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Ropin’ in the souls

By Rez Gopez-Sindac

CE Interview: Randy Weaver, Senior Pastor, Lone Star Cowboy Church, Montgomery, TX

“A lot of the same attitudes that horses have, people have. Some horses want to rebel, and some horses want to submit. Some horses want to learn, and some horses they won’t let anybody take care of them. They’ll try to hurt you. Some people just don’t want to serve God,” says Randy Weaver.

Randy Weaver walked into his office with a big smile and a brown bag. “I’m finishing lunch,” he announced unpretentiously. Forget about the stereotype cowboy persona: uncouth, violent, lawless. This mild-mannered cowboy pastor has a genuine way of putting people at ease – one might say a skill he honed over many years of training horses and doing rodeos.

Pastor Randy and his wife of 23 years, Darla, have traveled the rodeo circuit participating in rodeos and doing church services at the rodeos for cowboys. “They live on the road and stay on the road, so what we did was take Jesus to them,” Weaver says. The couple also ministered as racetrack chaplains at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston. Weaver says he and his wife feel responsible to people they know and understand, and that they always knew God had a place for them to land.

That place is Lone Star Cowboy Church, which Randy and Darla started in 2000 with the help of friends. Located in Montgomery city (population: 500 people) in Montgomery, Texas, the church today is a place of worship for roughly 2,000 believers in Montgomery and surrounding cities, including even those from as far as Houston and College Station.

How do you further relate horses with people?

We’re busy with people who want to seek after God. The ones who don’t want to seek Him, we’ll just let God work on them. When they’re ready, we’ll get them. I’ve trained horses all my life, and it is so applicable to people. Part of discipleship is training people to follow Christ, to be a servant. A horse with a good attitude will wait until the master comes to get him and then he’ll submit to whatever the master has for him.

Are cowboys the target group of your church?

I’m always amused at questions like this. I’ve been to a lot of ministry meetings and conferences, and they always tell you that you have to have a target group. I don’t buy into that so much. Our target group is anybody who wants to seek after God. Our mission statement is to reach, teach and disciple the wise who will seek Him. Whoever is out there, we want to reach them, we want to teach them and we want to disciple them. Just because we are a cowboy church doesn’t mean only cowboys come. We want anybody who is attracted to this type of ministry.

Why do we need a cowboy church?

We need a cowboy church because there are certain types of people who are not attracted to a conventional church. I can’t tell you how many people have come to our church that had not been in church in 10, 20, 30, or 50 years. They came and gave their hearts to the Lord. They were baptized and began to become Christ followers. If we believe that God is a God of variety, why do we try to make churches look the same or have the same programs? Ultimately what we are trying to do is to be obedient to a calling that is specific for us. I believe in innovative ways of reaching the lost. I believe excellence is non-negotiable for churches that want to be successful. But I don’t buy the idea of being culturally [relevant] like everybody thinks we ought to be.

What is different about the way you do church – music, for example?

I’m not a fan of trying to make everybody happy on the music side. I think part of worship is saying I’m going to honor the style of music that somebody else likes. We change it up, but we don’t change the songs for every service. We don’t say, “Hey, if you don’t like this style of song, stick around ‘coz the next one will be different.” We sing a lot of worship songs that you hear on Christian radio stations, but we put a country flair to these songs. We ramp up some old gospel songs. We rock the house.

In reaching the lost, you’ve got to go where they are in order to get them where they need to be in Christ. I believe churches are called to bridge gaps. Every Sunday morning, we probably give out 60 dozen donuts, free coffee and free iced tea. When we were in a tent before we built our sanctuary, we gave out about five dozens to six dozens donuts every weekend. When we moved in the new sanctuary, some people said we can’t afford to be buying all these donuts and we sure don’t need to be taking them inside with all those brand-new chairs. I said wait, wait, wait. This worked in the tent, and it will work here. Let them bring their drinks and donuts in the church. If somebody messes up a chair, we’re going to clean it. If we can’t clean it, we’re going to buy a new chair. People are more important than chairs. God gave me a word early in the ministry. He said never sacrifice people for projects.

How about your preaching style? Is there a “cowboy” flavor to it?

An advantage that I have is that I have animals. I have horses, cows and dogs. There are a lot of sermon illustrations that come from farm animals. We bring in those illustrations, as well as the illustrations of rodeos. I believe Jesus met people where they were by telling them earthly stories with a heavenly meaning, such as the parables. We really adopted that style in reaching people. We use stories about what people are going through. For example, my wife and I have tried to be transparent with our people about our own struggles in following Christ and in our marriage. I think people buy into God more when we’re honest and transparent.

We baptize new believers every last Sunday of the month. We baptize them in a horse trough. Almost every weekend, somebody gives their heart to the Lord. We invite them to come to the front. A lot of churches don’t do that anymore, and that’s fine, but it works for us.

What events and activities attract people to your church?

We have cowboy outreaches such as He Paid Your Fees, where we do roping, barrel racing and barbecue cookoffs. We give prize money, saddles and all kinds of awards at these competitions. The entry fee is they have to come to church. Other churches have softball leagues or basketball leagues. We have roping and bull rides and barrel racing – it’s different but the same.

Another major event is the Rodeo Bible Camp for our kids. We invite world-champion cowboys – people who’ve been to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada – to share their testimonies about what God has done for them. So many of our kids today have a lot of issues related to drugs, alcohol, illicit relationships, abuse, and abortion. These guys and gals that we’ve invited give their testimonies about how God found them where they were and brought them out of those issues.

One thing that’s different about our church is we have a rodeo arena. Nobody has an arena at their church. People in our church also open up their own arena for our camp. We haul off 40 to 70 horses a day to different places. It’s a great community affair. We also have an alternative to Halloween; we call it West Fest. We’ve seen hundreds of people give their hearts to the Lord at these outreach events.

You and Darla co-pastor the church. How did you arrive at this decision and how is it working?

The gifts that I don’t have, Darla has, and the gifts that Darla doesn’t have, I have. Many times we would rub against one another. Sometimes it’s a grind, because we don’t always agree. But I learned a long time ago that it’s not really about whether I agree with Darla or Darla agrees with me. Our biggest challenge is to agree with God. I have a tremendous confidence that my wife has the ability to hear from God. In such times, I have to submit to her and come under her authority.

Sometimes she has to submit to me because I get a word from God. Over the years we’ve learned how to submit to one another. But it’s something that we continue to work at because we’re still in the flesh. That’s part of what keeps us on our knees. We’re not ashamed to say that we need God’s intervention in our lives every moment, every day.

Did your church welcome and support this leadership model from the beginning?

Not so in the beginning. It’s hard for women to be in ministry. I believe in respect and honor, but not everybody believes that a woman should have authority as a pastor. It was a tough go at the beginning of the church. I take my hat off to my wife, because she persevered through those hard times. And she still has those challenges to a degree. But God has been faithful. He’s really blessed us, and that’s how we know we’re on track. Submitting to an individual who is called by God – whether it’s a man or a woman – is very close to the heart of God. A lot of women can hear from God better than men can – I don’t know why, but they do.

What kind of leaders are effective in a cowboy church?

They have to be authentic. If they pretend to be something that they’re not, the church is not the place for them – Hollywood is where they need to be. Whatever we do has to be real and authentic. Just because you own a hat or a pair of boots or a horse doesn’t make you a cowboy. We have pastors on staff who are not cowboys, but they don’t pretend to be cowboys. All we do is try to reach people by who we are. If Christ is in us, and we’re cowboys and that attracts people, then we use that to help them come to Christ. Let God use the background that He’s given you for the kingdom. I believe that will bring more success in any church.

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