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Courtesy of Payton Walter
Growing up as a Cowboy Pastor’s kid (a C.P.K.), I believe that I can adequately give an accurate description of what a cowboy church is.
According to Wikipedia, a Cowboy church is defined as a “local Christian church within the cowboy culture that is distinctively Western heritage in character. A typical cowboy church may meet in a rural setting in a barn, metal building, arena, sale barn, or old western building; have its own rodeo arena, and a country gospel band.”
That’s a decent answer but still leaves quite a few questions, which I will now provide the answers for.
What a Cowboy Church is Not
When most people think of a church they picture a white steeple building with pews and carpeting. These churches are filled with well-dressed members, the men often in suits and the women in dresses. The pastor preaches from a pulpit and the choir leads the congregation in their most beloved hymns. Each week there are such activities as a youth group, Bible studies, and even bingo night.
As for the cowboy church my dad pastors, we look a bit different than your typical church.
Instead of a white steeple church, we meet in a barn. After all, it was good enough for Jesus.
We also have no dress code. Often our members are coming in from working and caring for their livestock. This means dirty jeans, muddy boots, and of course cowboy hats. This dress attire is not restricted to members only. The pastor is never seen without his cowboy hat on and as his child, I can tell you that I’ve only seen him in a suit maybe three times in my life.
Speaking of the pastor, his weekly messages aren’t what you’d be used to at a traditional service. If you’re not familiar with the fundamentals of Rodeo then you most likely won’t understand half the analogies. Agriculture examples are often used including calving, breeding, castration and other such delightful everyday tasks of a rancher’s life.
The music is also countryfied with our two-stepping version of I’ll Fly Away and Amazing Grace. Most of the songs we play on a Sunday morning are also the same ones we play at our annual barn dances. Many a George Strait and Willie Nelson songs have been tweaked to share the gospel message via acoustic guitar and a bit of twang.
As for our weekly events, youth group is replaced by open arena nights and ropings where most of our attendees are students of the local high school and college rodeo teams. Bible studies take place at our many rodeo events, as the messages are shared by the pastor on horseback. And for our upper aged members, a combination of barn dances and mini ropings are a way of ensuring that all ages have a blast. If you don’t know what mini roping is, you’re missing out.
Along with these western events, we also put on a yearly Rodeo Bible Camp where kids ages 8-18 come to be taught by some of the world’s best rodeo cowboys and cowgirls while also learning about the word of God and His love.
What a Cowboy Church Is
With this understating as to what a Cowboy church looks like and how it functions you might now be interested in stopping by and checking out one in your area.
Now hold your horse. Before you buy yourself a cowboy hat and a pair of boots I’d like to inform you of one last thing. The Cowboy Code of Cowboy Churches.
The entire reason cowboy churches exist is for two main reasons.
#1. To Share the Word of God with those who otherwise would never step foot into a church.
Stinky odors, conversation topics, and not to mention the lifestyle choices that often find their way into these cowboy’s lives, keep most them from ever stepping into a church building in fear that the ceiling will fall in on them. These are the people we at cowboy churches are out to reach.
My dad has said many times before that when you walk out into our parking lot you should see beer cans in the back of pickup truck. Otherwise, we’re not doing our job.
With this said, we don’t condone poor lifestyles, but just as our Lord and Savior came to seek and save the lost, we make it our mission to meet these people exactly where they are and love them with all our hearts. We don’t expect people to become perfect to walk in our doors. We welcome them as they are and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work of saving.
For this reason, we have all kinds of people sitting in our seats any given Sunday. Cowboys passing through from the rodeo the night before, ranchers that have never opened the bible let alone know what’s in it, truck drivers who needed a place to turn around, even bikers. Yes, bikers.
This atmosphere is focused on the agricultural lifestyle but the down to earth openness attracts people from all walks of life.
#2 To Preserve and teach the character traits and lifestyle of agriculture.
This is not just a show. This is our way of life.
Our pastor doesn’t just put on an act for Sunday service, he makes his living by working cattle and training horse. This isn’t a John Wayne twist for entertainment purposes. Our members are proud to live the lives they have chosen. Ones that require them to get up at the break of dawn to care for an animal or tend a field. This is a hard life that requires hard people with soft hearts.
It is this life that we wish to pass on to the next generation to ensure that we don’t disappear in history along with the beliefs that we hold so dear.
So before you go out and buy yourself a cowboy hat and pair of boots, try just stopping in, the way that you are. Cowboy Church isn’t for cowboys, it’s for all who will hear. Our desire is simply to be that voice that cries out to all who will hear, sharing with them the coming of our Lord. (Matthew 11:15)