If you’re more comfortable in the saddle of a horse than a pew at church, yet you know there’s more to life than what the world has to offer, Mike Stanley of Earlham has an exciting opportunity for you: Cowboy Church! For years, Stanley has been interested in the idea of starting a cowboy church. “I’d heard about them and always thought it would be cool. But it was more of a fantasy.” It slowly evolved into much more than a fantasy as Stanley felt God “turning up the heat” in the last couple of years. “I was thinking about it every day,” recalls Stanley. “I have a burden and a love for lost people that only the Holy Spirit puts in you,” explains Stanley. A series of seemingly separate events led to the final determination to pull the trigger on Cowboy Church. For the past two years, Stanley has been meeting with John Shaull, church planter with the Baptist Convention of Iowa, with the intention of preparing Stanley to organize and lead a bible study.
“We kept meeting, planning and praying,” recalled Stanley. When Stanley felt God’s overwhelming call to start cowboy church instead of a more traditional bible study, he presented his idea to Shaull, who immediately jumped on board. In conversations with Pastor Mike Carlson at First Baptist Church Winterset; where the Stanleys attend church, Stanley became convinced that God was about to birth a new congregation. Meanwhile, Pastor Louis Husser from Louisiana had been involved in starting several cowboy churches Pastor Husser’s daughter, Leah Reid who attends Waukee Baptist Church connected him with Stanley. Pastor Husser and his wife met with the Stanleys, Reids, Shaull, Carlson and Dean Scott in November to help understand what a cowboy church service generally looks like and helped them finalize plans for the inaugural service. Husser’s testimony lit the fire in the Stanley’s hearts and confirmed that God wanted them to act . . . now! Stanley wanted to enlarge his core group so he turned to Dean Scott, the owner of Right Turn Feed Store in DeSoto, whom Stanley had known for years. “I knew his heart,” said Stanley, “and I knew he’d want to be a part of it.” So Stanley went to visit Scott at his feed store. Scott’s initial reaction was “I’m pretty busy,” he recalls with a smile. A very active leader at the New Hope Evangelical Free Church in Adel, Scott’s plate was already full. “But I thought more about it and I knew it was important – Mike wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t! So I said…let’s go!” Stanley garnered the official sponsorship of FBC in Winterset and the support of the Baptist Convention of Iowa.
Scott offered the warehouse area of his feed store for the church’s meeting place, where guests would sit on planks and hay bales in their blue jeans, boots and Carhartts. The warehouse features an indoor arena to house special events and demonstrations hosted by the church.
Stanley was licensed to the gospel ministry by First Baptist Winterset at their ministry celebration on December 16, 2012. “He obviously has a heart for it,” notes Carlson. Husser’s daughter and son-in-law, Matt and Leah Reid have happily agreed to lead the worship each Sunday. Now that their plan was in place, they needed a start date. They discussed spring, complete with a mission celebration and special guests. But Stanley felt compelled to begin immediately, so January 13 was selected.
Stanley and company had quite a hoe-down for their inaugural Cowboy Church get together. Prayers had been offered, planning had taken place and now the only thing missing for the Cowboy Church launch was people. However, once the doors opened at the Right Turn Feed Store in DeSoto, Iowa on Sunday, January 13, 160 people found their way into a roping demonstration, a horse training lesson and a message from the word of God. Dean Scott, proprietor of the store gave a fabulous horse training lesson showing participants how to get the most from the horses they own. Pastor Mike Stanley demonstrated “Ranch Roping” or “How to Catch a Cow from Horseback.” Pastor Mike Stanley then presented a message from John 3 on “How to be Born Again.” Following the service chili, cornbread and hot coffee helped warm up those who had sat nearly two hours in 40 degree weather to be a part of Cowboy Church.
Stanley intends to incorporate trail rides and other outdoor activities after the Iowa weather warms up. Stanley and his team insist that anyone is welcome to attend Cowboy Church. “It isn’t just for cowboys,” Carlson assures. “It’s for people that need hope in their lives,” adds Stanley.
Ashley Scott of the Winterset Madisonian with input from John Shaull, Associational Missionary/Church Planter Catalyst, Metro Baptist Association.
Originally printed in the Winterset Madisonian, used by permission.