Former Carolina Panther takes on a new challenge -- creating a diverse church community

Somewhere, just outside of Charlotte, a former Carolina Panthers player likely spent Sunday cheering on the team from his couch with the same fervor and spirit he displayed a few hours earlier in front of his congregation.

This man is known in some circles as the “Evangelism Linebacker,” which is kind of catchy, but inaccurate, since he played defensive back in college and the pros. Anyway, now most people know him as Derwin Gray, founder and lead pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land.

Derwin Gray

My wife and I found him while searching for a new church home with an ethnically diverse congregation and were immediately fascinated.

I recently chatted with Derwin to ask why he decided to foster such a diverse church, why in Charlotte and how his NFL career still influences him today.

In your book, “The High-Definition Leader,” you talk about how it will take a multi-ethnic church to reach an increasingly multi-ethnic world. What led you to address the ethnic divide in the church?

My wife and I did not grow up in the church. We were used to interacting with an ethnically diverse group of people. Our jobs were ethnically diverse. The clubs we partied in were diverse. So it was really weird to us that when we became followers of Jesus and attended church, it was 98% white or 99% black.

As we began to read the Bible, we saw that God’s heart was for the church to be ethnically diverse like it will be in the new heavens and new earth. We wanted to see a church in the greater Charlotte area be a community where white people, black people, Asian people, Latino people, etc. all love each other, like heaven will be. We believe Jesus’ gospel and love accomplished this beautiful reality.

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What led you to start TC in the greater Charlotte area?

I played five years for the Indianapolis Colts (1993-1997) then I signed as a free agent with the Carolina Panthers (1998). My wife and I love the greater Charlotte area. It wasn’t like we picked Charlotte, it was like God picked Charlotte to start TC. Having an intentionally multi-ethnic church in the South speaks volumes to the miracle that TC is.

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What disciplines and practices from the NFL have you found to be important to incorporate into your life as a pastor and leader?

As a player, I was driven by “we” more than “me.” Football is the ultimate team sport. Together everyone achieves more.

I was also a student of the game, meaning I studied my playbook and knew my job. My work ethic was second to none. I know hard work.

Also, the Colts and Panthers were ethnically and culturally diverse teams, yet the vision unified us. Our differences made us stronger.

Derwin Gray on the Panthers
Since you finished your NFL career with the Panthers, do you still root for them?

I love watching the Panthers win. It’s great for our city. I also love how players like Thomas Davis and Cam Newton are making a positive difference in our community. I’m predicting the Panthers will go all the way and win the Super Bowl this year over New England, 35-17. (Note: This interview happened before Sunday’s games, so let’s just substitute Denver for New England.)

Photos: Courtesy of Transformation Church