Seven years ago, a Kentucky Baptist pastor joined with an organization that aligned perfectly with his skillset and spiritual passion.
On Thursday, Dr. Todd Gray is poised to become the next leader of that organization—the Kentucky Baptist Convention—if confirmed by the Mission Board that is made up of representatives from the 2,400 churches that comprise the state's largest religious organization.
After serving as a pastor for 20 years, Gray found in the KBC a way to share his love of the local church and evangelism—the heartfelt passions in his life.
"What attracted me was the mission statement of the Kentucky Baptist Convention—created by churches, for churches, to help churches reach Kentucky and the world for Christ," Gray said. "The Kentucky Baptist Convention was going to be a church-centered organization."
During his time at the KBC, Gray has been a friend to local churches and pastors in the state, serving four years as the West Regional consultant to 500 churches, and for the last three years as the team leader for the Evangelism, Church Planting and Campus Ministry team.
'Strong sense of calling'
Now, there is an even bigger calling.
"I feel a strong sense of calling," Gray said. "Connie (his wife) and I have sought the Lord earnestly for the last six months or more to discern God's leadership. If the Mission Board affirms that direction and believes God is calling me to this role, my view is we need to keep moving forward."
There are some challenges, he said. Baptisms have been on decline in Kentucky since 1980, from 20,000 then to 12,000 today. Churches are struggling, some have plateaued or are in decline. "Those churches need help," he said.
The executive director-treasurer position has been vacant since Dr. Paul Chitwood resigned last November after seven years leading the KBC to oversee the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board.
The 54-year-old Gray is a Kentucky native who grew up in Lyon County. His parents were loving and his mother took him to church whenever the doors were open. His father didn't attend church with the family, but later in life did come to faith and was baptized and became an active member of a Baptist church.
"I joined the church at 9 years old," Gray said. "I say it that way because I think that's all that happened. I responded during an invitation and—this is not a criticism of the church at all—but didn't receive any counseling about what it means to trust in Christ. I was told I should be baptized, so I was baptized."
Life went on and Gray said there were no signs that he was a believer. "All the evidence in my life indicated I was anything but a believer. I lived a very reckless life from a pretty young age up to my mid-20s."
He made it through college, graduating from Murray State University, and into the workforce as a salesman for an outdoor power equipment company. Gray, who was 24 at the time, had an encounter with a Christian businessman who asked him, "Are you a Christian?"
"I'm 24 years old, been in church most of my life, and no one had ever asked me that question," he said. "I didn't know how to answer, and I said, 'I'm Baptist.' That's what I told him, but his question never left me."
Soon, the Lord brought other believers into Gray's life and one invited him to Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis. He went to Sunday School on his first visit and a teacher, John Jeter, reached out to him. After a series of weeks and attending church, Gray said he began to realize he was lost.
"One Sunday I joined the church, but it was no different than when I was 9 years old," he said. "I got home that day and, in my apartment, I realized all I did was join a church. I was just as lost and I needed Jesus. So I fell on my knees and I surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ."
Gray said he had a conversation with God. "My exact words were: If you want me to be a missionary in Africa, I'll be a missionary in Africa. If you want me to be a preacher, I'll be a preacher. But I can't live like this any longer." He said he had a "true Damascus experience" where life was totally different from one day to the next.
A heart for evangelism
Gray began working around the church and served in a ministry for runaway kids in Indianapolis. He shared his testimony and preached to them every Sunday morning. It turned out to be a good training ground for what was to come—Gray became a passionate soul winner.
"I was trained as a witness early," he said. "As a brand-new believer, I got taught to share the gospel. I started witnessing to my customers (where he was a territory manager for Midwest Equipment, handling millions of dollars in outdoor power equipment sales). Two years in as a believer, God began to stir my spirit. He was calling me into the gospel ministry. At age 26, I surrendered to the ministry and within less than a year later, I was pastoring my first church."
Gray met his wife at Northside Baptist Church and they have been married for 27 years and have two daughters, Khera, 23, and Anna, 19. He continued his education and holds two degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
As a pastor, Gray said it was an exciting time, but he was unable to be as evangelistic as he wanted because of the multiple of duties that come with leading a church. It was his conviction that every Christian should try to share Jesus with others and that's the attitude he took into ministry.
"When I started pastoring, I came into it with that same mindset but quickly realized everything in the church pulled me away from evangelism," he said. "The meetings pulled me away, I took a ton of time for sermon preparation—I probably required more time than most—and the hospital visits. I loved it and it was all very important, but it kept me from being able to talk to people about the Lord."
Gray served as pastor of three churches: New Hope Baptist in Cadiz, Kentucky; Bethel Baptist in Memphis, Indiana; and First Baptist of Oak Grove, Kentucky.
Gray said he had several "personal resets" to get him back on the evangelism track, which he treasured more than anything. He remains, however, a strong believer in the power of the local church and aims to help lighten the load for pastors.
"The local church has more potential than any organization in the world to change the world," he said. "Folks are saved through the ministry of the local church. Families are strengthened. People are built up. People understand gifts and callings. Disciples are made through the ministry of the local church."
KBC's role with nearly 2,400 local churches and the impact they can have on Kentucky and the world was what called him to the organization in 2012. Now, even though his role may be growing, he believes the task is greater than him.
"The work that happens in Kentucky will not be done by one person," he said. "It will require 2,400 churches partnering together to reach Kentucky and the world for Christ. I really believe if we can join together around some big initiatives, that we can see God do some great things. Jesus is worthy of our best efforts. I really believe our best days can be out in front of us and not behind us." (KT)