J. Roswell Flower (1888-1970) was elected, at age 25, to serve as the first general secretary of the Assemblies of God. He went on to become one of the Fellowship’s most prominent leaders in its first four decades. When he went to be with the Lord, General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman declared, “The name of J. Roswell Flower was synonymous with the Assemblies of God.”
Flower demonstrated remarkable leadership at a young age. He proved adept at writing and publishing, which gave him a platform in the emerging Pentecostal movement. In 1908, just over one year after his conversion, he began publishing a small magazine, The Pentecost. At the time, he was just 20 years old. In 1910, he gave the magazine to ministry colleague A.S. Copley. He married Alice Reynolds in 1911, and together they began another magazine, the Christian Evangel, in 1913. It was the only weekly Pentecostal periodical in existence.
When the Assemblies of God was organized in April 1914, Flower was only 25 years old. There were many people in attendance who were older and more experienced, yet delegates entrusted Flower to serve as the first general secretary. He also served as manager of Gospel Publishing House and, in 1919, he became the first Foreign Missions secretary.
Flower was an early champion of education. In 1922, he encouraged Pentecostals to support the establishment of a school in India in order to secure “greater and more permanent results for God.” He was one of the original faculty members of Central Bible Institute (CBI), which was founded in Springfield, Missouri, in 1922. In 1923, he proposed that all Assemblies of God missionaries be required to spend a term at CBI, which would allow church leaders to train and get to know the character and abilities of prospective missionaries. Flower’s proposal proved unpopular, however, and he was not re-elected at the 1923 General Council. He instead became Foreign Missions treasurer. Two years later, he was not re-elected to that position.
J. Roswell and Alice Flower moved to Pennsylvania, where they spent the next decade in pastoral and district leadership. In 1929, he was elected to serve as superintendent of the Eastern District Council. He was a regular lecturer at Bethel Bible Training School, an Assemblies of God school in New Jersey. Significantly, he helped Alice to establish a summer Bible school, located on the Eastern District campground, which was the forerunner of the University of Valley Forge. Flower emphasized education because he believed that careful study of the Bible would be essential for the growth and maturation of the Assemblies of God.
Delegates to the 1935 General Council elected Flower to again serve as general secretary, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1959. During this period Flower emerged as a leading Pentecostal statesman, encouraging cooperative efforts among believers with similar faith commitments. He labored to make the Assemblies of God a founding member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and he helped form the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America and the Pentecostal World Fellowship. Flower also was involved in civic leadership, serving on the Springfield City Council and on the boards of various organizations.
J. Roswell Flower’s remarkable leadership flowed out of his rich spiritual life. He and Alice modeled a home life that bore witness to the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Alice was a prolific author and preacher, and her sermons, books, and articles on the Christian home were widely read. They practiced what they preached. Five of their six children also entered full-time ministry; the sixth died while in Bible school.
It is appropriate that Flower became the namesake of the archives and museum located in the Assemblies of God national office. The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, which is the largest Pentecostal archives in the world, preserves and promotes the heritage of a movement for which Flower helped lay the foundation.
Read the article, “J.R. Flower with Christ,” on page 4 of the Aug. 16, 1970, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “What the Holy Spirit Does,” by Harvey McAlister
• “We Preached in Romania” by Joe G. Mazzu Jr.
• “New Arkansas Teen Challenge Reaching Desperate Youth”
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.