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AG Conversations: Tommy Barnett

The innovative pastor reflects on his 66 years of ministry.
Editor’s note: Tommy J. Barnett has been preaching since the age of 16 and in the ensuing 66 years he has developed some of the most innovative ministries in the U.S. Assemblies of God. Although his son Luke became senior pastor at Dream City Church in Phoenix in 2013 after Tommy experienced heart troubles, Tommy officially remains as co-pastor of the church. He co-founded the LA Dream Center with his younger son, Matthew. His daughter, Kristie Barnett Sexton, is involved in human trafficking rescue and rehabilitation ministry at Dream City Church. Barnett also is chancellor of Southeastern University, which named its ministry school the Barnett College of Ministry & Theology.

The energetic and congenial Barnett recently sat down for an interview with
AG News in Springfield, Missouri.

AG NEWS: You’ve initiated such staples in the Fellowship as Dream Centers, annual pastor training conferences, and Masters Commission. What do you think your most lasting legacy will be?

TOMMY J. BARNETT: When I travel all over the world at the age of 82, the great joy I have is running into people who were in Masters Commission, or at the pastors’ conferences, or who have rehabbed at a Dream Center, or who were saved at an evangelistic meeting we had. Without a doubt, the legacy will be the people who have been saved and the leaders who came out of the pastors school, people like Chris Hodges in Birmingham, John Hannah of Chicago, or Jentezen Franklin. Everything I’ve done has been tied to soul-winning.

AG NEWS: How have you seen the hand of God move most in your ministry?

BARNETT: I prepare my sermons thoroughly, but there have been times when I’ve laid an egg as big as an ostrich egg in sermons. While I never plan what I’m going to say at the altar call, the anointing is there. I know people are going to be saved after the invitation. I’ve always had an affinity for the unreached, the hurting, and the needy.

In Los Angeles we were trying to build the Dream Center, but it was sputtering. The people on the streets — the insane people, people who smelled, families that had been deserted by fathers — there were no jobs, no money, it was anarchy. I thought, How can we build a church here? Then God spoke: If you will reach people no one else wants, I will give you people everyone wants. So today at the Dream Center you will see the untouchables, but if you squint your eyes, you will also see the “beautiful people,” Hollywood movie stars.

AG NEWS: Why do you think the Dream Center model, which you established 25 years ago, has been copied so often?

BARNETT: There is an innate desire to help other people. We can all help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and rescue the hurting. So many young people want to do this, they just need to be told how to do it. We have 7,000 young people who visit the Dream Center for a week each year and then go back and build Dream Centers. There are now more than 300 Dream Centers.

AG NEWS: Why do you think your children have flourished in ministry?

BARNETT: Some things are taught, some things are caught. My dad (Hershel) came up with the bus ministry idea. I took my kids on bus routes, on hospital calls. They are taking ministry to another level.

AG NEWS: Why does the Dream City Church Phoenix, now with over 14,000 weekly attendees, keep growing?

BARNETT: We now have eight campuses. What was once the largest Lutheran church in America has been given to us. There are over 200 ministries at Dream City Church. They use some of the methods I used, but they use new methods. They are pursuing new methods and a new identity for what had been called Phoenix First Assembly.

I am interested in numbers. I adopted the slogan, We count people because people count. Everyone who walks in that door is someone I could potentially win to Jesus Christ.

AG NEWS: When you started in ministry, did you foresee some of the issues that would be facing Christians in 2020?

BARNETT: I never did. The families I knew were like The Brady Bunch. But I also never expected to see God move so in combating what is going on. Our nation’s sad condition provides great opportunities for God to do something.

AG NEWS: What does the Assemblies of God have going for it?

BARNETT: In our denomination we know what we believe and we stand by our basic doctrines. I believe in the criteria we’ve set for the ministers. I love the Assemblies of God because I love accountability. If I get out of line, I know they’re going to pull me in. The denomination protects the pastor. We have to uphold integrity or be removed. When I’m an AG pastor, people know I’m the husband of one wife and the business of the church is run right.

AG NEWS: Is there anything left for you to accomplish?

BARNETT: If I had it to do over, I would have taken bigger risks and dreamed bigger dreams. In everything I did, God exceeded what I thought would happen. It takes all my energy to keep the Dream Centers going in L.A. and Phoenix. I prayed to God, It seems like every city in America needs a Dream Center. God said, Why don’t you just ask Me?

So I have one more big dream. I’ve asked God to have someone put a billion dollars in my hand before I die, not keeping a penny for myself, so we can build Dream Centers all over the world. There are a lot of billionaires in the world.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.