Lowell Bock, president of the Lake Union Conference, and Steve Vitrano of the Andrews University Theological Seminary, put their dreams together on how a renewed emphasis could be experienced through training Seminary students in practical, pastoral, and evangelistic ministry. A call was extended to Elder Don Gray, then pastor of the Stone Tower Church in Portland, Oregon, to come to the Lake Union Conference as Ministerial Director. His job description was to work closely with the Seminary in developing a training program that would emphasize the practical phase of ministry with emphasis on soul-winning. Elder Gray and Doctor Vitrano experimented with a number of different field training programs in which the Seminary students were given credit for participating.
As a result of these initiatives, Elder Lowell Bock pushed forward, and the Lake Union Conference decided to establish a school in Chicago where students could experience supervised instruction and participation in the work of personal and public evangelism. Students would spend one quarter in Chicago preparing for and conducting a public evangelism meeting. With this plan in place, the next hurdle was to find housing for about 50 students and staff. With a very limited budget, God providentially provided a beautiful home, the Godair Building in Hinsdale, Illinois, for $1 a year for two years. Next was to find a director who could run and teach the program that was needed. An invitation was extended to Mark and Teenie Finley, from the New England area, and was soon accepted.
Classes at the Lake Union Soul-Winning Institute (LUSI) began in the fall of 1979. In addition to the students from the Seminary, lay people were also invited to take part in this training opportunity, totaling 35 individuals. As a result of one of these early meetings, the Burbank Seventh-day Adventist Church was planted and pastored by LUSI director, Mark Finley, until 1982 when it was transferred to a conference pastor.
LUSI was making such an impact in training young ministers that the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (NAD) became interested in extending this ministry beyond the Lake Union. In 1983 ownership of the Institute was transferred to the North American Division and was renamed the North American Division Evangelism Institute (NADEI). In addition, a new facility was obtained for the Institute, a set of apartment buildings in LaGrange, Illinois. In 1985 the Finley’s left NADEI to serve in the Trans European Division and NADEI was in need of a new director.
Russell Burrill was called to the position and he accepted. During this era NADEI not only continued as an evangelistic training center, but soon planted a church in Tinley Park, Illinois, and the staff pastored this church for three years.
Questions arose if NADEI could better serve the students on location at the seminary. The three month move to Chicago was not the healthiest situation for students with families. After much discussion, the decision to move to Berrien Springs, Michigan was reached in December of 1992. Adjustments were made to the Seminary curriculum to allow students to experience classes offered by NADEI throughout their seminary experience rather than just their last quarter. Another adjustment which became necessary with the move had to do with the training program for the laity. Because the program was now integrated with the seminary experience, lay people could no longer be part of those courses. A new program was begun that brought evangelistic training directly to the lay people. Conferences and Unions contracted with NADEI to host classes over a 4-5 year period, offering all the classes on an intensive basis. This program allowed NADEI to extend its training throughout the North American Division.
Throughout its association with the Seminary, NADEI has extended its services not only to seminarians, but to much of the North American Division. There have literally been thousands of people baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church as a direct result of evangelistic meetings held and coordinated by NADEI staff members over the years. In addition, NADEI has been directly responsible for the resurgence of church planting in the North American Division, leading out by establishing the SEEDS Church Planting Conferences as well as the ACTS Church Planting Support System which have led to thousands of churches being planted throughout the Division and beyond.
Many of the cutting-edge evangelistic strategies that are impacting the North American Division today have their origin at NADEI. Natural Church Development (NCD), with its focus on creating healthy churches, has been a NADEI initiative. Hundreds of NAD churches are utilizing the NCD resources and working to bring their churches to health as a result. The equipping church concept that is beginning to revolutionize many NAD churches by moving them to less pastor dependency and more lay ministry is also directly attributable to NADEI. Equipping University, a certificate program designed to help lay members become effective leaders, lay ministers, soul winners, church planters, and passionate disciples of Christ, offers practical training for lay members as well as MissionWorks, where church leadership teams learn how to develop a specific plan to reach every person in their territory for God.
Pastors and spouses enter the field better prepared to serve, and lay members continue to be trained and equipped for ministry and service as a result of the ongoing mission of the NAD Evangelism Institute.