Horse whisperer event may lead to church plant
OAK GROVE – The raw materials used in producing a Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) church plant were on display Oct. 7 at Frick Arena, where a crowd of around 500 people gathered to watch Lew Sterrett, a trainer from Spring Creek, Pa., who breaks wild horses as he communicates the Gospel, master a three-year-old gelding.
“I wonder how many of the people in this audience sitting out here tonight saw for the first time how much God loves them and why He keeps letting them come back?” said Ray Gurney, pastor, Cross Creek Baptist Mission here, who hopes to see a cowboy church planted in eastern Jackson County.
Ray’s brother, Bob, is a deacon at First Baptist Church, Oak Grove, who owns 87 horses on a nearby farm. Bob Gurney provided Sterrett with the gelding, which was saddled and ridden before the night was over. After watching people react positively to the event, Bob Gurney said he can definitely picture a cowboy church being constituted some day.
“We’ve had some key people in the cowboy world that have expressed interest in this,” Bob Gurney said. “We didn’t know if this was going to be a one-time event, but on the other hand I have always felt there needed to be a cowboy ministry of some type, and I think this could open the door for that.”
Ben Hess, MBC church planting strategist who attended the Oct. 7 event, said the next step in collecting the raw materials and processing them efficiently is to meet at Bob Gurney’s horse farm on Oct. 24. Hess likes to categorize situations like these with the phrase, “The resources come from the harvest,” meaning that God will birth a church through the conversion of souls and the raising up of leaders after preachers like Sterrett lift up Jesus.
On one page of the program for Oct. 7, attendees were asked to call a local number and leave their name and telephone number if they were interested in starting a cowboy church in the Oak Grove area. The response card also asked interested people to select a night of the week for the new church services that would work best for their family.
“We’re going to call them, get them together,” Bob Gurney said. “The big thing is to get the right people there in leadership roles, and I know if that’s what we’re supposed to do, God will provide those people.”
Hess is already preparing for the next step of the refining process. He hopes to have 6-8 families join him on Nov. 17-18 for something he calls basic training.
“All the way through the east side of Kansas City, south of Interstate 70, all the way back around 71 Highway, there’s a tremendous horse population,” Hess said. “So the fields are white for harvest to do a cowboy church plant or several of them on this side of the city.”
Danny Decker, MBC men’s missions and ministry specialist, sat with Hess in the bleachers to observe the Oct. 7 event. Decker’s office provided some of the financial support that is enabling Hess, the Gurneys and other local leaders to pursue planting a church.
“We’ve had some trail rides in this area,” Decker said. “There are several horse groups around here, and we’re going to help them connect and help bridge gaps for them in that process.”
Ray Gurney remembered that when he planted Cross Creek in 1999, he started out with 10 people. He said he would take a similar number this time for the new cowboy church, but the general thought coming out of Frick Arena was that a greater number of people would show an interest.
Horse whisperers like Sterrett use commands and touches to break wild horses. In April of 2004, Sterrett came to Jackson to train the first 14 Missouri Baptists in the art, and they have been fanning out all over the state since that time. A Christian horse whisperer shares the Gospel as he works, which is what Sterrett did for about an hour and 45 minutes before he finally rode the gray gelding under a big orange moon.
The lesson for Sterrett and his audience that night was patience.
His rig broke down around St. Louis earlier in the day and the event was in jeopardy of being cancelled before a friend showed up to give him a ride to Oak Grove. But even though he found a way to make it to where he was supposed to be, Sterrett’s troubles were not over.
His four-legged partner turned out to be ornery. The horse spent most of the evening rebelling in the round pen inside the arena, earning the nickname “Mr. Haughty Pants” from the trainer at one point when he slipped off a rope. At long last the horse submitted, and the crowd finally applauded.
“He has a gentle disposition, but he was not responsive to him like I expected him to be,” Bob Gurney said. “This horse was very reluctant to give in and to be responsive to him.”
Ray Gurney, who sang the Lee Greenwood favorite “God Bless the USA” before Sterrett entered the round pen, is pastor of a church that averages 70-75 in Sunday worship. He said Sterrett’s persevering work with the previously unsaddled horse should be a reminder to every believer that God just keeps on forgiving us and working with us no matter what we do to turn our backs on Him.