Connections: James T. Bradford
Mar. 23, 2014
An Increasingly Diverse Fellowship
James T. Bradford has been Assemblies of God general secretary since 2009. In his position, Bradford oversees the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center archives, the credentialing of AG ministers, church chartering, and the collection of official statistics for the Fellowship. Bradford, who holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota, previously served as senior pastor of Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo. Bradford, 61, sat down recently with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy to discuss the Fellowship’s 100th year.
evangel: What are you looking forward to most in this centennial year of the Assemblies of God?
JAMES T. BRADFORD: I’m looking forward especially to the events in Springfield on Aug. 7-10, the centennial combined with the AG World Congress, which occurs every three years. It will be a wonderful alignment this year.
In 1914, we dedicated ourselves to the greatest evangelization the world has ever seen. It’s appropriate to celebrate 100 years with a global focus by having the AG World Fellowship join us. We are hoping to have most of our general superintendents from around the world attend.
Springfield, as the site of the U.S. national office, holds a lot of significance to them. For many it will be their first time in Springfield. We thought about holding the venue in a larger city, but many want to come and see Springfield on the 100th anniversary.
evangel: As the general secretary who oversees ministerial credentialing, is the Assemblies of God a more diverse group than ever before?
BRADFORD: Yes, we are growing in our diversity. The U.S. Fellowship approved seven new districts in the past three years, all of them ethnic minority. That means a lot more ethnic ministers are coming on board. About 41 percent of our 3.1 million constituents are non-Anglo. We’ve seen a continued increase in the number of credential holders who pastor ethnic congregations.
evangel: Does that diversity extend to women?
BRADFORD: We’re excited to see that every year for over 20 years the number of female credential holders has grown. Now it’s up to 22 percent of all credential holders. That means nearly 8,000 female ministers out of 36,000, including more than 500 lead pastors. Nearly 800 are female U.S. or world missionaries.
evangel: How else have ?ministerial demographics changed?
BRADFORD: The average age of our ministers continues to increase. The average credential holder is now 54 years old; the average ordained minister is 59. So that means in the next 15 years we will see the largest senior leadership turnover in our history.
Our district schools of ministry are providing educational requirements now for nearly one-third of the ministers who are coming on, and the average age is 42 for them. That says we’re having a lot of second-career people feeling a call to ministry. Some will stay bivocational, but some will go into full-time ministry in midlife or later in life. There are wonderful people out there who have life experiences and can contribute a lot to our churches.
Our under-age-40 credential holders are staying about even at 22 percent of the total, although the figure was 34 percent 20 years ago. As we look at the next 100 years, our capacity to raise up a generation of under-40 leaders is a huge challenge.
evangel: Overall, how has the Assemblies of God changed the most in the past century?
BRADFORD: Obviously, in size. There were 300 delegates in Hot Springs, Ark. Numbers of them pastored small storefront churches. Now we have over 3.1 million adherents. We’ve seen the advent of the megachurch in our midst, as we have a growing number of churches with over 2,000 attendees.
This has required us to be much more family-oriented in our ministry programming. We’ve had to think a lot more about specialized ministries to children and to youth. That wasn’t central 100 years ago.
The size overall has enabled us over the decades to dramatically increase our commitment to missions. We’ve been able to send out many more missionaries than what there were resources for at our inception. We also have developed colleges and universities around the country that didn’t exist when we started.
Yet there is a concern about the growing sophistication of our ministry models. There is always a temptation to become less Pentecostal and less dependent on the Holy Spirit. Our big cultural and spiritual challenge is to be missionally effective at the local church level where people are regularly and authentically getting saved — while staying Pentecostal in experience, because people need the power of the Holy Spirit.
evangel: Would the founders be surprised to see the Assemblies of God sponsoring an annual Faith and Science Conference (the next is June 23-25 at Evangel University)?
BRADFORD: Our founders were very intelligent people, but in our first two or three decades some defaulted to a somewhat anti-education posture.
I’m excited about the opportunity for us to equip pastors in addressing faith and science issues. In reality, the people in their congregations are much more scientifically literate than the average person in an Assemblies of God storefront congregation in 1914.
Two of the most groundbreaking theories in the history of science were unfolding 100 years ago when our Fellowship was beginning to take shape: Einstein’s theory of relativity and the whole field of quantum mechanics. Today, church people are much more aware of scientific issues and realities. Now everybody uses technology, which is the fruit of science.
evangel: What changes do you see on the horizon for the Assemblies of God?
BRADFORD: Three things. As I mentioned earlier, seeing a generation of young leaders coming up. Secondly, the challenge of authentically being effective in reaching lost people, yet staying authentically Pentecostal at the same time. And then, given that one-third of the Assemblies of God is under age 25 right now, I see investing in top quality evangelism and discipleship for children and youth as a priority.
Along with that is the challenge of minimizing the drop-off rate of post-high school young adults as we get them into our colleges or into Chi Alpha groups, if they attend secular universities.
I like to think we’re not just finishing our first 100 years, but we’re using 2014 to launch our second 100 years, should Jesus tarry. While we’re not going to focus on the future without honoring the past, we also don’t want this to just be an exercise in nostalgia. We are going to use the past as a faith lens to look at our future.