Lakewood pastor debuts new book, a reality series, and a “Super Soul Sunday” with Oprah.
John Gray isn’t a typical preacher, you know, buttoned up and preachy like.
At his home in River Oaks, with his wife, Aventer, by his side, the associate pastor at Lakewood Church spits a few lyrics by the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. and talks about slapping his belly, which tickles her.
Cuddled up on a living-room sectional, the couple engages in such sweet banter onlookers feel happy just to be in the room.
John is funny – actually laugh-till-you-cry hilarious, which makes sense, since he’s a comedian. And a gospel singer. But he also is a regular guy, even down to his black track suit with a hoodie.
As Oprah Winfrey told him, “You are not my Daddy’s preacher.” The world is about to see that for themselves as “The Book of John Gray,” a reality show focusing on his life with Aventer, premiere[d] at 9 p.m. Saturday on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network. It’s the first of three major events in April that suggest Gray’s exposure is about to get an exponential boost.
He also kicks off the latest season of Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” series at 10 a.m. April 16 (that’s Easter Sunday) on the network, and his first book, “I am Number 8: Overlooked and Undervalued but Not Forgotten by God,” (Hachette) comes out on April 18. The book title refers to the Bible’s story of David, the eighth son and an outcast who became the chosen one.
Everything is changing, and nothing is changing, says Gray, who moved to Houston with his wife and two children – John Gray IV, 5, and Theory Aspyn-Sky, 4, – to join Lakewood just four years ago.
“The more God keeps opening doors, the less I want them. I know this sounds weird, but I treasure anonymity. I don’t desire fame. If it comes, it won’t move me. … We know who we are and what we stand for.”
The show’s eight episodes, which were filmed in Houston from last October through mid-March, show Gray at church, at home and helping everyday people through life’s challenges.
“It’s a dramedy docu-series with our family in the background so he’s really coming home to share with me who he met, what happened, what can we do to help,” says Aventer, who is director of Lakewood’s dance ministry and runs John Gray Innertainment. “The country is hurting right now. We all need some hope, joy, and peace and to respect one another for each other’s views.”
Although there are serious moments, and even tears, laughter is part of the dynamic on camera and off. Gray cracks jokes, and his wife laughs infectiously, like a school girl.
“We’re at home, kids are running around. We’re emailing and texting. Did you know I have 133,000 emails?” Gray says.
Aventer blurts: “I sent him an email that said, ‘The house is on fire!’ It hasn’t been opened yet.”
“Did you really do that?” Gray asks.
Both crack up with laughter.
More importantly, the “Book of John Gray” is about love – for each other, their family and the community.
“We love people right out of the situation they are in, into a healthy place,” Aventer says. “We don’t solve the problems. We just offer perspective and present Jesus in a very real way.”
The first episode of “The Book of John Gray” has him enlisting several pastor friends to help a single mother who has been displaced by Louisiana floods and is now questioning her faith.
Gray instructs the woman to do something to “bless” someone else.
Gray knows the value of being blessed, starting with his wife. “Let me just say this about my wife. I’m not here, right now if she’s not here. … When I was courting her, God said, ‘I’m sending her to save your life.’ ”
Turns out, she did.
On their honeymoon, Aventer, an Alabama native who holds a bachelor’s degree in cardiopulmonary science from Florida A&M University and a master’s degree in health service administration from Strayer University, told John he needed to see a doctor about his heavy snoring. He was ultimately diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea and could have gone into cardiac arrest had it not been treated immediately.
The couple, who have been married six years, actually met some years earlier in New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, where she was a dance teacher and where he was the singles’ pastor at the church. Their paths crossed several times during the year before Gray even knew her name.
But one day he noticed her – sporting an arm tattoo, wearing Baby Phat jeans and open-toe shoes with a French pedicure – and he was enthralled. But he says he jumped to judgement.
“I thought she was a stripper, but her worship was real,” Gray says, laughing. “See, I judged her. She taught me never to judge anyone by what you see. … I’m the dreamer. She puts feet to the dream.”
The simple things
John Gray, who was born and raised in Cincinnati, was directing his church choir at age 7. He was part of the traveling gospel choir as a student at the University of Cincinnati and preached his first sermon shortly after he turned 21.
Soon afterward, he joined the cast of a play starring Grammy-award winning gospel artist Kirk Franklin. That led to more musical tours and allowed him to blend his faith with comedy. He released two musical albums, a comedy DVD and appeared on television shows such as “Sister, Sister” and “Tyler Perry’s The House of Payne.”
In 2010, he was ordained at Northview Christian Church in Dothan, Ala., Aventer’s home town, and they were married that same year.
Back in their River Oaks living room, Gray turns funny again.
“If God told me to go to Dothan, Alabama, I’d go. It’s my favorite city, wonderful people, it’s quiet and you can go fishing. They’ve got the peanut festival down there. They got a big ol’ carnival and that corn. What’s that corn?” he asks Aventer.
“Not that corn.”
“No! Roasted corn. Ooh, yes, I love the simple things,” Gray says.
Some might assume the Grays’ reality show on Winfrey’s network happened because Lakewood pastor Joel Osteen and Winfrey are friends. It’s not the case, though Osteen has been tremendously supportive.
In 2015, the couple was approached by a production company with the idea. They shot a pilot and then took it to various networks. While they hoped OWN would want it, they weren’t certain.
Tea with Oprah
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SOURCE: Houston Chronicle – Joy Sewing