A Fortieth Year State-of-the-Ministry Summary
Compilation and Commentary by President Dr. Don Bierle
The mission and vision of FaithSearch International throughout its forty years of ministry can be summed up in two Bible passages:
- “…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, NIV)
- “…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV)
The use of evidence, reason, and logic to bring the truth of the Bible and Jesus to the hearts of people were the unique aspects of the FaithSearch message from the very beginning. In 20/20 hindsight it is clear that the ministry of FaithSearch International was initiated and has been borne along for four decades by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit. To God be the glory!
With the recognition that God was calling us to do evangelism through our unique evidence-based messages, FaithSearch dedicated itself to that calling—and has continued now for four decades.
The decades of the 1960s and 1970s
Before the “beginning,” there was the miracle of a skeptical and proud biology professor finding new life through faith in Jesus Christ. Lingering sin and a time of disobedience led me to a period of tears and brokenness before God. A new hunger for, and enabling zeal, to study the Word of God followed—a flame was instilled by the Holy Spirit which has never waned.
It was the discovery of new life, a broken and contrite heart, and that Holy Spirit flame which motivated the early research and development of what years later became the substance of today’s flagship FaithSearch Discovery seminar and the Surprised by Faith book.
Starting a new ministry was entirely unintentional. Furthermore, to use what I was learning for evangelism—to win the lost—never crossed my mind. Both of those later realities were entirely Holy Spirit initiated!
In the last half of the 1970s, I linked up with John Eagen, a colleague at St. Paul Bible College (now Crown College) to teach my Bible study in private homes in the western suburbs of the Twin Cities. It became known as “The Faith Study” and virtually exploded in popularity with people packing into home after home. Believers began bringing their unbelieving friends to hear it, and to John’s and my surprise, many were professing faith in Jesus Christ.
By 1978 the evangelistic impact of The Faith Study was too powerful to ignore. Several businessmen, who themselves had been spiritually transformed, encouraged the formation of a ministry to support the effort of its proclamation. A charter was drawn up for Home Inspirational Studies (affectionately referred to as HIS Ministries) and officially incorporated in Minnesota on January 12, 1979, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Christian ministry. It was created to teach the Word of God and spread the Word of God by various means both for evangelism and for discipleship. God was clearly the Divine “mover” who was shaping a ministry which has now reached to four continents. This reach has since resulted in over 72,000 recorded confessions of faith in Jesus Christ.
The decade of the 1980s
John led H.I.S. part-time while I was away at seminary getting an M.A. in New Testament Studies. By June of 1981, I was back and became the part-time executive director. At the same time, John left this ministry for another. The excitement of its explosive beginning was now history. A new Board of Directors and I were faced with addressing some difficult realities: dwindling numbers at Faith Study events; little financial support; and even less interest. The question surfaced: Was H.I.S. only a temporary work of God, or was it to be sustained to proclaim the Gospel for the long term? It was a serious question of survival which needed Divine guidance.
The first light to emerge from this time of darkness was a volunteer who started a prayer foundation, a prayer letter, and prayer chain for the ministry. Buoyed by this prayer support, for nearly two years the ministry existed primarily as an act of obedience to the charter. There were three recorded faith commitments to follow Christ in 1982, and income to the ministry totaled $7,620. The “dry bones” were beginning to move.
“Inexplicably,” the number of home Faith Studies, commitments to follow Christ, financial contributions, and prayer foundation members began to grow. An unexpected invitation came to record the Faith Study presentation on video—for free! At this time, I became convicted that the local church is God’s primary instrument to reach communities with the Gospel of salvation. The Board and I honored that leading by developing church partners rather than home hosts as the basis for outreach.
By the end of the decade, sixty-seven households supported the ministry in regular prayer; an official newsletter was initiated; and several other signs indicated that H.I.S. had survived the time of testing. In spite of limited “success” during the decade, faithfulness to God’s Word and its proclamation remained a deep conviction wrought by the Holy Spirit. Only God knew what He was preparing to give the ministry: a future and a hope beyond our imagination.
The decade of the 1990s
After concerted prayer, the Board of Directors announced in 1990 that I would immediately become a half-time paid executive director and leave my college professorship to become a full time evangelist by 1992. The Ministry moved out of Vernee’s and my home, into donated offices in Chanhassen.
A new strategic plan was created called “Harvest 2000.” It established goals for maximizing and equipping the ministry for a bountiful harvest for the Kingdom of God by the end of the decade. I was quite sure that H.I.S. should restrict its activities to the United States, but the Holy Spirit intervened again to lead the ministry globally. Ten years later, the results made it obvious that the ministry had again been borne along by the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit:
- Numerous apologetic outreach and discipleship publications were produced to further deliver the Gospel with evidence message, beginning with Surprised by Faith in 1992.
- Shortly after its publication, the Billy Graham Evangelism Association adopted the Surprised by Faith book as a premium for its donors. More than 150,000 copies were printed and distributed to give the Ministry greater public exposure than we could have imagined.
- Several new apologetic outreach and discipleship presentations were added.
- New professional videos were produced of the main outreach and discipleship events.
- Support and field staff grew from two (Don and Vernee) to seventeen.
- The Prayer Foundation grew to over 2,300 households.
- A merger with Toby Travis Ministries and the addition of Adrian Van Vactor brought two world-class illusionists on staff, reaching thousands with this unique ministry.
- The ministry moved twice to new offices to accommodate its growth.
- H.I.S. Ministries changed its name to Faith Studies International.
- Over 5,000 Surprised by Faith books were requested by the public as a result of over 500 evangelism radio spots on Twin Cities’ commercial radio stations. Many faith commitments to follow Christ were recorded.
- In the year 2000, the ministry conducted 387 outreach events on three continents, in seven countries and twenty-eight states. The resulting 7,760 recorded faith commitments to follow Christ were greater than the previous twenty years combined.
The decade of the 2000s
The goals of Harvest 2000 had been surpassed, but there was a lingering conviction that the future required a new vision for a new Century. What would sustain the ministry long-term?
Prayer, study, and professional consultation led to a more dynamic ministry name, FaithSearch International; a new name for our flagship event, FaithSearch Discovery; and a passionate focus on evangelism. This was accompanied by a renewed dedication to the proclamation of the Gospel with the supporting external apologetic evidence of history and archaeology.
A more succinct and scriptural mission statement was formulated: “To proclaim the Gospel with evidence to all peoples everywhere!” Two new vision concepts then emerged:
- Extending the Vision. A key component was “modeling” the mission by staff evangelists to a greater diversity of people in new geographic regions, languages, and cultures around the world in order to motivate them to join in advancing the Gospel with evidence.
- Maturing the Vision. Another key component was “multiplying” the messengers; that is, training additional leaders who can sustain the Gospel with evidence message in churches, schools, and communities for another generation.
By the end of the decade, new cross-cultural evangelists had been added in Spanish and Russian languages. FaithSearch Discovery ministries were established in India, Nepal, the Philippines, Russia, Central America, and South America. Surprised by Faith was translated into fourteen languages.
Nearly three hundred U.S. pastors and lay people, men and women, were trained to present FaithSearch Discovery in their own networks of influence. An incredible open door in Russia resulted in FaithSearch Discovery being adopted as an elective course on Christianity in thousands of public secondary schools. Dr. Oleg Voskresensky, the FaithSearch Russian evangelist, equipped (and continues to train) thousands of public school teachers in conferences across Russia, Ukraine, and other countries. These teachers, in turn, present in their classrooms the same biblical truths which had their roots in this fledgling ministry of the 1970s.
Large Bible colleges and seminaries in India and Guatemala annually invited FaithSearch evangelists to train their students to teach FaithSearch Discovery in their own ministries when they returned to the many home countries they represented.
By 2010, it could confidently be said that the sun never sets on the ministry of FaithSearch International as the maturing of the ministry continued to be borne along by the Spirit.
The decade of the 2010s
At the dawn of the second decade of the 21st Century, leadership “transition” was addressed by the Board of Directors. Who would carry the mission of FaithSearch when I could no longer do so? Joe Komarek, a veteran of Navigator ministry, was invited to be executive director with a view to becoming the next generation leadership. His ministry expertise brought a small-group and mentoring spiritual growth dimension which hadn’t previously existed in our ministry.
Also, the initiation of deputation (personal fund raising) now meant that FaithSearch could serve as a “hub” of office support for as many staff evangelists as can raise their own financial support base. The expansion of the Ministry which was set back by reduced general donor support due to the U.S. recession beginning in 2007, was seen to be less of a factor with a deputation strategy.
New ministry innovations were introduced including an annual golf event and several “Exploring the Evidence” Saturday breakfasts with staff and guest speakers. New “centers” of the ministry were established in Tucson, Arizona, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with staff evangelists becoming regional directors to grow the work there.
I did not see sufficient evidence that the Holy Spirit was blessing this transition, however. Upon consultation with the Board of Directors, I again became the day-to-day executive and full time evangelist of the Ministry.
A 3:15 RESPONSE
In this, our 41st year of ministry, the Holy Spirit instilled in me a conviction that it is time to lead a cause: obedience to the teaching of 1 Peter 3:15.
“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”(1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
This is desperately needed to reach today’s unbelieving culture. I see the denial of God’s revealed truth being manifested all around us: compromising the right to life; confused sexuality; excluding God from public life; abandoning the Church; censoring God’s Word from social media; and declaring Christian ministries as hate groups.
We are seeing the fulfillment of the apostle Paul’s warning to Timothy: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine… they will turn their ears away from the truth…” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NIV). The need for “A 3:15 Response” is highlighted by other current Christian leaders as well:
When it comes to educating Christians in the defense of their faith, it is time to be proactive instead of reactive. —James P. Holding“Lighting the Path for a Church Apologetics Ministry” Christian Research Journal, Vol. 32 (2), 2009, p. 7.
To be effective in equipping young people and professionals to face the challenges of a highly educated secular society, the church needs to redefine the mission of pastors and youth leaders to include training in apologetics and worldview…Pastors must once again provide intellectual leadership for their congregations, teach apologetics from the pulpit. Every time a minister introduces a biblical teaching, he should also instruct the congregation in ways to defend it against the major objections they are likely to encounter. A religion that avoids the intellectual task and retreats to the therapeutic realm of personal relationships and feelings will not survive in today’s spiritual battlefield. —Nancy PearcyTotal Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 127.
By investing what we have learned and developed in apologetics and worldview in the past four decades, we can help believers be better prepared to give a reasonable defense of their faith to family, friends and work associates. The education of the church, Christian schools, and Christian missions all need “A 3:15 Response” in order to meet the new challenges of the 21st Century.
The details of “A 3:15 Response” is developed in a separate document. It includes my initiation of a new teaching Web site, more use of social media, development of training presentations for Christian leaders, and equipping church congregations for “A 3:15 Response” in their networks of influence. The resulting goal is that effective evangelism will continue to multiply.
Another former skeptic and apologist for the Christian faith said this about our unique ministry:
FaithSearch International has been a vital defender of Christianity for many years. Their engaging speakers, thoughtful resources and timely events help seekers discover the truth and equip Christians to defend what they believe. Now, more than ever, organizations like FaithSearch International are critical to the growth, maturity, and survival of the Christian Church.—J. Warner Wallace, Christian apologist, Cold Case Detective, and author of Cold-Case Christianity
The future confidence of FaithSearch International is not in the “flesh,” but in the Holy Spirit of God. For many years I have always added God’s promise from Galatians 6:7-9 to the end of the Annual Board Report:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
As Jesus prayed, we too pray: not our will but His be done! We rest on His promise of a continuing spiritual harvest through “A 3:15 Response” as we are again borne along by God’s Spirit.
Dr. Don Bierle, President and Evangelist