By Sean Wardwell
Killeen Daily Herald
After retiring as Shoemaker High School's head football coach earlier this year, Ken Gray knew he wanted to continue working with youth.
LifeWay Fellowship gave him that opportunity. In August, he took over as the Killeen church's youth minister.
"It's really filled a void in my life as far as kids go. I've been in education all my life," said Gray. "When things seem darkest, the Lord will put someone in your path that will shine a light on you and lead you back to the path."
"(These kids) have done that for me," he continued. "It's a really good position."
Gray, 61, teaches and mentors nearly 50 students ages 12 to 18 every Sunday and Wednesday with his wife, Wendy, who also used to work in education.
"Things I learned in coaching have carried over into our lessons and classes," said Gray. "It's amazing to me how many things I learned in the lessons that, in years past, related to the things I dealt with in coaching."
More than simply studying the Bible, Gray comes in before lessons on Wednesday evenings to tutor the kids, as well. He said he learns just as much from them as they do from him.
"I told (the kids) when we first took over here that I wanted to learn from them," he said. "It's been kind of a cooperative group effort and I think it's not just me. I think it's been all of us just focusing on the Lord and on the word."
'One big family'
While Gray credits the group, his students say the former coach has taken Lifeway's youth ministry to a new level.
"He definitely has brought our youth group together," said Abigail Simmonds, who is one of Gray's students. "Before, I think we were all separated and in cliques. Now, I feel like we're all one big family.
"I think he is awesome and an amazing youth leader," she added.
Gray said what impresses him about the kids he teaches is their willingness to put others ahead of themselves.
"It's always encouraging to me how the kids are always praying for someone else," he said.
"In this 'I' generation, they're praying for others and they put themselves out there. Around us all, people are hurting and the kids are real good about trying to cure those ills."
LifeWay's pastor, the Rev. Jimmy Towers, who also is a retired coach, said Gray's was the first name that came to mind when he was thinking about a new youth minister.
"Ken Gray is a class act. His legacy of coaching is character building," said Towers. "It's easy to measure wins and losses, but that wasn't what he was all about. To me, it was a no-brainer."
Group more active, pastor says
Towers said he's also seen an increase in activity in the youth ministry, due to Gray's leadership.
"His spirit is infectious," said Towers.
Initially, Gray said when Towers approached him about the position, he didn't know what it would entail.
"When you volunteer, you never know what you're volunteering for, but this has been super," he said. "Working with the youth has been amazing. We have really good youth here."
Now, Gray wants to focus on growing his ministry, reaching as many youths as he can.
"The thing I always tell our youth at the church, or when I meet them, is to give us a shot. Just come and listen," he said. "There's never any pressure. Let the word work, and that's what we try to do. We try to be patient in the word."
Contact Sean Wardwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7552. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.