Rafael & Catherine Gómez
I got a phone call the other day.
It was a fellow pastor from my denomination who lives in the Los Angeles basin area. Rafael Gómez is his name and we hit it off right away. It seems that Rafael is in the midst of studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, working on a Master of Arts degree in Global Leadership, and he wanted to include our story in a paper he was working on.
Rafael has been a friend on Facebook and a reader of our blog, As I See It, for a few years now. We met up face-to-face in Columbus, Ohio at our denomination’s global conference back in 2015. We shared our experiences as church planters and found that we had a lot in common when it comes to loving Jesus and trying our very best to start a community of worshippers in our home cities.
So, to make a long story short, Rafael was looking to include three case studies in his paper, Consumerism and Attractional Ecclesiological Models Towards a Missional and Kingdom Praxis, and he was calling me to ask if he might include our story in his paper. After warning him that this decision might negatively effect his grade, Rafael was still determined to go through with his idea.
So, here, for your reading pleasure, is Rafael’s overview of our story, taken from his excellent paper for his Fuller coursework: MP519 – Transforming Contemporary Culture…
As a leader and pastor in the Vineyard Movement over the past twenty-five years, and as a father of five children – three who are not currently following Christ or attending church, this is a subject which has very personal implications. In the past, I’ve been unwilling (mostly out of pride and fear), even reluctant to ask them why they’ve lost interest in the church – even our church!
In the following section, I present several case studies which not only illustrate the problems of a consumerist/attractional model but reveal a way forward towards more sustainable faith and ways of living in community.
Case Study #1: Marty and Sandy Boller of Cedar Rapids Vineyard: The Making of a Modern-Day Monk.
“John Wimber saw the great need for pastors and churches not to “keep” people but freely give away our very best among us.” (Boller 2016).
After nearly two decades of struggle with “doing church,” Marty Boller now sees himself in a sort of “recovery” phase of ministry life. In his blog The Contemplative Activist, he writes of his former, and painfully dysfunctional “3-B church life – getting (B)utts in the seats, more (B)ucks in the offering, and increasing (B)uilding size.” (Boller 2016).
In an interview conducted for this paper, he related the trials and tribulations he and his family endured as they attempted to keep their small, relatively poorer congregation of two-hundred in a 10,000-square foot leased facility. They planted their church in 1998, and a decade later, in his words, they were “falling apart at the seams.” His teenage and young adult children, musicians who led worship had also “run out of gas.” (Marty Boller, telephone conversation with author June 2, 2017).
As this pastor continued to narrate their long and difficult church planting saga, his words resonated deeply within me. I had “been there” as they say, “done that, and got the t-shirt in three colors.” This was a familiar litany. Over the past decade as a local Vineyard Area Pastor, tasked with the oversight of 10-12 other churches, I had stood by brokenhearted pastoral couples and their staff, as they suffered through similar church plant/church meltdowns.
The truth is that the upkeep of the attractional “3-B” church life requires so much in the way of emotional, financial, and spiritual resources that few can afford the cost.
Today, Marty and Sandy realize that they devoted “way too little time focusing on how (they) could aid people in their spiritual growth, and way too much of (their) time on church programming which was working against true discipleship” and their personal emotional and spiritual health (Boller 2016).
Although Marty and Sandy no longer pastor a ‘traditional’ church, they are capitalizing on their considerable experience as practitioners. Currently, their focus is coaching leaders as “contemplative activists” (as they call themselves) with The Order of Sustainable Faith – a missional-monastic expression of the church, birthed within the Vineyard.
Thanks Rafael. You’ve done a great job re-telling, in a brief overview, our 3-B story. Keep going, my friend, and the very best to you as you go on to complete your studies at Fuller! It’s my belief that Jesus is up to something across the fruited plain of America, inviting more and more worn-out and burned-out pastors and churches to step out of the 3-B traffic so we might better align ourselves with Him in the days ahead.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 11: 28-30 MsgB)
P.S. If you’d like a complete copy of Rafael’s excellent paper, you can contact him directly on Facebook.