Dr. Derek Grier: I think if we’re really learning and if we’re really growing and if we’re really gaining a revelation of who He is, there would be a constant breathlessness and a constant level of gratitude that’s not forced. I would say that each of us need to press into really knowing Him.
God Is Our Hero: Dr. Derek Grier and BibleForce’s Wayne McKay – Episode #167
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today’s guests have experienced the heroic influence of God in their lives, and have strived to convey the power of His presence in their lives to others: pastor Dr. Derek Grier and inspirational children’s publisher Wayne McKay.
While he was growing up, if you’d have asked Dr. Derek Grier what he would do for a living, he admits that being a pastor was the last thing he thought he’d be, and yet he defied expectations by becoming the founder of Grace Church, named by Outreach Magazine as one of the fastest-growing churches in America. As an introverted young person, Dr. Grier relates how he overcame his aversion to groups by understanding how he is uniquely wired to connect with others. He shares about his troubled youth and how an encounter with God changed the direction he was headed. He also passes on some insight from his new book When God Stops.
Dr. Derek Grier: My name is Derek Grier. I’m a husband of 25 years to the love of my life, and also the father of two young men. I’m the pastor of Grace Church in Dumfries, Virginia. We’re about 30 miles outside of Washington D.C. And if I was to explain who I am and what my passion is, I’d probably say, “To help people build authentic and dynamic and powerful relationships with Jesus, and to help folks live lives bigger and more significant than they probably ever imagined.” I think that’s the pulse of our ministry.
Learning to How to Refuel
I’m probably one of the most unlikely people to ever become a pastor. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. My mother did attend church some when I was a teenager. But on Thanksgiving, my dad would say, “What am I thanking God for? He never did anything for me.” Today, he’s my biggest fan, and he goes to church himself. He’ll sometimes watch two services or livestream our services here before he goes to church. A lot has happened in my father’s life.
Both my parents grew up in poor flats in the South Bronx in New York City. They shared bathrooms with all the families on the hall. My mother’s father and my father’s father left them when they were young.
At sixteen, my dad signed up for the Air Force, so he’s a military guy and he did that to get out of the streets of New York. He served in the Korean War, and when he returned to the States, he married my mom.
I have two older sisters and a younger brother, and if I were to describe the ethos of my house, it is pretty simple. My parents loved us, but they made it clear that we live in a tough world. And if we wanted to survive, we had to be twice as good, and we had better learn to take care of ourselves.
The kids would be on the street playing basketball and football, but I’d stand at the window for fifteen minutes psyching myself [up] about going out in the street. Most of the time, I didn’t psych myself [up]. I learned to play basketball. I made the team, but it was hard to stay on a team because of the way I am wired. So for me to become a pastor is amazing, because of my introversion.
One thing that has helped me is that I now understand introversion a little differently than I did as a younger person. I used to be embarrassed by it. The way I have learned to describe it is that introversion versus extroversion is about how you refuel. An extrovert is a kind of like an airplane that can refuel while it’s flying. I’m a guy who has to land to refuel. And it’s not that I can’t fly as long or as well as anyone else, but it’s just that I need some downtime.
“The way I have learned to describe it is that introversion versus extroversion is about how you refuel.” – Dr. Derek Grier
So I refuel by being in a small group. Others refuel by feeding off of others in the room, and that gives them energy. It’s not that I’m a bad person or a weaker person. It’s just how I refuel emotionally, versus the way others do. [Learning this about myself] has helped me to not condemn myself and beat myself up.
“Jesus Became My Hero”
I ran with kids a lot older than me, I did things kids my age shouldn’t do, and I probably went a lot of places I shouldn’t go. By the time I reached high school, I was getting into all types of trouble, and both my parents feared that I wouldn’t finish high school. Then one day, I did something I call “kid stupid.” And my father told me, “Hey, all I want you to do is graduate high school and go into the military. Go into the Army, or do something with yourself, but just find a way to graduate. Maybe the military make a man out of you.”
The fact that he thought that graduating high school was about the best I could do really made me mad. This was one of those moments when rebellion worked for me, so I turned my grades around to prove that I could track my own destiny and become my own man.
By the time I did it and graduated, I’d moved back to New Jersey, but an old friend from New York called me and he was at Howard University and told me how beautiful the girls were. I mean, he went on and on about how incredible the young ladies were at Howard University. At that point, I was like, I have to get into that school. I applied, and to my surprise, I was accepted.
I began to read the Gospels, and in them, I discovered a man that I was just absolutely floored by. The person I discovered in Scripture, I don’t really have words to describe. This guy walked through angry crowds unarmed, calmed storms with a word. He didn’t flinch when He was standing before Pilate.
The strength of Jesus was amazing, and at his weakest moment on the cross, He still forgave. After months of reading, I finally concluded that You know what? This was more than just a man. I gave my life to Jesus Christ. And what really captured me was that His message was phenomenal, though I didn’t quite understand it all. But what captured me was [Jesus’] character. He became my hero, even before He became my Lord.
“What captured me was [Jesus’] character. He became my hero, even before He became my Lord.” – Dr. Derek Grier
Planting a Church with Hope, Growing with Faith
I met my wife [when I was] doing a favor for two lady friends of mine. They went into the beauty supply store, Sally’s Beauty Supply, and I got a little impatient. It was really hot outside, and I decided to go in and check on them and make them come out. I went into the store, and there was this beautiful, young lady standing there in a pink smock, and I’ll never forget it. We met that day, and the rest is history.
We started a church on 14th Street. At that time, it was the center of prostitution and drugs in the city. That location shut down because of a lack of funding. Most of the folks that came to our services were from the homeless shelter right on the corner, and there was just no funding. My wife and I were carrying it.
At that point, I began to question my decision to enter the ministry, and it had started becoming more of a nightmare than a blessing. I kept feeling haunted. I think that’s the best way to describe it, because my brain was saying, No way. I’m not good at this. I’m not wired for this. I must’ve misconstrued some things. But my heart was saying, Hey, this what I called you to. Feed my sheep, which was a reference to what [Jesus] said to Peter.
Finally, I just got tired of it and said to myself, Listen, I’m gonna go and step out there one more time. I took a cash advance for my credit card, and I rented [the back of] a high school auditorium.
[Grace Church] grew pretty quickly. We started at 12 people. We grew to 30. That was amazing because my church on 14th Street only sometimes exceeded thirty people, typically the most [we had] was about 60 or so. But by the end of 1998, we had over 100 people attending, and then we grew to about 250. Now, that may not sound like a lot of people to some, but this was the late ‘90s, and I was grateful to have anyone come and be a part of this great journey that I was on with Jesus. I was excited.
In 2007, we moved to an economically-challenged small town, about 10 minutes from the high school. It was in a small town of about 5,000 people, and we built a 300-seat sanctuary. The rub was most of the people from the high school didn’t come, and a lot of the reason was the blight in the area. But I think another part it was probably my poor leadership. I felt an assignment to [do more than] reach the wealthy. I really had a desire to reach folks from disadvantaged means.
We grew to have 4 services. It was overwhelming. That 300-seat sanctuary was serving over 1,000 people each weekend. And then, in 2012, we built a 1,000-seat auditorium right across the street. Our thinking was, “You know what? We’ll probably be in this building for the next twenty-five years, and we’ll only need one service.”
But by the first service, we needed 2 services, and then we expanded it to 3. People asked me, “Well how did you grow your church? How did you do that?” But I don’t really think I grew my church as much as my church grew me. Doing life with people, loving folks [through] good times and bad times, especially being out in front, causes you to have to grow at a different level and pace than you would otherwise.
“I don’t really think I grew my church as much as my church grew me.” – Dr. Derek Grier
One of my biggest surprises in ministry was . . . my fear was I am not only a teacher, I love Jesus and I love His Truth. I love His Word. My fear was that there would be so much pressure on me to compromise the message in order for us to grow, but I found quite the opposite. If you’re true to the message, folks are hungry and people have their arguments, but if you begin to really communicate God’s truth caringly, consistently, and clearly, hungry people will beat a path to your door, because people want to know God. They’re not just interested in being part of a club, they’re not really interested in having the message dumbed down. It’s very, very dark out there. People need the Lord. That’s exactly what many folks want.
“If you begin to really communicate God’s truth caringly, consistently, and clearly, hungry people will beat a path to your door, because people want to know God.” – Dr. Derek Grier
I don’t know why He trusted us, but He saw our motivation. We learn how to do things over time, and in a way, I think that pleases Him. [We didn’t grow rapidly] because we were a better church, or more passionate church, than any other group of people. I just think it was His mercy.
Every morning, I typically go on a walk for two miles, and that’s my quiet time. It’s my routine now, and I’m expecting it. That routine has helped me. Some people are fueled by being around people. I’m the opposite in that I get tired [when I’m around people]. I have to refuel myself. I know everyone has to refuel themselves, but I really have to refuel myself. Otherwise, I’ll start withdrawing. I will end up [being] quiet when I should speak. When you’re a pastor, and you’re in a situation in which you’re not speaking to [the people], you can find yourself in trouble. I’ve learned that I have to keep myself fueled up, fired up, and paying attention. I don’t do it perfectly, even though I walk in the morning and get into the Word.
When I’m weak, He’s strong. He designs people [differently]. In this one area, they may need the Lord a whole lot. Other people [have needs] in another area. [Taking time to refuel by myself] just happens to be my area. He’s been good, He’s been faithful.
God Grows Us into Who We’re Meant to Be
Narrator: Dr. Grier reflects on how allowing God to push him beyond the limits of what he thinks he can do helps him grow as a person and a pastor. He shares a passage from Jesus Always that talks about how God is looking to expand our joy by growing us into what we’re ultimately meant to be. He also shares the premise behind his new book When God Stops.
Dr. Derek Grier: I have chosen to keep allowing God to push the envelope in my life. If an opportunity presents itself, I just have a green light in my heart. I’ve learned to take those [opportunities] and to step out into them, because in those moments of need, especially when something’s new, you’re not good at it yet, you really need God. But what happens is when your life is really predictable, everything’s going just the way you think it should and [the way you] planned, It’s really easy to get caught up in what you already know versus pursuing new insights and revelations.
“Your life is a precious gift from Me. Open your hands and your heart to receive this day gratefully. Relate to Me as your Savior and Friend, but remember I am also your Creator-God: All things were created by Me. As you go through this day that I’ve gifted to you, look for signs of My abiding Presence. I am with you, watching over you continually. On bright, joyful days, speak to Me about the pleasures I provide; as you thank Me for them, your Joy will expand abundantly. On dark, difficult days, grasp My hand in trusting dependence. I will help you, beloved.
“Your physical life is an amazing gift, but your spiritual life is a treasure of infinite value! People who don’t know Me as Savior will spend an eternity in terrible separation from Me. But because you belong to Me, you will live with Me forever, enjoying a glorified body that will never get sick or tired. Since I have saved you by grace through faith, let thankfulness for this indescribable gift fill you with overflowing Joy!”
[My new book When God Stops] is about 8 people in the Bible that Jesus stopped for.
Jesus had a very busy schedule. There were tens of thousands of people that He could have talked to, stopped for, and do miracles for. I spent time digging into why He stopped for the people that He did in the Scriptures: the woman with the issue of blood, the ten lepers, and the one that returned the disciples in the storm. [He stopped for] Zaccheus, who was up a tree, and a woman caught in the act of adultery. [He stopped for] a couple that was getting married at Cana. He came to the man at the pool of the state of Bethesda, and also blind Bartimaeus. I think Bartimaeus is probably my favorite of all time. Jesus stopped for them, and [when he stopped for] Bartimeus on the road to Jerusalem, where He was going to be killed, but He stopped for a beggar. He literally stopped in His tracks, because that man was calling Him.
My thinking was, Hey, if we could learn why Jesus stopped for these characters, we can also discover how and why He would stop for us, because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If He doesn’t change, and if we apply the same principles, we could have some of the same results today.
In the Old Testament, people would go to a new land and have an experience with God, and then they would place a stone of remembrance there, and then go somewhere else and do the same thing. At each place, there was a new revelation of God.
But what happens is that sometimes, we just stay in that place where God revealed Himself to us twenty years ago, and that’s it. It’s a great place, we need to remember that place and value and esteem what God did in that season. But there’s so much more to learn about God, and we have to continue to step out in our faith journey and do things that we have not done before, in order for us to continue to get a growing revelation of who God is.
“Sometimes, we just stay in that place where God revealed Himself to us twenty years ago, and that’s it.” – Dr. Derek Grier
“We have to continue to step out in our faith journey and do things that we have not done before, in order for us to continue to get a growing revelation of who God is.” – Dr. Derek Grier
Stay tuned for our conversation with Wayne McKay, the mastermind behind the new graphic novel series for kids called BibleForce, after a brief message about a new edition of Jesus Calling!
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Narrator: Growing up, Wayne McKay sat in Sunday school, trying hard to understand the words in his Bible, but time and again, he came up short and wished there was something a bit easier to read. As an adult, Wayne made it his goal to create inspirational products for kids, and along with a colleague named Peter Hicks, they launched BibleForce, a visual version of the Bible they always wished they had when they were little. Today Wayne talks about why it’s so important to get inspirational messages to kids early to teach them about the hero they can find in God.
Wayne McKay: My name is Wayne McKay, and I live in Sydney, Australia. Sun, surf, and sunburn, is a part of everyday life. I’m a really simple person who enjoys a less complicated life, which I share with my wife and children.
I own my own company, which has three separate divisions. The most prominent of these outside Australia is our publishing business, where we’re focused on high-quality children’s educational and inspirational products, which is my real passion. I’ve been focused on this for over 25 years, and it is something that I truly love.
Bible studies and church life was a cornerstone of my life when I was a child. The church, in particular, played a really important [role in] my family. In fact, my entire family’s social fabric and networks were surrounded by the church. All of our family friends went to the same church, which was a place called Presbyterian Church at Beacon Hill on Sydney’s northern beaches. I went to this church and Sunday school as well.
“I wasn’t a very good student of the Bible when I was a kid, because I just didn’t understand it. If I’d had a picture story where I could’ve looked at something, then I would have been far more interested when I was younger.” – Wayne McKay
Sharing God’s Heroes with Children Early in Life
I think it’s really important to get the Bible into children’s hands as early as possible, but also in a very simple format. I think that the Bible, in particular, has really good life lessons. If we can get kids thinking along those terms as early as possible, then I think we’ve done the right thing. We [should] start to share some of those life lessons early, and I don’t just mean with Christian children, because we’re trying to attract people from all walks of life so they can learn the values of good Christian living. It’s about getting something that’s meaningful into children’s hands early, where they can look at things, pick up a nice message, and then get it communicated through an easy platform. Our first product was a completely illustrated children’s Bible. It’s been very popular all over the world.
BibleForce, in particular, is about the first heroes. We really wanted to get the message across that before all else, the Bible is where the first heroes began. We wanted to focus on that, and the reasons behind the really great things that these particular characters did, and how they went about doing it. For me, it was really, really important that we had that connection as far as heroes were concerned. I think heroes should be displaying good moral code, standing up for others, unafraid to take on confrontation, and should be a good member of the community. All those things were important to me, and I think they are good examples to others.
“I think heroes should be displaying good moral code, standing up for others, unafraid to take on confrontation, and should be a good member of the community.” – Wayne McKay
We also wanted to think about the many challenges that our heroes had to face back in those times. If we had to deal with some of the challenges they had to deal with, I wonder how we would cope. I think [Bible Force has] done a really good job in getting their message across and standing up for what is right and delivering God’s Word. They’re really important heroes as far as I’m concerned.
You Can Depend on God
I spend a lot of time traveling the world, so I have a lot of time for reflection and thanksgiving. I have lots of time to really reflect. And I use that time quite selfishly because when I’m at home, I don’t have a lot of time. I’m so busy at home [being with my family], so I’ve really got to take those quiet times and use the best of my time to really reflect on what I have to be thankful for.
I have recently become familiar with the Jesus Calling products, and I quite like them. I see them as a daily kickstart to your day, and I think it’s really important. Since I’ve been reading them, I can relate them to my everyday life, which is really important.
This is from the March 29th passage. I think this is relevant to a lot of things and just life in general:
“Stop trying to work things out before their times have come. Accept the limitations of living one day at a time. When something comes to your attention, ask Me whether or not it is part of today’s agenda. If it isn’t, release it into My care and go on about today’s duties. When you follow this practice, there will be a beautiful simplicity about your life: a time for everything, and everything in its time. A life lived close to Me is not complicated or cluttered. When your focus is on My Presence, many things that once troubled you lose their power over you. Though the world around you is messy and confusing, remember that I have overcome the world. I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have Peace.”
I think that’s a really relevant statement because there’s so much going on in our lives, whether it be at work or school or other commitments or social media. There are just so many distractions, and this to me is all about prioritizing things. It lets you know there are other people in your life you can depend on. I think that’s really important.
Narrator: To learn more about BibleForce, please visit bibleforce.net.
If you’d like to hear more stories about finding God in unexpected ways, check out our interview with music artist David Crowder.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll feature a special story about The Next Door, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving women in crisis and equipping them for lives of wholeness and hope. We’ll talk to some of the women who have come through their program, like Aja Tate, who gives credit to The Next Door for teaching her how to handle and cope with difficult situations.
Aja Tate: At first, when my brother passed, I almost immediately went right back to drinking and drugging, because those were the only things that helped me feel no feelings. But once I walked through the process of The Next Door, and I was able to process his death a little more day by day. I gained a relationship with God and [came to] understand why God does things for the greater.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on jesuscalling.com/media/video.