Conversation: James T. Bradford
Depending on the Holy Spirit
The Executive Presbytery unanimously appointed Dr. James T.
Bradford, 56, to the position of general secretary of the Assemblies of God.
Bradford, pastor of Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo., since 2003,
recently spoke with General Superintendent George O. Wood.
WOOD: Could you talk about your family background and a
little about your ministry?
Bradford: I grew up in Canada in the Pentecostal Assemblies
of Canada. Ours was a Spirit-filled family; my father was a layman, a
businessman. When I was still in high school we moved to the United States.
I love the sciences, and I had a heart to become an
aerospace engineer. As a junior in college I transferred to the University of
Minnesota to pursue a Ph.D. I got involved in the Chi Alpha group there. It was
a small group, and the campus pastor was just leaving. I became the student
By the end of my senior year, I’d shrunk the group from 12
down to three, but I felt in my heart God was birthing something. I stayed at
the university for another five years of graduate studies. We had a spiritual
breakthrough and grew pretty quickly from a very small group to nearly 100. I
pastored that group while I finished my dissertation.
A year later we became a university church. We started with
a core of 120 out of the campus ministry and planted a church right in the
University of Minnesota. It’s still there, Sojourn Christian Campus Church.
WOOD: You did your Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, and I’ve
joked that you’re the only pastor I know who’s scientifically competent to make
a church fly.
Bradford: I didn’t do anything romantic like design aircraft
or spaceships, but we did basic science that added to the literature. And every
time I hear you say that I’m scientifically trained to make a church fly, I
always say, “I wish it was that easy.” Many days I drive home as a pastor
saying, “You know, rocket science is pretty easy compared to this.” Pastors have
WOOD: You encountered some resistance to your leaving the
program to become a pastor.
Bradford: The head of my department really took me to task
one day. “So what are you doing with the rest of your life?” he asked a month
before I graduated. I told him, and he absolutely turned on me. “Don’t you know
how much the state of Minnesota puts into a Ph.D. student?” he asked.
He couldn’t begin to understand, but God had called me, and
that’s why I never want to grow cynical about the call of God. I tangibly
believe in the call of God. My own personal advisor, a Jewish man, was more
understanding. He said, “Probably the skills you learned here will apply to
many areas of your life.” And I have found that to be true.
WOOD: You have a great ministry in prayer. Prayer played a
pivotal role in an experience you and I shared.
Bradford: You had been at Newport Mesa Christian Center in
the heart of Orange County on the campus of Vanguard University just south of
Los Angeles. You had been there 17 years and had built a church from a few
dozen to 2,000. When you were elected to district office you called me out of
the blue and asked if I would be willing to talk to the board. I said no to you
once, and I said no to them once. I thought that was it. I was 35 years old,
and I thought it was a ministry suicide assignment going from a university
church where I was the oldest person to a multigenerational, very large church.
But I came to a different decision after praying about it. I ended up serving
there for 12 years, and it was a great gift to me.
WOOD: God really flourished your ministry. Then you came to
Central Assembly. Under your leadership Central has really reached out into the
Bradford: The congregation has become very missional
locally. Globally they’ve always been quite missional, but locally it started
with an after-school program at Pipkin Middle School right next to us. It’s
just grown and grown. The church is now doing Adopt-a-Block programs, oil
change ministries for single moms, feeding programs, food pantries, several
more after-school programs. And people are getting saved. God just keeps
raising up people with a heart to reach out.
WOOD: Tell me about your passion for the Assemblies of God
and for young ministers.
Bradford: I’m excited about our future, and I want to see
young leaders’ creativity tapped. Yes, we need to stay primitively dependent on
the Holy Spirit, like our forefathers did. At the same time, I have a passion
to open up our Movement to young leaders so they can feel like, “I have a place
here; my voice is heard. My creative ideas will not get vetoed, will not get
preached against at General Council. I’ll be encouraged, rather than shut
At Central Assembly we have hundreds of college students who
attend the church, many of them here because of our proximity to Evangel and
CBC and the seminary, many of them in ministry preparation. I see them as our
future, and I’m really excited about investing in them.
WOOD: The Assemblies of God has always given strong focus to
the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Talk a little bit about your
relationship to the Holy Spirit, your focus on the Spirit.
Bradford: My very first year in college, before I
transferred to the University of Minnesota, I had a friend who was two years
ahead of me and was Pentecostal. He was a prayer warrior. We used to take a
break at a church near campus and pray every afternoon. He kind of mentored me.
Then when I went to the University of Minnesota and shrank
that group from 12 to three, a guy sat in my dorm room and said, “Well, maybe
we ought to pray and fast.” And for three months I was just undone. It was like
God just surrounded me with a sense of His holiness and the Spirit. Sometimes I
would pray for two hours, and all I could do was just groan. I felt like God
was birthing something in me.
About a year and a half later, very suddenly, we had a
spiritual breakthrough. We grew from a little group to 100. That experience
made me passionately committed to corporate prayer.
I would pray with 200 people every Wednesday night at
Central. We would just do extended corporate prayer.
I never want what I do to be a performance, something put
on. It’s got to come authentically out of who I am. I want to just love Jesus,
serve Jesus, and depend on the power of the Holy Spirit.
You know, I’m a little quiet in my disposition at times, but
I just see the power of the Holy Spirit. I love the fellowship of the Holy
Spirit, walking with the Lord, just depending on Him. I think because I haven’t
had any of the formal training to do ministry in the way others have had the
privilege of doing, maybe that’s made me a little more desperate. I’ve just
needed to lean on the Holy Spirit.
And the Holy Spirit is not old-fashioned; the Holy Spirit is
not archaic. I don’t think we need to relate the Holy Spirit to stylistic
subcultures of 40 or 50 years ago. Yes, our culture is different, but the
tangible, evidential power of the Holy Spirit never changes. We need to keep
giving place to that.
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