It must be some kind of a record, and it is certainly rare, but Jerry Gray has served as a pastor for 43 years at two churches — twice. One is in North Carolina; the other, in South Carolina.
Before he was called to preach, he was not close to God, but God began to “deal with me,” he said. “I remember the time God spoke to my heart many years ago. I went back to my home church, which I had not attended in about six years. Before I opened the door to go in, I stopped for a moment and heard a message from God: ‘I don’t need you, but I will use you.’”
He began his journey as a youth minister serving Middleton Road Baptist Church near Anderson, while attending Anderson University and later Southern Wesleyan University.
After earning his undergraduate degree, he and his wife, Melba, moved to Wake Forest while he attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. During this time, he was called as pastor of Good Hope Baptist Church, located off a dirt road near the campus. On his first Sunday, the church had 19 attendees and an offering of $22. From 1978 to 1990, the church grew to approximately 500 members. In 1987, the road to the church was paved.
During his student days at Southeastern, he became known as a conservative on a campus that was anything but conservative. When the student body voted on who should preach the annual student sermon, he was chosen. “When I stood up there to preach, I said I was not there to talk about the president or the professors, but to preach Jesus,” he said. That became the theme of 43 years of preaching.
“I counsel young pastors not to try to please people with their preaching; just preach Jesus. Don’t compromise,” he said. “Please Him regardless of what happens. You can’t put out every fire and you cannot solve every problem or argument, but you can preach Jesus.”
After the road was paved to the church, a new church building was constructed. The church was healthy and growing. Then, in 1990, First Baptist Church in his hometown of Iva called him as pastor. He served there from 1990 to 2002, during which time the church experienced change and growth. They bought 17 acres of land on Highway 81 leading into Iva and began a plan of eventually moving to the land. In 1991, a day care center was built.
The church was doing well when Good Hope in Wake Forest called him to be their pastor again. The church had split during the 12 years he had been away. He decided to return. From 2002 to 2004, he helped the church heal and grow again. However, First Baptist, Iva, called and said they were ready to relocate and build on the property and wanted him to be their pastor again.
He returned to become their pastor for the second time. His dad had recently died, and he felt it was “time to return. God was leading me, and it seemed like it was the right time,” he said.
From 2004 to the present, he has served as pastor, leading the church to relocate and build a new sanctuary, educational space, and a family life center to complement the existing day care center.
He is now 72 and has served Iva First for a total of 29 years. He said, “I don’t know when I will retire. I feel as good as I ever have. The church is doing good, and when I mentioned retiring, some people asked why. I decided to continue as long as the church is doing good. We have many people and a number of ministries serving the community.”
Since his seminary days, he has led approximately 500 revival services up and down the eastern seaboard. He said, “It does not matter where I preach — from New York to Florida, I preach Jesus. I preach the same messages regardless of who is present.”
He said of the two churches he has pastored over a 43-year span: “I have loved both places. Both have been good to us.” Today, he stays busy with his pastoral duties, preaching, and tending his farm and its nearly 100 head of cattle. Since COVID, his revival meetings nearly stopped: none in 2020, and two this year.
Jerry and Melba have been married 49 years and have two children and four grandchildren.
He said, “God has been good to us, and you cannot be a very good pastor without a faithful and supportive wife.”
Throughout their unusual and blessed journey, he has constantly had in view God’s promise to use him and his commitment to simply preach Jesus — in revival meetings and at two churches twice.