According to Oprah Winfrey, Pastor John Gray, III ain’t your daddy’s preacher. The Ohio-native studied music and acting before hearing the call to minister to others on his 21st birthday. That year he preached his first sermon and he hasn’t stopped since. Gray is an Associate Teaching Pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, under the leadership of Pastor Joel Osteen, and regularly uses comedy to teach the word. His unusual style caught Winfrey’s eye, and the media mogul decided she needed him on her network.
“We had a draw and connection to her heart,” Aventer Gray, John’ wife, says of Winfrey. “She’s a bridge-builder, we are as well. She’s a connector and uniter, she’s a very spiritual person and we feel honored that she found value and substance in my husband’s personality, his lightness, and subsequently our family.”
In The Book of John Gray, John and Aventer, help people overcome their greatest challenges, all while facing their own struggles as a family, which includes John’s difficulty putting his health first. If you tune in to the series hoping to see perfect, ultra-sanctimonious church folks, this isn’t the show for you. The Grays keep it all the way real, they don’t know any other way.
“We don’t mind being transparent about our flaws and we don’t mind celebrating others,” Aventer says. “We break down this barrier of big I’s and little yous are far as leaders and the people who come to the church.”
Her husband agrees: “[The show] puts a human face on faith. That’s what makes this show different. It’s not a reality show or a docudrama. It’s something new. It’s a docu-hope-a-drama. We’re fighting to give people hope.”
Hope is a big deal for the Gray family. In addition to ministering to others in a very transparent and real way, the couple hopes the show will inspire others to keep pushing through life’s most difficult challenges.
“Hope is something everybody needs a dose of every single day, so you’re not swallowed up by the climate we’re in. So we’re happy to be the biggest advocates of hope right now,” Aventer explains.
John continues: “Hope is the substance that there is something that could change the trajectory of my heart, the trajectory of my soul. Hope is the substance of what I didn’t get right yesterday, I might be able to get right today.”
While the Grays want to inspire viewers to keep the faith, they don’t believe in browbeating folks—especially those who are struggling with their beliefs—with judgment or shame.
“Certain aspects of the faith community want you to feel guilty for the rest of your life, and I’m sick of that. And I think God is sick of it. So, he uses me and I’m loud and I’m unapologetic, and I’m not scared,” he says.
“Everyone is allowed to live their life,” John continues. “If you want to come to our house on Saturday night, you’re welcome. That’s what this is–an invitation to see life through a different lens. If you’re able to get value or insight through something you’re walking through, then this is wonderful.”
When viewers do tune in for The Book of John Gray, the pastor says they should expect to be inspired.
“I want them to take away that the beauty of life is the intersection of faith and hope and humanity. You can be human, in whatever form that means, and that there is hope for every situation,” he says. “We’ve identified our faith as the anchor for us, but it does not anesthetize us from pain or to issues, but our faith is the conduit and lens through which we see our issues. I want people to walk away with hope for every situation.”
Pastor Gray also hopes the show will show Black families in a new light.
“We don’t have a lot of positive images of Black husbands and fathers. We don’t see a lot of African-American women who are not being unkind to one another. I think that my wife offers a new vision of what Black femininity and faith looks like in a 21st century woman–all these degrees, all this wisdom, all this creativity,” he says. “I think it’s a beautiful thing to see because OWN is the number 1 network for African-American women 25-54, so she gets to be seen by the women that preceded her and the ones who are coming behind her. So that’s a wonderful thing to me.”
The Book of John Gray airs Saturday nights at 10pm on OWN