Don't just attend church: do church. Even better, do Cowboy Church.
Have you ever taken a moment and asked yourself just what church is? Is church somewhere you go, something you do or something you are? To the Shankland family and the Fox Hollow rodeo family of bull-riders, bull-fighters, cowboys and cowgirls, it’s all of the above, and they call it Cowboy Church. Wait, what? First House Church, and now Cowboy Church? What is THAT?
I first met the Shankland family when I walked into the Apex Mission Café amidst a seeming sea of cowboy hats. Having experienced the Fox Hollow rodeo in Waynesville, Ohio (just east of the intersection of Routes 73 and 48) just the weekend before, I just had to get to know these folks. Within minutes Chris “Papa” Shankland and I were building what has become a genuine friendship; standing neck deep in each other’s stories of God’s work in our lives. I met all but one of his sons – Brendan, C.J., Nathian, Ray, and Ben – and his then fiancé turned newlywed, Genessa. I had the extreme pleasure of attending their wedding right there in the rodeo arena. They even convinced this city-boy to wear boots and a hat. Chris and C.J. are both bull-fighters (sometimes called rodeo clowns). Nathian, Ray and Ben ride bulls. Each of them works the rodeo. We discovered that I had a picture on my cell phone of Nathian walking a horse ridden by my children just the weekend before during our first family visit.
One thing that really caught my attention during our first conversation was Papa Shankland mentioning – in passing as if it’s a term everyone uses – how they do Cowboy Church. Once again, curiosity got the best of me as all kinds of images came to mind. The concept is quite simple. It turns out that Cowboy church is just like house church but with cowboys and cowgirls. Oh yeah, and bulls.
The bulls get into it, too. When I had the chance to do Cowboy Church on a Thursday night, it was just before some new livestock were to be ridden for the first time as part of their training. We gathered ‘round in a circle of chairs inside the main barn and next to the practice arena the bulls were shouting so loud it had us all in laughter before long.
Despite the heavenly chorus, we got down to the business of any house church: prayer, community and reaching into God’s Word. There was sharing of God’s story through human lives. There was prayer over the lesson and the animals. There was a lesson taught by two young Shankland boys, Ben and Ray, tag-team style. In short, they were doing church. Rodeo immediately followed.
Doing church this way is a necessity when your lifestyle is dependent on frequent travel around the country with events mainly taking place on the weekends. This means that church has to exist wherever you happen to be when you desire the presence of the Lord in your working community. Jesus stated in Matthew 18:20 (ESV), “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” All it takes is a desire to partake in a community of people who love Jesus wanting to grow in Him and “stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:24b-25a, ESV).
This might bring to mind some deeper questions on just what church in America has become. Has church become just a building to us? Do we as His body achieve His goals with church? Has the church in America really followed God’s plan for church? It seems that doing church wherever you are with at least one other person requires merely the power of His name.
So maybe we need to rethink our perceptions of who/what/where church is. Church is not just a building. WE are the church. Church is not something you attend, it’s something you do. Church isn’t limited to one spot on Sunday morning, it happens wherever and whenever there are two or three in His name.
I offer you this challenge: now that you’ve read this, find a new way to do church this week. Take a friend to coffee and do church. Watch a football game with a group of rowdy, TV-screaming Browns/Bengals/some-other-team fanatics and do house church during half-time. Do church on a bike ride with your children. I even suggest that you emulate the Shanklands and do house church wearing boots and a hat and call it Cowboy Church.
For more info on Fox Hollow Rodeo and Shankland Farms:
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003751313215&fref=ts (Shankland Farms)
Author: Jonathan Allain
Photographer: Matt Geis