Imagine my surprise when I learned this at worship service yesterday. Yes, people think my church is a “joke.”
At first, I thought I misheard the pastor. Had he really said that? Or had he said “Job”? That, of course, didn’t make sense either. Of course, my hearing isn’t always so great, plus the Southern accents throw me for a loop every so often. But, when he repeated it, I knew I’d heard him correctly.
Apparently, a parishioner was in the hospital and he was asked what church he attended. When he said the Cowboy Church, he was told that our church was a joke.
There are so many things wrong with this…and on so many levels.
Many of you know that my father was born and raised Mennonite and my mother Presbyterian. When I was growing up, we went to a Methodist church. Later, I was a bit lost and spent years…literally YEARS…searching for a church to call home.
I love the Amish church and the Mennonite church. Clearly, I cannot join an Amish church and we had no Mennonite churches near us. As an adult, I sought out a local church in NJ. For a while, I attended a Catholic church. I hated it. Personally, I found too many of the parishioners to be hypocritical…more interested in who “bought” what pew or how they decorated their shoebox for Christmas giving than caring about what was inside! The clincher was when I attended service on March 31, 2002. It was Easter service. There was standing room only and a man behind me held his daughter in such a way to deliberately and repeatedly swing her foot to kick my head…because I hadn’t volunteered my seat. You see, I was eight-months pregnant and with a three-year-old. I left in tears and never went back.
Later, I joined the Presbyterian church. The people were better…more to my suiting. Still, something was missing. It just didn’t feel like home to me. I was a bit lost, relying on my own study of the Bible and the few times a year I could attend an Amish church with my friends or the Mennonite church with my great uncle.
It wasn’t until I moved away from the north to Archer, Florida, that I discovered the Cowboy Church in Williston. The people are warm and welcoming. The sermons speak to relevant situations that the parishioners deal with on a daily basis. The focus is on living a life that exemplifies Jesus and God: not just believing but also doing. And not just “doing” once or twice a year but every month, week, day, even hour!
To me, it is the perfect church. It is a church that walks the walk instead of just talk the talk. It is a church that speaks to a specific subculture in America: those hard-working folks who value a more bucolic life and, for many, live in a cowboy culture: living on ranches, working close to the land, using working horses, etc. Is this a church for everyone? No, of course not. But the idea of the church is well received in many rural areas with a more Western heritage throughout the country.
Every Sunday, the church—which is open to the outdoors!–is filled with people: young and old. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, rainy or sunny, that place is filled. Almost every single day of the week, they have activities at the church and, like Sunday, they are always filled with people!
The grounds are maintained by the parishioners. The programs are run by the parishioners. The support is provided by the parishioners.
Some joke, right?
This summer, several parishioners drove to South Dakota, a twenty-three hour drive, to stay with Native Americans on a reservation, helping them with activities, worship, and community support. For two weeks.
Each summer, they organize a rodeo camp for children in another state. The parishioners take off work to travel with the children and teach them during that week: horse related skills, fun games, and about being a good Christian, following in Jesus’s footsteps.
While I know that the children (and adults) had lots of fun and laughed a lot, I doubt that’s what the person meant when they referenced the church as being a farce.
In Matthew 18:20, we are told “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. We are not limited to worship in any particular building or under the guidance of any specific leader. In fact, as long as Jesus is there in our hearts, that is all the leader we need. The Bible tells us so. Having been attending the Cowboy Church for over two years, I can assure you that Jesus is there among the people, not just on Sunday but every day that the parishioners gather—not just there but everywhere.
It may surprise some people that Jesus was not a big fan of the organized church of his time. In fact, he grew angry about the corruption among the church leaders and those who took advantage of those who flocked to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice (called a korban) to atone for their sins.
And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. Matthew 21:13
In fact, that was part of the sacrifice that God made by sending Jesus to be sacrificed for our sins: it liberated us from having to ask for forgiveness from anyone other than God.
Jesus also understood that organized churches came with lots of rules and regulations, many of which put the worshipers at risk of following men and not God. As some church leaders gained more power, positional prestige soon follow and that puts a wedge between people and God: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12: 43).
You see, when people jockey for position among others, corruption is sure to follow. Some people don’t want to risk sharing power with others. That is when sin re-enters the life of even those with the best intentions. Even worse, that is the beginning of judgement, a way to repress the beliefs of others. And that is a sin.
Even the least read of Christians have learned that God frowns on judging others. In Matthew 7:1, we are told “Judge not that ye be not judged.”
My “joke” of a church does not spend time criticizing or judging other religious organizations or the people who attend them. Instead, they are too focused on living a life that glorifies God through word, thought, and deed.
The fact that someone at a medical facility asked a patient about their church and then had the audacity to not just judge it but insult it (and the people!) is everything that is wrong with our society. Rather than work together and accept each other, people are more inclined to create self-serving
I will do my best to not harbor resentment toward that person or anyone else who judges my church because that’s not what Jesus wants. If people worship in a way that speaks to them, I’m happy. Truly, I try not to judge other churches outside of what I have personally experienced. However, it is hard. I am, after all, only human. Fortunately, I have a great church, pastor, and parishioners who can help me through this.