Keeping the Flame Ablaze
MINNEAPOLIS — North Central University is the most urban Assemblies of God institution of higher education, located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, in a metro area of 3.7 million residents. Rows of skyscrapers serve as the backdrop for the 12½-acre campus.
The school opened in 1930, just after the onset of the Great Depression, with 26 students gathering in the basement of Minneapolis Gospel Tabernacle. School officials seeking larger facilities for the growing student body in 1936 eyed purchasing a defunct massive brick hospital — but managed to scrape together only $100 of the $125,000 asking price. They went to local department store entrepreneur George Draper Dayton seeking a loan, negotiating a deal that in essence paid back the money through students involved in a work study program. Dayton went on to found the Minneapolis-based Target Corporation. North Central, meanwhile, became the city’s largest private land owner, with two dozen buildings on the eight-block campus, most of them newer than the apartment buildings and two-story residences on the periphery.
That original hospital now houses dormitories and offices of Miller Hall. Its beautifully renovated main floor hallway is lined with historic photos on both sides. Another former World War I-era hospital on campus, Carlson Hall, likewise is student housing these days, while a building originally occupied by hospital nurses serves as the T.J. Jones Library.
Pentecostal healing evangelist Smith Wigglesworth served as a North Central booster in the school’s early years. Revivaltime radio evangelist C.M. Ward taught at the school. Future U.S. Assemblies of God General Superintendent Thomas E. Trask graduated from North Central. G. Raymond Carlson, AG general superintendent from 1986 to 1993, earlier served as president of North Central. Don Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals from 1992 to 1998, spent 16 years as North Central’s president.
Scott A. Hagan took over as only the seventh president in the school’s 92-year history in 2017. At 6 feet, 4 inches, the energetic and intense Hagan is physically imposing, just as in his athletic youth. Hagan, 60, used sports as a refuge from his loving but tumultuous home life. His father worked in lumber mills in the Seattle region and the family moved 27 times by the time Scott reached the age of 16.
Just as Hagan prepared to begin classes at Seattle Pacific University, he says God touched his heart at a church service and convinced him to enroll in the AG’s Bethany Bible College in California. After graduating, he spent seven years as youth pastor under Charles T. Crabtree, who went on to serve as AG assistant general superintendent.
In 1990, Hagan planted Harvest Church in Elk Grove, California, and stayed 11 years, as the congregation had grown to 1,700 weekly attendees. He took over at Grand Rapids First Assembly in Michigan before returning to California five years later to launch Real Life Church in Sacramento. His son Tyler has kept up the church planting tradition, pioneering Anthem Church in Oakland.
Along the journey, Hagan continued as a lifelong learner, earning a master’s degree in leadership and organizational studies from Azusa Pacific and a Ph.D. in leadership studies from Gonzaga University. In 2017, North Central came calling with an offer to succeed the retiring Gordon L. Anderson. Hagan credits his predecessor for keeping the school on the right track, spiritually and financially, in his 22 years at the helm.
“The university still had a powerful Pentecostal ethos,” Hagan says. “In this day and age, the number one job of a Christian college president is to guard the school from heresy. Here the Scripture sits above, not just alongside, the curriculum. We want biblical biologists, Scripture-first scientists.”
Hagan also has followed Anderson’s leading in keeping spending from skyrocketing out of control; North Central has indebtedness of only $3.3 million.
Although he spent over 30 years as adjunct professor, Hagan put in more time than that leading churches.
“I want to lead the school with a pastor’s heart and mindset,” Hagan says.
North Central is one of the few remaining schools in the nation with five-days-a-week chapel services. Before worship begins, scores of students gather in front of the platform in expectancy. Many lift their hands during the praise time.
In fact, 35% attending the school plan to go into ministry or missions work. Children of ordained AG credential holders can receive a four-year scholarship that offers a roughly 50% reduction in tuition. Dependent children of AG world missionaries receive free tuition, only committing to a hybrid model of work study plus room and board costs. Since the implementation of the Grant-Pennington scholarship three years ago, the number of AGWM dependents enrolled has increased tenfold, to 50 students.
Still, enrollment fell in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions and the killing of George Floyd nearby. Postponement of youth conventions and youth camps in 2020-21 crimped the pipeline of first-year students. Currently 973 students attend NCU.
“Being in an urban area has been challenging the past couple of years,” Hagan concedes. “The pandemic and civil unrest in 2020 was difficult.”
However, momentum is being recaptured, according to Hagan. Projected enrollment for next school year is on track to be at a near-record level.
North Central abuts Elliot Park, the oldest park in the metropolis. In a public-private partnership with the city, the school invested in a new turf soccer field in Elliot Park. The university also offers 17 varsity sports. Hagan, who turned down basketball scholarships to attend Bible college, retains a love of athletics that is evident around his office with memorabilia from Hall of Famer professionals: a signed Joe Montana football; an autographed photo taken with Cal Ripken Jr.; a signed jersey from Fran Tarkenton.
Like any inner city, Minneapolis has its share of challenges. But the campus is largely safe and clean. Hagan lives in the heart of the NCU neighborhood — a multicultural neighborhood that includes the largest Somali immigrant settlement in the U.S.
Yet Hagan notes some of the leading AG churches in the nation are in the region: the multisite River Valley, led by AG Executive Presbyter Rob Ketterling; multisite Emmanuel Christian Center, pastored by Nate Ruch; and Cedar Valley Church, led by Neal Rich.
Hagan obviously enjoys a camaraderie with his faculty. He convenes a semimonthly president’s council with 15 key administrators, faculty, and staff for feedback and brainstorming. It’s evident during the two-hour session of rigorous discussion that Hagan is approachable and esteemed by his colleagues.
North Central draws students from a wide geographical swatch, with 47% coming from out of state. More than half of this year’s incoming students are from AG families.
“We are holding fast to the Pentecostal power of God in our preaching and teaching,” Hagan says. “We want to make sure the fire doesn’t go out.”