to be the senior pastor. I don’t think it’s impossible, but right now it’s not on my radar. I leave it to God.”

At present, their work at the Lakewood Church remains a priority.

“Pastor Joel and John do a really good job of bridging the gap,” Aventer observes. “You have a white pastor who is very influential and a black pastor is very influential. In this [racially-tinged] climate our nation needs this and that might be part of the reason the Lord has us in the season serving at Lakewood Church where so many ethnicities are represented.

 The infusion of comedy in his communication of the gospel has clearly given him an edge in a personality-driven media like television and the talk circuit as well as with the upwards of 9,000 people who regularly attend his Wednesday night services at Lakewood, but the Grays don't let any of what’s happening go to their heads.

“I never think I’ve arrived,” states John. “My goal is to serve God and teach the gospel with an uncompromising voice. Hopefully, if I do what I’m supposed to do, all the other things will come, but my success won’t be measured by TV. God is the indicator of my success.”

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