Teddy Ray, Lead Pastor at Offerings First UMC in Lexington, Ky., had been pastoring for 10 years before he knew he was called to ministry. In fact, he took a year-long mission sabbatical to Spain and initially turned down the pastoral role at Offerings when he and his family were preparing to return to the U.S. He thought that decision would bring relief. Instead, it brought nothing but grief.
“I lost my appetite, and I couldn’t sleep,” Teddy said. “I had this recurring Voice in my head: ‘What do you think you’re going to go do?’”
Until that point, Teddy would have said his work with the church was “right and good,” but wouldn’t have described it as calling. Over the month of discernment that followed, Teddy realized being a pastor wasn’t just “good,” it was what God had designed him to do.
“Our first calling is to Christ and to serve, and it doesn’t matter if you’re an ordained pastor,” Teddy said, referencing Os Guiness. “It’s about being a human being. When you were created, you were called to obedience. Our second calling, similar to Moses or Paul, is a special calling that God has given, not to just anyone, but to you.”
In 2004, Teddy, who had grown up in First UMC in Lexington, officially joined the staff, beginning the evening service at Offerings. Few people were interested. While most pastors would have moved to a different initiative, the lead pastor at First UMC encouraged Teddy to grow a healthy community.
Offerings then transitioned to morning services to provide another worship option within the First UMC family that also has communities at Andover and Downtown. Teddy graduated from Asbury Seminary in 2012 and continued to pastor at Offerings until 2013. During that time, he’d been reading Leviticus about taking a sabbatical year.
“I’m always one to bring home weird ideas and move on to a new idea the next day,” Teddy laughed. “But after five to six times, my wife asked if we should pray about it. I said, ‘No! That’s nuts!’”
But pray they did. In 2014, Teddy and his family took a mission sabbatical with One Mission Society to Spain. His position as pastor at Offerings was divided between two people and he thought he would transition to a completely non-pastoral role when he returned.
Prior to the trip, Teddy recognized a spirit of cynicism and anger within himself. During the first six months, he and has family intentionally reflected on their lives with gratitude. Teddy experienced heart-healing transformation.
“I feel like I learned at least enough humility to realize how much I have to be grateful for,” he said. “Humility that maybe it’s not just about me making choices for my life, but God saying this is what I have for you.”
When he returned, his old position became available. Teddy refused. The pastor at the time, Mike Powers, persisted. Teddy accepted.
“When Paul writes to Timothy about appointing [leaders], you don’t get the sense that he’s grabbing someone and saying, ‘You go over there,’” Teddy said. “Instead, he identifies leaders within the community and equips them to serve.”
Since re-accepting the role as lead pastor at Offerings in 2014, the congregation has worshipped in three different places. Currently, they meet on Regency Road and have two services.
“If I chose anything else right now, it would not seem right,” Teddy said. “Here it is, and it’s what God has for me, despite my own attempts at decision making.”
This past fall, Offerings started a Read to Succeed program to help children in the community improve their reading and improve in school. After five weeks of minimal attendance, one of the Chinese children, who had attended only once before, brought her family with her.
The program now includes eight families, helping both children and their parents improve their English. Since the program’s beginning, one family moved back to China and frequently emails Teddy to learn how to live their faith and share it with others.
Just two weeks ago, a family with twin boys attended for the first time, after arriving in Kentucky the day before. Offerings was their first stop.
“We didn’t make these plans,” Teddy said. “Anything that actually worked out was not something that we have planned out.”
Teddy is also one of three owners of North Lime Donuts, located on North Limestone and Clays Mill. Teddy calls North Lime a “weird idea that stuck.” Teddy and his business partners, plan to open a new location in February 2018. Teddy and his wife, Emily, live in Lexington with their four children. As a family, they seek to live a life of simplicity and generosity. You can read more about Teddy on his blog at teddyray.com.
*Written and published February 2018. To hear Teddy’s current update, listen to this conversation on the Thrive with Asbury Seminary Podcast.
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