On any given weekday in Tuckerman, Arkansas, Faith Assembly of God pastor T. Brandon Gates rises before sunrise, has his devotions, and drives to a bus barn. He hops on a school bus and begins his usual route, bringing children to Tuckerman Elementary School. Then he enters the school and sits down at his desk — because he is also the Tuckerman Elementary School principal.
Gates, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, has been involved in the dual vocations from the start of his ministry, by choice.
“I always wanted to be bivocational,” explains Gates, 40. “I had a desire not only to preach, but also to be working in the community where I live. You can’t be a light in the world unless you’re where the people are.”
Sensing God’s call to preach at age 14, Gates began evangelizing and filling in for pastors in his hometown of Tuckerman, population 1,734. He credits a Christian family of origin, a healthy church, and good mentors for developing his call. Gates also felt drawn to education as a career, and saw no conflict between pursuing the public school system and the pulpit.
After high school, he enrolled at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro to earn a Bachelor of Science in Education. Preaching opportunities kept coming his way. At age 20, he received a request from Murphy’s Chapel, a small country church of around two dozen adherents, asking him to pastor. Gates said yes without hesitation.
After two years at Murphy’s Chapel, another church called. Gates felt the Lord leading him back to Tuckerman to pastor Faith Assembly of God, which had about 35 attendees on Sunday mornings.
During this time, Gates returned to Arkansas State University to earn his Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership degree, qualifying him to become a principal. Eight years into pastoring at Tuckerman, Gates went back to school yet again, this time through Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, earning his Master of Arts in Theological Studies. He continued to teach and coach basketball.
Under Gates, Faith Assembly of God began to grow, moving from a district-affiliated church to a General Council-affiliated church. But nothing impacted its expansion quite like the coronavirus pandemic.
With churches shut down and Easter 2020 approaching, Gates reached out to other local congregations and coordinated a multidenominational Good Friday drive-in service in the parking lot of a grocery store. The large attendance led Gates to organize more outdoor services in a local city park, with the Tuckerman Faith worship team often supplying the music. After months of various congregations gathering for outdoor services, churches reopened. Tuckerman Faith’s numbers quadrupled.
“We had to build, even though building projects in 2020 weren’t something people were doing,” Gates recalls. “But God gave us the faith, gave us prophetic confirmation, and we built.” Post-pandemic, the church runs over 200.
During this time, Gates began serving as assistant principal at Newport High School in a town of 7,550 that is 10 miles south of Tuckerman.
“Serving at the high school helped me make connections and develop relationships,” Gates says. “Families from the school started coming to our church. About half our congregation is from Newport.”
Benny Reynolds, dean of students at Newport High School, worked with Gates for eight years and attests to his all-in approach in building relationships.
“He has a great rapport with the kids,” says Reynolds, 51. “He’s driven by the Holy Spirit, and he brings a loving, calm presence in every situation.”
In taking over as Tuckerman Elementary School principal in July, Gates now has worked in four public schools. His clergy connections haven’t caused a problem.
“In each of these school districts I’ve been both a principal and a pastor,” Gates says. “Even for people who are not religious, once they get to know me, we develop good relationships.”
Gates good-naturedly says God has given him the gift of multitasking.
“My weekdays are filled with school, but thanks to tech, I can make quick calls, keep up with church business, and encourage our parishioners,” Gates says. “I don’t mind staying busy in this season because I know there will come a day when I’m not going to be able to juggle it all.”
The bivocational ministry life is also a family affair. Brandon’s wife, Jacquelyn, shares responsibilities at Tuckerman Faith Assembly and she is the Tuckerman Elementary School secretary. The couple have raised three sons — Malachi, a freshman in college; Jaxon, a junior in high school; and Cole, an eighth grader — who all lead worship at the church. Brandon says the boys have been responsible for drawing some of their peers to the church.
Dale Hughart, pastor of Walnut Ridge First Assembly of God, confirms the calling upon Gates.
“Through the years he and Jacquelyn were raising three young sons as Brandon finished two master’s degrees, pastored a church, and coached basketball,” says Hughart, who serves as sectional presbyter. “His preaching is beyond his years. I’ve been able to watch him develop into all that God has called and equipped him to be, and he’s found his niche in bivocational ministry.”