Grover grew up in a dysfunctional home, the last of six children whose births spanned enough years that only one of his siblings was still at home when he was born. Although having made commitments to Jesus in the past, his parents had left their faith behind. Their home was anything but traditional, and they embraced a free-spirited, somewhat nomadic lifestyle. They were unable to provide the stability and role-modeling necessary to meet the needs of a growing child. His mom was more like a best friend and his dad was disengaged. By age 14 Grover was in the throes of trouble with the law. It looked like a juvenile home, or reform school might lie ahead for the young, out of control teen. It was during that year his parents made a radical decision, that, although it seemed like a bad one to Grover, paved the way for God to begin His transformative work. Thinking they were on another ‘spur of the moment’ car trip, not uncommon for them, Grover was in absolute disbelief to discover that they intended to leave him behind when they reached the destination in Caronport, Saskatchewan. With a promise of seeing him at Christmas, he was enrolled, tuition paid for, and left to live in the accommodations belonging to Caronport Christian Highschool. Struggling with a sense of abandonment and seething with anger, he eventually settled in with the student population, quickly finding others with stories similar to his own. He ran with a small crowd of malcontents, and although he was a rebel he flew under the radar, stoically keeping his emotions from erupting, but living life with a ‘chip on his shoulder.’
Accepting Jesus as Saviour & Lord
Grover was in grade 12 when he had his first experience with Jesus. A good friend at school who was older and somewhat of a father figure was diagnosed with cancer and died quite quickly. Before his death, the young man turned his life around and pleaded with Grover to do the same. “I realized I was not immortal. I accepted Jesus as Saviour, but I wrestled with Lordship.”
There was one thing Grover really liked about Caronport, and that was basketball. “As a child, I played sports for my dad, in a bid for his affirmation.” The high school was connected to Briercrest Bible College and some of those students came alongside him. “They were good models, mentors. God really used basketball as part of His plan for me.” After graduation, with no particular idea in mind, other than to play basketball, Grover registered for Briercrest. “Being a pastor was nowhere on my radar. I’d never even been part of a church family.” Mid-way through his Associate Arts Degree, while sitting at a missions conference one day, he had an ‘aha’ moment. “The speaker was talking about fully surrendering your life to God and doing something for Him. I felt inspired to do something but wasn’t sure what. While leaving the building I noticed an exhibitor packing up his display. His poster with a basketball on it caught my eye. I went over and found out this ministry did basketball camps in the Projects in Chicago during the summer. I knew this was it.”
Before leaving for Chicago, Grover said farewell to girlfriend, Keri, a fellow student who was soon to leave for her own summer ministry experience in the Philippines. His dad was not impressed since this plan came with no salary, but his mom was fully supportive. (An additional blessing to note is that both of Grover’s parents eventually returned to the Lord, and his mother shared Jesus both openly and effectively).
Soon Grover and two others from Briercrest left their comfortable existence at Briercrest, ‘parachuted in’ and spent an amazing summer in the Projects. Although living in a dangerous neighborhood rife with gang activity and violence, the guys played ball and built relationships, and a few of the boys trusted Jesus as Saviour. Grover says, “It radically changed my life!”
At summer’s end, Grover returned to Briercrest to complete his degree. Kari graduated first and moved to Ottawa. When Grover finished, he followed, and the couple married in the summer of 1991. Over the years two sons, Jayden and Mitchell, enriched their home.
Ministry opportunities to work with youth in churches opened up in succession for Grover and he eagerly accepted these positions. He loved working with youth and seemed to be pretty good at it using his natural talents and abilities. He worked hard to gain approval and be successful. “Kids came to Jesus and there were some real, positive outcomes. I knew how to have fun and I could encourage kids to try to be good humans. I could plug them into community and teach them to pray. What I couldn’t do was say, ‘Follow me as I follow Jesus’ but for a long time I didn’t know anything was wrong. It was difficult for anyone to help me because I was working so hard at being successful to get the approval that I had lacked as a child. Constructive criticism felt like a personal attack.”
Tired of Doing
By spring of 2014, Grover had had enough and was close to burnout. “I was so done with church. I was tired of doing. As I looked back I could see that although my relationships were good, there were a lot of people I’d poured into who were no longer connected to churches. I had invested so much. But I was restless, disillusioned. I told myself I was a failure. I was literally writing my letter of resignation when an email invitation to a workshop popped in. Its tagline was: ‘Discipleship – following Jesus in the Everyday’. Sounds interesting, I thought.” As Grover sat in the workshop and listened to the presenter’s story he said to himself, “He is telling his story, but it sounds like my story. Wait…there is more than just doing programs, entertaining kids. It was like pushing a rock over the top of a hill. The momentum started and picked up speed. I went home to my wife and kids. They thought I had allergies – the water broke. God spoke clearly to me and said: ‘I’m that dad, that perfect father, and I love you.’ Now I am learning to lead out of my identity as a child of God – out of my being, instead of leading out of my doing. Once you really see your birthright as children of the King it changes how you do things, how you make choices.”
Learning to Live on Mission
Grover has been on the discipleship journey since that spring as he continues to learn what it actually means to be a child of God. 3DM training was a starting point where he learned about multiplying disciples who make disciples, and learning to live on mission. After that training he knew he wanted more and signed up for Soma School in Phoenix, Arizona, a 2 week full immersive missional community. Grover was grateful for the greenlight given by Centre Street Church where he currently pastors, splitting his time between the Campus at Airdrie where he is Pastor of Family and Community Engagement, and the main Campus in Calgary where he is Community Pastor. While at Soma he lived with a missional community and saw it practically lived out, and got to be part of it.
Things are different around the Bradford household these days. Their neighbours are often over to visit and they have life-giving conversations about Jesus. “Now, wherever I go, I anticipate that God is doing something in the heart of someone so I am free to be vulnerable and say something.”
When getting started on all of this Grover notes it is good to create ‘a third space.’ Therefore, for pastors, he suggests that one shouldn’t be just either at home or at the church. Grover begins his day with his quiet time – since he is representing the Kingdom, he needs the plan. When he is in his third space, which for him happens to be Starbucks, he just sits, does some work on his laptop, and waits to see what God opens up. “God has been on mission since the beginning of time. He’s all about restoration. God will do what He wants, but He will involve us.”
During the pandemic, gathering with people in the ways we are used to is off-limits but there are so many creative ways to stay connected with our missional communities. As a ‘for instance’, Grover and Keri and their community are enjoying some meals together, each person joining in online.
Connect with Grover
Grover says he has been a pastor for 25 years and a Jesus follower for 10. As an Enrich Facilitator, he would gladly chat or do a diagnostic with pastors or leaders grappling with thoughts like “There’s got to be more that God is doing than this.” Please visit Grover’s profile the Enrich website for contact information and a list of topics that may be of relevance to you on your discipleship journey.