A lifelong dedication to the call
Editors’ Note: Earl E. Cleveland, Charles E. Bradford, and Charles D. Brooks have collectively given 185 years of ministry to the church. Their ministries—pastoral, evangelistic, and administrative—have carried them to every continent of the earth, and as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in and through them, they have brought countless thousands into the church.
Nikolaus Satelmajer and Willie E. Hucks II interviewed these three outstanding ministers several months after the opening of the Bradford-Cleveland-Brooks Leadership Center, located on the campus of Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, United States. These well-known Seventh-day Adventist ministers speak in a manner that will be beneficial ministers of all faiths.
Willie E. Hucks II (WH): Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today. We realize that “retirement” in no way describes the lives you live today. I want to start by asking you this question: how has ministry in the Adventist Church changed over the years since you started your own ministerial careers?
Charles E. Bradford (CEB): A church of seventy-five or eighty members was a good-sized church in those days. My father was a pastor who had three or four churches all the time. And I would tag along with him. The church was really kept alive by strong elders. Most of the elders in my day could give you a sermon any day . At the drop of a hat they could preach on most biblical topics. Ministry has changed, and preaching has changed because there is no longer that emphasis, and some would say overemphasis on doctrinal and prophetic preaching. We discovered that we had problems and psychological challenges, and so we came to the place now where we have to do some problem-solving preaching and get away from this rehearsal of doctrinal prophetic preaching. I see that as a change and ministry, of course, was simpler. So somewhere along the way we discovered we have problems. Therefore, we have felt needs to meet.
Charles D. Brooks (CDB): I’m almost loath to answer that question. When I became an Adventist, we had men preaching that were termed “old school.” I joined a church of about sixty-five adult members, along with my mother and several sisters. I was only ten years old, but somehow I thought about these things even then, and the thing that I noticed was that even though this wonderful preacher was from the old school, he could only be with us about once every month because he had a huge district. Also, the members of the church were quite ordinary, humble, dear people; we didn’t have doctors in our midst. We didn’t have masters of anything in our midst. We were just ordinary people, but you could stop one of them almost anywhere and grab any tenant of our faith and say, “Why do you believe that?” They not only would tell you instantly, but would quote the scriptures or open the Bible and read them to you. And they could cover the gamut from all the prophecies through to the second coming of Christ. By the time I got to college and sat under great professors like C. E. Moseley, E. E. Rogers, C. T. Richards, and O. B. Edwards, this fundamental Adventism was our diet; and I don’t know why we get the idea that these standards and things should produce gloom, sadness, and sorrow, and a morose attitude. No, these were joyful truths and they were taught in that way and I knew from them, before I started to preach, that the business of winning souls is the work of the Holy Spirit and these truths are challenging. You don’t hear them just anywhere, you generally hear a great deal about grace and love and Jesus and thank God for that. I believe in that, but you also found out how you were supposed to live. The ministers in those days defined doctrines and righteousness, and we were taught to do that, subject by subject by subject by subject.
Nikolaus Satelmajer (NS): What is it that drives your preaching? What gives you that strong sense of urgency to preach the Word?
CDB: Let me start this way, I’ve been privileged to lecture the young preachers. And I made a statement that I hope has been helpful to them: I don’t preach anything I don’t believe. I will not preach a denominational line just to be doing it. I don’t believe this idea that many of our young people have today that you have to make people feel good. I don’t want them to feel good. When conviction came to me, I didn’t feel good. I loved the movies, and when I learned I wasn’t supposed to go, I didn’t feel good, but I felt better about pleasing the Lord. Now, to deny the teaching because it’s a hard truth is to fail in my responsibility to God. To do it in an overbearing way would be to fail my responsibility to God, but let’s do it with love.
Earl E. Cleveland (EEC): Evangelism. For me, it was six nights a week. These little meetings that we witness now—I wonder how they get winded so fast. I preached twenty-one weeks in Mobile, Alabama, but I wasn’t feeling well. They took me to the hospital, and the doctor looked at me and said, “You fool, if you do that again I’m going to let you die!” But then I ran a meeting in Los Angeles, California, still recovering from the previous meeting. The preachers with whom I worked were putting the tent up and calling the doctor every day, “Do you think he’s going to make it?” I got up, loaded my car, incision still weeping and paining, drove the three thousand miles to California; and on opening night stood with my toes from my left foot propped up over the heel of my right foot, and nobody could see it but me. And I preached the gospel for nine weeks and on baptism day, I couldn’t go into the water—or so I thought. But when I started pronouncing those things and about nine ministers were baptizing together in that pool, I started itching. I said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and I’m scratching. It was healing while I was pronouncing. I couldn’t go in the water, I put the preachers in the water, and the thing sealed up. But that was the spirit of the old days.
NS: What are some of the challenges that you believe the Adventist Church faces now? How, in your opinion, are these challenges best addressed?
EEC: Concerning megachurches, it isn’t that people aren’t religious or don’t want to go to church. Sermons are packing them into stadiums as thick as if they’re at the football game now. I sit and think about that in terms of our own evangelistic experiences and what of the future of Adventism and the possibilities of us still packing them in by the thousands. And people can look and see it on television. Now, let me tell you what has occurred to me, the people who are preaching and ministering in those big auditoriums, what are they doing? I find some of them are specializing in faith healing, and a sick man, yes, he’ll turn a television on. I see them casting out “devils,” and I see them making all kinds of promises. I study those brothers, and they are jamming them in. So, the question to me is, what can we do to pack them in? Now, one answer is, you can’t go that route and be a Seventh-day Adventist preacher. You can’t promise wealth, prosperity, so, we’ve still got to study how to keep people coming without that. There are some preachers that just don’t want to put forth the effort, don’t want to bring the ingenuity, to bring the brain to cope with what will bring a man away from the television set Sunday night. I never had that problem because preaching was my passion. It still is. Now, there were other men doing things just as important to keep the church moving and I never had any criticism of anybody else but me, and that’s one thing I’ve always done. I’ve been very critical of myself so that the next time I can do a better job. But people will still pack your church without resorting to charlatanism and promising them a Rolls Royce if you sprinkle this water on your right leg. The everlasting gospel is powerful enough right now to jam a church on any night of the week.
CEB: I don’t know how to answer that. Are the challenges that different today? Yes, I’m sure they are. The challenges today are the challenges of mammon. We don’t have to worry about parking spaces. I was a kid in the Ebenezer church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where there was no parking whatsoever. But there was no problem any Sabbath because we only had four or five cars and the preacher’s car was one of them. Now our people are progressing. We’re almost like John Wesley’s folks. They were poor, good people, didn’t have much of this world’s goods, but Wesley said he noticed that they practiced temperance, thrift, and hard work and began to rise on the socioeconomic ladder. Adventists have gone through that. You stand before a congregation, people with all kinds of degrees, all kinds of employment, position, status, and in the Adventist church today, the great problem is, where are we going to park all these cars? Saying that with tongue in cheek, but it’s real. So, people are tied up with these things. The greatest challenge to us today is in Jesus’ Parousia parables where He said this is going to happen. That all of them were just sleepy people, overfed people, people who had more of this life’s goods to be concerned about, to take care of. I don’t know if it should change our style, but maybe our approach.
WH: Pastor Brooks, you have spent many years in media ministry. How has media ministry changed? And what direction do you see that it needs to go?
CDB: I used to sit in church on Sabbath at college and listen to the preachers. And I would sit, as it were, on the edge of my seat, and I would say to myself, This should not be just for today—it ought to be preserved. Not just written out, but it ought to be pictures, and you catch the expressions and earnestness and all of that. In my mind, I would imagine (I didn’t know about television ministry then), a great big movie camera, a sophisticated one, where the man was behind the lens and others who were assisting with this, that, and the other, was recording these services. Then we came down to the year where Walter Arties, the founder of Breath of Life, called me. Now, I knew Walt’s dad and I’d seen him as a boy in Knoxville, but we didn’t know each other as such. He called me and introduced himself on the phone and said, “Pastor, this is Walter Arties.” Well, I knew about him, and I knew that he was working in a television station. He began to be invited by all kinds of people to join them because of his immense talent, but Walter held a dream, and thank God for praying parents. His dream was that our church would develop a ministry that could speak to minorities across this nation. It had finally gotten approval and I say it that way for a reason: I didn’t even know about it, but he called me long–distance to tell me that the church leaders were willing to sort of try it. Nobody was enthusiastic about it. And he said, “Pastor Brooks, we want you to be the speaker.” I think it was 1974. I said, “I’ll work with you, let’s do it.” When we went to the studios in California, the old media center was very wonderfully built; it was a paradise, and they fit us in. Television is a lot more efficient and proficient today. I appreciate the Hope Channel, I have access to it in my house. It’s not quite the way it was in those days. Then we also felt we needed to leave the media center, so we did a series of broadcasts more than once at Oakwood. We did it at other colleges around the country, and we even worked in Costa Rica and Hawaii for a complete series. So, we became more international. Media ministry, in my judgment, is one of those ways where the Lord will finish the work of righteousness. I was aware when I was on television, and it’s more so today, that I was speaking to more minority people at one time than any preacher ever had before because I just happened to be the first. You’re talking to people who will not come to your church ordinarily. They’re in the comfort of their own homes and the Holy Spirit guides them, they don’t know what it is, but they’re arrested by the Spirit of God because we prayed for that. I’ve heard also [of people] who listen on the radio because these things were done as cassettes. I’ve met a man in Columbia, South Carolina, and he insisted on meeting me before the sermon. He said, “Man I was on my way to Mississippi, and I wasn’t thinking about you. But I heard your voice, and I turned my radio back on.” He’s driving down the highway into Mississippi that Sabbath, and there were two other men with similar testimonies. It is not man; it is God working through instruments that will allow it.
WH: Pastor Bradford,
you were president of the Adventist Church in North America
for more than ten years. As an administrator, how have the challenges of
administration changed, and what counsel would you give to administrators?
CEB: I started in my administrative work in 1961. I gave up the real ministry and today I’m also a sports fan. I’m not as much into it as I once was, but I read a little bit, talk to people. The coach must not allow the game to outgrow him, so you’ve got a different game coming in. The coach of the American football team, the Green Bay Packers, was the greatest coach of his day. Vince Lombardi today would be ignored or driven out of the locker room because he was a strong, up-and-at ’em man. It wouldn’t go over now because participation is the big thing. Modern management suggests that it’s time for the conference leader to get out with the troops. I would like to come and be one who will encourage and listen to and be as the scriptures talk about—the one alongside, alongside the pastor and say, “Look I want to be your assistant for a few days, and go in and out of homes with you.” If the conference president got that close to pastoral staff, I think it would transform ministry.
EEC: I had some experience with this. Church leaders in a moment of mental lapse, put me in charge of missions from 1974 to 1976. I had a man, an administrator for whom I have had the utmost respect through the years because I got close enough to him in those four years to know what the problem of an administrator really is in trying to get all the way down to the last pastor and get them moving and motivated. I finally told Neal C. Wilson this, after four years of working with that man, my confidence in administration skyrocketed to the heavens. I never took an idea to him that he would nix. He would sit and look at me and say, “Earl, you can try that.” And there was nothing that had a glimmer of possibility that that man did not approve. Good administration empowers its workers.
NS: What gives you men
hope for the Seventh-day
CEB: Hope for the church for me is what I hear in some of today’s preaching. I see young preachers who are not “in the box,” as they say. The preaching is thoughtful. They seem to have a sense of urgency. I can see a little crest of a wave, and it is giving me hope.
CDB: This message that we proclaim is truth. It’s like a story I read thirty years ago about a young man who was reading an adventure book about his favorite character. This favorite character got into a fight and was being whipped; the young boy was reading, and he could hardly stand it. After all this was his hero, so he slammed the book shut and then decided, “I’m going to read the last page and see if he triumphed.” And when he read it, his hero had overcome the villain, and the villain was being punished. Now he’s willing to go back and read the rest of it because as he read he’d say, “If you only knew what I know!” Satan is a defeated foe, and he knows it! So why wouldn’t I have hope?
EEC: I believe that, in addition to what we just said, that there is coming upon us right now while we are sitting at this table, upon the church, a time of trouble. And that all of the prophetic teachings that we have given through the years will begin to take shape, breeding catastrophe after catastrophe. I believe that Jehovah is getting impatient to come back and will, therefore, let the angels loose the winds. There’s nothing like a little trouble to get a man off of his seat on his feet. Stuff is comin’ off this world right now and the Lord told you He was going to do this because He knows that it takes that to even arouse the saints. And about those angels in Revelation that are holding back the winds: I believe that at that time we are going to see people coming in droves into this movement just prior to the coming of the Lord. We must not lose faith and stop doing what we’re doing, but do the best that we can.
WH: Thank you so much for the wisdom you have shared with us all.
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