JC Bradley says the Pentecost of Acts 2 was the most “cost effective” missions strategy God ever employed because He brought people “from every nation under Heaven” to the place where new Christians could tell them about Jesus.
God is employing the same strategy today by bringing “people from all over the world” to the door of Christian churches in America, said Bradley, associational missionary for the Central Piedmont Baptist Association in High Point.
“The challenge to the churches is to measure up in addressing those opportunities.”
Bradley is a lifelong missiologist who was recognized in September with a lifetime achievement award from the North American Mission Board. An associational missionary for the past 12 years, he was for 20 years the liaison for associational missions with the North American Mission Board (then called the Home Mission Board).
He’s been on church staff, and with the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) and was inspired to the field of Christian education by the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik in October 1957.
In the midst of Southern Baptist Convention-wide conversation about how best to fund missions, Bradley says the issue is theological, not geographical.
“We need more money for international missions,” said Bradley, 75, who has worked with the Central Piedmont Association since 1998.
“But the crux of the question is ‘Where is the mission field?’ In popular conversation, people refer to the mission field meaning they’ve gone over salt water somewhere. Biblically that is not the message. In Acts 1:8 Jesus thought the mission field begins in our Jerusalem. The fact is America is a mission field.”
Life on mission
Although he grew up in West Helena, Ark., James Curtis Bradley was born in Beebe, Ark.
He likes to say he was born in Beebe so he could be near his mother at the time of his birth.
His was a Christian home, and he “never knew anyone who loved his church so much as my dad.” JC was active in all aspects of West Helena Baptist Church to where he returned after graduating from Ouachita Baptist College (now University) to work in the family tire business.
He never felt the tire business was his “ultimate place,” and after Americans realized the need to ramp up progress in math and science education after Sputnik, Bradley sensed a call to a kind of education no one was talking about — Christian education.
He earned masters and doctoral degrees in education from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he met his future wife, Carolyn. They married in February 1961 and have two sons and two grandchildren.
Bradley entered vocational ministry at a time when churches were growing fast and “Sunday school was the primary intake vehicle and serious religious education was a very important part of the growth plan.”
His first church was Sherwood Baptist in Albany, Ga., then just three years old and rapidly growing. Now the church is famous as the force behind the popular family movies “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof.”
He taught at Gold Gate Theological Seminary, worked in Church Training at the Sunday School Board, and directed extension centers for Seminary Extension, where he worked extensively with associational missionaries.
Then for 20 years, he worked directly with associations from the staff of the Home Mission Board before coming to High Point. Of his recent recognition, he modestly said, “If the snowball rolls over enough times, it’s bound to pick up something”
But the fact remains that Bradley’s perspective and insights are respected among his peers.
He pointed out that of the 20 percent of Southern Baptist churches “in a growth mode” only one percent are growing from evangelism. The rest are growing from “circulation of the saints,” he said.
People and needs continue to cluster to urban areas, but measured by a business model of “market share” Christian impact is declining and “there is a tendency to go about business as usual even in the face of great challenges before us.”
Churches in America “need to be captured by mission awareness” because that is where any money will come from to finance either North American or international missions. Yet, “as churches decline they tend to turn inward and are less oriented to mission outreach,” he said.
Ultimately though, financing missions is less a question of money than it is of theology, he said, saying leadership must be ready with a strong answer to the question “Is associational and state convention missions really missions?”
A shift is occurring, not unlike the tectonic plates beneath the earth shifting to cause earthquakes.
He said in 20 years there may be more or fewer than the 80 associations in North Carolina, and 1,200 in the SBC, but they will not be defined by geography as they are now.
He suggested associations will form on a different basis, such as people groups, language or other affinities. He called the associations “potential centers of innovation” and said they are better positioned — near the church — than other denominational entities, for that purpose.