By Sharon Mager
COLUMBIA, Md.—Church leaders interested in learning how to begin, or amplify the impact of their church/school partnerships attended the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network’s inaugural church/school partnership seminar on May 20 at the Network Center.
The keynote speaker was Kevin Palau, president of the Luis Palau Foundation, and son of the worldwide evangelist, Luis Palau. There was also a panel discussion featuring pastors and leaders who have made significant differences in their communities and their churches through school partnerships. Panelists were Dan Housam, pastor of Summit Trace Church, Frederick; Lisa Olson, also from Summit Trace; Daryl McCready, pastor of SonRise Church, Berlin; Jennifer Williams, a member of Ashton Baptist Church and founder of “Dressed in Love Ministries;” Mark Klimovitz, associate pastor of outreach/education, Friendship Baptist Church, Sykesville; and Keith Aguila, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Cumberland. Joe Giles, pastor of student ministry, First Baptist Church of Easton shared his testimony as well.
Palau told how God used a group of pastors in Portland, Ore., to partner with the mayor and local schools to begin a revolution, opening doors that no man could budge. The pastors developed relationships with teachers, administrators, government leaders, and even the gay community. Leaders learned to respect each other, and to work together in spite of their differences.
Kevin Palau’s father, Luis, grew up in a church of about 30 people, mostly family, a part of a “small, separatist denomination.” Kevin said it’s amazing how God called his father out of that tiny congregation and gave him a vision for worldwide evangelism.
Luis is known for his crusades and festivals, but after hosting the biggest music festival in Portland, and folks coming to know Jesus, Kevin said they still weren’t in great relationship with the community. “We (Christians) were known for what we were against rather than what we’re for,” he said.
“How likely is it that the people we are trying to reach will darken the doors of our churches or come to our festivals, no matter how great the coffee or how amazing the music?”
The Gospel itself is attractive and that’s the core and always must be, but what could be done to bridge the gap that was widening year-by-year, Kevin wondered.
Kevin shared how in 2008, prior to an evangelistic festival in Portland, he led a delegation of 400 pastors and approached Portland’s then newly elected mayor, Sam Adams, and asked, “What do you need? How can we help?”
Adams, the first openly gay mayor of a major city, was blown away by the question. He had assumed this was an official courtesy pastors were giving him by visiting. And, he assumed he was dealing with a group of judgmental, accusatory, homophobic, unwelcoming people. But that meeting was the beginning of change, and it was the beginning of a strong friendship between Kevin and Sam Adams. They learned to understand each other, and work together for the good of the city while acknowledging their huge differences.
Kevin said the pastors were seeking the peace and prosperity of the city as described in Jeremiah 29:7, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
As a result of the meeting, 11,000 Christ-followers mobilized to love and serve the schools, and that effort expanded to foster care centers, homeless shelters, to help refugees and more. The group completed 350 projects over six months.
Sam Adams declared it was the best community service effort in the history of Oregon and said, “We’ve got to do this every year!”
The effort, now known as “CityServe,” was instrumental in a church/school partnership with Roosevelt High School, one of the most challenged urban high schools in Portland. That partnership resulted in a miraculous turnaround.
It’s a matter of creating trust and building relationships, Kevin explained.
Kevin said he tells schools, “We know there’s a line there for a reason. We’re not there to proselytize.”
Yet, he emphasizes, “We’re always looking for opportunities to share the good news that changed our lives.
“There’s nothing wrong with building relationships and answering questions.
Kevin said he sometimes has to answer people who wonder that if by partnering with the schools and community, are we “drifting from the real calling of sharing the Good News?”
“We’re doing this for the sake of the Gospel. We’re doing this to get our folks in relationship to share the Gospel,” Kevin said.
“We’re not hiding the Gospel. We’ve not hidden that. The more open and joyful we are, explaining who we are, the more barriers come down.
“You build trust by sitting down and having conversations with people who know the systems and how they work,” Kevin said.
Churches serve without an agenda. “We understand and affirm we’re not here to preach the gospel and invite folks to church while reading to third graders. We serve in humility – schools staff are experts and we’re there to help,” he said.
While there are large churches that can make a massive impact, Kevin said the majority of congregations are small. “It may be a house church of 20, but there may be three senior citizens who can read to third graders or five folks that go and pull weeds.”
Every cup of water is really genuinely appreciated when it’s done in love, he said.
Kevin emphasized excellence. “Don’t do it unless you can do it well. Know your limitations. Under promise and over deliver,” he emphasized. And, a long-term commitment is usually better. “One and done can be helpful, but its nothing like being there over time.”
Asked about liability, training, and child protection, Kevin referred pastors to the website Beundivided.com.
During the panel discussion, Daryl McCready shared how SonRise Church, which meets at Stephen Decatur High School, had an experience similar to Palau but on a much smaller scale. McCready, along with ten other pastors from various denominations in the Berlin area, met with the school superintendent and asked, “How can we help you?”
“He looked dumbfounded,” McCready said. The superintendent was amazed but responded that schools needed mentors. McCready and the others vetted volunteers and provided so many they were told to hold up.
Since that time, SonRise has partnered with several schools and become a huge part of the community, raising funds, doing hands-on work, and much more. They raise over $7,000 each year through a “taco night” at a local school.
Mark Kilmovitz cautioned church leaders to be patient in dealing with schools. “It takes time to bear fruit.” Friendship Baptist Church ministers to seven schools, but it took three years to build those relationships.
Dan Housam discovered, like McCready and Palau, that helping schools is about attitude. “I’m not the hero. I want to be part of the community. Quit thinking of programs and the cool things ‘we’ can do and sit down and say, ‘I want to be part of this community. How can we help?’”
Keith Aguila shared how church members were amazed at what an impact they can have working with local schools, and that schools are appreciative and want to “give back” to the church.
Aguila said there are people from the local school who have never been to a worship service but they come because they want to help.
Jennifer Williams discovered a unique way to minister to high school girls. She founded “Dressed in Love Ministry,” an effort to love young teenage girls. They collected 400 prom gowns this year and gave them to young women. They also provide free makeovers and manicures. Jennifer said God has blessed that ministry and opened doors to talk with parents, grandparents, and friends of the girls.
Joe Giles shared how simply cleaning up after sports games provided an unprecedented open door.
Church Planter Nehemiah Cole asked for assistance in trying to help students at Patterson Park High School. Many are refugees, he said, and they lack basic needs. He is doing what he can, but the need is great.
Leaders gathered around Cole, laying hands on him and prayed, asking for God to lead and direct.
Klimovitz encouraged Cole. A small deed, doing the best we can, even if it’s a little, makes a difference, he said.
“Don’t forget, God can use a mustard seed. We need to celebrate mustard seed moments,” Klimovitz said.