Monday, April 27, 2009

Trying to understand “Cowboy” Church

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 “cowboy’s” 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, tongue, nation, and language.

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 Indian Native American.
Help me understand…

UPDATE: 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 commong ground. So, I share the gospel with them over an argument over whether or not Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson should be the starting QB. 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 me understand...


  1. This is a great perspective on 'tolerant' or 'fit in' churches that are popping up today. How about we start a Star Wars church and the invitation starts with a lightsaber battle? Or a Lego church where all the pews are assembled from thousands of legos. I think you are right that we need to be open to EVERYONE that we run into. But I don't think we need a Browns church to reach football fans. We all need to come out of our comfort zones and reach out (every tribe, every nation). I think if we keep pampering our church, the more it becomes comfortable and the more we sit and do nothing.

  2. Jeff,

    Thanks for the comment man. I kind of like the Lego church idea. I think Lego's would be more comfortable than our pews in the youth building. About how much do you think something like that would cost us?

    Also, if I were arguing from a Cowboy Church perspective I'd say, "of course, we welcome everybody". The problem in my mind is not so much welcoming or not reaching out to "everyone" but it's what we are reaching them with and to. The same thing happens with white middle class Baptist churches. When someone becomes a believer we expect them to start looking like us and acting like us. THAT in my view is what I don't understand about cowboy churches...shouldn't the gospel be what unites us and not our love for cows.

  3. Definitely missing the point. I would first ask you how cross-cultural is the church you belong to? Does it include black, white, Hispanics, and everyone in between? Or is it mostly white like your profile picture? I would guess the later. With that said, there is a huge cowboy culture that goes mostly unnoticed by white middle class suburban folks. Rodeos, horse shows and the like mostly happen on the weekends with the main event on Sunday. So when a cowboy comes to Christ, are the expected to leave the life they have always know and loved or become the presence of Christ within their own sphere of influence? I know of a cowboy church pastor who travels with the rodeo circuit, has church on Sundays for the cowboys, and disciples them through small groups all over the country. One of these discipleship groups happens to meet in my church on Thursday nights. Not to discount the power of God, I know from meeting these men and women that I would have an ice cube's chance in hell to get even the opportunity to have a conversation with them much less share the gospel. God is at work in all kinds of ways in all kinds of places. The "form" that church takes is completely secondary. I hope that helps in some way :-/

  4. Michael,

    Thank you so much for your comment. I would concede that it is quite possible I am missing the point. But I think you also might be missing my point.

    In no way am I questioning the practice or biblical precedent for becoming like a cowboy to reach a cowboy. Nor even having the occasional bible study geared towards cowboy's (or what other interest group you like). And I am not even doubting that God is using such things to bring people into His kingdom.

    The problem I have is that it does not seem to be the way that NT churches were formulated (with what limited information we do have). Jesus did not commission Matthew to go plant a church of the tax collectors nor Peter and John to plant a church for fishermen. He called them to spread the gospel of His kingdom. Would Matthew probably reach tax collectors more so than Peter? You bet. But, didn't these tax collectors come together into one body rather than being a separate group called the church of the tax collectors?

    Picture it this way. Let's say that we planted a church in an area with a predominately white population. But there are a few minorities here and there. Would it reflect the gospel to call our church the "White Boy" Church? We do all the white people things. We have little room for African American culture, or Hispanic culture. (Sadly, this IS true of many North American churches). We are reaching a segment of culture. God is using us to reach white people with the gospel. So, praise God for that. But isn't there something fundamentally wrong when we are more known for being white than being followers of Jesus.

    Again, maybe I'm missing the point...but I just don't see that "COWBOY" should be the unifying factor for a church.

  5. Are we missing something here??? The statement is plain enough, let us provide a time of worship for those who have chosen as their profession or past time that has their 'money' competitions on Sundays. Is this not the Lord's Day, the First Day of the Week, the day that Christians meet to celebrate His fact, the very day that He has said that we are to meet with Him?

    Why should the Church make such a fuss over these who want the Christ to meet with them and to bless their time of many hours on a field of competition and we make a 30 minute provision before they rodeo, kick a football for Jesus, or ride a racecar in circles? And then hundreds of thousands of self styled Christians miss worship to attend these weekly times of entertainment.

    Hey, why not install chapels in the woods that are open only during deer season?

    Why not simply say no to catering to sinners who choose to continue in their sin and appease their appetites......God help us. And we wonder what is wrong with our Nation????



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