Like many boys in my generation, there was a time in my early childhood when I longed to be a cowboy. The cowboys on television and in the movies seemed to live heroic kind of lives, which intrigued me beyond description. I have never lost that sense of infatuation with the cowboys of today and yesteryear.
I must confess that I still love a good Western motion picture. Robert Duvall, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are some of my favorite stars in this genre of movies. Also, I love to read Western novels like the ones Louie L’Amour popularized. He was a genius in making a simple story a good, refreshing read. His books always had some moral teaching to the story line.
Recently, I had a new experience as I met with the pastor of The Cowboy Church of Marshall County. About three years ago, Todd Mitchell acted on a vision to reach some of the hard-to-reach people in his general community. All of these individuals had an outdoors kind of lifestyle in common, and today 300 of them are active in this new church start. Some of them work on farms, and some own farms. Some work with cattle on small ranches in the area. Others are bikers and rodeo workers. There are families who come together and individual come alone to church, but culturally they have a lot in common.
Something more important they have in common is Christ. Christ is Lord of The Cowboy Church, as He is in every New Testament church of believers. This young and unique church is well led by Todd Mitchell, and it has been supported in healthy ways by the sponsoring church, Bethany Baptist in Horton. The Marshall Baptist Association has proven to be a huge supporter. The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) as well as the North American Mission Board (NAMB) are also committed partners in this effective endeavor of reaching people for Christ.
At the SBOM, we have a saying, which reflects something of our strategy in planting churches. We say, “We need all kinds of churches so that we can reach all kinds of people.” We believe that is a statement true to the Bible, and it is practical in nature. The strategy involves people in local settings, churches, who have a vision to reach people. Usually, a church will bless the vision of the person or persons hoping to start a new church tasked to reach a cultural group not impacted with the gospel. At the point the local association, the SBOM and NAMB come to the table to bring assistance. This is a model of true partnership, representing the local church, the SBOM and NAMB.
The Cowboy Church is an example of the strategy Alabama Baptists have at work across our state. It is a distinctive local church, which now plans to launch several more cowboy churches in other areas in the northeast part of the state. They meet in a building which once was a feed store. The main facility, the former feed store, is the worship center and some of other smaller buildings serve as preschool and children’s Sunday School space.
I have met several of the new converts who now come to The Cowboy Church. They have very touching and moving testimonies. One man drove up in the church parking lot and, as he got out of his truck, he said, “I need some help.” Todd, the pastor, came up to him and began to share the Gospel with him. After a few minutes of chatting, this cowboy took his hat off and bowed down in the parking lot and prayed to receive Christ.
This man is an excellent example of the kind of convert being reached through the ministries of The Cowboy Church. As I travel the state, stories like this one warm my heart and encourage me to think about the strategic efforts we are making across Alabama. Church planting is an integral part of our one mission, the Great Commission. I pray that the new churches will join many of the already established churches in promoting the one program we have: the Cooperative Program.
Yes, we have many ministries in Alabama Baptist life, and one of the vitally important ones is church planting or church starts. In the future, we will need unique kinds of churches reaching people cross-culturally and with strategic focus on ones who are hard to reach. This is the Great Commission at its best in the 21st century!