Still Trying to Understand Cowboy Church

by Mike Leake on April 28, 2011 · 60 comments

For the second time I am reading Ed Stetzer’s landmark book Breaking the Missional Code. I agree with most if it. But one thing I am having a hard time with is this statement and the implications that come out of it:

“Our growing cultural diversity requires a church within the reach of every people group, population segment, and cultural environment if we are to be faithful to the Great Commission”.

The implication here is that if you live in an area that has lots of “cowboys” then perhaps a cowboy church would help reach people with the gospel. cowboychurchOr maybe you live around a bunch of skateboarder’s; then you have a skateboarding church. Maybe it’s fried chicken that unites your community; well, then you obviously have the green light to call it Southern Baptist.

I get the principle and it seems to make sense…but…is it biblical? I do see the idea of being missional and contextualizing the message so that people can even hear the gospel. In other words if I go to Korea then I need to either learn to speak Korean or get a translator. Yes, the gospel is powerful and it is the word of God that changes lives—but it needs to be heard in your own language or else it just sounds like babbling. So, I get that. And I get that a cowboy hears the message of the gospel differently than a banker from Vermont. But to me having a cowboy church is contrary to the heavenly scene of people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

Maybe to cross a cultural boundary I need to speak a little cowboy and maybe learn how to catch a greased pig. But shouldn’t the gospel be the thing that unites people instead of our culture? Isn’t the gospel meant to break culture so that there is no longer slave nor free, Greek nor Scythian, cowboy nor IndianNative American.

Here is an example that might make my point more clear. I am a Clevand Browns fan. Now, let’s pretend that I live in a community of Browns fans, all eight of them. If I want to take the gospel to Browns fans then I need to find some common ground. So, I share the gospel with them over an argument about whether we’ll win 3 games this year or 2. Let’s just imagine that a few of them end up coming to know Christ. We decide to plant a Brown’s Church.

I preach with a football helmet on. The fans wear those dog masks and have those crazy dog bones. We even let a few of the extra chunky guys come to church with their shirts off (only the guys though). We are certain to let out our services before the game starts (then we have “fellowship” time where we watch the games together). And the few times when the Browns get a prime time game we hold special services. It is our goal to attract more and more Browns fans to church.

Now, I know this is a silly example…but have I really described church as it should be? Wouldn’t a better example of church be that a Browns fan and a Steeler’s fan link arms, skip out on a football game, and go share the gospel together to a lost Raven’s fan.

Maybe I’m missing something…again…help me understand…

(I originally wrote this in 2009 and I hold basically the same position.  In fact I remember Thabiti Anyabwile preaching a sermon similar to what I am saying here at T4G).

1 Jim April 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Thank you. I was unaware of Thabiti Anyabwile’s sermon on the subject, and I thought I was the only one who had some reservations about cowboy churches. I asked the associational DOM about it and was told that they are the fastest growing churches around. In other words, “they work”. I wrote a few words on my blog in October 2009.

2 Andrew Wencl April 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Cowboy church: It’s like VBS week times fifty-two!

3 Bill Mac April 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Let me ask a smart aleck Yankee question. How many cowboys are there? Really? I know everyone south of the mason-dixon line fancies themselves a cowboy, but c’mon; how many bona-fide cowboys are out there?

And even if there were lots of them, which I doubt: It’s an occupation. Will we need churches for accountants? Bus drivers? Envelope stuffers?

What is there about being a cowboy that requires a church dedicated to them?

4 BDW April 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Ever been to rural Texas?

5 Jeremy Parks April 28, 2011 at 10:17 pm

West Texas, chunks of Oklahoma, and all of South Dakota that I have seen is cowboy either in fact (work and lifestyle) or in worldview. And it is more than simply an occupation; there is an approach to life, to work, to viewing the world. That’s what justifies teaching and preaching in a way that connects to them.

6 hariette petersen (selahV) April 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Jeremy, so true. while there are exceptions in all aspects of life, cowboys who live off the land, and trust in the sovereign grace of God’s natural blessings for crops, livestock, weather, etc., life is a lot more than just how much the movies have gone up, or the Starbucks coffee shop charges for muffins. they love the world they are in and appreciate the land, but don’t think wild turkeys, and deer and wolves are something that should be on the endangered species lists.

7 Mike Leake April 28, 2011 at 2:28 pm

By the way that sermon I referenced was from T4G 2010

8 Jared Moore April 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Mike, great article; and great points. Keep on keeping on.

9 Dave April 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm

As a guy who grew up in the west and is now transplanted to the south I just have to say that maybe the real issue is our American view of church versus a Biblical view.

I can’t count how many good meaning Baptist churches I saw in California populated with transplanted southerners who found a little slice of home because the pastor wore a suite and worship consisted of an ocasional praise chorus sprinkled in among hymns. Meanwhile the Gospel wasn’t being communicated because us Californians couldn’t wrap our minds around needing to “honor God” by wearing our “Sunday best” to church.

If I was planting a church in Big Sky country it better be a cowboy church…I would never call it that, but if I’m calling people know Christ, understand the Gospel, and be transformed by that good news then I’m going to present the Gospel in a relevant way and offer opportunities for worship that are meaningful.

So my question is, if you guys are saying that we don’t need to contextualize church, are you attending churches that aren’t contextualized? Does your church fit your culture, your preferences, your tastes, your heart language? If so, then somebody probably planted that church to reach you!

10 Jeremy Parks April 29, 2011 at 12:30 am

Amen. Too often we point at other churches as being compromised in some way by virtue of the fact that the church fits the people, and yet our churches are the same: they are fit to us.

A pastor in Penn. once told me that the younger crowd refused to come to church because of the boring music. “The music,” he said, “is irrelevant. It’s just the window-dressing on the service.” To which I replied, “Well, if it is that irrelevant, then it should not be a problem changing it a little for the younger group.”

He did not get that insisting on the irrelevance of the musical style pinned him and his traditional members just as surely as it pinned those who refused to attend. Contextualization is a matter of perspective, it seems.

11 Jim April 28, 2011 at 3:43 pm

to Bill Mac and BDW. I live in one of those rural Texas counties with one of the large and famous ranches, but there are still only a handful of cowboys here.

12 Daniel April 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I’m reminded of a mission trip I went on to South Asia several years ago. A church we visited had trouble integrating former Muslims because most of the congregation were former Hindus. No language barrier or anything, just different sets of beliefs that they had turned away from to embrace Christ. The solution? Start a new church for former Muslims. Surely this doesn’t match Ephesians 2:11-21.

13 Jeremy Parks April 29, 2011 at 12:20 am

Ummm….I don’t see the problem. I really fail to grasp the connection with the passage in Ephesians. Explain it to me, and use small words.

For much of the world, one’s faith determines more than simply where to attend church. Despite living in the same city and using the same language, I would imagine there are a host of other differences between the two groups that would make integration harder than anything we have in our US culture. Food, clothing, jobs, family relationships, assumptions about the nature of the world, aspect of the Creator most heavily understood on an emotional level (and therefore emphasized in praise), assumptions about the nature of the Christian Yahweh in light of their knowledge of god in their old faiths…the list is close to endless.

Sure, it is great to get the groups together, but I can’t fault them for having separate congregations that still love and respect one another.

14 Daniel April 29, 2011 at 10:38 am

I would imagine that the 1st century Jews and Gentiles had all of the same kinds of differences that you listed. Yet, Paul encouraged them to be built together as a temple and not to separate. I hope that helps.

15 Bill Mac April 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm

“And I get that a cowboy hears the message of the gospel differently than a banker from Vermont.”

I’m not sure I get it. I can’t imagine what there is in the Gospel message that means different things to a new england banker vs a south western farm hand.

Our little church has university professors, healthcare professionals, farm workers, small businessmen, teachers, and Walmart shelf stockers. We all grasp the Gospel.

I suspect this is (albeit with good intentions) about entertainment. I would guess that cowboy church has an emphasis on country-style music and instruments, and maybe the pastor preaches with a stetson on.

16 Mike Leake April 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Bill,

What I mean by that statement is that the new england banker and the south western farm hand may have different educational backgrounds, different worldviews, etc. As such they will have different idols and temptations. (At it’s core they are probably still the same). So you may share the gospel a little differently than you would with a Vermont banker. Not in content necessarily but in illustrations and addressing specifics.

17 Jeremy Parks April 28, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I can grasp the different messages that different groups of people learn from a sermon. The poor (as many cowboy types often are) see a champion on their side. The rich see the blessings God has given and the duty to use them wisely. The downtrodden see hope for the future and reliance on Him in the present.

Liberation theology arose from parts of the world that saw God as their champion, taking away from the Gospel something the Western church never developed.

It might well be about entertainment and musical style, but even so are we going to balk at a group of people learning the Gospel in their heart language and praising Him in a style that lifts their souls?

18 Debbie Kaufman April 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Cowboy churches are not just geared toward Cowboys but also toward the Rodeo circuit. Their are plenty of cowboys and rodeo riders here in Oklahoma and the Cowboy church has gone where they are. Those who normally are not able or would not attend church are able to attend Cowboy churches. It is a valuable and needed ministry that is successful because it is well attended.

19 Mike Leake April 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm

There is a difference between being a church that desires to reach cowboys and the rodeo circuit and forms a ministry to accomplish this…and planting a church designed for the cowboy.

20 Debbie Kaufman April 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Where is there any difference Mike. The cowboy life, the rodeo life is a person we need to reach too? I don’t see the problem. It is a needed ministry in my opinion. It’s successful. There is a reason it’s successful. It is needed.

21 Debbie Kaufman April 28, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Cowboy churches many times go to the rodeos and hold services as well as having a stationary church.

22 Mike Leake April 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm

This isn’t about “reaching” people. This is about how we gather once we are reached. I absolutely agree that cowboys need reach. So do Ravens fans and Steelers fans.

Honestly, this is probably also a difference of opinion on whether the church gathering is meant to primarily reach unbelievers or primarily to edify the body to empower all to reach the nations.

My point is that the gospel…and the gathered church defined by the gospel…creates an entirely new culture that transcends all others (cowboy or otherwise).

23 Jeff April 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I live in rural Texas, and there are not many actual working cowboys left. But there are many more people involved as participants or spectators in the rodeo subculture. In rural Texas, there is the term “dime store cowboy” that refers to people who looks like cowboys, but aren’t real cowboys.

Many people seem to think that traditional churches are too stuffy and too formal and require them to dress up too much (even if this isn’t quite as true anymore). Cowboy churches seem to be more casual and relaxed.

Cowboy churches respond to some of the same complaints as “seeker-sensitive” churches. For example, in response to people who say, “All the church wants is my money,” cowboy churches don’t have offerings and have somebody holding a hat at the back to collect money from anybody who wants to give.

It is interesting that many people who go to cowboy churches still want to use traditional church buildings for weddings and funerals.

The biggest weakness of cowboy churches seems to be an anti-intellectual and anti-doctrinal mentality. Also, the emphasis on being “casual” could come at the expense of reverence for God. Finally, the cowboy churches may kind of blur the distinction between the church and the world – they might have a sermon in between a couple of rodeo events and say that all those people showed up for “worship.” But I am just guessing at this.

24 Debbie Kaufman April 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

The churches are generally located near Rodeos and where the Cowboys are, which is what I meant by the churches are geared toward…

25 Debbie Kaufman April 28, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Jeff: We must have been posting at the same time. :)

26 Frank L. April 28, 2011 at 8:03 pm

You ask if it is “biblical?” This is such an abused word. If you mean is there a Greek word, for “cowboy,” I think the answer is “no.”

However, since travel was greatly restricted in the New Testament, all churches were small, indigenous gathering up until at least the 3rd century. So, if the area was a “cowboy” area, the church was a cowboy church.

It is interesting that when Constantine decided to do a giant “group hug” the explosive growth of the church came to a screeching halt and put out the welcome mat for the Dark Ages.

The purpose of every indigenous church (cowboy or ethnic) that I know of (a half dozen or so intimately) was started to reach people, not exclude people.

One such church is a church most would be very uncomfortable with in Tucson, Az, “the Sober church.” They are anything but exclusionary but very targeted. Initially they reached a narrow demographic and that has expanded as the church has grown. This is typical of the cowboy churches I’ve known.

27 Christiane April 28, 2011 at 9:55 pm

‘the cattle on a thousand hills’

Maybe a ‘cowboy’ Church isn’t such a strange thing to Our Lord that was laid in a manger filled with straw and lulled to sleep by the lowing of the cattle around Him ?

I should think that Our Lord would feel right at home in a ‘cowboy’ Church.

28 Jeremy Parks April 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Is the notion of establishing a church that is deliberately designed to make some feel uncomfortable Biblical? No, I think not; churches should be designed not to exclude. However, is having a church that looks and feels like the heart-felt expression of the people who lead it, fill it, worship in it a Biblical concept? I think so.

A missions leader of mine once said “When you meet a community whose character is such that you are required to radically alter your expression of the Gospel and church, you have encountered a distinct people group.” Seems to me, we would need to investigate the differences between the cowboy church congregation and the rest of us before deciding whether the cowboy church thing is something wasteful.

How do the cowboy types view the world? Concretely or abstractly? Do they tend not to debate the finer points of things, preferring a direct and simple (though not simplistic and childish) expression of faith? Does the music in their hearts differ from that in other churches to the degree that traditional, non-country worship music presents a barrier to praise? Does their approach to leadership follow a hierarchy of leadership or a more flat structure of equality? Do they see in Christ a king to be followed more than a champion on their side?

These things will influence how they worship, learn, fellowship, understand, and more. If these differences exist, and I doubt we’ll determine that here, then a cowboy church is quite easily justified as being a natural expression of Christians in faith.

29 Mike Leake April 28, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Jeremy,

The way that I see the early church and the formation of Jesus’ disciples is something like this:

Peter, James, John are fisherman. Simon is a Zealot. Matthew is a tax collector. These are more than just occupations. These are worldviews. There are unique ways that Matthew follows Jesus. Unique ways that Peter, James, John, Simon, etc. follow Jesus.

However, when I see them coming together I see that a new culture is formed. Yes it includes Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector. But those identities are secondary to their new identity in Christ Jesus.

The problem that I have with cowboy church, white people church, seminary student church, or any fill in the blank _____, is that the uniting factor is not the gospel. It is not true koinonia (self-sacrificing conformity for a shared vision).

At times maybe the cowboy needs to make way for the “finer points of things”. How will this happen if he is only in a cowboy church? I could just as easily say that about “seminary student church” where an emphasis is on debating the finer points of things. Those that major on the finer points of things need the cowboy’s world view. That is the beauty of the gospel.

In my opinion, having a cowboy church is almost like having a church comprised of only a hand, or only a foot. Again that is not saying that we may not need unique ministries to reach various cultures or cultural expressions. But once the gospel transforms their life their fundamental identity is no longer cowboy…it’s Christian.

30 Christiane April 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm

God has called men by the arts of what they knew:
the Magi, by a star;
the disciples, by their art of fishing

If He calls to men through the work that they know,
we must remember that there are precedents in sacred Scripture
that record His power to do so.

31 Debbie Kaufman April 28, 2011 at 11:51 pm

So what do you believe Paul meant when he said ” Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

32 Mike Leake April 29, 2011 at 12:22 am

Debbie,
That doesn’t contradict anything I’m saying. This is (arguably) Paul saying that he is willing to contextualize his ministry. I have no problem with that. Again this is not about ministry this is about the gathered church.

33 Frank L. April 29, 2011 at 2:40 am

“”Is the notion of establishing a church that is deliberately designed to make some feel uncomfortable Biblical? No, I think not;”"

Brilliant.

34 Christiane April 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Speaking of ‘discomfort’, the era where the Church’s growth was the fastest was during the times of persecution.

You would have thought that it would work the other way, with people frightened to join . . . but it didn’t. Perhaps it was the courage and ‘witness’ of the martyrs that pointed the way for people to come to Christ, or perhaps the beauty of Christianity in the midst of a pagan world filled with suffering drew people to Him.

A persecuted Church . . . imprisonment, torture, and death in the arena . . . not the ‘incentives’ that would appeal to our modern world, no.
What drew people so powerfully into the early Church had to be something ‘not of THIS world’. We need to remember that.

35 John April 28, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Cowboy bible study for evangelistic purposes? Yes. Cowboy church that limits its ability to reach people by focusing on a narrow subset of the culture without integrating others? No. Check out Romans & Ephesians.

36 Jeremy Parks April 29, 2011 at 12:06 am

I agree with the overwhelmingly vast majority of what you are saying, and I think you have both excellent points and goals. A unity is valuable, it is Biblical.

A new culture does come into being. However, unity does not necessarily suffer by having distinct practices in worship and preaching. The old culture (setting aside old sin natures) does not fade away. It is morphed and changed and challenged, but it does not cease to exist.

This newly-shaped human culture exists within the body of Christ (and its better culture), and shapes how people hear and understand. I agree that we should attempt to incorporate as many divinely-shaped earthly worldviews as possible in order to enrich the body of Christ, yet at the same time it is useless to blend everyone and everything if it results in people struggling to understand or worship.

I think, like many issues, this is a both/and situation. A cowboy church, if done for the right reasons, is valuable. Even so, it is also precious to figure out how to blend the cowboy and the non-cowboy.

What you and I might be facing here is actually a difference in our worldviews, yours and mine. Mine has been shaped by living outside the US for the last several years, and by never having pastored in the US. Yours has been shaped by whatever influences you have (I mean that nicely…whatever they are, they are yours). I live in a place right now where the dominant language is T, my daily ministry language is U, I buy my fruit from a family whose maternal language is V, with colleagues who work in languages W, X, and Y, and yet I use language Z at home.

You’ve unwittingly touched a terribly sore spot for with your reference to being only a hand or a foot. A cowboy church is an entire autonomous body of Christ, complete in every way. As well, it fits with the larger universal body of Christ, forming the hand, as you put it, or a foot (with a boot). However, I think that calling a church, cowboy or otherwise, as being comprised of only a hand (incomplete) could (and I mean this nicely) be seen as smacking of a little bit of ethno- or ego-centrism.

After all, who’s to stop us from saying that the cowboy church is more complete than a more mainstream model, and it is the mainstream church that is incomplete, having just a few of the needed body parts? See what I mean?

I realize you have the best of intentions, and I say all of these things in a spirit of trying, together, to see some sort of truth here.

What do you think?

37 Mike Leake April 29, 2011 at 12:29 am

Jeremy,

Thanks for your interaction. I especially like this, “yet at the same time it is useless to blend everyone and everything if it results in people struggling to understand or worship.” Great point and that is part of my struggle.

As far as your hand/foot paragraphs…my point is that many of the “mainstream” models do suffer from being incomplete. We don’t have enough varying expressions, none of us. Please help me understand how my comment could “smack of ethno or ego-centrism”. I’m not following that part…

38 Jeremy Parks April 29, 2011 at 12:39 am

OK, I guess either I misunderstood what you said, or I did not explain it well enough. I’ll quote the part that gave me that impression…

“In my opinion, having a cowboy church is almost like having a church comprised of only a hand, or only a foot. ”

In context of the paragraph, it seems as though you are talking for the moment about cowboy churches and not mainstream churches. In fact, I don’t think you used the term “mainstream churches.” Neither did it seem that you were referring (in that paragraph) to having churches out there that failed to include the cowboy type, and were therefore incomplete.

In the second to last paragraph you did reference a mix of worldviews, but I did not see any sort of connection to the last paragraph with the quote I mentioned. If the connection was there and I simply don’t grasp it, then my statement referring to ego-centrism is based on incomprehension on my part and should be stricken.

When I read it, though, I thought you were saying that having a cowboy church was akin to having an incomplete church, as though something fundamental is missing due to not being structured in a more mainstream fashion.

Help me out, and see if I’ve missed something. As I said, you’ve touched a really, really sore spot with the “only a hand” concept, and I may have jumped the gun.

39 Mike Leake April 29, 2011 at 12:44 am

I think you may have jumped the gun. LOL.
And I would say I was probably incomplete in my explanation as well.

I would say that “hand” or “foot” comment to any church that does not have varied expressions. We are missing something. It’s not really meant as an insult to anyone…no church is perfect. Not even the universal church. But we are washed and pure and holy in the eyes of Christ…so that’s awesome! But this side of glory we are incomplete expressions.

My point is that I don’t get planting entire churches around a cultural expression. I struggle with how this fits with language barriers.

At the end of the day it’s probably all about a heart issue and about motivations. But that’s another long topic…

40 Jeremy Parks April 29, 2011 at 12:58 am

OK, glad we cleared that up.

I work with a community of people that is largely illiterate. There are tons of learning and thinking process that vary just by being illiterate. However, we meet as a church in the basement of a larger congregation that IS highly literate. They bring with them all the assumptions and styles that go with literacy.

For a long time, the two congregations co-existed in the same building, but recently the pastors upstairs have started pushing for us to be “united in Christ” with the rest of the congregation. One Sunday I was not there and our group gave in to the pressure and joined the larger congregation. Result: total non-comprehension and absolute boredom. They said, “If we have to attend that group weekly, let’s just move elsewhere. We had zero idea what was being taught. We’ll never grow as a church if we attend upstairs.”

They were right. The gap was too great for comprehension. The literates outnumbered the illiterates by a huge margin, and the assumption would have been for the illiterates to conform to the learning and worship style of the larger group. The only way for that to happen would be for the illiterates to learn to read, and then alter their entire approach to learning and thinking.

Really? That’s what is required to be a Christian and to worship?

So to me, if done for the right reasons, a cowboy church is just a church that fits the natural expression of people who want to worship and learn. A white urban church is exactly the same: they just want to worship and learn in a way that makes sense. African-American churches are unconsciously structured to meet the expressive and learning styles of other African-Americans.

Can we be enriched by a blending of these things? Sure. Absolutely. Is a church that is naturally and smoothly styled by its members and leaders in a way that fits the local community wrong? No, I can’t imagine that. Is a church wrong that deliberately sets itself up in opposition to aspects of the community that don’t fit? I think that one is a no-brainer.

As for how that fits with language, that’s another post.

41 aaron April 29, 2011 at 12:13 am

At least they are being honest in who their target is. Many in churches are only wanting to reach white middle and upper class young families.

42 hariette petersen (selahV) April 29, 2011 at 9:38 pm

aaron, don’t know about it being “many”, but definitely some are like that. it is a blessing to be in a multi-cultural church, but think it would be greater to be in a multi-multi-cultural church. I like the various styles of worship. I love spiritual, contemporary and old hymns. I love praise and choruses….and gospel. I love to hear a message from a bonafide person standing in front of us rather than a megascreen. I like expository preaching with evangelistic emphasis. I prefer recliners to pews but I can’t have everything.
I like all instruments including drums. but miss the little country churches that have less instrumentalist and more vocalists. sometimes I just love acapella. especially when men sing. I love to clap, raise my hands, sit on my hands, sit down, sway, stand still and whatever. But most of all I want Jesus held high and made the primary focus in every worship service. when I stop seeing that, I’ll stop going…no matter what kind of church it is. Just give me Jesus. Feed me Jesus. He’s so worthy to be mentioned again and again and again. selahV

43 Strider April 29, 2011 at 4:50 am

I am not sure that the word ‘missional’ is being understood yet. When I came to Gondor I learned the language and started explaining the Gospel. I have had to ‘story’ it and use lots of Muslim vocabulary in order to help people understand what I am talking about. It has been a challenge to get people to see the differences between faith in Christ and Islam. But once people came to faith in Christ they didn’t start a church, they were the church. Since there were no existing churches the local believers met together and worshiped together in their homes and they learned to ‘do’ church. I didn’t tell them how to organize, what to do, or how to meet. I gave them the Bible and told them to obey it and let the Holy Spirit guide them. They have remained in their own culture, in their own communities, in their own homes.
Now, as for Cowboys they are already in a community. What we have traditionally done is ask them to leave it in order to become a Christian. We have verbally and non-verbally said, ‘Now that you are Christian you need to stop drinking beer and chewing tobacco with your friends and come and sing four hundred year old songs with us. Some accepted, most walked away.
But now we have this ‘new’ missional approach. We are saying, ‘Jesus is your Lord now, worship Him in your own community’. We are leaving our community and going and telling another community to follow Jesus. They are then staying in their community and worshiping Him. So, if they are cowboys naturally their church will look like a ‘cowboy’ church.
But let me warn you of another method. There is an ‘in-between’ method between missional and traditional and I have not yet seen it be successful. If we pretend to be cowboys and try and create a cowboy church out of a bunch of educated, middle class Southern Baptists then everyone is going to end up unhappy. You can’t just change your church to attract cowboys so that you can get bigger. Well, you can but it will bite you in the end.
The key to missional is selfless. You need to go and start a church by telling that community about Jesus and then letting them be their own community of Jesus followers. You can’t add them to your group, and you mustn’t control them. Missional demands that Jesus be Lord and we present Christ and then get out of the way. This, for our traditional churches is the hardest part.

44 Mike Leake April 29, 2011 at 9:53 am

Great and helpful comment. Thanks.

I wonder if sometimes, though, we exalt cultural expression to an unhealthy place. But I think they key is what you said “selfless”. So thanks for your comment.

45 hariette petersen (selahV) April 29, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Strider, now you’re talking! a much simpler way to explain missional…”You need to go and start a church by telling that community about Jesus and then letting them be their own community of Jesus followers. You can’t add them to your group, and you mustn’t control them. Missional demands that Jesus be Lord and we present Christ and then get out of the way. This, for our traditional churches is the hardest part.” Super words.

I have some friends who are missionaries in Egypt, some in Uganda, Nicaragua, and Brazil…it is so neat to hear how they minister and “do” church. I think about the little Muslim gal I work with in teaching English each week. I’ve had a great time talking to her about what I believe and hearing how she lived in Iraq. God is moving at His pace. with her I just talk about Jesus…a dear, dear friend of mine. Not the least bit resistant at present. In time…God moves mountains we can only dream of climbing.

selahV

46 Bill Pfister April 29, 2011 at 7:56 am

Does anyone else feel sad that churches are becomming like dials on the radio? I go to the 80′s church. The blue grass church. The Gen X church, etc… What happened to all ages, races and socio-economic levels coming together around the Gospel for fellowship? What happened to thinking of others more than yourself? What about elders mentoring youth? I don’t agree with breaking down society so sharply that you can’t have a healthy cross section of the community in your church.

Bill

47 hariette petersen (selahV) April 29, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Bill Pfister, just because there are churches like you mention, I don’t think they are any less what you’d like to see. I think all churches have their own groups of socio-economical folks, and cultural, and mentors. Cowboy churches have kiddos, too.

I know what you’re saying and we have had a few from the Cowboy church move into our neck of the woods. He even wore his Stetson and boots. But he drew the line at riding his horse. He came in a 4-wheel drive pick-up.

the Gospel is open to whosoever believeth. the methods vary as to whether we have doctors like Luke, fishermen like Peter, and theologians like Paul…but…most churches have all of these kinds of folks within them. Wish we could all be on earth like we’ll all be someday in heaven. what a wonderful world that would be.

48 Bill Mac April 29, 2011 at 11:13 am

Suppose for some inexplicable and horrifying reason, a rodeo comes to Upstate NY, and I get contacted to do a bible study for the rodeo folks while they are here. Will I do it? Absolutely (assuming I am able). Will I go dressed in cowboy boots and a stetson? Not on your life. Will I spend hours researching rodeo culture so I can pepper my study with homely cattle and horse anecdotes? Not likely. Will I assess the group and try to relate to them as best I can? Yes. That is what Paul is talking about.

49 hariette petersen (selahV) April 29, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I went to a website and watched part of what one particular cowboy church was like. After I got through the chatter to the singing For Me He Was Forsaken, then some of the cowboys’ testimonies, it was glorifying to Christ in every way. I think what we don’t understand, we tend to dismiss sometimes. This tidbit I got from the internet whet my appetite to go visit a Cowboy Church in our area. I will get back to you after I visit one of our Okie churches with my firsthand account. Until then, you might like to check out this link: http://www.cowboychurch.tv/video.php
you can fast forward to the singing of For Me He Was Forsaken and then to other parts of the service if you want.

I like that this is an avenue which reaches these like-minded folks. They love Jesus too. selahV

50 Jake Barker April 29, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Folks,
It’s not so much what or how Scripture is taught at a ‘cowboy” church it is the style. The dress of the day is pressed CLEAN (not shouting just emphasizing) blue jeans, preferably Wranglers boot cut style, a clean pearl snap (not buttons) cowboy shirt, polished boots and a hat. The hat can be cowboy style or maybe a new or nearly so ball cap that says “John Deere”. And the jeans……gotta have a Copenhagen ring on one of the hip pockets. This folks makes a cowboy church. These folks are uncomfortable in suits or even casual Dockers and a polo or buttondown oxford shirt. And a lot of cowboy churches start out meeting in somebodys hay barn. I know a lot of folks that attend because of the clothes, they are usually shunned in a formal church setting….suit, tie etc.

51 hariette petersen (selahV) April 29, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Jake, haven’t seen too many suit and tie churches since we moved west. while we have some who wear those and nice dresses, those are probably the minority. we have more of a jeans, shorts, tee-shirts, army fatigues, gothics, pants-on-the-ground, and Miley-Cyrus look-alikes…well…it kinda looks like a typical day at the Mall. Nothing like what I grew up with. And guess what? it works just fine

52 Debbie Kaufman April 29, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Good link Harriette. Amen to all that you have said here.

53 hariette petersen (selahV) April 30, 2011 at 12:22 am

ALRIGHT, folks! Mark this down…10:19 p.m., April 29, 2011, Debbie liked my link…she liked my link! she really, really liked my link! And she amen’d “all”, that’s “ALL” I had to say here. Whoopee! I’m shoutin’ now. :) Someone tell Joe Blackmon, send out a special notice…Debbie Kaufman is now my bestie. :)

Deb, you been drinking wiki-water or somethin’? huh? Just kidding. Thanks a bunch. I meant every word.

54 Debbie Kaufman April 30, 2011 at 1:39 am

:)

55 Christiane April 30, 2011 at 10:32 am

I’m enjoying this.
:)

56 Stephen M Young II April 29, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I have not read the book to which you are referring. Here is the statement you quoted: “Our growing cultural diversity requires a church within the reach of every people group, population segment, and cultural environment if we are to be faithful to the Great Commission.”

This, as stated, does not seem wrong. I am not sure the implications are exactly the same as the ones you present. This does not mean that churches must take what is popular among certain groups and use those things to decorate itself, but rather that the gospel flows most naturally through relationships. Whether they be family, social groups, affinity groups or ethno-linguistic groups, these relationships are the relationships through which the gospel will pass, for better or for worse.

Each group will contextualize the gospel to some degree and some groups will go into syncretism if they do not get a firm base of the importance of scripture from the get go. This is not a bad thing. There are books out there now, like Pagan Christianity, that are causing some to think they need to abandon all of their cultural expressions of Christianity because they weren’t present in the first century church. It’s okay that some of them weren’t. As a culture comes to Christ, Christ redeems culture.

A cowboy church, though, should be a church that happened because cowboys came to Christ, not because a church wanted a marketing ploy to win cowboys. I imagine that is what Stetzer would have meant.

57 Jim Pemberton April 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm

When I saw the title, I thought of a local ministry we have here: The Cowboy Christian Fellowship, we all call the Cowboy Church, in Love Valley, NC. Tommy Cheatham, the minister there, is associated with our church. Chaplain Brad is also a friend of mine. Tommy took the old Love Valley jail and converted it to a church in the heart of the town.

While church must be for believers and evangelism should be aimed outside the church, it must be understood that we have children who are not yet functional believers, unbelievers who will visit, and some members who profess Christ, but are nominal, who are sharing our pews every Sunday. Tommy’s Cowboy Church is a place for Love Valley resident believers to attend with the intent that there are plenty of residents and visitors who don’t know Christ to reach just hoofsteps outside the door.

58 David R. Brumbelow May 1, 2011 at 8:45 am

I’m all for Cowboy or Country churches. To some extent they mirror many small to medium sized more traditional churches.

Some Cowboy churches are very cowboy, some less so. But some do not understand the cowboy or country culture. Country folk enjoy hunting, fishing, trapping, gardening, the outdoors, ranching and farming (on a large or small scale). Even the ones who are not actively engaged in those practices have done so in the past, have close friends and relatives who do, or at least respect those endeavors. You are also going to find those in this culture at all levels of formal education. It should also be remembered that those who engage in these practices are often brilliant in those areas. Many do not realize that a competent farmer or rancher is a very talented individual.

I have no problem with cowboy or country churches; many are that way by default. I also have no problem with contemporary churches. Frankly, I think some call themselves Cowboy churches so people will not criticize them for singing traditional and southern gospel music. I find that the most judgmental folks are sometimes those who are contemporary and are criticizing the cowboy and traditional churches. Some need to lighten up; there is a place for contemporary churches, and a place for cowboy, country, traditional churches. There is a place for both traditional and contemporary music. Whether you like it or not, there will always be cowboy, country, traditional churches. And the contemporary churches will soon be traditional churches, because after a few years any practice is no longer contemporary :-).
David R. Brumbelow

59 Bill Mac May 1, 2011 at 9:45 pm

David: I don’t think anyone has a problem with churches that evolve according to a certain cultural demographic. I think what we are talking about here is “theme” churches.

60 Mike Leake May 1, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Absolutely. I’m beginning to think that I was not very clear in writing this (that is always a possibility). The issue that I am concerned with–and still working through–is developing a church around my “culture”.

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