Skip to comments.Cowboy Churches: Roundin' Up Strays
Posted on 03/19/2007 11:40:16 AM PDT by Between the Lines
GEORGE WEST—Wearing a dust-covered cowboy hat and a pair of boots, Pat Traxler immediately made a connection with needy people in Africa even before he gave them food and water. Monty Hill, men’s ministry leader at Rafter J Cowboy Church in Terrell, welcomes worshippers who relate to the congregation’s laid-back worship style and affinity with the western heritage. (BGCT photos by Barbara Bedrick)
“It was amazing what that old Stetson could do,” said Traxler, pastor of Brush Country Cowboy Church in George West. “They were fascinated. The image struck a chord. Although the people didn’t speak English, they knew enough to call me ‘cowboy.’”
When Traxler talks about the impact of that mission trip, he nearly chokes up.
“It just amazes me that God has this plan for the blue denim thread of cowboys and their ministry,” he said.
During the African trip, Traxler realized the impact western-heritage ministry could have abroad and at home.
“God used John Wayne to build a bridge into people’s minds and into their hearts,” he said.
Traxler, president of the Texas Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, is working with Baptist missionary Jan Viljoen to help bring the cowboy ministry to South Africa.
“In the 20 days I spent there, God opened my eyes to see how a simple cowboy could influence people to find Christ,” Traxler said. “The Warmbad Baptist Church reaches people in villages with-in 100 miles, which means it potentially could reach 6 million.”
Traxler sees God using the western-heritage movement to impact beyond borders.
“Not just borders you draw in the sand, but cultural borders,” he explained.
Cowboy church pioneer Ron Nolen—who began the ministry when he was serving with the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board staff—wholeheartedly agrees.
Calls about the cowboy church schools are being fielded from Washington state to Norway. Nolen also has been interviewed by Danish TV about the ministry.
“They love the Texas cowboy, so we sent (people in Nigeria) a case of Cowboy New Testaments,” Nolen said.
Doing church “cowboy-style” is drawing followers across the United States, as well. Cowboy missionary Jeff Smith read an article in a 2003 missions magazine about a western-heritage church in Texas. The story about how a cowboy church was changing lives intrigued him, and he wasted no time calling the BGCT and cowboy church leaders to learn more.
“I was inspired when I read the article about the Cowboy Church of Ellis County and Gary Morgan’s story,” said Smith, founder of Cowboy Church Network of North America. “He left a traditional church to start a cowboy church, so I called him.”
So, after 20 years as a traditional pastor, Smith turned cowboy and started four western-heritage churches. He served briefly as a full-time cowboy church consultant for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. Later Smith founded the Cowboy Church Network of North America and helped start 33 cowboy churches, including one in Canada.
The influence of the BGCT western-heritage ministry also can be seen through a new ministry certificate program at Baylor University’s Truett Theo-logical Seminary aimed at cowboy pastors and lay leaders. So far, 160 students have enrolled, including many outside Texas.
But even greater numbers are turning out for the Texas Fellowship of Cowboy Churches church-planting schools funded by the BGCT. Four schools are slated for 2007. Class rosters indicate strong interest in following Baptist cowboy ministry pioneers.
“People have come from Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Alabama to these church-planting schools,” said Charles Higgs, BGCT western-heritage ministry director. “More than 1,000 cowboy pastors and lay leaders participated in the schools in 2006.”
Higgs is quick to point out that the primary challenge facing Texas Baptists is at home, where the BGCT has facilitated 88 cowboy church starts since 2006. The Texas cowboy image and the churches’ “come-as-you-are” attitude are leading more and more followers to Christ.
“Thirty percent of our cowboy churches are reproducing,” Higgs noted. “Double N Cowboy Church in Dublin started in May 2006 is now running 125 people in the congregation, which is bigger than its mother church.”
The growth of the western-heritage church movement throughout Texas and across the country is a “God thing,” said Ron Gunter, chief operating officer of the BGCT Executive Board staff.
“We’ve seen the western-heritage churches multiply in a very quick way, and we’ve seen the number of people coming to Christ growing very rapidly, especially among adults,” Gunter said.
“We want to do all within our power to stay out of the way and to see what God is going to do.”
There are about 350 western-heritage churches in Texas—most of them nondenominational, although there are a few Methodist and Assembly of God cowboy churches.
“We’re pretty much challenged by what we see in Texas until 2010,” Higgs said. “Our longrange goal is to have 250 Western churches that relate to the BGCT by the end of 2010, and to baptize 7,500 new converts in 2010.”
The potential in Texas is vast, Higgs said, and the target audience is broad-based. It includes John Wayne enthusiasts who strongly believe in many of the values he represented, cowboy music lovers who are energized or inspired by the lyrics and tunes, arena cowboys and Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association personalities.
In a newly released strategy platform, Higgs emphasized the average western-heritage church contributes $3,500 annually to the BGCT and baptizes 30 new converts a year.
“Ninety-one percent of the cowboy churches give to BGCT Cooperative Program,” he said. “That’s the highest percentage for any affinity group which is larger than two churches.”
It costs approximately $35,000 to start and develop a new cowboy church in Texas. Texas Baptists help to support the movement through their gifts to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions.
“We want to secure a hearing with the gospel with every western-heritage individual in Texas,” Higgs stressed.
“For many of them, the cowboy church represents the last hope to find salvation through Christ.”
I realize this is not the type of article you usually follow, but with a dateline of George West, I felt I had to ping you. So here is a back home ping to ya.
Jesus rode a donkey.
"For many of them, the cowboy church represents the last hope to find salvation through Christ."
In the 20 days I spent there, God opened my eyes to see how a simple cowboy could influence people to find Christ,
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