‘Year of Evangelism’ to Span
18 Months, Finley Says
Global emphasis caps 400,000 meetings in a five-year period
BY MEGAN BRAUNER, Adventist News Network
eginning in 2009, the Seventh-day Adventist world church launches a year and a half emphasis on outreach across the globe. Called the Year of Evangelism, church leaders hope the redoubled focus will bring tens of thousands to a saving faith in Christ and ultimately lead to an increase in church membership.
A key mover behind the initiative is Mark Finley, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist’s vice president for evangelism and witness, who has spent nearly two decades as a globe-traveling evangelist.
Elected to his G.C. post in 2005, Finley has served in television evangelism outreach in several parts of the world, most recently as speaker and director for It Is Written, the flagship television ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Some of Finley's most visible contributions to outreach efforts were the global NET and ACTS satellite evangelistic meetings, part of his It Is Written work . Begun in 1995, the NET series was the first satellite evangelistic effort undertaken by any Christian denomination. ACTS 2000, a global satellite series beamed from Buena Park, California, reached a combined audience of 3 million people.
Currently, Finley is helping to increase the number of outreach meetings held through summer 2010. At the world church headquarters, Finley chairs the Adventist Television Network Board, the Global Internet Evangelism Network Forum, and the Follow the Bible Initiative, among other duties.
WITNESS FOR JESUS: Seventh-day Adventist evangelist and pastor Mark Finley is overseeing an 18-month “Year of Evangelism” effort leading up to the 59th General Conference Session in Atlanta, Georgia, in the summer of 2010. [Photo: Tor Tjeransen/ANN]
Finley sat down with Adventist News Network to discuss the right way to reach the world, how evangelism has changed, and what exactly the church will be focusing on for the next year and a half.
Adventist News Network: With your many years of evangelistic experience, what does the word evangelism mean to you?
Mark Finley: Evangelism is sharing Jesus in the broadest way possible. Evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel to every person possible, to bring them in contact with Jesus.
ANN: When the Adventist Church began, holding a seminar was an effective way to reach people. The world has changed a lot since then -- do you feel our approach to evangelism has changed with it?
Finley: I think evangelism has changed in some countries. If we are looking at the world as a whole, there are places today where the gospel being proclaimed is done essentially the way it was being done a hundred years ago when the church started. There are places in the world that are very open to the direct proclamation of the gospel. But there are places in the world where you have a much more secular background, and in those [places] you can't assume that everyone believes the Bible is true. Today, we have to focus not only on those unique truths that identify us as Seventh-day Adventists, but in a postmodern culture the question is not so much "What is truth?" but "Is truth relevant?" I think our big challenge today is to reveal that the Bible is authoritative.
ANN: What specific methods do you find effective when reaching out to people who believe truth is relative?
Finley: There are a number of them. One of them is to develop positive relationships with confidence. And I know in our evangelism we spend a lot of time with lay people, teaching them to share Jesus with their friends and neighbors and associates, because if you can develop a relationship with people, they're much more interested in listening. In my preaching 20 years ago [I would say], "Here are 25 Bible texts on the Sabbath and I'm going to try to prove to you that the Seventh-day of the week is the Bible Sabbath." Now, although I will certainly give adequate Bible texts on the Sabbath, I want to show people that in a world of stress and tension when their lives are falling apart, the Sabbath is an invitation to find rest in Jesus. So every doctrine of Scripture finds practical application, and I think that is what I'm more interested in trying to discover.
ANN: Do you think these approaches that are effective for the post-modern generation are similar to the way Jesus reached out to people?
Finley: I do. Church co-founder Ellen White makes an interesting statement in [the book] Ministry of Healing. She says Jesus mingled among men as one who desired their good, he met their needs, won their sympathy and confidence and then bade them 'follow me.' So today when we are teaching our lay people we are very sensitive to teach them the need of intermingling with people, listening to them. Here's a woman going through a divorce, how do we reach her? Here's man who has heart disease, how do you reach him? The Adventist Church has a multifaceted approach to physical, mental and spiritual needs and so we are able to reach out and touch people by helping a man quit smoking, helping him on a better diet. Jesus constantly met people where they were, and I think if the church is really going to make an impact on society we need to reach people where they are at that contact point.
ANN: The world church leadership has announced that 2009 will be the year of evangelism. The North American Division of the church had already announced 2009 as their year of evangelism . Why did leadership decide to make this a global decision?
Finley: Usually before a world church business meeting, the leadership outlines a major evangelistic initiative. This one that begins January 1 will take us up to the next General Conference Session [Summer 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia]. This is historically something we've done for the last four or five world church leadership sessions. The Adventist Church leaders in North America planned the 2009 year of evangelism; the world church leadership cooperates with them as we do with all the divisions of the world, we are just excited about what North America is doing. We believe that there will be thousands and thousands of evangelistic meetings. [From] 2005 to 2010 we've scheduled 400,000 evangelistic events, and it's amazing to see what God is doing with them.
ANN: Evangelism is always a focus for the Adventist Church. How is this different from business as usual?
Finley: It is true, evangelism is always the focus of the world church, but there are times when we give it special emphasis. We see this being unique in a number of ways. We will give it adequate promotion and emphasis, but also we're preparing materials for it. There'll be sermons prepared, called Revelation of Hope, and materials on the book of Daniel. There will be emphasis at pastors' meetings, at workers' meetings; there will be emphasis at the major world church leadership meetings.
ANN: Does everyone has the ability to be an evangelist?
Finley: I don't think we are all called to do public evangelism, but we are all called to witness for Jesus.