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Called Back to School

Senior pastor returns to student environment as U.S. missionary with Youth Alive in Arkansas.

Chris Bradley had been pastoring First Assembly of Hope in Arkansas, a church with 120 weekly attendees, for seven years when God began to stir his heart toward a far-reaching move.

Bradley received a phone call from a friend about disturbing changes coming down through the curriculum in the local school district. Hope, a community of 9,900, is the hometown of former President Bill Clinton and former Gov. Mike Huckabee. Bradley fervently prayed for the Lord’s direction.

“I felt like I had to do something,” Bradley says.

In a step of faith, Bradley returned to school, at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope. He pursued a teaching degree, with the sole objective of being able to gain access to the local high school, a campus that historically didn’t allow visitors on campus sharing anything about their faith. 

Although he felt headed in the right direction, after a year into his teaching degree pursuit, Bradley thought he should go about it in a different way.

Bradley, 38, spent several months building a strategic relationship with the new school district superintendent. Bradley had the opportunity to be involved in several school projects, including giving away over 850 pairs of shoes to pupils throughout the district and teaching about character development to an elementary class.

Still, Bradley thought he should be doing more within Arkansas school districts.

“I wanted to help churches build these connections, but I still was not clear as to how the Lord wanted to order my steps,” Bradley says.

While attending a Speed the Light rally in Texarkana, Arkansas, District Youth Director Dane Hall announced a job opening due to the resignation of the existing Youth Alive missionary in the state. Hall asked attendees to pray that God would call someone specifically to the position.

“In that moment, I felt something spark inside of me,” Bradley says.

Youth Alive, a partner of U.S. Missions, is a collaborative effort between Assemblies of God National Youth Ministries, districts, and local churches. The ministry’s goal is to connect churches and local schools in order to reach students with the gospel.

Bradley couldn’t sleep that night, consumed with the notion being crazy.

“To leave a position as a senior pastor and return to youth ministry, especially at my age, is rarely heard of,” Bradley says. “But I couldn’t ignore what was stirring in my heart.”

Bradley’s wife, Tosha, offered support and encouragement for the move.

The following day, Bradley pursued a series of conversations with Hall, which subsequently led to discussions with Arkansas District Secretary and Missions Director Cecil Culbreth, as well as Youth Alive National Coordinator Kent Hulbert.

Hulbert, one of the original eight nationally appointed Youth Alive missionaries, says Bradley’s reservations resonated with him. Hulbert, 52, says he felt the same way before he began his national appointment nine years ago.

The four began to pray about Bradley’s possible transition and, after several months, Bradley became the U.S. missionary with Youth Alive in Arkansas 18 months ago.

“I was excited to see Chris move into this role because we need more senior pastors engaging the whole Church to make these connections with local schools,” Hulbert says. “This mission gripped Chris’ heart to a point of action beyond the pulpit.”

“I didn’t have a huge personal network, I didn’t know a lot of people, and I didn’t know how I was going to raise a budget,” Bradley admits. “But God has made a way.”

Bradley’s life has changed completely.

“I am in a different church every Sunday, I travel regularly, and I am always attending or planning rallies or other events,” he says.

Although the regular travel has been an adjustment for Bradley and his family, he says the best part of his job is connecting with youth pastors, principals, and other local school personnel about Christ.

“This connection is so important because schools are the largest and most convenient mission field,” Bradley says. The Bradleys have two children, Caleb, 12, and Kaitlyn, 9.


Ashley B. Grant

Ashley B. Grant has a master's degree in Human Services Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University and is a credentialed Christian counselor through the American Association of Christian Counselors. Grant also holds certifications in crisis pregnancy counseling and advanced life coaching. Ashley is a fourth generation Assemblies of God preacher’s kid and has one daughter and three sons.