Pastor Ron Carpenter preached his farewell sermon on Sunday and officially transferred leadership of the 21,000-member multi-campus Redemption Church in Greenville, South Carolina, to John Gray.
"I want the agreement of the house because this is not a trivial moment to me," Carpenter, who founded Redemption in 1991, told the congregation. "This is the peaceful transference of power."
Carpenter asked members of the church to lay their hands on Gray as he prayed for protection, wisdom and favor for Gray and his wife, Aventer. He then handed a key to Gray, noting he had it since the day he started Redemption.
"From this moment forward, this is Relentless Church," Carpenter said after the emotional handoff, introducing the new name of the megachurch under Gray's leadership.
The website of Relentless currently features a countdown clock, pointing to May 13, when the newly branded church will hold its first service.
"Pastor Ron did not ask Pastor John to continue Redemption in Greenville, SC; he asked him to take it, re-brand it, change the name and flow with the will of God and vision that God has placed inside of him," the website explains. "Pastor Ron shared that he was taking his legacy of Redemption with him to San Jose, California, therefore, the shift to a new name had to occur. Pastors John and Aventer Gray celebrate Redemption and facets of the beautiful and effective legacy in ministry that have been built by Pastors Ron and Hope Carpenter."
Until now, Gray had been serving as associate pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, under the leadership of Pastor Joel Osteen. He will still preach on "various Wednesday nights at Lakewood," according to Osteen.
After receiving the key, Gray said, "In a time when our nation is still so divided by class and by race, here on a Sunday morning white pastors just handed off their life's work to black pastors in South Carolina. And the whole world must take note because this is how we break the back of that devil."
During his last service at Redemption, Carpenter told thousands of congregants that he would not be listing "accomplishments," including the number of baptisms or lives saved, from the past 27 years. "I don't even know," he said. "I just know it's off the charts."
He spent most of his time encouraging the congregation to not only accept the new leadership but also to accept the baton themselves as "everybody in the Kingdom of God is in a relay race."
"This is a relay race," he stressed. "That's why church has and must be multigenerational. Can't be all young folk in skinny jeans ... and it can't be all senior citizens and The Old Rugged Cross either."
He noted that biblical figures including the Apostle Paul, Peter, David and Elijah have run "their lap," as opposed to finishing their race, and they are now in the stands in Heaven looking to those in the church to run their lap and finish the race.
"After they ran their lap they passed it because you do not get the gold medal unless everybody runs well and in a relay race," Carpenter preached. "The first three could have ran with all their might ... they want to see the next runner do it just as hard ... and sacrifice just as much ... and I am here to ask a group of people are you ready to receive a baton and are you ready to put aside the sin and lay aside every weight that ensnares you and run the race with endurance?"
He also noted in his sermon that God had to bring in a new leader because the church's "potential has not begun to be tapped" and the new pastor "can pull a next level out of you." "So today we are here for that wonderful transition," he said.
Gray assured the congregation that he and his wife would "honor the legacy of this church."
"We're not looking for another career move," he stated. "We don't treat ministry as a career; it is a calling. We intend to stay. We're going to build in this community and we're going to watch God in this community."
Carpenter announced last year that he would be moving to San Jose, California, where he will take over the 14,000-member Jubilee Christian Center and rebrand it as part of the Redemption Church group. He said he would also be shutting down three Redemption campuses in order to do ministry better.
The announcement came over two months after he was forced to apologize to his congregation, which is 60 percent black, for racially insensitive comments made by his wife, Hope, over the controversial "take a knee" protest in the NFL at the time. His wife also apologized and asked for forgiveness.
Nearly two years ago after celebrating their 25th anniversary at Greenville, Carpenter said he and his wife had begun thinking about their next chapter now that their children were grown and they had become "empty nesters."
"What is the highest and best use of our life? What's the highest and best use of the time we have left?" he said. "I've seen pastors, I've been around church my whole life. I've seen 'em lead aggressively, passionately, with relevance and creativity into their late 60s however I personally have never seen anybody be able to continue that type of leadership into their 70s. Not saying it hasn't been done, just saying I haven't seen it."