Connections: James Bradford
Caring and Leading
Assemblies of God General Secretary James Bradford oversees Ministerial Resourcing, the credentialing of ministers, church chartering, the collection of official statistics, and the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. Prior to his election as general secretary, Bradford served as senior pastor of Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo. Bradford holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. As a student he led a small Chi Alpha campus Bible study that eventually grew into a university church. Bradford has also pastored Newport-Mesa Church (AG) in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Broadway Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. Bradford spoke recently with Pentecostal Evangel Managing Editor Scott Harrup.
evangel: You came to the Assemblies of God’s Executive Leadership Team from the pastorate. What elements of pastoral ministry do you integrate in your current role?
BRADFORD: Caring for people is at the heart of pastoral ministry. I worry that we sometimes love the concept of leadership more than actually loving people. So I want to translate that commitment to love in how I deal with the staff of the general secretary’s office; I want the people who serve me in this role to feel like I serve them to help them succeed.
Whenever we begin to focus on how many people are serving us, we lose our credibility in leadership. It’s not, “Is my team making me look good?” Rather, we should ask ourselves if we are making the team around us successful.
As I travel and minister to the pastors in our Fellowship, I emphasize that we are here to serve the spiritual potential of the people God has brought into our ministries.
evangel: Why do leaders more effectively lead from a ministry frame of reference?
BRADFORD: The saying is so well known it sounds cliché, that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. At the heart of your influence is the perception people have that you are there for them and not for yourself. The ministry focus in leadership is inclusion. Jesus clearly says about leadership that we are not to lord it over people. There’s no place for a heavy-handed, “I don’t care; you buy into my vision, or else,” point of view.
The ministry disposition orients us in another direction even corporate leaders recognize as valuable — that is, to validate people and bring them inclusively into evaluation and planning loops. A ministry focus is a team focus.
evangel: Who were mentors who helped shape your life?
BRADFORD: General Superintendent George Wood has been a real mentor in my life. I followed him into the pastorate at Newport-Mesa Christian Center. He had been there 17 years, there was no interim pastor, and I was pretty young. He became a constant encourager to me. I learned a lot about leadership through that opportunity. He stayed in my life, was available to me as my ministry transitioned, and it’s a privilege to serve with him on the Executive Leadership Team.
I came into ministry through the ranks of Chi Alpha. Dave Gable was the national director in the 1970s, and Dennis Gaylor followed him. Both Dave and Dennis especially imprinted me with a philosophy of ministry.
I grew up in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, and my pastor when I was young was Dr. H.H. Barber. For many years he pastored Calvary Temple in Winnipeg, Manitoba, one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Canada. Dr. Barber was probably the most prominent evangelical voice in western Canada. He was at that church for 44 years. He dedicated me when I was a baby. His influence early in my life, and his very sound, biblical preaching, gave a wonderful foundation.
evangel: What kind of leadership will the Assemblies of God need from the next generation?
BRADFORD: The postmodern winds of relativism claim there is no absolute truth. We’ll need to be a prophetic voice proclaiming a truth that applies to everyone; that is the foundation for moral imperatives on our behavior.
We’ll need leaders who serve with both their heads and their hearts. The assumptions the average person brings into a church are very different from what they were a generation ago. Spiritual leaders will need to think through those issues under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Pluralism, another challenge, claims there are many ways to God. This directly contradicts Jesus’ statement, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). Leaders will need to avoid either validating or resenting false spirituality, but will need to recognize people’s genuine spiritual hunger.
Finally, I see a lot of challenges coming through materialism and technology. We must address the life-redefining impact of materialism, and we want pastors to be able to think through some of the ethical implications of technological advances, particularly when it comes to life-sustaining or life-shaping issues.
evangel: Any other thoughts?
BRADFORD: Leadership is pivotal to the future of the Church. We have the opportunity to set the standard for true, humble, Jesus-style leadership that serves to bring about people’s greatest spiritual potential. Jesus said He did not come to be served, but to serve. There’s no better paradigm for leadership in any field.
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