Posted on 17 January 2014.
During a Christmas Eve church service in 2008, a Michigan outreach pastor felt a nudge to take the leap as a lead pastor in his church. A little more than a year later, he answered that call.
Kyle Ray, lead pastor of Kentwood Community Church, didn’t always pursue ministry. He went to the University of Michigan and Georgia State for engineering.
Ray then worked for General Motors in both Georgia and Michigan. In Michigan, Ray met his wife, Petra. When they were engaged, Ray felt called to leave GM.
Kyle Ray speaks about the book of Jeremiah during a Wednesday night IWU Summit Service.
The Rays then moved to Grand Rapids after Kyle accepted a job with Concept Industries in 1999, the same year they got married. In October of that year, the Rays found Kentwood Community Church.
At the church, the Rays connected with lead pastor Wayne Schmidt. After meeting them, Schmidt asked if Kyle and Petra wanted to serve at the church and reach the increasing diverse peoples of Kentwood.
“We laughed,” Ray said.
Despite their slight amusement, it didn’t stop the Rays from serving.
Petra served the church in a hospitality role. Kyle played trumpet in the praise band, which led to him leading a brass ensemble. He also taught a young adult and outreach class in the church.
After a couple of years of serving, Ray felt called to ministry. He heard the word seminary in his head one day. Without knowing the outcome, he took the leap and enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary in 2003.
“I had a real clear call that I was supposed to go to seminary,” Ray said. “I didn’t know that was a call to be a pastor. I thought, well maybe I’m supposed to come back and be a really good Sunday school teacher and keep working as an engineer.”
While at Asbury, Ray did realize that being a pastor was his call. Before he left for seminary, Schmidt told him that if he felt called back to Kentwood Community, there would be a spot open for him. That ended up happening.
“It was in ‘05, I remember praying, ‘Lord, are you calling us back to KCC or are we looking at going back just because it’s convenient?’” Ray said. “I really felt a clear call that was where we were supposed to go.”
He then served as outreach pastor starting in 2006.
Right before Ray came back as pastor, Schmidt had a vision of reaching the minorities of Kentwood. He admits the congregation lacked diversity. Schmidt also said Ray could help him in this.
“It was time where we had always been a strong church, a multiplying church,” Schmidt said. “But we were learning because our community had become so diverse, what it meant to be a multi-ethnic church.”
Schmidt said when he planted the church in 1979, 2 percent of Kentwood was minority. Now, he said it’s about 40 percent, and more than 70 nationalities of students in the Kentwood public schools.
Ray was the first African American pastor on staff at Kentwood Community. He said many community members couldn’t really imagine an African American becoming lead pastor of a suburban church.
“It sent a huge message to the community that God was up to something good in the life of KCC,” Ray said.
On Jan. 20, 2009, Schmidt asked Ray if he felt called by God to be lead pastor of the church. Schmidt didn’t know Ray began that thought more than a month before. Schmidt wasn’t planning on leaving since he’d been lead pastor for 30 years.
“I’d seen the favor on his life, the rapport with our congregation, the outreach into the community,” Schmidt said. “Kyle had been kind of homegrown in that he was an engineer when he came so that whole journey of lay-person, seminary, pastor. It all made me wonder if God was preparing him.”
Then in August of 2009, Ray and Schmidt told the congregation their plans of Ray becoming lead pastor starting in 2010.
Since Schmidt wasn’t planning on leaving the church, he didn’t know for sure what would happen next. His whole ministry was spent at Kentwood Community since age 21. After some time of uncertainty, he began discussions with Indiana Wesleyan University and started his new job as Vice President for Wesley Seminary at the beginning of 2010.
Dr. Jim Lo, IWU’s dean of the chapel, contacted Ray to speak in the Summit spiritual emphasis week for spring semester of 2014. Ray had to pray about it, and thought about what college students need to know.
Ray decided on the story of Jeremiah in the Bible. He said Jeremiah wanted to quit in his calling despite it all coming from God, and that only God could keep Jeremiah going. Ray believes some college students may think that same way.
“I want the students to know that there is a consuming fire from the Lord that ought to reside in them that makes it so they cannot keep the message of Christ to themselves,” Ray said.
As four years passed as lead pastor at Kentwood Community, Ray said the church has undergone a transformation in reaching different ethnicities thanks to Schmidt’s prompting in 2005. He said there’s been significant growth, specifically in the hispanic, asian and african culture.
“We say we don’t want it just to be cosmetically diverse, we’ll know that we’re getting somewhere when we see people breaking bread together across cultural lines.
“It’s been good, Ray said, “quite the journey.”