By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MORRISTOWN — “Cowboy Church is not your traditional church,” said Kent Hightower, church planter/pastor of the Circle C Cowboy Church here, on a video produced by the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Folks connect with the church “because Cowboy Church is simple church. We use a simple message.
“We proclaim Christ and we make it easy for folks to understand,” the pastor added.
“We eliminate the barriers to the gospel. … At Cowboy Church we just want you to come as you are. That’s our message because that’s how Christ accepts us, as we are.”
Folks are coming, about 130 each Sunday morning. They range from working cowboys and cowgirls, dairy farmers, crop farmers, ranchers, walking horse people, trail riders, show horse competitors, rodeo competitors, country music enthusiasts, blue collar workers, and others, described Hightower.
The church is nontraditional in another way. It meets in an open air horse arena, year round regardless of the weather.
“The people we’re trying to reach are more likely to come to an arena than they would to a building made out of brick or stone,” added the pastor.
Since 2010, when the church was started, Hightower has seen about 70 people, ages 7-60, make professions of faith.
“A dairy farmer who has milked the cows on a Sunday morning, which is dirty work, and is wearing overalls and shoes that don’t smell good, he is not going to go to a traditional church,” said High-tower.
Barriers to keeping people in the western culture or heritage from the gospel are rodeos scheduled on Sundays, dress that is different from other folks, not being familiar with church, and not having a lot of money, observed Hightower.
“We’re here to teach people the way Christ would have us be,” observed Hightower. Having money, dressing a certain way, and having a new truck is not important to Christ or the Christian, he added.
Hightower can relate to his church members. Though he is an engineer, he has competed in rodeos along with his wife, Karen, and their three children. They live on an acreage where they have their own horses as well as cattle.
He also can relate to western heritage folks because his grandfather was a tobacco farmer and he began riding horses at age 12. His wife Karen began riding horses at age 4.
At age 36, while a member of Ridgeview Baptist Church, Church Hill, Hightower felt called to the ministry. His father is a deacon and one of his brothers is a pastor. In response, he and Steve Wade, a neighbor and fellow member of Ridgeview, started a mid-week Bible study in 2010 to reach fellow cowboys. Out of that Bible study came two congregations, Circle C and Cross Anchor Cowboy Church, Rogersville, led by Wade.
Both congregations give much credit for their existence to Ridge-view Baptist and its pastor Jon Rogers. Ridgeview is their “mother church” or sponsoring church and sent six members to the new congregations to help them develop.
Another great blessing to Circle C has been the TBC, said High-tower. In 2014, Circle C was chosen by the TBC to receive funds from its Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. The monthly gift will help Circle C build a climate controlled facility on eight acres given to the church.
The new facility, which will include classrooms and be handicapped accessible, will give the church “the ability to reach more folks” and communicate that instead of being “a fad” it is “serious” about what it is doing, said Hightower.
“The Cowboy Church is a great example the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions is going to impact folks,” said Hightower in the video, as folks in traditional churches give to reach people who don’t know the gospel.
As Hightower described in the video, folks in the western culture are “working class people and … they don’t have time for nonsense. They understand that if there’s a fence running through a pasture you’ve got to be on one side or the other … . You can’t straddle the fence.”
What is amazing, said High-tower, is that God can take a person’s hobby, like riding horses, and use it “as part of their ministry. … I can use my hobby to minister to people and that’s a real blessing.”