Richard Ray: Associations are a “Brotherhood,” not a neighborhood

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Richard Ray has been the director of missions for the Tri-Rivers Baptist Area since 2014. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on ministry and the church. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here. 

Background

Where else have you worked, and what were your positions?

  • Pastor of North Creek Baptist Church, Centerville, Texas
  • Pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church, Buffalo, Texas
  • Pastor of First Baptist Church of Wink, Texas
  • Director of Missions for Pecos Valley Baptist Association

Where did you grow up?

Fort Worth TX and Burleson TX

How did you come to faith in Christ?

At the age of 10 in the summer month of June, 1976, I was attending a revival service at Fairy Baptist Church, Fairy, Texas, where my father, Bob Ray, served as pastor. He is still pastoring Fairy Baptist Church after 53 years.

Each night of the revival service, I knew the Lord was working on me as the evangelist would talk to me each night following the service. Each evening before I would close my eyes, I would pray, telling the Lord not to come tonight for fear I would not go to heaven.

On September 4, 1976, I was sharing with my older brother how I was afraid to go to sleep for fear I would wake up in hell. That Saturday evening, sitting up high in our front yard tree, my brother, who was three years older than me, led me to the salvation I was seeking in Jesus Christ.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

After graduating from Burleson High School, I served in the United States Air Force for five and one-half years and served during the time of Desert Storm. While in the Air Force and as time allowed, I attended multiple colleges through their extension programs.

I was honorably discharged and returned to Texas with my wife and three children. I attended Mary Hardin-Baylor until I was called into full-time ministry. I have many hours of college credits, but I do not hold any upper educational degree.

Ministry/Profession

Why do you feel called to your particular vocation?

I do not “feel” called. I am called to serve the Lord, whether that be in a secular vocation or in a ministry vocation. Since the day I was saved, I have desired to serve the Lord with an attitude of abandon for going and serving wherever the Lord may lead.

In my current position as director of missions serving 80 churches in four associations, I see how the Lord has used each calling in life, whether that be serving in the military, receiving education from colleges and universities, or serving as a plumber and welder. Each calling has equipped me for serving him today, and this calling will continue to equip me for tomorrow. 

Please tell us about your association—where it’s located, the key focus of its work and ministry, etc.

Tri-Rivers Baptist Area is made up of four associations (Lampasas, Coryell, Hamilton and Erath) serving 80 churches in total. The main office is located in Gatesville, Texas.

The key focus is creating a “Brotherhood of Churches” that ministers to one another through prayer, support and encouragement so that each church becomes stronger in serving the community in which God has placed it and that the church as a whole can make a great impact on the kingdom of God.

Simply put, Tri-Rivers Baptist Area is not 80 churches serving the Lord, but rather we are one church serving the Lord in 80 different locations so that the message of Christ can be proclaimed to the ends of the earth.

What do you like best about leading your association? Why?

Watching God work through his church and to witness God’s church coming together to do what one church cannot do.

My calling as director of missions is to serve the local church in such a way that the church can fulfill the calling God has given that church. When a church hits a stumbling block in ministry, it is my calling to remove and overcome that stumbling block so the church can move forward in fulfilling the vision God has given that church.

My calling is also to ensure that no one church feels isolated or insignificant in ministry, thus creating a “Brotherhood of Churches.” We are not a neighborhood of churches that only seem to care for one another, but we are a “Brotherhood of Churches” that truly care for one another to ensure each church is equipped to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What aspect(s) of associational ministry and/or its mission do you wish more people understood?

Associational ministry means no church is left out or left behind in ministry. It means every church is vital to the overall mission of the great commission. It means all things are possible when God’s church comes together so every need is met inside the church walls and out.

How has your association and its mission changed since you began your career?

Four years ago, when I first became director of missions for Tri-Rivers Baptist Area, we started out as 54 churches, and today, we have 80 churches. I saw the strength of what 80 churches can do. I envisioned every need being met within Tri-River Baptist Area if each church began to look at the other church as a brotherhood and not a neighborhood.

I believe association ministry is viable when it understands it’s role. We are called to serve the church in such a way that they are more equipped and freer to serve the Lord. I simply say, “Let our office do the grunt work of ministry so you can do the ministry of spreading God’s word.”

How do you expect your association and/or its mission to change in the next 10 to 20 years?

I believe the association and mission of Tri-Rivers Baptist Area will continue to grow stronger as churches begin to refocus on the great commission of building up the kingdom of God and not the walls of the church house. God has instructed us to build up his kingdom by spreading his testimony of sacrifice, love and grace. Together, as a “Brotherhood of Churches,” we can do just that.

Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your association.

Logistics is always a challenge, but with technology we can provide resources almost instantly. The greatest challenge is always ensuring that not only does the leadership of the church know the importance of the association of churches, but the congregation knows it as well.

What one aspect of your job gives you the greatest joy or fulfillment?

A church telling me a soul was saved. 

About Baptists 

What are the key issues—opportunities and/or challenges—facing Baptist churches?

I believe many of our Baptist churches feel isolated or insignificant in ministry, whether that be because of their size or location. We need to ensure each church they are not alone, and we can only do that by serving each church as if they were the only church we serve.

What are the key issues facing Baptists as a people or denomination?

Not understanding the power we have in Christ when we come together as one in Christ. Meaning, we talk more than we act.

What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?

Let every church know they matter by treating each church as Christ would treat them.

About Richard 

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

My father, Bob Ray, was and is my greatest mentor. He has led by example what it means to surrender it all to Jesus. He has prayed me through the difficult times of my life, provided guidance when I needed it most and has never left me or my family abandoned. His heart is fully surrendered to Christ.

Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.

I am not much of a reader outside of reading God’s word. The books I do read are purposeful books that will assist me in ministry. 

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

Acts 4:33-34: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.”

Why? Here is what I know:  If we as a “Brotherhood of Churches” are of one heart and one mind, sharing what God has blessed us with as we testify to the resurrection of the Lord, then God’s grace will work powerfully through us, and then and only then will there be no needy persons among us.

Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?

Paul: He spoke the word and lived the word.

Name something about you that would surprise people who know you well.

I love to sing 50’s style songs with Christian lyrics.

If you could get one “do over” in your career, what would it be, and why?

I would not “do over” anything, for I would be here today serving where I am serving if I did.

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