SBC Life Articles

Bible-Totin’ Cowboys

"… and Lord, be with us during this haying time and cattle shipping season."

Maybe not a typical prayer to open a Sunday School class, but it's at the very heart of a Thursday night Bible study class in the wide-open spaces of the Panhandle surrounding Beaver, Oklahoma.

There are no horses tied to hitching posts, but a myriad of pick-up trucks and horse trailers line the parking lot of First Baptist Church, and just inside the door, cowboy hats are tossed askew around the coat rack.

It's the Boots and Jeans cowboy Bible class where thirty to thirty-five cowboys gather each week to study the Bible and share Christian experiences.

The class resulted from a heart-felt burden of Shawn Campbell, who regularly witnessed to the cowboys in his Beaver saddle shop.

"I was talking to some guys one day and gave them cowboy Bibles (New Testaments with a bucking horse on front) and told them we were having a Bible study in the shop," recalled Campbell, who surprised himself by mentioning a Bible study.

At about the same time, unbeknownst to Campbell, Sunday School Director Jim Hilton talked to a friend at a football game about a cowboy Bible study.

The first Bible study in the saddle shop was attended by "two or three people, and grew to about seven," said Campbell.

Because some children were coming and there was no clean place for them to play, Campbell started looking for another place to hold the Bible study.

"I was a little skeptical about moving it to the church building because I didn't know if these people would be comfortable in a church setting," said Campbell, a member of First Baptist, Beaver.

However, ten cowboys attended the first week in the church's fellowship hall. Attendance has grown to an average of thirty to thirty-five and that number sometimes doubles, "depending on the season." They've also added a nursery and Sunday School classes for the children.

"This is a ministry unlike any this church has been involved in," said pastor Bill Sherrill. "It has opened the church's eyes to see that you don't have to do things as they've always been done." For instance, the church has a fully staffed Sunday School on Thursday nights.

Hilton said the church's growing excitement over the Boots and Jeans class has led to an increased Sunday School attendance.

"We had been averaging 110-120 in Sunday School, but in the last year our average has climbed to 155," Hilton remarked.

The cowboys come from all over Beaver County and as far away as Liberal, Kansas, forty miles to the north.

"On any given night, we will probably have at least five denominations represented," commented Sherrill. "What church they end up in is less significant than leading them to the Lord."

Sherrill, who is supportive of the ministry, is not exactly the cowboy type. Last summer, at a tent revival for the cowboys, they gave him a surprise gift of a pair of cowboy boots and a hat. "One of the cowboys walked up during the announcements and said, 'We can't take it anymore.' They made me take off my red high-top tennis shoes and put on the boots and hat," laughed Sherrill.

The class is promoted mostly by word of mouth, and by placing free cowboy Bibles, with Bible study inserts, in local stores. Word of the class has spread throughout the area.

"I was having my car worked on at a muffler/alignment shop in Liberal a few weeks ago," said Sherrill. "When the attendant saw on my ticket that I was from Beaver, she said 'Boots and Jeans.' She went on to say that there was a group of men in the shop a few days before. They started talking about the Boots and Jeans Bible study, and she said it was like a revival," Sherrill reported.

During a recent Bible study, one of the cowboys pointed out that, because of the profanity and coarse talk on the range, when a cowboy doesn't talk like that, others want to know what is going on in his life.

"Cowboys talk to cowboys," he said, "and there are always opportunities to witness just by living the Christian life."

Campbell, who has lived and worked on a ranch all his life, continues to be burdened for the cowboys.

"There is no one evangelizing farmers and ranchers," he lamented. "They just kind of live out there and don't have anyone to share the gospel with them. It's a mission field."

The group purchases cowboy Bibles from the "Fellowship of Christian Cowboys," but this group ministers mostly to the rodeo cowboy, Campbell said.

"I suspect that at least 30 percent of Oklahoma's population is connected in some way with cowboys," said Hilton. "And that would be higher in states such as Wyoming and Montana. It's a culture, and we have literature and programs for other cultures with less numbers than these.

"If Southern Baptists would develop literature for cowboys, they would be way ahead of other denominations in this area of ministry."

    About the Author

  • Dana Williamson