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SAGU Impacts Eternity

Longest-serving president Kermit Bridges relies on prayer in leading Texas AG school.
He didn't grow up aiming to be an educator or career administrator, let alone the longest-serving president in Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) history. Kermit Bridges had trained for the pastorate. He graduated from Southwestern ready to lead a local church.

But during his undergraduate years at the Waxahachie, Texas, institution — that at the time focused on offering bachelor’s degrees in disciplines leading primarily to ministry preparation — various faculty members had influenced him. That prompted him to obtain a graduate degree in case the Lord called him to teach someday.

“I had this love for Southwestern and appreciation for the classroom experience,” Bridges says. “But I really didn't see myself in higher education administration.”

As the eldest son of the late James K. Bridges, a Southwestern alum whose 58-year-long ministry included serving as North Texas District superintendent, general treasurer of the U.S. Assemblies of God, and a Southwestern vice president and board of regents chairman for six years, Kermit Bridges had known five of the school’s presidents.

The 1990-91 academic year proved to be difficult for Southwestern. Enrollment dropped. Financial indebtedness grew. Discussion arose regarding whether the school should close. In 1991, Bridges’ mom, Joyce, approached Southwestern’s then-president Delmer Guynes about launching a prayer campaign aimed at turning around the struggling school.

Guynes embraced the initiative. Joyce Bridges called on pastors to send prayer teams to spend a day on campus interceding for the school. For nearly a decade, hardly a week passed without a church prayer team on campus calling on God to equip the next generation for service and to provide financially for Southwestern. During this season, the future president of SAGU regularly led prayer teams from the churches he served to his alma mater and enthusiastically recruited fellow alumni and pastors to invest financially in the school.

The school turned a corner. In 1994, moved by his passion to champion the needs of the school, Guynes tapped Bridges to become vice president of university advancement, which entailed fundraising. That year Guynes led the institution in changing its name to Southwestern Assemblies of God University.

“From that period emerges this really beautiful picture of how an emphasis on prayer and the spiritual dimension of the institution produces results,” Bridges says.

By 2000, when Guynes retired and Bridges accepted the call to lead SAGU, enrollment had nearly tripled to 1,782 from 596 in 1991. Enrollment now has surpassed 2,100. SAGU partners with 45 Schools of Ministry. Most recently, American Indian College joined the SAGU educational network.

Because he understood every Christian isn’t called to stand behind a pulpit, SAGU founder P.C. Nelson wanted the school to train both ministers and those who would pursue various professional roles. While SAGU trains more students pursuing nonchurch roles than in Nelson’s day, the percentage of students pursuing vocational ministry has remained at around 45 percent of the student body for 30 years. SAGU leads AG institutions in producing AG credentialed ministers.

Under Bridges, Southwestern has nearly doubled the number of academic programs, including adding a Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Creative Communication and Master of Business Administration.

“Our world and our nation desperately need rounded believers who are rooted in their faith, with a solid spiritual foundation and academic skills to thrive in whatever profession they are called,” Bridges says. Students nourished spiritually in a campus environment designed to help them grow in their relationship to God have great potential to impact the world.

“Every believer is a minister, no matter where they get their paycheck,” Bridges says. “They are called to influence a lost world through their unique career, whether in a classroom, corporate business setting, in church, or a parachurch ministry involved in serving the needs of people and touching the world for the cause of Christ.”

Between Bridges’ tenure in development and his nearly 19 years as president, more than half of the university’s structures have been constructed, including two dorms, the Sheaffer Center, Garrison Wellness Center, and most recently the Hagee Communication Center, which opened in 2013. Other buildings have been renovated.

“God has grown our faith all along the way as we’ve constructed buildings or developed academic programs,” Bridges says. “Seeing God come through early on in small things developed our faith to believe He would provide in the larger things that seemed like unmovable mountains.”

From its founding in 1927 the institution has relied on divine provision.

“Sometimes I resent not having the resources of other institutions, but then I'm reminded of the spiritual value of daily dependence on Him,” Bridges says, adding that SAGU’s biggest challenge and greatest concern is making a Southwestern education accessible “to as many kids as would love to be here.”

One way Bridges connects with SAGU students is through “Coffee with the President.” He often asks why they chose Southwestern. Their responses reveal how God is moving in individual lives.

“Some students show up never having set foot on the campus,” he says. Others focused on SAGU early and never deviated. In the informal coffee chats, “I love hearing what they want to do with their lives. It’s a great reminder of what I'm here for in the first place.”

Bridges’ wife Jan, a music educator, has taught on SAGU’s faculty. Both their sons, James and Forrest, graduated from SAGU.

Assemblies of God General Treasurer Rick DuBose, who served as chairman of the Southwestern Board of Regents, points out that in addition to Bridges’ development of the campus, under his watch the percentage of full-time faculty with terminal degrees has increased from half to nearly 80 percent.

And amid the post-Christian cultural shift of society, Bridges “has really fought to stand his ground and empower his students to stand their ground during the moral decline of America so they're not so easily moved by society,” says DuBose, who served as North Texas District superintendent for a decade. “That's really helped students graduate with a clear understanding of what a biblical lifestyle looks like.”

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.