Leading by following the Lord

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By Todd Martin

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” – Martin Luther King Jr.



Charles Ashby never asked for his job as the director of the Marnel C. Moorman Family Life Center. He never handed in a resume or interviewed. He didn’t expect to run a community center, didn’t expect be the chairman of the board for Operation Care or to be assistant chaplain for the Jewish Hospital Shelbyville.

No, all those things just came together once he figured out what he was supposed to be doing.

"I give all the credit to God,” he said. "For years I tried to be a leader but took a lot of shortcuts. Finally, God hit me over the head and made me realize that it’s not about me.”

Now, as he is constantly running among his many obligations, he said he realizes that his time is too important.

"Sometimes I think about giving something up,” he said. "I still have to be a husband and a father.”

His time with his wife, Debra, and his daughters, Leigh and Lillie, may be limited, but he can’t stop helping.

"I’ll just wait on Him to tell me what to do. He’ll know when I should step away.”


"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – MLK


Ashby said it wasn’t always this easy for him.   

One of his favorite ideals to follow now is "stay humble,” but there was a time when he couldn’t.

"I led a reckless life,” he said.

Ashby dropped out of high school, and it only got worse from there. He was sent to at 18 because "I was young and stupid.”

Then, at 42, things got even worse.

"I was in a major car accident that killed two people. It was devastating. I was devastated,” he said.

That landed Ashby back in jail.

"I was facing two murder charges, and that’s when I surrendered,” he said. "I told Him, 'If there’s anything left of my life – even if it’s in jail – let me serve You.'“

That’s where things started to turn around.

"I started teaching right away, six months after I got to Blackburn [Correctional Complex in Lexington]. For 18 months I taught the Bible, I studied it every day, and I walked with the Lord every day,” he said.

When he was released from Blackburn, he knew he had to focus even more.

"I didn’t want to become a statistic – a jailhouse preacher,” he said. "But He just told me to stay focused, go home to church and stay involved, so that’s what I did.”

Ashby got his GED in prison and continued his education at the Simmons Bible College – now Simmons College of Kentucky.

"I’ve been going since 2002, and I’ve received my certificate, and I’ll have an associate’s degree in 2012.”


"I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land!” – MLK   

Out of prison with his GED and with business sense learned from running a cab company, U-Haul business and his own BP station, Ashby was ready to get started on his new life.

"I didn’t know what to do, but God told me to open a Christian store,” he said. "Around 2001 I opened Christian World in the Family Life Center [at Clay Street]. After a few months the deacons and the pastor saw what I was doing and my commitment to the Lord, and they asked me if I wanted to be the Director of the Family Life Center.

“Every time I humble myself and show my commitment to the Lord, He shows me where I need to go.”

Being the director of the Family Life Center, Ashby said, is the best way to reach out to the community, which hosts dozens of recreational activities for kids and adults, including basketball leagues and roller skating.

"This is the best way to reach some that have been lost,” he said. "We don’t push Clay Street [Baptist Church], but we worry about souls. I try to reach the kids that are involved in programs, and the parents that may be lost sitting in the stands. I don’t necessarily always use the bible, but just my life and how I lead it now.”

Ashby has plenty of experience to draw on from both sides of his life.

Now, 53, he has been a minister for 10 years.

"Because of my childhood, being a dropout and going to prison, I can see in these kids and young people and what path they’re going down,” he said. "I was the class clown, I did everything to try to fit in.

"I try to tell them all the time where they’re headed and try to encourage them not to get caught up in it. I let them know you can make friends and be a good student, you can be cool and follow the Lord’s path. I try to help lead them the right way.”

"I am not interested in power for power's sake, but I'm interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.” – MLK   


Best advice

Ashby’s best tips for staying on the right path.

•    Stay in school and be respectful of your elders.

•    Don’t retaliate; whatever, it was isn’t worth it.

•    You don’t have to be bad to be cool.

•    Get Jesus, that’s the main thing. You can have everything, but if you don’t have Jesus, it won’t last.