Pastor Ron Carpenter Jr. Speaks on his Journey Beyond Redemption Church, Why he Chose John Gray to be his Successor

Pastor Ron Carpenter Jr. speaks to congregation at Redemption Church

Ron Carpenter Jr., the pastor of Redemption Church in Greenville, announced that he would be stepping down from the ministry he founded in 1991, while in his 20s.

Carpenter said he will be going to Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, California, in May, replacing the retiring pastor Dick Bernal. Pastor John Gray, a pastor at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas, will take over at Redemption.

Carpenter shared more about his decision to leave the ministry, which began with three people and now has a diverse membership of more than 20,000 and a main campus with a familiar presence off Haywood Road.

Here’s a transcript of our interview with Carpenter:

What inspired your decision to leave Redemption Church and Greenville?

Carpenter: About two years ago, we had a 25th anniversary (celebration) here. We’ve been here for about 26 years, and so we took the whole year and celebrated 25 years of doing ministry. At that time, I had a friend that I had preached for, probably half a dozen times out in California, who had reached retirement age and had just begun to kind of throw little hints that if I ever felt like I had finished my work here, he would love for me to be his successor and take a shot at the West Coast, the kind of a place where maybe the Christian faith is not as known and has not permeated as much.

At first, I didn’t think a whole lot about it. As time went on over that two year period, I began to think more and more about it and share it with other people that I trusted.

So it was really about six months ago that we got serious about it, and over about the last two or three months that the actual succession plan began to really logistically take root.

What was the tipping point? 

Carpenter: We had done some soul searching about did we want to spend the rest our lives in Greenville.

We’ve been here about three decades. Had we kind of finished up? Was it ready for a fresh voice here? The church was really doing well, really strong, and in a good place to hand it to somebody, if that’s what we thought we were being led to do. But I would say the tipping point was the day about six months ago when he (pastor in California) called me and said, ‘I’m done. I’m retiring. I need to know if you’re the guy or not.’

That’s when I had to quit kind of just, I guess, entertaining it, take it seriously, and start doing some soul searching — me, my wife and my family.

How did you meet John Gray?

Carpenter: We met years ago when he was traveling with a band, Israel & New Breed. He was just like an introductory comedian who did a little 10-minute show.

During that time, Israel (Houghton, a Christian music singer, writer, producer and worship leader) came out and said, ‘I got this guy with me. Would you mind letting him do a little comic thing out in front? I know a lot of churches don’t want to do it. They don’t know him. They just want me to get up and sing.’ I’m like ‘sure.’

So he came out and he was hilarious. I mean 10 minutes and he had people in stitches. I’m like I got that name etched in my mind when nobody knew John Gray. We stayed in touch, ministered and spoke together over the years. But he said one of the reasons he came here is because I was one of the first ones to give him a stage and to give him a chance to really use his gift.

Why was John Gray the person you wanted as your successor?

Carpenter: This is a unique church. This is not an all this or all that church. We have basically made our mantra diversity. We have diverse cultures, we have diverse generational age groups, just a diversity of everything.

I knew it was going to take somebody unique. This is not an easy ministry. It’s a challenge. You have to be very strategic and intentional.

I know him. I know what kind of man he is and I knew that he had never had his own church. He had always been very popular on somebody else’s program or in somebody else’s world.

As we talked, he always had a lot of things in his heart he wanted to do but didn’t have the place to do it.

I wanted to get somebody that I felt like was actually better than myself — a better leader, a better preacher, a better speaker. He fit all those categories. I believe in him strongly and I trust him.

When you start putting all those things together, he was an obvious choice. I didn’t know if he’d take it or not but he did.

What is Redemption?

Carpenter: We have 22,000 active members but that would be all of our campuses put together. We are a church made up of five multiple campuses across the Carolinas.

It is now 26 and a half years old. We started it with three people in May 1991. No social media, no cellphones, just knocking on doors, grinding and hard work.

It’s been a long process, but after about seven or eight years, we broke the racial barrier. That was really, really big here. When we broke that racial barrier, it literally went from a handful of people and exploded. It really never has stopped.

When you started Redemption, did you think it would grow to this magnitude?

Carpenter: No. I was never voted the most likely to do anything. I’m a “never should’ve been, never could’ve been.” Probably the people that knew me growing up are the most surprised of anybody as they’ve watched what has happened.

This is a miracle. I wake up every day very aware that this is a miracle. I don’t think a man is good enough to pull this off, to come into the Deep South, have this kind of diversity with all the racial tension and everything that’s in the world, and to see the celebration that happens in this place.

It’s nothing short of beautiful. It’s really, really a God thing. I didn’t think this would ever be this big or reach these many people. There was a little while when I thought I was leading it. Now I think it’s out there leading me.

You’ve been the only pastor at Redemption?

Carpenter: Yes. I’ve been here my whole adult life. This is all I’ve ever known.

How difficult is it to leave?

Carpenter: I try not to think about it. It wasn’t difficult, so much, to make an announcement. I knew there would be disappointment and I dreaded it. I was anxious about it. But we’re still five months out from actually leaving.

I think if you were to ask me the first of May, which is really when the exchange of power is supposed to take place, you’ll probably see a whole different guy. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold my composure because all my adult memories are with these people. That’s a large investment. So, I’m saddened at all the things I’ll say goodbye to, but I don’t know that the real loss has hit me yet. I think come May it will hit me hard.

Have you ever thought about getting out of the ministry?

Carpenter: I haven’t been asked that before. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it. I’ve had some low, low, low points. I’ve had some points where I felt failure. I’ve had some points where I felt like maybe it was so bad I couldn’t recover. But my faith is very real to me. This is not an occupation. This is not a gig. This is not a career choice. I have a very, very real faith and even in the times when all my emotions made me want to run or go and do something else, I think my faith kept me in the game.

So I can look at you honestly and tell you, I don’t think there was ever a time I wanted to get out, but there are sometimes I wondered if I’d ever be successful.

What will your legacy in Greenville be?

Carpenter: I know this sounds so simplistic, but people hug my neck. They’ve already been doing it for the last few days, and said ‘You’ve made our lives better.’

If I were to die and everybody could write on my tombstone, “He made my life better,” I’ve been successful.

I hope that we’ve left our imprint and our mark on a lot of people in this region of the United States because that was our endeavor, to really try to take broken people, to take people discouraged, take people in a hole, take people in adversity and somehow bring a word of encouragement that somehow makes life a little bit better.

What do you see as your challenge going to a new ministry in California?

Learning a new culture. I think that will be my biggest challenge. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes that I think will help me as far as church, structure, organization and systems. I’ve learned a lot by trial and error, made a lot of mistakes.

One good thing about these people is they’ve let me grow up in front of them and learn from mistakes.

But I think there’s just so much difference between the Southeast and northern California that it will probably take me a while to learn the psyche, the mindset, learn how people think, where they’re coming from and be able to connect that.

The burden is not on them to understand me. The burden is on me to be able to understand them and be able to minister to them. I’ve got to go and learn how to get in the heart and the mind of somebody from northern California.

What do you see as the challenge for your congregation?

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SOURCE: Greenville News – Angelia Davis