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Home > 2012 > November Online Only > The "Delicate Dance"

For years Luis Palau was known solely as an evangelist, famous for preaching the gospel to packed stadiums around the world. But in recent years he's also been working with his sons, Kevin and Andrew, to help churches meet the needs of their cities. The Luis Palau Association is based in Portland, Oregon, where they pioneered the new model. The association coordinates a "Season of Service" with local churches which culminates in a large evangelistic festival. Leadership Journal talked with the Palaus about their unique partnership with the city and how they combine social action and evangelism.

How did you come to work with local government to serve the city?

Luis: When we first got involved in social action our mayor was Tom Potter. He approached us and said, "We have 1,200 single homeless moms. You have 1,200 evangelical churches. Can you connect one homeless mother with one mentoring church?" We said, "Sure." Later Mayor Potter told us, "I figured you guys were like everybody else. They come. They make promises. A year later nothing's happened and nothing will happen." That comment challenged us even more. We decided to prove that we could sustain our commitment.

We invited 50 pastors from the area to lunch and explained the idea. We said, "What do you think?" They all jumped at the chance to help. Every pastor said, "Yes, let's do it. This is what we've been waiting for." These churches were more than willing. They were chomping at the bit.

Kevin: But we didn't have to reinvent the wheel. This kind of service has been the DNA of Portland churches like Imago Dei from the very beginning. Imago Dei pastor, Rick McKinley, is such a good friend now, but at the beginning it was kind of embarrassing. Even though we were leading this new initiative, we were the latecomers to the table. Imago Dei and many other churches were already doing what we wanted to do, but on a smaller scale. Our contribution was the collaboration.

So we decided to learn from them. The mayor and city council weren't aware of what these churches were doing. So we promoted awareness of existing initiatives and connected them in partnership. Our staff helps with some of the community service projects, but we're mostly the cheerleaders on the sidelines. We pull the pieces together. We tell these churches, "You don't have to do everything on your own. Partner with other churches that already have structures in place." That's how we developed the Season of Service. Now, there's a strong relationship among these key churches.

What are the major challenges of running your ministry in Portland? Are there challenges in taking this concept to another city, such as Sacramento or Phoenix?

Andrew: One of the ultimate challenges in Portland is finding the right leadership. Finding a leader that everybody respects and has a measure of outsider authority is absolutely crucial. Sometimes the people that surface and say, "I know God has called me to this ministry," are the least likely to make it happen. Then the leadership has to sort that out.

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Posted: November 26, 2012

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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Carmen Sterba

December 19, 2012  2:05pm

Well, I think doing service and sharing the gospel, or one or the other are all worthy; however prayer preparation is essential. Any person or group can sincerely reach out in service to the homeless or poor, but the results of evangelism is ultimately up to the freedom of people to accept Jesus or not. We can plant seeds, but are not responsible for the results of other's decisions to believe or not to believe in the end. That's where the prayer comes in. Therefore, I think the we can choose service, apologetics to start a discussion, or evangelism. And these three ways can fit different people and different times in their life. Either way, we can go in the grace of God. It doesn't have to be completely a choice of one or the other. Without evangelizing, prayer will work wonders because we have a wonderful Creator and Lord, who draws people to him no matter what the circumstance, no matter what state or country. Just love your neighbors, pray for them, and forget about critics.

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Rick Dalbey

November 30, 2012  7:11pm

If respect is what we want or being percieved as bright, fun people, this strategy works. But for saving souls it’s a flop. Paul was run out of most towns, at Thessolonica the angry citizens said “these are they that have turned ther world upside down”. In October 2011, 300 people from 30 churches met together and had a brief morning teachiong on Evangelism. Then 150 stayed behind to intercede. The other 150, all timid novices, went out on the streets of Portland. In 4 hours 532 people were saved. They prayed out loud, repented of sin, invited Jesus in their hearts and gave names and phone numbers for followup. We simply used the old, propositional evangelism that Andrew criticizes...God has a wonderful plan for your life and 3 scriptures from Romans. So don’t tell me it doesn’t work in hip, wierd, sophisticated Portland. I wish Luis would conduct seminars in Evangelism for the churches and then send them out rather than extract a promise not to tell people about Jesus. Luis? Luis?

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Rick Dalbey

November 30, 2012  3:36pm

I think Luis knows this “evangelism” doesn’t work. When asked about results Luis says, “The pendulum seems to swing between social action and evangelism, and right now I think the pendulum has swung to social action. I worry because right now people almost sneer at the concept of evangelism.” Kevin comments, “I wish I could say, "We held a service festival which fostered a ton of relational evangelism, and the number of people accepting Christ doubled." But we can't.” In fact, the Palau team made a promise NOT to evangelize during the Season of Service. “Since the ministry pledged that Season of Service would include no proselytizing—just a goal to be an annual link between local churches and city services. On the advice of Kevin Palau, the Luis Palau Association has decided the best way to evangelize in Portland is not to evangelize at all.” Willamette Week, 5/20/09. Commissioner Nick Fish is adamant the city will tolerate no evangelism in the partnership. I live here and I love Luis.

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