Friday, June 23, 2006

The Cowboy Church?

The apostle Paul describes the church as united. A body of believers who are not differentiated as Jew or Gentile, slave or free, but where all are one in Christ. This is the type of unity that the Bible describes, "one in Christ." It seems that this unity is matched up across America with other types of unity that might not be so healthy.

Baptist Press has recorded the movement of one of these examples recently, the Cowboy Church. Jeff Smith, of the Cowboy Church Network of North America, spoke with Baptist Press about the development of the Cowboy church. Jamie Gentner writes:

After pastoring traditional churches for 20 years, the ardent cowboy decided to reach out to people who told him they ride their horses on Saturday and Sunday.One day, he told some fellow cowboys in Mount Pleasant, N.C., he would rent out the Circle K arena on Sunday if they would come to hear a message and ride. It worked: 68 people showed up the first time and the idea for a cowboy church was born.

The article continues with a description of the congregation's usual gatherings:

Doug Davis, pastor of the Triad Cowboy Church, said the cowboy congregation sings hymns, prays and hears a message and an invitation just like traditional churches, but it’s the atmosphere that makes it different. Members don’t have to be cowboys to attend the Tuesday night services, and they can wear whatever they like -— western gear, shorts and T-shirts or business clothes. Pony rides begin and end the service and fellowship events may include trail rides and cookouts.

A Cowboy Church? Somehow this strikes me as something other than the type of unity that Paul spoke of. This does not seem to me to be uniting around Christ, but uniting around the American Cowboy in the fashion of Church. Perhaps that seems to harsh. After all they are conducting church services, and the goal was to reach out evangelistically and to minister to modern cowboys. Yet somehow, this still misses the point. The church is meant to be a place that centers on Christ, not on Cowboys. It is meant to be a place where we gather with other believers to worship God, not ride horses. Furthermore, despite that "Members don't have to be cowboys to attend" who is willing to go to a Cowboy Church if they are not cowboys? These types of specialized churches are popping up everywhere. Punk Rock Churches in California, specicifically Baby-Boomer churches in the North, and the Cowboy Church out West. But each of these narrowly defined congregations misses the benefits of more eclectic congregations, not to mention that they serve as a poor witness to the all-encompassing love of Christ.

If the Cowboy Church is attempting to reach a specific group of men and women who are otherwise uninterested in Christ, they are doing so at the expense of much. Christ certainly loves the Cowboy, but His church is united on something more.


Blogger Jamie said...

Pastor Dave,
Just to clarify in case you missed it in the story, Jeff pastors a conventional church, and many of the members of that church attend the cowboy church services also. The services are held on Tuesdays to encourage participants to go to a conventional church Sunday mornings and have the cowboy services as a supplement. My professor, one of the other interns and I who were covering the Southern Baptist Convention attended the special service on Sunday, and it would surprise you to see the diversity in the service. The big draw is to cowboys and many of the elements of the service are cowboyish, but I saw a few people in business suits attending. It's just another way to church people in that area. I don't think it's inhibiting unity at all, I think it's bringing more people into the body of Christ, which is ultimately unifying them. It's just one more way of evangelizing, just like a Wednesday night service at a conventional church works. It's just more informal, which acts as an original draw for those who think church requires dressing up. Then, they see those people get involved elsewhere. It's more unifying if anything. I can give you some contact info for Jeff if you'd like to talk more about it. I'm honored that you used my article to explaint he phenomenon, but it's definitely something worth researching more.

Jamie Gentner

6:24 PM  

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