CU Alum Brad Gray: Building a Life That Matters
Life was pretty simple for Brad Gray in 2002.
He had a pretty wife, a new house, a college degree and a good job that paid a significant salary. Everything had come together just as he had planned.
Or so he thought.
"Life was really good," said Gray. "I knew where I wanted to go, and I had a pretty good start in that direction. It was everything I had dreamed about, everything, I thought, that I could ever want."
And then God tapped him on the shoulder.
"There was something stirring inside me," he said. "It wasn't a bad feeling, just a feeling that I had missed something, that no matter how good my life was, there was something better out there for me."
Let's go back to the beginning.
Gray was a star athlete at Lenawee Christian High School in Adrian and he welcomed an offer of a scholarship from Cornerstone basketball coach Kim Elders. Gray showed up on campus in 1999 just in time to be part of the Golden Eagles' NAIA National Championship team.
He had an outstanding career at the school and still ranks as one of the Golden Eagles' all-time three-point shot leader.
"I think I lived to play basketball back then," he said. "I worked hard in school (Business Management major), but basketball was where my heart was. I would not trade those four years for anything."
He graduated in 2002, and immediately went to work for his dad, Gary, a noted physical therapist who worked extensively with some of the best professional athletes in the world.
"I didn't want to be in physical therapy, but I wanted to be in a sports business," said Gray. "So we started a company to teach kids how to properly train their bodies. My dad had 30 years in the world of physical therapy, training and conditioning, so we took what he knew and focused on kids.
"In short, we believed every child was an athlete, and that those who didn't make it were turned off by people telling them they couldn't succeed. We got involved in school PE programs, in boys and girls clubs, we've even worked with Special Forces troops, teaching them to maximize their training to help them succeed in the things that challenged them."
The business boomed, and Gray's standard of living rose right along with the interest in the program.
A year after graduation he got married. His wife Shallon was a Bethel grad, which was interesting, because Bethel was the team the Golden Eagles beat in that 1999 National Championship game.
"I went over to the dark side a little," he laughed.
Everything was good for Gray. Except for that nagging voice working inside him.
"There was this stirring, and I couldn't explain it," said Gray. "Despite all I was doing, and how much I loved working with my dad, I kept getting this feeling that there was something else I was supposed to be doing.
"Like there was a passion deep inside me that I had not tapped."
Gray didn't know what it was. Shallon convinced him he had to find out.
Whatever it was, whatever it took, she was willing to be a part of it.
About that time Gray was studying a Biblical teaching series by Ray Vander Laan, and that's when the light went on.
"I had always grown up in a Christian home, went to Christian schools, enjoyed going to church," he said. "I never got in trouble, I just played basketball and went to school.
"I loved God, but at no time did I think of the ministry."
During his time at Cornerstone, Gray attended Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, and the teaching there by Rob Bell touched him.
"It was a wonderful experience," he said. "It made the Bible compelling and I just got hooked."
Gray decided that his goal in life was a deeper understanding of the Bible.
"I wanted to understand the historical, cultural, geographical and Jewish contexts," he said. "It was like I had been watching a movie in black and white and suddenly it was in full color. I wanted to find out more."
After graduation, Gray was attending Ogden Community Church in Adrian when he asked the senior pastor there if he could help with the teaching. He started on Wednesday night services, then got a chance to teach at all three services on Sunday.
It was eye-opening.
"That's when I knew that this was what I was supposed to do," he said. "So the next step was to figure out how I could do it as a career."
Although he didn't want to go back to school, he wound up at Western Theological Seminary in Holland.
"Seminary gives you a degree to get through the doors," he said.
So in 2005 Brad and Shallon quit their jobs, sold their house and moved to Holland, so he could attend seminary.
"I inquired so late that they had to call me to tell me I was accepted," said Gray. "They didn't have time to send me a letter and get me there for the first day of classes."
A lot of things were swirling around Gray's life at that time. He had met Ray Vander Laan in Holland and was offered an opportunity to attend a biblical study trip. But seminary came first, so he had to regretfully turn down that opportunity.
Nine months later both he and Shallon went on two trips with Vander Laan, both to Israel and Turkey. A year after that he went to Egypt, Sinai and Jordan.
During his first two years in seminary, Gray interned at Mars Hill, including a semester under Rob Bell, which was a moving experience.
"It was a wonderful time of my life," he said. "Both Rob Bell and Ray Vander Laan continually nurtured a passion within me to understand the cultural context of the Bible.
"It got to the point that Shallon and I realized that in order to better understand the cultural, historical and geographical contexts of the Bible, we needed to study in the land from which much of the Bible emerged.
"After completing my seminary degree," he went on, "God blessed us tremendously by working it out that we could spend just under a year living and studying in Jerusalem."
Since returning from Israel in the summer of 2009, Gray has been wrapped up in a Biblical ministry. He is an adjunct teaching pastor at Solomon's Porch in Jenison, assists in a discipleship ministry called "Under the Fig Tree (Holland) and regularly preaches and teaches classes for various area churches.
He has recently taught at Ada Bible Church and Mars Hill and is working on a class to be given at a church in Detroit.
Additionally, he is now leading tours to the Holy Land (www.walkingthetext.com) and will begin leading trips to Turkey in 2011.
He and Shallon have two children, Denyon, 2, and Aryah, 3 months old.
"I am having the time of my life," he said. "I love the teaching, and I look forward to the trips we take. I am putting together the first trip to Israel where I will be the sole leader."
Gray laughs when he thinks of how his life has turned around.
"People who haven't seen me for a couple of years would be stunned," he said. "When they remember the career path and the early business success I had, the last five years would be a mystery to them.
"But it is pretty basic," he went on. "I am just doing what God called me to do, and I am loving every moment of it."