Cowboys & Crusaders
|Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor|
Oct. 10, 2004 -- Rodeo and religion might seem strange bedfellows, but not to Byron Houck, former pastor of Miller Grove First Baptist Church.
"I thought that when I became a minister I would have to give my western heritage up. And I was willing to do that," Houck said. "But that's not what happened. "
Far from it. In fact, Houck and a core group of like-minded Christians have literally been taking their faith to a different kind of arena -- the "cowboy church" group will meet every Sunday morning at the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center Arena.
They kicked off things last Friday in a very spirited way, when Cross Country Cowboy Crusade presented its first kid rodeo and bull riding events.
"What we're really praying for is that God will raise a cowboy church out of this crusade," said Houck prior to the events. "I believe the Lord wants a cowboy church in Hopkins County. It will be a non-judgmental, simplistic way of worship. No dress codes, no altar calls, no passing the plate. You can be exactly who you are and still worship in this church. We don't care what denomination you're from or what your background is. We don't care what color your skin is or what language you speak. This will be a church for God's people. We want to try to get back to the basics of life, just like Jesus did -and just meet folks right where they are. And we'll do that through the simple word of God."
According to Houck, there are 140 cowboy ministries in the state of Texas, but no one in the Hopkins County area has ever done anything "quite like this before."
"You've heard of planting a church? Well, we're gonna do it a little different. We're hoping to launch it," Houck emphasized.
A children's rodeo will kick off Thursday night's events, and will feature PRCA bull rider Tony Shoulders as the special speaker, along with a couple of his trick horses, which will help him demonstrate a message of obedience.
Kids are invited to register for several challenging activities such as muttin' bustin (sheep riding), steer riding, goat tying and barrel racing, with nominal fees for each activity.
"You don't need to be a professional to do any of these events," explained Houck "It's just gonna be a lot of fun and it w ill give us the potential to meet a lot of folks in the area."
Bull riding events will begin on Friday night with PRCA bull rider Terry Holland featured as the special speaker. Thirty bull riders will vie for the top 20 positions, and will ride in the arena on Saturday night in hopes of winning $2,500, plus a belt buckle.
All of this is free of charge for spectators, according to Houck.
"It will be very similar to the PVR events except that there will be two rounds instead of three," explained Houck, who is very familiar with the rodeo circuit.
"I've been around horses all my life," said Houck, who was born and raised in Alabama. "Rodeoing is all I know."
Houck said that he gave his life to God at an early age, and his grandmother even prophesied that he would "make a preacher before he died." But as he grew older he just couldn't see how cowboying and ministry mixed.
"I thought a preacher had to wear a suit and a tie, and that just wasn't me," he laughed.
For 17 years, Houck said he chose to be "un-churched."
It wasn't until he received a phone call from his son saying that he had given his life to Christ that Houck began to reflect on his own life.
"Being saved as a young man myself, I realized what had happened, and I was real proud of him, but I was ashamed of myself," Houck recalled. "I was probably sitting there with a beer in my hand at the time. It was like the Lord spoke to my heart and said, "Your son's ready to meet me, now what's it gonna take for me to get to you?'"
Houck said he and his wife then became active in church. He soon became the youth minister at South Liberty Church, but wasn't ready to take to the pulpit.
"I'm very shy and thought it was just something I couldn't possibly do," he said. "I couldn't read well. That bothered me a lot, 'cause preachers have to do lots of reading."
Then, one of the members at South Liberty Church, Charlie Otts, encouraged him to follow his calling and even taught him how to read.
"He's just a tremendous man of God," said Houck. "Now I can read as well as anyone can, and I can stand up and speak, as long as I'm doing it for the Lord."
In August of 2001 Houck began preaching at Miller Grove First Baptist Church.
"At Miller Grove they allowed me to preach in my blue jeans and western shirts. I wore my cowboy hat every Sunday. They accepted me for who I was," he recalled.
Houck said it was about a year ago that he felt impressed to start a cowboy church, and left Miller Grove with the blessings of the congregation. He and a core group of about 30 people have been meeting at their homes and private arenas and praying for guidance in this new direction.
"I'm praying that through my testimony folks will know that you don't have to be a certain way in order to go to church. And that they will just allow God to work in their lives the way he has worked in mine. He didn't want me to give up my western heritage. He just wanted me to use what I have, and what I know -- for Him."