The Missions Question

The Missions Question

When I get asked about the work Palm Valley Church does in Cote d’Ivoire, Mexico, and Haiti, it usually goes something like this:

Why would you travel long distances to serve people when there are problems right here in our own community? Shouldn’t we fix homelessness (replace with: addiction, orphans, foster care, etc.) here before we help others?

I understand this question. I mean, it makes logical sense. Work to fix problems in the areas that are the closest to us, then travel out from there. The problem with this way of thinking is that it is contrary to Jesus’ instructions. Check out the Great Commission given to the disciples and to all of us.

Acts 1:8 (NASB)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

The wording of this passage is very intentional. The geographical progression uses the word AND not THEN. The strategy was not meant to be progressive in the sense that when one location was completed, the next was to begin. There is a tension in the belief that we are supposed to be engaged in all three.

There is also the fact that if one area had to be completed before moving on to the next, we would never go beyond our own communities. Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you.” Therefore, we will never completely solve the problem.

So how do we manage the tension of AND?

Honestly, most of our resources at Palm Valley Church are dedicated to our own community. In fact, our most successful evangelistic program receives more financial support, staffing support and volunteer support than anything else we do. It is so successful, that every weekend people from our community come to Christ. Every year, hundreds of people from our community are baptized. What is the program? What is this amazing evangelistic tool? It’s our weekend worship service.

At Palm Valley Church, our weekend worship service is designed so that people who are far from God and those who are invited to attend will be welcomed and cared for. Every weekend, we communicate with them in a language they can understand. We teach principles from scripture that can be applied immediately to their lives. And we provide an opportunity for them to hear and respond to the Gospel message. Our members personally inviting their friends and neighbors to church is our most effective tool in reaching our community.

We also use resources, both financial and manpower, to meet the physical needs of our communities. Our work in the community over the past three years has impacted almost 15,000 children and families. Our partnerships with local government, schools, and non-profit organizations answer the call of Jesus to help “the least of these.” Palm Valley Church members have also made a significant impact in the local foster care crisis as many families have opened their homes and lives to children in need.

We do all of this AND go to the “remotest parts of the earth.”

The financial resources are a fraction of what we use here, and the hours spent are a fraction of what is given here. But we are called to do BOTH.

We do it with joy.

We do it with sacrifice.

We do it because we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to go.


Addition by Subtraction: Part 3 of 3

Developing the Plan

How do you communicate changes in a way that values everyone involved?

Due to the types of changes we were making, we believed face-to-face interaction was imperative. After all, Palm Valley Church is a place where people matter.

What was needed was a rolling communication plan. First, we needed to speak with the individual members of our team who were being directly affected by either the elimination of their role or a major reassignment. Then, we needed to work through the tiers of leadership. Our hope was that we would minimize the possibility that information about changes would reach someone before we had the opportunity to speak with them in person.

Here is where things got tricky. November 6was the date of our first meeting as a Strategic Team. It was in this meeting that the 2-week timeline was developed.

In order for Glendale’s last public service to be held before the launch of our Christmas push, November 18, I needed to be at the Glendale Campus on November 11 to deliver the news in person.

This was the plan we developed:

November 6 — Communicate changes to campus pastors, staff members whose roles were dramatically changing (i.e. changing campuses) or who were being released. Keep Trustee team in the loop on the new timeline.

November 7 — Announce changes to the entire staff in an all staff meeting.

November 8 — Call together all the leaders, staff and volunteers, from all campuses to communicate the changes to them.

November 11 — I would be at the Glendale Campus in person to deliver the news about the campus closure. We would also make the announcement at the Buckeye Campus about major staffing changes, including the new campus pastor. Nothing would be said at the Goodyear Campus during this weekend to prevent information from spreading prematurely in Glendale and Buckeye before their services on Sunday morning.

November 6thwas a whirlwind of a day. Tough decisions. Tough conversations.

What was so amazing to me was to see God’s hand in it all. The unity in the team was amazing. We were able to work quickly and effectively through the objectives. All key decision makers were in the room and God worked through the collective wisdom and experience He had given everyone.

Was this timeline too short?

That’s a tough one. If we had more time, we certainly would have used it, I do know that. But what would we have used it for? More deliberation? More discussion? At the end of the day, there was no preparation for the tough conversations we were going to have. Staff members and the church body already new finances were tight and that changes would have to be made without a rebound. The specific conversations we had to have would be just as difficult this week as they would have been next week or next month if we drug the process out. There are no preparatory conversations for the ones we were having besides the groundwork that had already been laid.

Here is what I learned from this situation:

Once the vision is set, plans can be made fairly quickly. I had to be crystal clear with the Strategic Team about the new model and our specific objectives. Giving them this direction gave us some very clear running lanes to make quick, thoughtful and informed decisions.

Having the right people in the room is key. For visionary decisions, I think a smaller group is more effective. For strategic and tactical decisions, having all the stake holders in the room speeds up the process—if the vision is clear.

Diversity is a blessing. More people in one room who are all the same is not helpful. That could give a false sense of feedback and input. If everyone in the room is of the same sex, race, and comes from the same background, you are not necessarily getting the benefit of collective wisdom. You are just getting multiple voices saying the same thing. Unfortunately, it’s hard to understand this until you’ve experienced it. We like to trick ourselves into believing that our teams are different: “We aren’t technically diverse, but we think diverse.”As leaders, we constantly surround ourselves and attract others who are just like us. If you want to lead a diverse church that matches your community, intentionally surround yourself with leaders who represent the body. If there is a level of leadership at which, above that line, everyone is the same, there is a problem. The diversity of your church will never be greater than the diversity of your highest levelof leadership.

Unexpected Outcomes

We made these decisions for the future growth of the church. I believe God has called us—and every church—to reach the community they are in with the life-transforming message of the Gospel. I believed that if I made these changes, we would have a greater impact in the future. What I didn’t realize was how quickly some of the changes came.

The first change was in the area of giving.

As church leaders, we preach stewardship all the time. We are not owners, but managers of God’s resources. The decisions that were made to close a campus, reduce and redeploy staff, and change our strategy were all stewardship decisions. How could we best use the resources God has given us?

We talk this way.

We operate behind the scenes this way.

But when we laid these values out on the front lines for all to see, I didn’t realize what an impact it would have on the body. I thought people would pull back. Instead, they leaned in.

People want to invest their finances, their time, and their relational capital in organizations they trust. And trust doesn’t come from being perfect. It comes from being authentic.

We admitted mistakes.

We took corrective action.

We told people why.

Palm Valley Church has been in existence for over 18 years. Since the announcement of all these changes, we have received our four largest single gifts in the history of the church. The budget gap was reduced to $30,000 by the end of the year from a high point of $300,000. This was due to giving, the financial cuts are for the 2019 budget.

The second change was in the area of attendance.

One month later our Christmas attendance was 4% larger than the previous year. As I write this at the beginning of June, we are up 10% in attendance from last year.

Addition by subtraction.

Sometimes this phrase is used relationally. A team gets better by the removal of a toxic teammate. This is NOT what I am referring to here. What I am referring to here is ENERGY.

When we focused our energy and efforts on fewer things, we became more effective. We now operate with one less physical location but reach more people than we did before. By taking the resources we had and positioning them where they can create the greatest impact, we saw a resurgence.

Redeploying staff members into new roles

Re-budgeting finances

Redirecting my personal efforts and energy

God worked in and through the leaders, volunteers and members of Palm Valley Church to initiate an incredible turn around.

God is doing some amazing things. God-sized things.

I cannot wait to see what the future holds.