Dr. Derwin Gray is the founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina. He played professional football for six years with the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers. Gray is the author of multiple books, his latest being, “The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches about Finding True Happiness.” Gray and his wife, Vicki, have two adult children.
What is your story?
Gray grew up on the West Side of San Antonio, Texas.
“The West Side was an area of San Antonio that was a poor side of town, and you really didn’t know you were poor because everyone else was,” Gray said. “My mom was pregnant when she was 16. My grandparents primarily raised me because my mom and dad struggled with various issues. My grandad showed me what hard work was.”
Gray, who didn’t attend church as a child, saw football as his way to a better life.
“For me, growing up in Texas, football became functionally my god. It told me, ‘Play good. Good things can happen. People will like you. It will give you a purpose.’ My purpose was, ‘How do I escape the environment that I’m in?’ So I worked really hard,” Gray added.
As an all-state high school safety, Gray earned a scholarship to play for Brigham Young University where he was named to the College Football All-America Team. He was drafted by the Colts in 1993.
“At this point, I’m essentially thinking, ‘I’ve got the good life. I’m going to get money. I’m going to get fame. I’m going to get the stuff I want. I’m going to be able to help my family,’” he said. “Three years into it, I’m 25 or 26, I’m team captain. I had the girl. I had the money. I had the car. I had the fame. I was able to send money home to fix my family, so I thought. I looked in the mirror, and I was like, ‘There’s got to be more.’ The money made my family worse. I couldn’t love my wife the way she deserved. And I couldn’t forgive myself and my dad who I felt like abandoned me. So, despite having all this external success, it couldn’t renovate my heart.”
Gray said success made him realize how much he needed God.
“God allowed me to accomplish my wildest dreams, but it did not satisfy me,” Gray said. “By my fifth year … it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been tricked.’ I have worked my tail off and all those accomplishments are great, but it could not fix what needed to be helped the most. God used football as the means to get me to the place of realizing I need Him.”
Indianapolis Colt’s teammate Steve Grant—known as the “Naked Preacher” because he often wore only a towel around after practice—would ask guys, “Do you know Jesus?” and share the Gospel. He talked to Gray about Jesus.
Gray eventually accepted Christ, finished playing in the NFL in 1998 and founded Transformation Church in 2010.
“I don’t make as much money. I’m not as famous, but I am so much happier following Jesus,” Gray added. “One of the easiest things to do is to be a puppet for your circumstances versus understanding God is orchestrating circumstances to make us look more like Jesus. The Beatitudes make us the kind of the people we want to be friends with, marry and actually make a difference in the world because the people who change the world are salt and light.”
What does Jesus say about the pursuit of happiness?
Gray said Jesus shares eight characteristics that are the path to true happiness in Matthew 5:1-12.
“What’s beautiful about the Beatitudes is that in the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus starts with, ‘Hey, human beings, I want to show you how to be happy, but it’s a happiness that makes you become good not just for yourself, but for the world,’” Gray said. “So, it’s not about good things always happening to us, but actually about God making us good for the world. Happiness isn’t about a feeling or circumstance, but about becoming the people God has created us to be. It’s more about a redemptive person.”
The Greek word for “blessed” in Matthew 5 literally means “happy.”
“Jesus is describing what a happy person looks like,” Gray added. “It looks like a person that is poor in spirit, which is God-dependent. It looks like a person who mourns, meaning my heart breaks for what breaks God’s heart. It looks like a person who is a peacemaker, merciful, humble, hungers and thirsts for righteousness.”
Which of the Beatitudes hit home for you recently and why?
Gray said Matthew 5:9 has had significant impact. It says, “’Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’”
“I finished the manuscript for ‘The Good Life’ in fall of 2019. In the chapter on peacemaking, I open with Rodney King and police brutality, and he says, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ And my next statement is, ‘No. We see animosity between police and minority communities. We see animosity between Republicans and Democrats. We see animosity between everyone.’ Racism and injustice is a Jesus issue. It’s a Gospel issue.”