Derwin Gray on Racial Reconciliation as a Gospel Imperative
Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast! We have a great episode today with our guest Pastor Derwin Gray. You may have heard of Pastor Derwin – he leads the multi-ethnic, multi-generational Transformation Church. It is a mission-based church with four campuses near Charlotte, North Carolina.
Derwin grew up unchurched, but attended Brigham Young University, where he met his wife, who had also grown up unchurched. It was during his first year in the NFL playing for the Indianapolis Colts that Derwin heard the gospel from a teammate. Around the same time his wife also heard the gospel through a coworker and both Derwin and his wife came to Christ. Eventually they moved to Charlotte so Derwin could play for the Carolina Panthers, and Derwin also began speaking at various events around the country. Soon it became clear that the secular world was much more diverse and integrated than the church world. In fact, Derwin said the church was the most segregated world he had experienced. So on February 7, 2010, Derwin, his wife and a few other people planted Transformation Church in order to create a more unified and integrated church. Their first service opened with 701 people and they have been growing fast ever since. Derwin talks with us today about how Transformation Church embraces the gospel through racial reconciliation and discipleship.
Theological, not sociological. // When coaching other pastors on how to better integrate their churches, Derwin instructs them that the desire to do so needs to be based on a theological conviction, not cultural relevance or social pressure. Our motives should be based on the true gospel where Jesus is the superglue that unites former enemies so we can reflect God’s glory. Transform your church into a foretaste of the kingdom to come, where ethnic differences don’t separate people.
It’s not about me, it’s about the we for the glory of God. // Derwin tells us on average local churches are 10 times more segregated than the schools they are near, and 20 times more segregated than the neighborhoods they are near. Churches have become built on a foundation of consumerism rather than reflecting the community they are a part of. Globally we are a family of believers, but how can we live that our practically within our local communities?
Come together through the vision. // Professional sports is a very diverse world. Derwin points out that the majority of college basketball coaches are white, but their players are diverse. And yet, the coaches don’t have trouble coaching their players just because they are a different ethnicity. Why is that? Because, as Derwin says, they sports teams have a clear and captivating vision that unifies the team. How much greater is the gospel! The pure gospel message needs to be lived out in a way that encourages a multi-ethnic lifestyle, rather than creating a consumeristic culture that encourages people to “shop” for churches that will keep us in our comfort zones.
Love God, love your neighbors, love yourselves. // In order to keep the mission of Jesus front and center, Transformation Church keeps the greatest commandment in front of them at all times. The neighbors around us each day are different ages and ethnicities and pursuing the great commission means loving this diversity. “The mission of Jesus shapes how we go and love humanity,” Derwin tells us. Evangelism, worship and mission are all in one at Transformation Church because of the great commission and greatest commandment.
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00:39 // Rich introduces Pastor Derwin Gray and welcomes him to the show.
01:15 // Derwin talks about his background and his family.
02:09 // Derwin shares his reasons for wanting to plant Transformation Church.
03:25 // Derwin talks about Transformation Church.
06:42 // Derwin offers advice to other church leaders on how to become a multiethnic, multiracial church.
09:51 // Derwin explains how Transformation Church continues to grow as a multiethnic, multiracial church.
13:16 // Derwin shares Transformation’s vision and how they keep it alive.
15:51 // Derwin shares what he believes is the true meaning of the gospel.
19:35 // Derwin introduces us to his book, The High Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World.
22:41 // Derwin offers his contact information.
Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich, the host around these parts, so glad that you’ve decided to spend some time with us today. I’m really glad that you’d take time out, I know you’re super busy at your church, you’ve got a lot going on and we’re honored that you would put us in your eardrums today and listen in and lean in.
I think you’re going to be encouraged, hopefully challenged by today’s conversation with Pastor Derwin Gray. You may have heard of Pastor Derwin, he’s a fantastic leader, leads in a church called Transformation Church and it’s a great church, multiethnic, multigenerational, a mission shaped community with two locations, just south of Charlotte North Carolina. Welcome to the show today Pastor.
Derwin – Hey thank you, I’m honored to be on with you.
Rich – I’m just so honored that you would take some time out to be with us. If people wanted to know a little bit about Transformation, kind of tell us the story of your church. A relatively new church, but give us kind of a flavor of what’s happening at Transformation these days.
Derwin – My wife and I both grew up unchurched. I’m from San Antonia Texas, she’s from Darby Montana. I’m from an urban context, she’s from a rural context. We met at Brigham University, my freshman year. So we had two none Mormons, a black kid, white kid, at a Mormon’s school. We got married in college and my first year in NFL is when I heard the gospel in all its pureness proclaim.
There was a woman at my wife’s job who communicated the gospel to her as well, I played for the Indianapolis Colts and I had a team mate who shared Christ with me and on August 2nd 1997 is when I came to faith. My wife came to faith about six months before me. Then we moved to Charlotte so I could play for the Panthers. I played for the Panthers, got invited to go and speak at a youth event, it went great, I started to get invitations to speak all over the country and my wife and I noticed something that disturbed us. We noticed that the secular world was more diverse and integrated than Jesus’ world, meaning the church was the most segregated place we’d ever experienced.
We remembered being in a nightclub and you have every nation, tribe and tongue there in unity and when we came to the church it was like you had a few options. You could go the white church or you could go to the black church and not being a Christian very long I looked in the bible for white church or black church and all I could find was the [Inaudible 00:02:42] and according to the Apostle Paul, the [Inaudible 00:02:46], the church that he built of people who were called out were Jewish people and gentiles and gentiles is everybody else other than Jews. I began to study the first century context of the Greco-Roman world and I’d seen that the racism, the injustice was a hurricane of violence and right in the center of that hurricane was Jesus’ people, called the church, who were unifying former enemies and they became friends.
So I began to ask pastors, “If this is true about the early church, why are we so segregated now?” So I got horrible answers and God said, “Don’t criticize, create.” So on February 7th 2010, my wife and I along with a few other folks, planted Transformation Church and opening service 701 people came and we’ve been growing incredibly fast ever since. We’re about 3 thousand, we’ve got four campuses, two of which are in prisons and so the giving is horrible but the riches are phenomenal.
Rich – Absolutely.
Derwin – So for us at Transformation Church, our metric is vastly different and I don’t say that egotistical, but for us our metrics are not just how many people are in the building but it’s, are we embodying the gospel, meaning the rule and reign of Jesus, through ethnic reconciliation, social economic justice, Jesus talked a lot about the poor, through discipleship, like that’s kind of big one?
Those are all metrics of success because we’ve been in outreach, so like we’ve done that, our name is in a magazine, [Inaudible 00:04:32] alright? But here’s what I want to know, how different is our community because Transformation Church exists? We’ve adopted four schools, our prisons are being transformed, we’ve baptized nearly 400 people this year, we’re going to have another baptism. So we don’t think you have to separate or segregate, no pun intended, fast church growth and biblical justice and reconciliation. What I like to say is we need more cross-eyed people, like the cross vertically beam or horizontal beam. Vertical beam is connection to God.
Rich – Yep.
Derwin – Horizontal is reconciliation, enemies become friends. So out ethnic diversity and how we go about these challenges has actually become a witnessing or evangelistic tool, particularly to millennials who go, “Yeah all my friends are ethnically diverse, but then you force me to go a segregated church, that just doesn’t make any sense.”
Rich – Absolutely.
Derwin – So I think the way people describe Transformation Church is with one word, they say, “This place is loving, like you people are loving.” So I’ll take that any day off the [Inaudible 00:05:46], hip, all that kind of stuff.
Rich – I think there is a sense within, I kind of think the broader Christian community, the attractional church model, that really a lot of it was built on this homogeneous unit idea right? Get people who are similar and try to reach those folks, you know, the idea of you would set up kind of a particular, very narrowly targeted individual you’re trying to reach. I think there is a sense that that has kind of run its course and part of what I love about what’s happening at Transformation Church is you’re asking a different question and you’re saying, “Is there something beyond that?”
So to church leaders that are listening in today that are saying… I mean a church that they’re saying, “Maybe our church isn’t that racially diverse, but we want to be, we want to take steps in that direction,” what does that look like? How do you coach other church leaders to think about and take action on that?
Derwin – Yeah the first thing that I’d do is I’d tell them that it has to be more than a sociological need that you want to fill but it has to be a part of your theological conviction.
Rich – Oh that’s good.
Derwin – That this isn’t something I want to do because of culture, this is something that I want to do because I believe it’s the outflow of the gospel. The gospel is more than I get to go to Heaven when I die, the gospel is a royal announcement that through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the spirit, a church has been formed to be a fore taste of the kingdom to come and the church is Jews and gentiles who’ve been reconciled through the body of Christ that as Ephesians 2:14 says, there’s a new humanity and this humanity is a multiethnic humanity.
So that’s the first thing that I would say is your theology and put down these pop psychology culture books, stop going to conferences for a while and just get along with the New Testament. Read Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright and really understand the first century Second Temple Jewish Greco-Roman world and you’ll see, oh my gosh, everyone of Paul’s letters dealt with, how does Jesus become the superglue to make enemies friends so that they can image forth the glory of God.
All I’m trying to say is God made a covenant with Abraham through you, all of the families of the earth will be blessed, Jesus is the blessing, Jesus is the glue to create this family. Yes globally we are a family but locally he’s calling us to that.
Think about this, how sad is this? Local churches are 10% or 10 times more segregated than the schools they’re near and 20 times more segregated than the neighborhoods they’re near. So what does that tell you? It tells you that we, as church leaders, have built churches to fit consumers and the bible is not about consumers, it’s about fully devoted followers of Christ who put down their preferences and pick up their crosses because it’s not about me, it’s about the we, for the glory of God. Like we need a new narrative, I’m frustrated.
Rich – No I appreciate that Derwin, I appreciate you pushing me. So even, we benchmark against what are the kind of statistics in New Jersey and we’re saying we want our church to reflect that and we’ve made really good strides and things are actually pretty good on that, I feel pretty good, confident on that. But I appreciate the thing you’re pushing on is, ask a bigger question than just what do the statistics say, what does the sociology say about your community?
How at Transformation, as you’re swimming upstream on this issue, your church is growing and you’re becoming and are a multiethnic, multiracial community, what are some of the things that you’re doing to kind of see that take place, to kind of ensure that takes place in your church?
Derwin – So before I answer that question, I want to ask you a question.
Rich – Yeah definitely.
Derwin – When you look at say professional sports, or even let’s just use college basketball, the majority of coaches in professional sports, and let’s just use football since I played in NFL. The majority of coaches are white, the majority of coaches in college basketball are white, how is it that their teams are diverse? So from my experience in NFL, I’ve never seen a white coach go to a Hispanic basketball player, or a Hispanic football player and go, “You know, you’re Hispanic, I’m white, so how do I coach you?”
Rich – Right.
Derwin – Or a black coach say to a white guy, “Hey look, you’re a white guy from Iowa, how do I coach you?”
Rich – Right.
Derwin – And here’s why. In sports you have a vison that captivates everybody and motivates them to fulfil their role. Once you’re captivated by a vision and once a role is clarified then you begin to come together. Like I couldn’t tell the coach, “You know coach, I don’t like your play,” but when we come to church shopping what do we say, “What kind of music? I don’t like the preacher. I don’t like this. I don’t like that.” We become consumers, where on a professional football team, if I told a coach, “Hey I don’t like your playbook,” he’d go, “Okay go and find another job.”
Rich – Yeah exactly, exactly.
Derwin – How greater is the gospel narrative than the great commandment and the great commission? By the way, the great commission, go and make disciples of all ethnic groups, not just across the sea but across the street.
It baffled me how my wife’s friends would go on mission trips to Africa to talk to black folks but would not reach the lost black people across the street. Weird and as a none Christian I’m going, “Why are you doing that?”
Rich – It doesn’t make sense, yeah it doesn’t make sense.
Derwin – They go, “But we’ve already done that.” Or like, “Why do you go to Mexico to build houses for Mexicans and Mexicans in America build houses for Americans?”
Rich – Right it doesn’t make sense.
Derwin – No it doesn’t and so we need the gospel to give us new lenses and so that’s how I would answer your question, is let’s look at the culture. Then secondly, I knew that for Transformation Church to be diverse we needed to follow the pattern in the book of Acts; Acts Chapter 6, Acts Chapter 13 and you see that ethnically diverse leadership team. So for leaders listening, your leadership team is not going to be diverse if you don’t live a multiethnic lifestyle.
Rich – Right.
Derwin – I can pick up the phone and I can build a multiethnic team because I’ve got friends who are Hispanic, whether Porto Rican, Guatemalan or from Spain. I’ve got Asian friends, Chinese, Korean. I’ve got Asian Indian friends, I’ve got white friends, I’ve got black friends, I’ve got even friends with mullets. But that’s a value to me because all people are made in the image of God and I find that my weaknesses are made into strengths in diversity.
Rich – Now how are you keeping this vision white hot at the church? Obviously a part of what I appreciate you’re doing is let’s ask a bigger question, let’s keep this in front of folks. What are you practically doing at Transformation to keep this in front of people? Obviously you’re preaching on it, it’s a part of who you are, it’s how you live, but how else are you doing that?
Derwin – Our vision is the great commandment, great commission. Derwin Gray does not have a vision nor do I have a church. I’m not starting a movement, Jesus already did that. So we just keep the great commandment before all of our folks. I mean Jesus says from the law to the prophets, this is what it’s about; loving God, love your neighbors, love yourself. We call that, upward, inward, outward.
So the outward piece is the great commission and last we checked my neighbors are going to be different ethnicities and different ages. So the mission of Jesus shapes how we go and love humanity. So our vision restores human beings to their original intent, so evangelism, worship and mission are all in one at Transformation Church, because of the great commandment, great commission. So the way we say it is, we’re a multiethnic, multigenerational, mission-shaped community that loves God completely, loves ourselves correctly, loves our neighbors compassionately, so it’s this continuous flywheel. We preach it often, it’s in everything that we do. It’s the very air that we breathe, so for our new member’s classes, to newcomers, to every sermon, at the end of every service, for five years together in the congregation and we use our hands and our words, we say, “Upward, we love God completely. Inward, we love ourselves correctly. Outward, we love our neighbors compassionately,” I point at him, they point at me. Then I say, “Transformers rollout,” because the Sunday morning gathering is just a huddle.
Rich – Right.
Derwin – Life happens outside of the gathering. The huddle is equipping time and I believe the same gospel that equips the believers is the same gospel that reaches the lost. So people say are you seeker sensitive?” I say, “We are God sensitive. When he is exalted, people will want him and those who have him will grow in him and want him more.”
Rich – Alright very good. I’m going to play the devil’s advocate and I use that word pointedly, that’s on purpose. Let’s say there’s a church leader that’s listening in that’s saying, “Listen Derwin, I understand this, what you’re talking about though, at the end of the day I just want to preach the gospel. Why do I need to be involved, why worry about this issue?” Again it’s not me saying that, there are church leaders that think that. It’s like the social justice crowd, “Gosh why am I worried about that, can I just get up and preach the word every week?”
Derwin – Yeah so the first thing I would say is, we baptized almost 400 people this year.
Rich – Praise God.
Derwin – Nearly 900 have come to faith.
Rich – That’s great.
Derwin – We’re growing like crazy. So what I would say is this, your gospel is too small. If you think the gospel is to love Jesus, you’re forgiven, you go to Heaven, you have a wrong understanding.
So let’s start here with the word ‘evangely’. The etymology of the word ‘good news’ was actually used first by world empires. So in the first century Jewish context, when a new emperor like Nero was put into place. Nero and his government would send out Apostles or messengers throughout the Roman Empire to herald good news, gospel and it would go this way. “Everyone listen, I have good news, I have gospel. There is a new king, his name is Nero, bow your knee to him and confess him as Lord and you will have eternal prosperity and peace.”
Jesus’ church said, “No, no, no. We have the true good news. There is a new king and his name is Jesus and through his perfect life, his death on the cross in our place, his resurrection from the dead and his ascension to the right hand of the father, to be our high priest and mediator and through the sending of the spirit, our king is inviting people to his kingdom by grace so that they can display an image forth his glory throughout the world and draw others into his kingdom.”
So what we have here is we have people who are soteriologically driven and most time wouldn’t even do a good job with that. We hardly ever talk about redemption and what it means. Justification, reconciliation, propitiation, expiation, regeneration, but then we have ecclesiology. Individual salvation only exists so God the father can have a family.
Rich – Amen.
Derwin – Individual salvation only exists so God the father can give his son a bride. Individual salvation only exists so the Father’s spirit can have a temple, not made with brick and mortar but made out of human beings who are blood bought. So you have a family, a bride and a temple and that family, that bride and that temple is a multiethnic family who now has the vocation to image forth the glory of God. That’s a different story.
Rich – Right.
Derwin – It’s far more richer and more beautiful than, “Hey, you know, if you were to die tonight where would you go?” Who’s going to say, “I want to go to hell.”
Rich – Right exactly.
Derwin – It’s like, “Let me pray this prayer,” whereas for a first century Jewish person it was never about going to Heaven when you die, it was about the Messiah ruling and reigning and God’s people ruling and reigning. Yes to be absent from the body, to be present with the Lord, but there’s going to be a new Heaven and a new earth with resurrected bodies and until that time comes, we the church are to be a foretaste, an appetizer to that great banquet, dinner we’re going to have.
Rich – Absolutely. Well this has been a great conversation today Derwin, I really appreciate you’re… You’ve obviously written a book on this, The High Definition Leader. Can you tell us a little bit about that as we’re kind of wrapping up the episode?
Derwin – Yeah, so The High Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World was birth out of crisis because I was getting phone calls, “How do you do what you’re doing? I know it’s God’s heart but I don’t know how.” So I couldn’t answer everybody’s question and I couldn’t meet with everybody so I wrote the book. I wrote it in seven weeks in the midst of my doctrine and in the midst of a capital campaign, in the midst of moving our facilities to our new facilities now. God’s grace carried me.
This book is not just for leaders, but if we as pastors can get this gospel ethos in us, oh my gosh, it could change so much, but here’s our problem though Rich and I may get in trouble with this. Our problem is this, our evangelical subculture; books, conferences rewards a metric that isn’t necessarily the best one, meaning budgets, buildings and butts.
Rich – That’s good.
Derwin – Like I want a magazine to say, “Who are the top 100 most caring churches where pastors actually talk to people in their congregation and give pastoral care?”
Rich – Right.
Derwin – Like our metrics are easy, they’re superfluous. It’s like, look weeds grow fast, so what I’m calling for is a new type of reformation and get it, we’ve grown fast and I’m thankful for it but until there stops being rewards for old narrative and you’ve heard this said before, what gets applauded, gets done.
Rich – That’s true.
Derwin – And we need a new generation of leaders to say, “Hell no, we’re done.”
Rich – “Can’t take it anymore.”
Derwin – “I’m done with this.” Because only so few can be the Megachurch God, only so few, but all of us can be faithful to the gospel call to present our world with a Jesus who’s not a self-help coach. Like Jesus is not our high priest at the right hand of the Father to go, “Hey how can I help you in your suburban life today?”
Rich – Right.
Derwin – You know, what clever sermons can we develop on a topic?
Rich – Right.
Derwin – I think our Jesus is worth more than that, so I’m looking for the few that want to be a part of that. I’ve got a roundtable that we’re going to do, April 12th through to 13th where we get about 20 leaders, we want it small, where I bring them in for two days, we feed them, we love on them, we serve them and we teach them how to do a multiethnic church and at the end of it I wash their feet. We wash their feet to say this is what a servant leader looks like and we’re laying hands on you to bless you because we need a new kind of reformation.
Rich – Well Derwin I appreciate you being on the show today. If people want to get in touch with you or with the church, what’s the best way they can do that?
Derwin – transformationchurch.tc and @derwinlgray.
Rich – Thank you so much, I really appreciate you being on the show today, you’ve given us tons to think about and I appreciate you taking time out to be with us.
Derwin – Thanks for having me man.