Friends, welcome Chuck Bomar who lives in Portland, Oregon. He is the Founder of Colossae Church which now has five locations across the Portland metro area. Chuck is passionate about embedding the gospel in the city and he does this through school-church partnerships, speaking, writing, consulting, and more! You might think he is overcommitted, but he promises he is doing only one thing: embedding the gospel in a city.
Lizzie Burke: Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
Chuck Bomar: I didn’t grow up in a Christian home and my parents got divorced when I was 6 months old. My mother raised me as a single mom and had to work two jobs to support me and my sister. I was never exposed to church because no one in my family was a Christian. I went to church one time in high school to get free pizza and left right after. I came to faith at the end of my first year in college with a friend, Rob, who was just bold enough to invite me over to just share with me about Jesus. It was a little bit of a trick! He invited me over for dinner, but his wife wasn’t there, his three kids weren’t there, and there was no food!
It was a little weird at first, I’ll be honest, but we sat down at his dining room table with the Bible and he started preaching to me. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get out of there when something clicked. I stopped him and said, “I believe what you’re saying about Jesus.” Rob asked, “Really?” We talked about it and I articulated having a faith for the first time. I ended up going back to the church where I got free pizza from in high school on a Tuesday night. I wanted to know if they had anything for college-aged people. They did have a college ministry and it was on Tuesday nights. I stayed and it is where I got involved in church and college ministry. I guess the pizza was worth it!
The way Rob shared his faith with you is exactly how we often say not to do it!
Rob shared his faith with me genuinely. He really thought he was doing what was right. God used a donkey in the Bible, so He can use a dining room table too. It changed my life. I ended up going to a Bible college not because I wanted to be in ministry, but just because I was interested in the Bible. I started volunteering in a Dutch Reformed Church for a few years in junior high ministry while teaching in public schools. Then, I became a pastor of college and generations ministry in Simi Valley, California at a church called Cornerstone until 2008 when I moved up to Portland.
I didn’t know anyone in the Portland. It was a massive step of faith for my family and me. I parachuted into the city and I don’t recommend doing it that way now because it was hard. My wife and I moved with our three-year-old and eight-month-old little girls. We didn’t have a dime in our savings account. Once again I don’t recommend! It was in 2008 which was a huge downturn in the economy, but it was what we were supposed to do. We had this unique call on our hearts. We started off in doing a house church and it’s a little different today with 5 congregations. My wife still likes me, and we have a third daughter, so it’s been going well!
Chuck, you hold many different titles. But specifically as pastor, what does it mean to be a pastor and How do you live this out in an Innovative way?
I don’t think I have ever been asked the question in this way, great question! To me, being a pastor is coming behind what you see God doing in the lives of people. For the longest time I would sit across from somebody and see all the areas in their life where God isn’t yet working. I had to shift that mentality and instead find where God is working and come behind that to encourage the person. I found it embraces my theology of this work being God’s job and I can enjoy people a lot more.
You have many passions like church-planting and being involved in the community, but what are the common threads that make up your passions?
It’s only one. I am trying to be a part of embedding the gospel into the city. I will do whatever it takes to accomplish it. Whether it is in my business on the side, school partnerships, writing, you name it! I have a serial problem with starting new things. Some people call it entrepreneurial which I wouldn’t disagree with, but spiritually, it seems like Ephesians 4 describes me as well. I have more apostolic gifting than anything. Every time I’ve had a new assistant, I have had tell them that I know it seems like I’m doing a lot – which is true – but I’m only doing one thing. I’m trying to start new things to embed the gospel into a city and that’s it.
Where did the paradigm of ‘embedding the gospel in the city’ come from?
I think it’s my own process, it’s more of an apostolic kind of gifting like I mentioned before. I do teach in our founding congregation and I’m trying to understand what the city needs to hear so I can teach it to our people. I still am thinking about our church and specific people within our church body, but I must equip them to know what the city needs to hear. The city won’t hear it unless our people carry it. I see the church as a disciple, and I want to know how to move the disciple out into the city. Disciple can be cliché at times, but if the church is a disciple then it must multiply itself which is why we have five congregations!
What motivated you to come to Portland and what did you hope to see happen?
I have got nothing for you.
Quick, come up with an answer Chuck!
It seemed so subjective at the time. I really don’t know that I had any expectations. My wife and I talked and we both believed we were supposed to go and if not, it was not going to be good. We knew we had to do it and I didn’t know one person up here. I didn’t have anything to expect, I just moved here. I hate to have no answer, but really that was it!
what about church planting? How much did you learn about it beforehand or did you learn along the way?
I want to help as many church planters as I can, but for me I didn’t do anything right. I didn’t read one book. I didn’t go to a church planting boot camp. I didn’t fundraise or even ask anyone to come. I did everything wrong! For me it was more of a unique framework that I had, and I moved forward with it. Some of it was just putting myself in a place of fear because often we are good talking about trusting God but making decisions that require trust is hard. I just knew that with this was one of those times that required faith, so we did it.
What did help was that I had some good church experiences before. The two churches I worked with before were phenomenal experiences for me. I know that’s not everyone’s experience. My experience was like the kid who grew up in a Christian home and never strayed from God. It helped me have a good framework for being under authority and elders. I never had any problems with it, and I felt cared for. I was challenged too, but I had no framework of how to start a church. It was some of my own intuition as well as learning from a couple friends who had gone out before me. They made some dumb mistakes which I learned from, but I don’t think that is different from what anyone else starts with when planting a church.
Can you tell us about the church planting collective you started in the Portland area and why it is significant to you?
When church planters move into the city generally they are already a part of a network. Many of them already have resources and some sort of funding. The need they still have though is a relational need. It is not required, but I’m a little bit weird and it tends to not be the norm. However, most church planters want to be connected to other planters. The collective focuses on getting them connected to one another.
We also focus on getting them connected to pillars in the city on a relational level. One of those is connecting them to pastors in the city who have been here a long time or pastors who are in pillar churches in the city. We want to champion those relationships so the pastors who have been here are not intimidated by a new church plant, but they want to encourage the new plant. We also introduce church planters to civic leaders. This relationship takes more time because we have worked so hard to build these relationships with city leaders like mayors and superintendents of school districts.
We want to expose the church planters to people they wouldn’t or haven’t had a chance to meet yet at the collective lunches. We always have a training piece in there too during the lunch, hopefully as encouragement for them. There is free lunch and people. As a planter, you don’t turn down those things
When did the collective start and what is a highlight for you from the group?
It started about 3-4 years ago. One thing that I love about the collective which I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience is the different types of church planters and types of church plants in the same room. We get different networks of people who have different philosophies and approaches. They have different understanding of the church and theology, but I am always amazed of the wide variety of people and approaches. I don’t believe we would have ever seen all of it if we hadn’t done this collective. It’s fun to see the diversity within one city and Portland is a small big city so to have the diversity is unique.
I’m sure you are learning along the way as well.
Absolutely. It is one of the benefits of doing it. I want to help and serve, but to say that I don’t learn is crazy. It’s awesome.
Colossae Church has been known for their school-church partnerships. It is a big part of the Portland story that we share at Palau. Can you help us understand why reaching out to the schools in your neighborhood was so important all those years ago?
When I think about embedding the gospel into the city, I would say there’s no better representation of the core of a city than the school district. There’s no better representation of the core of a community than the local school. If you think about any given community, the social, economic, and diversity of the community shows up at the local school. It shows up there every single day of the school year. The teachers and administrators are dealing with the core of the community every day because the core of the community is coming to the school. Why wouldn’t we get involved there? If you have a cause you’re passionate about it’s probably happening within that school district. People in our church are passionate about the homeless or teen moms, you name it! It’s all representative in this one place of society.
It was a strategic way to serve the community. I wrote a book on the whole experience of serving schools and for the church it can be practical to serve the community through the schools. Whether it is tutoring or being a lunch buddy, everyone from our church can be mobilized. I would even go as far as say they are doing something from the one domain of society. If a church wants to reach a local community it doesn’t have an option but to focus on schools. I know that is a strong statement, but I mean it. I don’t think it’s an option any longer.
What did building a relationship with the local school look like?
I heard there was a social service network meeting happening for the school district and I showed up. I was the only pastor there and probably the only Christian. We had planted our church about ten months before as a house church and we just moved out of the house. We had this 4000 square foot building with three classrooms, a small gathering space, and an area for coffee. I offered the building for them to use. Then, I just started building relationships. Some of them took me up on the building space and the school district was one of them.
It allowed me to get connected to the school district not the local school. To get connected to the local school I came from the approach that my kids were there. I was interested in the mission of the Principal and how I could come behind them and let the people in our church know. I always recommend not pronouncing your doctoral statement when you walk into the school office. You can just say you live in the neighborhood and want to help. I don’t know why we always feel like we need to explain our theology before we walk in. You are from the community and want to help.
You do need to be willing to put in the long-term effort of building relationships and trust though. It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows and trusts you. This takes time for people to get to. It has been one step at a time. We’ve obviously done some initiatives and different projects too to build trust over time, but it always starts with relationships and that’s all we did.
What does the partnership look like now with the schools you started with?
We started with the school my kids went to because I was the only staff person at the time, but it is mostly on a district-level. We have employees there at the district-level who are funded by our church. They are a Colossae employee, but work at the district and have a school badge. We support schools in different events like back to school nights for schools. We take care of all the grunt work. We’re not advertising our church, wearing church t-shirts, and there are no banners. There’s nothing wrong that it, but the administration and the principles all know our church is behind them.
This is what matters because then during the rest of the school year they understand that we are resource for them. The relational bridges are automatically built, and we don’t feel like we must hand out pens, flyers, or have a prayer booth. Those might not be bad, but it’s just more relationship centered with the administration, teachers, counselors, and the most underestimated person in the school district: the janitor! You want to know the janitor! They have keys to everything!
Where can people access the book you wrote for school partnerships if they want?
Anywhere books are sold. Try Amazon.
Chuck, you are also passionate about faith and work. You are one of the Portland point people for Made to Flourish, a pastor’s network for the common good. How are you personally involved in business and this venture?
I don’t know who said it, but somebody said, “Pastors can spend 95% of their time focusing on helping people where people only spend 5% of theirs.” I believe that as well. Most people are spending time in their workplace or neighborhood, but we don’t necessarily help with it. I don’t know if it’s going as far as saying pastor malpractice, but I think you can teach them spiritual truth but they’re dying for spiritual bridges in their everyday life.
Most can’t do it on their own and they need help with it. The phrase that Made to Flourish uses is “Moving Sunday to Monday.” I think it is a great way of saying we need to help people translate what they’re hearing on a Sunday to their everyday life on Monday – their everyday workplace. There’s a theology of work that needs to be established. More than that, there needs to be an integration within ourselves.
There are no disintegrated aspects of our life of our faith and work. It’s a full integration and I want to help with it! Too many pastors have never had workplace experience outside of the church, so they don’t know how to help. They’re not empowering other business leaders in the church to help others. They might have board members that are successful businessmen and very integrated with work and faith, but they’re not necessarily being empowered or equipped. They are not freed up to help others bring integration. People are dealing with a restlessness and they don’t know how to settle it. I have a heart for these people and how I can help pastors help them.
I have 15 employees through our logistics companies and for me it is fun, but it also allows me to stay grounded to everyday life of people in the workplace. We can give families a support that they may not have had in a previous workplace. I have recognized I have to be in the trenches myself to constantly process their work and faith. I’m not differentiating a pastor hat and a business owner hat, I don’t have those hats. I’m just Chuck.
There are all kinds of reasons you go into business. You don’t go into business to lose money, but for me it’s deeper than that. The more I can be in the trenches of the business world the more I’ll be able to help others too. I’m not advocating for bi-vocational anything, yet there is something to having experience in the everyday work world where our people are doing life every day.
As I personally have spoken to leaders who are passionate about the work and faith integration they often say, “We have so far to go.” Do you resonate with that or are seeing traction?
Not with pastors, but with businesspeople I am. I hate to say that, but it is my experience. I don’t think pastors know what to do with it. The secular and sacred divide I think is within pastors. No wonder it’s why it’s in our people.
I have a heart for these people, so I have lunches and conversations with pastors about whether they are truly integrated in their life. I think it’s gaining traction with people in churches, business owners, and businesses because there’s an inner wrestle that they don’t know how to settle. They want to have peace with it and they’re tired of feeling unspiritual because they are in the corporate world. The inner struggle of just having the peace of an integrated life that’s what they’re dying for and pastors aren’t really helping them. It robs the whole gospel of being embedded into the city and that’s what drove me towards businesses.
Interested in hearing more from business leaders?
Chuck, I want to hear about the consulting you do for other churches and organizations. How do you do it and why Does it Excite you?
Whether it is a denomination, a larger church, or just an individual leader I want to help them. It tends to be, churches and denominations, but usually they’re facing a struggle that they don’t know how to get past. I have been described as engaging a problem by looking at the architect of a structure which not everyone does. I like thinking through structures people have established. I want to know why they have them in the first place and whether they’re promoting or protecting the values they say they have. Then deconstructing the structure for them so they can build a culture in the right direction of what they want. Many churches are not seeing the connection between structure and culture.
I enjoy the process, but not because I enjoy deconstructing other people’s stuff. I love it because a consultant comes in and says, “How can I help you do what you do best?” I enjoy coming behind their work and helping them do it best. It is a creative outlet for me. It gives my brain something to chew on when I am doing stuff like cleaning my garage. It allows me to not change a bunch of stuff in my church because I have another outlet, ha!
one of your blogs has this phrase, “Grow larger by staying smaller.” What does that mean?
Some of that is contextual to Portland. Proximity is a high value in Portland. You want everything to be close to where you live. I don’t have a problem with large megachurches. I don’t think God has a problem with them, I mean the first church in Jerusalem was over 3,500 people. It was a big church and there was only one of them. God is not against big church, but with that said, social systems change the larger the body. Doesn’t mean there’s a problem, there are just different tensions. I would say the sweet spot for a social system is between 300 and 700 people. It’s my own personal preference. With this size you have resources, but you don’t feel like you have critical mass. Growing larger but staying smaller is a way for multiplication too. It’s a motto that we use at Colossae. I would view multiplication as discipleship, not as a fruit of discipleship. Multiplication is the means for discipleship for us. As communities grow, we are going to multiply by staying smaller.
It is the same with congregations. I always get asked the question, “How many congregations can you possibly have? Are you going to end up in a place where you will have to stop multiplying?” The truth is, I have no idea. I’m probably creating a bunch of problems I don’t know exist yet. If I was in another region of the country I don’t know if I would have the same approach to the church, but here it seems to be significant.
We plant congregations in school districts. We want to help people be who they are where they are – another motto we use. We don’t want people commuting from one school district to another school district to go to church. We should be helping you where you are with you, your kids, your family, with the same mayor, and superintendent.
Chuck, as you travel and become aware of certain trends of the church, what excites you about those trends?
I think it depends on what sect of Christianity we are talking about. I’m excited that we’ve moved past the conversation on what the church is doing wrong. It seems that publishing has worn out of it and now there’s more conversation about what the church is doing right which is more helpful. I have also seen a movement maybe in some ways too much, but a movement away from the Trinity being Father, Son, Holy Bible and back to Father, Son, Holy Spirit. There is a fear of the misuse of the Holy Spirit. I have seen the more conservative sect be open to allowing the Holy Spirit to work.
I have also seen more of a Kingdom mindedness than I’ve ever known. There just seems to be more of a heart for collaboration and for the gospel to have the logo rather than a specific church or organization. It is certainly true here in Portland. If you’re just coming here to get your name out there, it’s not going to go very far, and I think that’s great. I think it is a great culture because we’re not going to have the whole self-promotion thing. It’s not going to work in Portland. I find church planters coming with that mentality and I say, “We’re going to have to have another lunch here because this isn’t going to fly in the city, the Church or with the culture.” I think it is becoming a norm globally too. People who are just promoting their organization and lacking collaborative work of the Kingdom seem to be subsiding and I think that’s a great movement.
culture changes quickly too, what challenges do you think that presents?
I think people in the Church are in a weird place now where culture has moved audibly in a direction that people are referring to as post-Christianity. I prefer to call it post-Atheist, but that’s probably another conversation. If I go to the people in our congregations and they have a general conviction of what is right or wrong, but they don’t have articulated convictions, they are lost. They don’t know how to navigate relationships and connections to people in the community. The biggest challenge is, how do we help people move from the general convictions to articulated ones and do that well? Right now, this is the biggest tension for me, because the rhetoric is so well articulated from culture. Fear is taking a center seat in most Christian minds and they are stuck.
What does it look like walking alongside someone to help them articulate their conviction?
One on one, discipleship will be happening, and it is important. The thing our congregations are focused on is starting a Lecture Forum. We’re starting off with the topic of gender and we’re doing it the first Sunday of every month. First, we are going to talk about masculinity, then femininity and more. I’m going to teach for maybe 15 minutes and then I’m going to push it to table discussions where they must process it and work towards articulating it. Then we will bring it back and dialogue together.
People ask me if they can watch online, but I’m saying no. The type of engagement necessary can’t be done through a podcast or a written statement. They must dialogue and walk through it with people. They need to voice it and hear other people voice in their own words. It’s not enough to just have podcast. There’s a place for podcast, but it’s not helping people dialogue through it. If you aren’t there, you miss out. There is a disconnect with real life conversation. I haven’t had this approved yet, but I want to add on the tagline, “A conversation in real-time.”
There is a whole idea where people think they can miss church and catch up online. It is not good! You can’t catch up online, we are doing this wrong and need real-time kind of conversation. In a church the communion table is bonding, or it should be, and you are One with the Body. There are many aspects of the gathering where being physically present is meaningful.
Chuck, I know you are friends with Francis Chan, and he has completely changed his church model from large church to smaller house churches. What is it like walking with someone who is going through a changing ministry?
I will answer that in two ways. The first is as a friend watching a friend go through changes, I think it’s fun. Some people might think he’s crazy or in some sort of midlife crisis, but I don’t see it that way. During different seasons in our life we change, and we’re used differently in different seasons. It’s been fun to watch it and be a part of it from an arm’s length away.
The second way is, Francis has a prophetic kind of gifting. If you look at John the Baptist, he chose to go out into the wilderness and eat locusts and honey. Nobody forced him to do that. If you look at the prophets, they had this weird bent towards poverty and I wonder why are you doing that? Francis gives away a bunch of his book money and he has a similar posture. He has this prophetic edge to him. He also has this inner wrestle that he’s never quite settled. I just want to say that I think it’s a prophetic gifting that is moving him from one thing to another. He won’t to do this forever, he’ll do something else, and that’s just part of the gifting and wiring.
He went on sabbatical and went to China and when he came back, he said, “I think I need to write two more books. One is on marriage and one of them about letters to the church.” Sure enough, he came back and wrote them. I remember sitting with him outside of Cornerstone once and we were sitting outside and he says, “I feel like God wants me to say a few things.” I say, “You better say it” because that’s the gifting!
Many people don’t say, “I have an apostolic gifting or a prophetic gifting,” but you’re calling out that God made us in a unique way. There is a willingness in both of you as leaders that might cause some people to say, “this is a little weird,” but the encouragement is that sometimes weird is okay and you can’t rationalize it.
There is freedom in it. I don’t think John the Baptist went out into the wilderness begrudgingly. He found freedom in it! When I look at Ephesians and read about God-given gifts: prophet, evangelist, apostle, teacher, and shepherd, it does not say those go away, yet Bible college and seminary is all about shepherd and teacher. The apostolic, evangelist, and prophets are just supposed to start nonprofits! What is this about?
There’s a place in the church for everyone. Thankfully you guys here have solidified the evangelist gifting. Those gifts won’t go away! They’re gifts given for the equipping of the Saints until we all attain unity of faith and maturity in Christ. Luis Palau is not saying anything other than he’s an evangelist. It is not weird, so why is it weird if I say I have an apostolic gifting? It’s not a capital “A.” It shouldn’t be weird!
Why is writing a priority for you?
I get bored saying the same things. Instead I just want to write it down, then I don’t just say it all the time. I know it sounds weird, but I don’t want to teach on the same thing, I want to put it in a book and tell people they can read it, so I don’t have to talk about it anymore.
There was a time where I had an organization for college students and I was doing speaking around the country, helping people understand discipleship of college-aged people. A good chunk of books that I’ve written are on this topic because I realized I could probably make a lot of money by speaking on this, but I really don’t want to travel and say the same thing all the time. I don’t have any canned talks. When I speak at conferences, I have a lot of stuff I can draw from, but it needs to be fresh. It’s too static for me and that’s probably a very unpopular answer.
I just feel like it’s not sincere if I’m just going to say the same things. Some people are wired that way and they go and speak at a conference. People say he’s an amazing speaker and of course he is! He has said it twenty-five hundred times. It’s like the comedian Netflix special. They have been practicing for 12 months so of course they’re going to be great. I don’t want to take away from that because it’s good and needed content, but for me it’s just like a drain on my soul I just can’t do it.
What are you dreaming for in the future of the church?
I would say one thing that I really hope to participate in more is the collaborative work. Over the last two to three decades there’s been more and more of non-denominational independent churches being planted, but also isolation happening. I’m not saying we should recreate the whole denominational movement. It has issues too, but there’s something missing when so many churches are operating independently. We’ve lost the collective accountability and we’ve lost a collective prophetic voice. It is why we have the multi-congregational church. It’s not a campus model, it’s very different than multi-site models, but those don’t need collaboration.
The hope is for less churches and organizations to have their logos on stuff and it become known as the Church’s voice. There are several ways we can go about it, but I think what you guys are doing is one of them. There’s a big movement in that direction and I think that’s a great future for the Church. There are some things in place like City Gospel Movements and other things happening to
o where nobody has attachment to, but it is the gospel moving forward and embedding into a context.
I also have more belief in the younger generation than ever before. In that respect, I think there’s great things to come and I’m hoping to participate in them.