MARVEL: THE RUNNING PASTOR
I cross the Finish Line, I want to know that I could not run one step
That is the
motto of Bob Marvel, the 40-year-old Senior Pastor of Cornwall
Bellingham, Washington, who has qualified to compete in the
Boston Marathon. Bob is not a
"world-class runner" who expects to
Boston, but he has worked hard for the past 6 years to qualify and
now he has reached his ultimate goal. "I
ran my Personal Best of 3 hours 19
minutes at the
2004 Las Vegas Marathon in January, which qualifies me in my age
group for this
year's Boston (and next year's too)."
attitude is the same Bob brings to his work at the 3,000-plus-member
in the college town of Bellingham, about 2 hours north
Seattle. It is obvious for Christians to equate running a physical
running the race
of our lives - after all, the Apostle Paul repeatedly compared
with effective Christianity - but many miss the essential
attitude and expectations. Looking
for a picture to describe Bob
Marvel as runner
and as a soul-winning pastor, recall the heart-wrenching scene
"Schindler's List," where Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) is
munitions factory and the labor force of Jewish internees - whose
lives he has saved
from sadistic concentration camps and eventual extermination
- and they are
bidding him farewell. Schindler
breaks down crying, saying, "I
could have saved
one more. I could have sold this
car and saved another, maybe
two, maybe three.
I could have saved another."
That never-give-up attitude is
perspective Bob brings to soul-winning, to disciple-making, to
pastoring ... and
kid, I was short and chubby, not athletic in team or competitive Sports,
and I'm certainly
not built like a runner. Most of
my life, I have focused on
and outdoor sports like snowboarding and dirt-biking.
But I am
coordinated, so at age 35 I decided to start running.
I set myself
(1) to finish the race; (2) to finish the race in less than 4
hours; and (3) to
finish the race with a time of 3:45."
Bob ran the 1998
Marathon in 3:42. Possibly this
is when Bob discovered he is
against other runners - his biggest competition is within
started in ministry as the Youth Pastor of a small church, and he was
appealing to the young people with his outdoorsy, sports-minded
But when the Senior Pastor of Cornwall Church moved to another church
in Florida, Bob
was called on to fill the pulpit while the new pastor search was
Within a few weeks of hearing him preach, the church unanimously
agreed to ask Bob
to step up to the role of Senior Pastor.
a radical approach to worship - geared for non-churched people with
format, drama, upbeat music, and a seeker-friendly attitude - Bob
saw an explosive
growth at Cornwall ... and baptismal services were scheduled
than yearly. Within 10 years, Bob
shepherded his church from 300
to over 3,000
weekend-attending members - and this is in a college town where
attendance ebbs and flows according to the school schedule.
In an urban
population base of 70,000, Cornwall Church has become one of two
in Bellingham, a remarkable achievement for a person who says he
non-competitive - except within himself.
"Our focus is on personal growth
achieved in the
small groups, not so much in the weekend services.
we aim for the
non-churched to feel welcome with us, where they can see the joy
and enthusiasm we
bring to our worship, and they can experience the fellowship
believers in a non-threatening way. Then,
in the small groups, they
individually discipled and matured."
time of increasing growth in his church, Bob decided to start
and eventually aimed for the grueling requirements of a marathon.
didn't really have
an organized or scientific approach to running, but the
combined with the toughness of pushing yourself mile after mile
- somehow that
appealed to the inside of me. That,
and the encouragement and
support I received
from friends and family - especially my parents, my sister,
and my wife and
our daughters - all combined to make running a joy."
if he worked with
a coach or followed a specific program, Bob sheepishly grins
and says, "I
read a lot of Runner's World magazines and Jeff Galloway books."
is a dynamic and effective preacher, but he does not seek the
The emphasis at his church on personal growth through the small
groups rather than
the high-energy weekend services reflects Bob's own approach
to his running -
sometimes he runs alone, sometimes with a small group of fellow
sometimes with his wife Dorene. Together,
Bob and Dorene have run
6 Marathons - and
it is with Dorene that Bob's experience begins to show.
Dorene first started running, we trained together and she would say, 'We
just ran 5 miles;
I can't imagine running 10 miles.' Then
we'd run some more
and she'd say, 'We
just ran 12 miles; I can't imagine running twice that
And we'd train more and she'd say, 'We just ran 20 miles; I can't
another 6 miles.' So when she ran
her first Marathon - at
Portland in 2001 -
she posted a 4:25 finishing time. I
was very proud of her."
"discipled" Dorene into becoming a runner ... much the same way
he expects his
congregation to welcome and disciple new believers.
our training runs, Dorene and I would quiz each other on memorizing
9:24-27, the passage where Paul encourages believers to liken
lives to running a race: 'Do you
not know that in a race all
the runners run,
but only one gets the prize? ... No, I beat my body and make it
my slave so that
after I have preached to others, I myself will not be
the prize.'" Now with a
self-imposed training program that has
"Yasso 800's," at 6 feet 2 inches and 190 pounds, Bob is
aiming to break
his Personal Best of 3:19 at the Boston Marathon - which will
also be his fourth
marathon within 7 months. "And
no matter what happens at
Boston, I want to
know in my heart that I did my best" - which should be the
every person who names himself a Christian.
We all should aim to
run in such a way as to get the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:24, 25; NIV).
Raised in a
Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) pastor's family, Bob Marvel is the
three children, all who are following their father's lead into
His brother Jerry pastors in eastern Washington, his sister Lori
an effective speaker) is married to a pastor in Atlanta, and
Bob started his
ministry as Youth Pastor. Among
the most avid fans of his
are his parents, Gerald and Rena Marvel:
"One year as I was
Portland Marathon, I could hear my Mom and daughter screaming my
name, cheering me
on. Despite all the emotional and
physical drain of running a
just hearing that encouragement helped boost me across the finish
credits other friends who have, at times, "put their money where their
mouth is" in
helping him travel to different marathons, and whose encouragement
have challenged him to reach higher and higher.
Bob has been
known to run with
his typed-out sermon outline in a Ziploc bag so he can study
while he runs.
Bob and his
wife Dorene live in Ferndale, Washington, with their two daughters,
enjoys soccer and track) and Alyssa (who excels in basketball and
Bob says, "After Boston, I don't think I'll keep on running
Well, except a fellow pastor here in Bellingham wants to run the Las
next year, so maybe I'll train with him and help him get started.
And then Dorene
and I want to run the Portland Marathon again next year.
am still eligible
to run Boston in 2005, so maybe I will ...."
So much for
ultimate goal - the Boston Marathon - and then hanging up his
Running shoes for
good. Just like Bob's heart is to
lead another missions' team
to India again ...
or to Tanzania again ... or to Haiti again - once a
always a soul-winner. [To find
out more about Bob Marvel and his
church, go to:
Bob posted a
time of 3:54:41 when he ran the Boston Marathon on Monday 19 April
2004. No one - not even the world-class runners - broke any Running
weather conditions were unusually adverse, reaching 90-degrees plus
weather in Boston is 50-degrees). But
at least Bob can say,
crossed that Finish Line, I know that I could not have run one step
article also appeared in AgapePress on April 23, 2004
***Photos by Doug Cole