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Ernestine Finley reminds church evangelists and Ministerial secretaries that baptism is just the beginning. Her "spiritual friendship plan" matches new believers with existing church members who share similar interests and backgrounds. [photo: Ansel Oliver]
December 05, 2011 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Author: Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN
Top administrators, evangelists and Ministerial secretaries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are reprioritizing the role of God's spirit and simple Bible truths in public evangelism.
Rather than complicating the gospel or endlessly repackaging it, leaders are advocating a simpler approach. They say preaching basic Bible truths is the most compelling way to present the Adventist hope.
This approach requires admitting one's own vulnerability, said Shawn Boonstra, associate director for the Ministerial Association of the church's North American Division. "The world is tired of religious know-it-alls," he said, citing a New Testament story in which the apostle Paul identifies with his audience to make a point.
"It's OK to be a sinner saved by Christ. If your audience doesn't see that you need Jesus, they'll never listen to your message," Boonstra told members of the world church's Evangelism Symposium last week.
The symposium is a broadening of the church's Council on Evangelism and Witness to include more regional evangelists and Ministerial secretaries in the discussion. About 40 leaders from each of the church's 13 divisions met at Adventist world headquarters November 28 to 30 to share resources, exchange ideas, address challenges to evangelism and pray together.
"Jesus' mission is to seek and save everyone who is lost, so the number one priority of the church should be to win people to Jesus," said Jerry Page, secretary of the world church's Ministerial Association.
In an increasingly secular world, evangelists can no longer assume their audience is either familiar with Christian principles or Biblically literate, said veteran Adventist evangelist Mark Finley.
"I would say my preaching has become more Christ-centered, more biblically basic, and certainly ministering more to the felt needs of people," Finley told ANN during a symposium break.
This message of simplicity seemed to resonate with church leaders and evangelists who attended.
"I think maybe we'll need to accept the idea of just submitting ourselves to the Lord and just preach the simple gospel truth and leave the rest to Him. I think we need to get out of this trap of always thinking we must invent something new or sophisticated, and just use the Bible," said Mikhael Kaminskiy, director of the Office of Assessment for the church's Euro-Asia Division.
Church leaders said a clear, authentic message of truth can even connect with world's growing postmodern population -- a group of 1.8 billion people worldwide, according to Miroslav Pujic, communication director for the church's Trans-European Division.
"We are realizing that Jesus' message is exactly what this generation is looking for -- the real truth, transparency and an alternative to the systems and churches they don't trust in," said Robert Costa, an associate secretary for the world church's Ministerial Association.
Fundamentally, postmodernism is despair and disenchantment with humanity's failed attempts to explain, order and better the world through logic and reason, Boonstra said. "Instead of understanding, logic and reason brought some of history's worst disasters -- two world wars, genocide, religious scandal and economic crisis."
Postmoderns are seeking an authentic, meaningful answer to today's unsettled world, Boonstra said. The Adventist truth provides a compelling one, he added. The church's understanding of history and interpretation of the Bible "can offer clarity and set the table for understanding," he said.
"God has put a longing for eternity in the human heart. Somewhere inside they know that they were not meant to be severed from their Creator. They might come at it from a different frame of reference, but it's there," Boonstra said.
Adventist evangelism should focus on people aware of this void, Boonstra said, not those who refuse to "budge spiritually." A close reading of the Bible indicates that there were "no cold conversions in the New Testament," he said.
"The disciples watched for interested hearers, which is a lot different than trying to interest hearers," he said.
This approach requires "doing a lot more homework and a lot more listening," but it's the only method of evangelism modeled in the Bible, Boonstra said. Even during Pentecost, the outpouring of God's spirit on the early Apostolic church, the Bible says "devout men from every nation" (Acts 2:5) were converted. "God has already been there every time. God wakes up the human heart, and then sends us," he said.
A symposium presentation by Ernestine Finley reminded church leaders what to do after they've welcomed new believers to their congregations. Her "spiritual friendship plan" for nurturing fledgling Adventists connected with Johnny and Poppy Lubis from the church's Southern Asia-Pacific Division. "Sometimes we do evangelism and 500 come in, but 500 more go out the back door," Poppy said.
As the church embraces a focus on urban evangelism, nurture will be crucial in ministry to large cities in Indonesia, such as Jakarta, Johnny said.