By Allen Palmeri
BOWLING GREEN— From the very first service back in 2006 when 175 souls showed up for Eastern Missouri Cowboy Church, Stan Henderson has been a thoroughly blessed pastor.
“I have a prayer group of 15-20 people that meet 45 minutes before the service and pray every time,” he said. “That’s been 3½ years. We do not miss. That’s the most important part of our service.
“We believe prayer is what makes the difference. We don’t talk about it. We do it.”
Henderson, 57, calls church here at the Eastern Missouri Livestock Market “the most fun I’ve had for years.” Attendance has held firm in a lively setting where people like to come an hour before church just to visit.
“We expected 30-40 people and we’re running 175 people all the time right now,” Henderson said. “We’re reaching people who have no desire ever to go to church. They can understand.”
The church is one of 17 that are newly affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). Messengers to the MBC’s 175th annual meeting Oct. 26-28 at First Baptist Church, Raytown, will be asked to approve them.
Quietly backed by the Salt River Baptist Association, Second Baptist Church of Bowling Green shouldered all of the responsibility to fund the original mission. In August the regular attendees voted to become a church, with the intention of entering into and abiding by a covenant relationship with the MBC. They also agreed this summer to give regularly to Southern Baptist missions through the Cooperative Program. At present they are looking for land and a permanent facility in Bowling Green.
Salt River Director of Missions Frank Welch remembers a Rick Gage crusade five years ago that got all kinds of creative juices flowing in the countryside around Eolia. Then came Don Amelung, pastor of Second Baptist, who read about a successful cowboy church in The Pathway and said, “We can do the same thing here.” Though Amelung is far from a cowboy preacher, “God sure used his organization and leadership skills to get it off on the right foot,” Welch said.
Another key leader who helped launch the Eastern Missouri Cowboy Church is Bowling Green Veterinarian Terry Newton, who was there again for worship Oct. 13.
“We’ve got such a good core group,” Newton said. “They’re all God’s people—God’s warriors.”
Henderson is a true cowboy who feels right at home in the local sale barn on Tuesday nights teaching the Bible. His background includes riding bulls in the rodeo, training horses, ranching, and running a 400-head herd of cattle. He also spent a dozen years showing teenage boys the ins and outs of cowboy life on the New Mexico Boys Ranch.
In addition, he has many years in the ministry, having been called to preach as a young man. His father is a pastor, he has two sons-in-laws who are pastors, he’s been an interim pastor, and he also was a five-year pastor in Missouri at Wayland Baptist Church. Then one day he saw a round-pen seminar where a man of God worked a horse and used Bible principles to evangelize. That got him thinking about whether he could do the same thing.
Now he is a New London resident who works in a Hannibal factory and is a fulfilled bi-vocational pastor in a cowboy pulpit that suits him.
“This is the most rewarding by far,” he said. “It matches what I do. I can speak the language that horsemen can understand. I can use illustrations of animals that they can understand. It helps them see how God looks at us.
“When I work with a horse, I’ll show them how I can look at the horse and tell what he’s going to do, just like God who made us knows what we’re going to do, because we’re made in God’s image. So He knows us, He’s trying to work with us, we’ve got to submit to Him and trust Him. It’s easier to communicate with them. That’s why it’s important to be real, and not just a city slicker that knows a little bit about it.”
The people who attend Eastern Missouri Cowboy Church are often found wearing jeans, boots and a hat. If they get a little mud on their clothes it really doesn’t matter; they come to church anyway. It’s also not uncommon for someone to be working in his yard Tuesday afternoon, maybe mowing the lawn, then hop off the tractor and go straight to church. That’s the type of congregation this is.
MBC Executive Director David Tolliver wore his cowboy boots to the Oct. 13 service and blended right into the crowd.
“They come out of the fields,” Henderson said. “Most of our people are cowboys or farm people—people who are working for a living and either can’t get to church on Sunday or are not comfortable in a traditional church.”
Ministering to a flock like that presents a different type of challenge.
“Cowboys are very, very independent,” Henderson said. “You can’t push them like you would a lot of people. They’ll just get away from you. You’ve got to know what you’re doing around a horse before they’ll pay attention to what you’re saying. Because I’ve worked in the industry, cowboying and running ranches, I have credibility with them so that when they come to talk with me, when they come to see me work a colt, they’re going to learn a lot about horsemanship, but they’re going to learn more about a relationship to God and how to get that.”
The church is known to hand out thousands of Cowboy New Testaments. Its motto comes from Hebrews 10:24—“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”—and the people try to practice it. The most rewarding part for the pastor in the church’s brief history has been watching people grow spiritually.
“I’ve got a man who was saved in March of (2006),” Henderson said. “He now does my hospital visits. He speaks for me occasionally. I’ve got three elders that on a minute’s notice can preach for me. A lot of them can work and do all the things that I do. So mentoring is probably the most rewarding for me.”
Many of the church’s converts are older than age 50 as Henderson seeks to engage them.
“I ask questions from the pulpit, interact with them more than just lecture,” he said.
The outcome in the lives of many unchurched newcomers who attend is the Holy Spirit bringing about transformation.
“God’s definitely been in this,” Newton said.
“God’s Word is what changes lives, not things or people,” Henderson said.