What Kevin Palau has Learned after 10+ Years in Gospel Movements
Kevin Palau has been working in gospel movements for 10+ years! He is the President of the Luis Palau Association, a practitioner in gospel movements, and a cheerleader for dozens of cities. Kevin also happens to be our boss which means we could not pass up on the opportunity to sit down with him to ask him about everything he has learned through the highs and lows of the last decade.
We left this conversation with even more reasons why we are grateful to lead with him. He steps out into new territory even if others do not fully understand the course. His openhandedness is a posture our City Gospel Movements team strives to model largely due to watching his example.
Listen to our conversation with Kevin below or read on for show notes. We are confident you will be encouraged and motivated to keep believing in what God can do in your city!
WHERE DID THIS ALL BEGIN FOR YOU?
Well we definitely weren’t using phrases like “city gospel movements.” That had never crossed my mind. For years we at the Luis Palau Association focused on mobilizing hundreds of churches for a big evangelistic festival.
In 2008, we were planning a festival in our hometown of Portland, Oregon. Because Portland is our city we were thinking a little deeper than we had in other cities. Portland is also proudly progressive and very un-churched. Many people know the reason they are not Christian. This atmosphere made us think a typical crusade approach would not be well-received here.
In a gathering of about 100 pastors to talk about the idea of the festival, the pastors pitched the idea of a festival built around serving the city as well as proclaiming the gospel. We were all aware there was a lot of misunderstanding and hesitancy around the Church, especially in a city as culturally progressive as Portland.
Dad (Luis Palau) and I were, in a sense, deputized to go and see the mayor–a man named, Tom Potter. Potter was the mayor at the time, but Sam Adams quickly became the mayor elect. Sam was the first openly gay mayor of a top 25 city and was the leader we spent a lot of time with during the festival buildup. We drove to the office downtown with a sense of fear because we knew neither side knew what to expect from the meeting. The conversation quickly evolved. It went from: “We are wanting to do this event at Waterfront Park” to “What can we do to tell a better story as Christ followers in Portland?” We knew that in order to share the gospel well, we had to get out of this ten-foot hole of misunderstanding that had been dug for decades.
We wanted churches to be more involved in the city, but not without first apologizing for ways we had not been involved in the past. This sparked the reconciliation of the fractured relationship, but it was still the beginning of the journey. Sam was unsure why we wanted to meet and had bad experiences in the past with evangelicals. However, Dad and I said in our meeting with Sam that we are called to love and serve unconditionally as followers of Christ. We knew we should have been here before and we have this bad reputation, but we would like to change that. Sam understood this and became a champion for our efforts by helping mobilize the Church to serve.
I think the moment where I realized there was a lot of momentum behind this way of engaging with the city was at Roosevelt High School where thousands from churches across the city showed up to serve the school together. The head columnist from The Oregonian was present as well as all 5 city commissioners, the mayor and several TV stations. This began to change the narrative of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in a very progressive, un-churched area.
What are Common Themes You’Ve Seen in gospel movements?
As others began to learn about the Portland story, leaders in around the country were saying, “Hey, God is doing that in my city as well.” We started to learn that this was not a program, but a movement. I have always thought of it like the gospel movement began on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came into every single believer. The Holy Spirit is the one who is always going to be inspiring individual believers and collective groups of believers to do these kinds of things.
What makes these movements unique though are the right kind of leaders. These leaders who are usually neutral conveners that can get the body working together more effectively to recognize where the Spirit of God is already doing these things. It is about discovering what the Spirit is doing. There are always people already doing similar things, but it might be with those we see as the enemy.
“There are always believers radically building relationships across lines with those who many view us as ‘the enemy.’ There are people who are serving in very creative ways. This is always going on but usually people don’t notice it because no one is taking the time to shine the light on the best stories and share best practices.”
We have to trust that God is already doing the work. Everywhere you see people wanting to build trust because instinctively, we know, that the evangelicals has lost a lot of trust over the last couple decades. We have to do whatever it takes to rebuild that trust.
It is always about relationships. The thing that has sustained the movement over the last 11 years in Portland has been really deep investment with a core of 50 influential leaders with people who share the same passion for the gospel. The leaders really tried to carry forward multiple efforts after the festival, but what we realized again and again is that we cannot over-organize. We are not going to be able to fix every social justice issue, but there will be waves of passion that were not there before. This has happened in Portland with different areas and right now refugee work has more momentum than school partnerships. We recognize that is okay and we must be sensitive to what the Spirit is doing. In a movement things are going to ebb and flow and while individuals are going to be passionate about one issue, the Church as a whole might focus on other ones.
Leaders in Portland gathered together 10 years after the festival to recap how the movement was doing. We discussed the areas of service and we talked about what are strengths and weaknesses are. We identified a lack of diversity in leadership as one of our weaknesses and that evangelism had really waned. This was a little embarrassing for me as a president of an evangelical organization. When we started with the festival it was truly holistic, with both word and deed. Then, I think we assumed evangelism would take place naturally, but we should have known better. In our experience with festivals and crusades before, for the past 50 years, we have always known that individual believers struggled to share the gospel in daily life. Once us leaders realized it, we did a very simple thing and formed an evangelism team and that has really made a difference.
What are you most excited about in Gospel Movements?
This evangelism team is what I am really most excited about right now in terms of sharing with city gospel movement leaders. We tend to think that not everyone can share the good news, but the vast majority don’t even know they have the gift of evangelism. Either because they are too afraid to share their faith or don’t like to talk about their faith. Every city has many people who have this gift and are influential. Many times these are pastors and nonprofit leaders who are leading evangelistic nonprofits like Cru or Alpha. In Portland, we identified a dozen that were natural evangelists and got them together in a room. That’s really all we had to do before and they were talking for hours!
In Portland, we are looking to identify people within our churches who have these gifts or unique evangelistic passion. We want to identify and encourage them. If we can find these people, having an evangelism team to whom local pastors can send these individuals for equipping is a help to citywide body of Christ.
The evangelism team is working to equip other pastors and leaders through training events. We want to see every church possible thinking about how they can empower evangelists in their community. We want to see Alpha groups double in number over the next few years. We want to do large outreaches and support those that are already going on. We also want to do a better job celebrating the stories of people coming to Christ in the city by creating or circulating testimony videos. This does not mean we swing away from serving, but we recognize we need a plan for evangelism because it does not happen by default.
What is the city Gospel Movements Team?
Well, we really should have formed a team several years ago. I was working with my assistant trying to field dozens and dozens of calls and emails to leaders who were wanting advice. It was not sustainable for me to continue supporting movements on my own along with the other responsibilities of leading the Palau Association. I was doing my best to answer questions and inspire people, but we desperately needed a focused team.
We need each other to understand with greater clarity what exactly a gospel movement is, how to share best practices, and create a place for people to look at a map to see where there are things happening. Now, thanks to Stephanie, Fred, Lizzie and Kaedyn–and hopefully more team members as we grow–we are supporting gospel movements in all of these ways.
What are your Dreams for the Future in Gospel Movements?
The clear reality is that this a global phenomenon and a recovery of a truly holistic gospel. In the West, these movements were happening because of a need to demonstrate the gospel as well as declare the gospel. There is a real need to equip and inspire individual believers to care about evangelism. We want to continue helping gospel movements with best practices for church unity and prayer. But as an evangelical organization we have a particular gifting or calling for best practices and examples to share the good news in gospel movements.
“Don’t forget that in addition to the incredible, important, unconditional love and justice work we need to be doing we can’t forget to be declaring the good news somehow.”
If you were sitting across from a gospel movement leader right now, what would you say?
Don’t give up. We need you. If you just do your job, you will help others do their job better. You might not be able to prove to anybody that you left this place a better way than you found it. You may not see the fruit, but you will know that you have done God’s work. The City Gospel Movements team does not want you to do this alone. Our dream is that every city leader would be connected to at least one other movement practitioner. I cannot imagine life before thinking this way and the kinds of relationships I wouldn’t have had. So, even selfishly don’t give up because the relationships you gain will certainly make your life richer.
ELEVATE THE CONVERSATION ON EVANGELISM IN YOUR CITY
What led the Palau Association to pilot an evangelism team in Portland, Oregon with hopes to inspire other cities.