Rodeo Week – Opening Night

Team ropers watching a bronc rider on opening day.

Team ropers watching a bronc rider on opening day.

The Livingston Roundup officially began on July 2. “Slack day” contestants had competed in their events on the overflow day and had packed up and left for other rodeos.  The first event for the day was the Livingston Parade. You have never experienced a 4th of July parade until you go to a small town in the west for a parade. In Juneau you could see people walking the route in halibut suits. Nothing like seeing a six foot fish walking the streets. There weren’t any fish in the Livingston parade, but there were firetrucks, antique cars (including the first car in Livingston), and horses. One of the guys working the stock pens with me on Slack day, Phil, had his string of pack mules from his family outfitter/guide business. The parade reveals the centrality of the horse to Montanan culture. In the east a child may grow up playing with the family dog. In the west children grow up on horseback.

Tiffany & sauner Wood watching the parade from the front window of Cornerstone's new location.

Tiffany & Sauner Wood watching the parade from the front window of Cornerstone's new location.

Starting young

Starting young

parade girl

Phil leading his pack train.

Phil leading his pack train.

Phil 2

Thursday morning the workcrew from Spotswood Baptist Church started off their day with the Rodeo grounds clean up.  Then they cleaned out the debris from the renovations. The new facility will open in September after a workcrew/mission team does the interior work needed to turn the building into a church building. However, since the building is on the parade route Paul and Cody wanted the building’s restrooms available. Quite a few people took advantage of the offer including a number of locals who were interested in Cornerstone’s new location.

The rodeo began at 8:00 p.m. The work crew manned the hospitality tent cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for the constestants and their families. Paul did a great job leading a short chapel service for the cowboys. He contrasted the dependability and faithfulness of Christ to the way that others sooner or later fail us, whether it is your horse, roping partner, family, or friends. Later that evening his words were displayed in the team roping event. The announcer introduced a father and son roping team. The father held multiple world champion roper titles and had just begun roping with his son. After the introduction the steer broke from the gate.  Both ropers must rope the steer. The header ropes the horns to turn the steer and then the heeler must rope both legs to get the maximum score and time. It takes the teamwork of the ropers and the horses.The father missed and they were disqualified.  Even world chapions can let you down. By the time the rodeo ended, the hospitality tent cleaned up, and we got back to the house, it was 11:15. The 7:30 a.m. rodeo trash pickup came early the next morning.

Barrel racers watching the competition.

Barrel racers watching the competition.

The International Mission Board uses the term “Unreached people group” to describe a group who share a common language dialect, customs, etc, that  has not been evangelized. Montana Baptist  have identified 200 unreached people groups in the state. They range from cowboys to the various Indian tribes. Ninety-five percent of the population is  unchurched. Some people may think that since cowboys are Americans and look like us they are evangelized. If you think that the cowboy culture is just like yours, spend time at a rodeo. The rodeo competitors and the people of Livingston need the Gospel. The work that the people of Cornerstone are doing is gaining the attention of  the unchurched, but it will take time.

I coined a term, “harsh climate mentality,” a few years ago to describe people who live in places like Montana. People who have settled in harsh climates, whether it is the desert Southwest, Alaska,  New England, or where ever, develop an individuality and self-reliant spirit. When someone moves into the area they wonder how long the person will last. I remember how people would come to Alaska in the summer and talk about how they loved it and their plans to stay. However, once October came with its 40 inches of rain and constant lack of sunshine, they would line up to catch the next ferry south. First Baptist Church, Ketchikan, Alaska, had two pastors serve a total of seventeen months out of a five year period. The church had longer interims than pastors. I have heard people in New Hampshire say to a church planter, “How long are you going to last?”  Because of this mind set, and the fact that it takes time to become known in a community, it takes several years before church planters begin to see their efforts bearing fruit. Cody  and Paul had several “spiritual” conversations this rodeo with people they have known for two years. Hopefully, we will see even greater things happen in the coming years. I for one plan on being in Livingston for next year’s rodeo. After all I have the hat.

Some of my new friends.

Some of my new friends.

Rodeo Week- Thursday

I am going to put all the opening day rodeo information on my final rodeo page. Because, I want to focus on the day’s events before the opening night’s activities. Paul, Christine, Cody, and Tiffany have done so many things right when I look at the first two full years of their lives in Livingston. They came with a sense of calling and servant hearts. It is easy to see they love Montana and the people. The lead  in (pre-deployment) phase paid off. The time spent in prayer, visiting the area, and building partnerships allowed them to accomplish most of what they have done. This week is a great example.

Work crew removing the renovation debris.

Work crew removing the renovation debris.

Spotswood Baptist Church from Fredericksburg, Virgina, sent a mission team to help with rodeo week. Spotswood is Paul and Christine’s home church prior to their enrolling at SEBTS. This has become an annual mission trip for the church. They arrived on Tuesday and helped reset the tent after Monday’s storm. Since that time they have picked up trash each morning at the rodeo grounds, hauled out the debris from my going berserk on the new location’s interior, and anything else that needed to be done.

Cody and Paul will be the first to tell you that they would not have the respect and acceptance they enjoy if it were not for mission teams. In Acts the apostles were faced with a ministry decision, would they do a good thing and take care of the widows and orphans, or would they stick to their main responsibility. Church planters have only so much time and energy, especially when they have to work another job as Paul and Cody are now doing. Church planting is labor intensive; survey work, block parties, sports camps, construction projects, and other projects are beyond the resources of most plants. Projects that would take  the planter and his wife weeks to do are done in days. The planters can burn out doing good things, and fail to do the job they came to do. The Spotswood team pick up the trash around the rodeo grounds in about an hour. It would take a whole day otherwise.

Spotswood work team manned the hospitality tent serving the rodeo cowboys.

Spotswood work team manned the hospitality tent serving the rodeo cowboys.

I have always recommended to my planters that they develop partnerships with multiple churches. The partnerships should be beneficial to both parties, have a known life span, and prioritize prayer and participation over finances. I would rather have a church’s prayers and people than its money. A  check will help for the short term, but a mission team and prayer will help the planter find people who will become part of the plant. Of course, if the partners are praying and participating they will usually also help financially.

Partnerships help the church planters in another way. I had several families in my church in Soldotna, Alaska, who joined from an independent church background. They often asked why we were Southern Baptists. I tried to explain but it never clicked. Then we had a mission team come to help us build our new facility. Those guys came from Mississippi and worked twelve hour days to raise our roof and side walls. They stayed with our church families and many became our good friends. After the first team left both families separately came to me and said almost the same thing, “Now we know why we are Southern Baptists. We have never had another church ever help us do anything.” Churches working together to accomplish what one can not do alone is at the heart of the Cooperative Program.

I love the Cooperative Program and I am afraid that a new generation of SBC ministers do not appreciate the gift that it is. Our men and women recieve a quality seminary education at 1/3 the cost of other schools and then some go out and start churches that have little involvement with the SBC and the Cooperative Program. My church in Alaska was blessed by financial and prayer support from the HMB through the Church Growth Assistance program. It was a blessing to recieve the frequent cards from fellow Christians who were praying for our work. My brother, Don, and his family served for ten years in the Philippines with the Foreign Mission Board (IMB’s old name). His daughter, Shannon, and her family served in South Asia with the International Mission Board. They did not have to spend the majority of their time fund raising as other denominations’ missionaries must do. And, I appreciated the manner in which IMB took care of the family after the death of my grandnephew, J.D. There are some good organizations involved in missions and church planting, and some mega-churches are accomplishing great things. But, as good as Acts 29 and other groups are, they will never be able to match the work of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program. SBC churches fund over 5,000 international missionaries and 5,000 ministry positions in North America.  The Cooperative Program will wither on the vine in the next several decades unless the younger generations understand its uniqueness. Today’s younger generation of Southern Baptist are looking for “value added” organizations. Don’t expect them to support a program just because it is the denomination’s.  They want to know that they are going to benefit from the participation. They do not support  impersonal programs. The mission education ministries of the SBC: Mission Friends, R.A.s, and G.A.s have been replaced by AWANA and other approaches that do not focus on missions. Partnerships can revitalize mission giving through the Cooperative Program. When a mission team works with men like Cody and Paul and sees the lostness of North America putting names and faces on the 210 million plus unchurched of North America, they increase their giving to missions. When that is connected with the realization that because of the Cooperative Program they are not only helping the work in Montana, but the U.S., and the world; missions becomes personal. I believe that participation in our mission organizations needs to benefit the contributing churches, but our churches also need to remember that they are needed by ministries in Montana and other tough places. Sometimes you need to give without demanding a “return.”

Rodeo- Wednesday “Slack Day”

Slack Day is anything but slack. It is the overflow day for the rodeo. Today the barrel racers, calf ropers, roping teams, and bull doggers competed. Paul and I worked the stock pens. Ray, who looks like a bearded old cowpoke, but has a Ph.D and has taught at Montana State for 30 years, and Rob were in charge of the pens. The cattle would be separated into six pens and I ran two of them. You had to go in and write down the numbers branded in their flanks, or on their ear tag. When the steer was scheduled to run you had to separate them from the rest of the cattle. Some of them would go out the gate and down the chute on their own. Some weren’t about to go. They would pile in a corner, kick, or do anything to stay in the pen. I was one of the few who didn’t get kicked at least once.Walking into a herd of eight or nine steers and shoving them around or “influencing” their direction was definitely not boring.

Paul and I almost look like we know what we are doing, almost.

Paul and I almost look like we know what we are doing, almost.

Rob grew up in Livingston and is the epitome of a Montanan. Within the first twenty minutes Rob took a direct kick to his thigh. The kick staggered him, but he did not quit. The rest of the afternoon he had trouble walking. When his pants leg tightened on his thigh you could see the bulging knot. In the next three hours Rob was kicked four more times, that I saw. The last time I grabbed his shoulder to keep him up because he almost fell. One of the steers decided to rotate ninety degrees and kick  Rob instead of kicking me. Rob never complained, refused to ease up and just handle the gates, or act like anything was wrong. However, when he thought no one was looking he would grimace and reveal intense pain. What Rob did was “Cowboy Up.” There was no way that Rob was going to show weakness in front of all the other men. When life is tough, you cowboy up. When you get kicked, you cowboy up.

Cody & Ella at the barrel racing starting gate.

Cody & Ella at the barrel racing starting gate.

Paul and Cody are ministering in a culture that values self-reliance and toughness. They are making inroads with the community because they are earning the right to be heard. The mental toughness of western culture is a result of the settlers who tamed this land. It is a wonderful quality that gives the people here a character that I love. However, it is a tremendous spiritual barrier. It is hard for a person who has been self-reliant to come to a Savior that requires brokenness. Going through life without asking for help makes it tough to accept the gift of the cross. Livingston will be won to Christ through prayer and a witness that has earned the respect of the people. Cody and Paul are showing their neighbors that a man can be a Christian and still a man.

Sorting steers

Sorting steers

How cowboys watch the rodeo.

How cowboys watch the rodeo.

The work team from Virginia preparing to feed the cowboys and cowgirls.

The work team from Virginia preparing to feed the cowboys and cowgirls.

Rodeo Week- Tuesday

Today was spent ripping out more of the interior walls for the new facility. Tomorrow the rodeo cranks up and there will be more postings.  We had a Montana thunderstorm come through a take down the tent so we will have a busy Wednesday. I will be adding to this entry a little later in the day.

The morning after the storm. Six steel rods were bent double and both cables holding the main poles were snalled.

The morning after the storm. Six steel rods were bent double and both cables holding the main poles were snapped.

The cowboys started showing up and settling in for the rodeo. Some travel first class.

The cowboys started showing up and settling in for the rodeo. Some travel first class.

Rodeo Week- Monday

Since arriving I have had the a chance to run a Bobcat (small frontend loader), weed wack corrals, help put up a “circus” tent, and rip out walls. Ministry is a hoot.  I am getting up early so I can put several hours in on my Liberty classes (the two summer seasons overlap two weeks so I have five classes right now.) Since it is Monday Paul and Cody had to go to work. If there is one principle of church planting that Cody and Paul demonstrate it is the willingness to work. Their two year Nehemiah funding is finishing up this month. So, it is either call it quits or “cowboy up.” They were asked to join the Rodeo Association because of their work ethic. If there is one thing that westerners value it is a person who is a hard worker. So these two guys have gotten jobs because they were called by God to Livingston and that has not changed just because funding issues.

Paul and Cody are examples of a bi-vocational strategy. Paul had a successful banking career before entering seminary and moving to Montana. He now works at the hot dog and burger shack. Since it is not a heated building it closes in the fall. But during the summer it is the place to see people. Paul could probably make more money working as a night watchman somewhere. But, he would not see all the people.

The one place everybody visits in Livingston.

The one place everybody visits in Livingston.

Cody started his new job last week and today was his third day at work. He is a case manager at a counseling service which deal with juveniles from dysfunctional families. Almost all the cases are families from Park County. Cody’s undergraduate degree was in sociology so it is a good fit. Again, the strategy was to find employment that promoted networking in the community. Cody’s job is more long term than Paul’s, but both men see their work as another opportunity to become known by their neighbors. After work both men were back to ministry. It makes for long days but God will bless their commitment.

The main question someone considering church planting has to answer is what are you willing to do to obey God’s calling. If you only obey because some organization or institution will pay your way, then save yourself some grief and don’t go.

Cody's new job.

Cody's new job,Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.

The other day a church planter arrived in Montana. He came from a Southern Baptist Church, but was affiliated with an independent church planting organization. He stopped in Livingston and spoke with Cody. He was from Florida and had never been west of the Mississippi.  He had never been to Montana and was headed to a small town near Livingston. I am afraid he is in for quite a culture shock. Just to show the how Montana is a different culture, look at the pictures below. Notice the bottom sign. The other picture is a church announcement from Sunday’s service. Paul and Cody benefited from the pre-deployment preparations that Dave Howeth, ADOM, developed for the association’s church planting strategy. That preparation is essential.

Hotel sign in Livingston.

Hotel sign in Livingston.

Upcoming event at Cornerstone.

Upcoming event at Cornerstone.

Rodeo Week-Sunday

It seems every church planter has the same experience, to one extent or the other, Sunday morning set up. Being away from North Star I was looking forward to a Sunday without “set up”. But, alas, Cornerstone has “set up.” The service started at 9:00 a.m. at one of the local hotels. Cody preached from Mark 11. Paul led the singing and handled the announcements.

After the service Cody, Paul, Keith, and Aaron went over the the new building to talk about needed renovations. Keith and Aaron are the other half of the four man pig wrestling team. Aaron is 39 and never married. He is a contractor and works from the end of elk season until the beginning of elk season. During the season he hunts almost everyday walking back six or seven miles into the mountains looking for trophy elk. You could say he is married to hunting. Aaron was also the first person baptized by Cornerstone.

The new location is in the business area of town. It was a doctor’s office with 2500 square feet. The bank parking lot is across the street and provides free parking on Sundays. As we stood around looking at the drop ceiling and interior walls Aaron and Keith were upbeat and involved. However, things changed when we went downstairs into the basement. It runs the length of the building and has a 7 1/2 foot ceiling. It would take a fair amount of work and money to use it for “church” space. But, a comment was made about the area being a great spot for an indoor archery range. The closest one is in Bozeman and charges $30 an hour. Aaron got excited. By the end of our time downstairs he had figured out that he could make a forty yard lane and several twenty yard lanes with an afternoon of work and no construction costs.The back alley would also be a suitable place for a grill providing the means of having gatherings.

This fall expect Cornerstone to be the location of a community archery league. (I can discuss renovations and tearing out walls, my specialty, but this is where I actually made a contribution.) The advantage of a league format is that it forces guys to spend more time at the range. Instead of coming in and shooting several rounds of arrows and then leaving a team has to rotate through. While several guys are shooting the others have to wait. Like a bowling league the social aspects become a large part of the evening. Since archery shooting outside is not practical during the winter a league night would be one of the few activities available in Livingston.If you make a league rule that your members have to find nonchurch members to fill out their team roster you have a great outreach tool. (Never sign up for a church softball league. Play with the lost guys. Besides, there will probably be less arguing that the church league.)

Aaron was pumped, as was Paul and Cody. Aaron got excited because he knows how many men who would never step into a church building would come to shoot. Paul and Cody got excited because they saw one of their men develop a vision of ministry that fits him like a glove.

There is a principle in all of this: The freedom to minister “outside the box” is in geometric proportions to the number and influence of core group people who come from a church background. Even  if they want to try new ministries their nature is to resist. After Aaron and Keith left, Paul and Cody immediately commented that one family would be upset that archery would take place in “the church.” This family’s standard is “doing like back home.” I use to encounter people in Alaska who would visit church and then tell me that they could not find a church like “back home.” My response was, “Then go back home. We are a church that is trying to reach Alaskans, not transplanted Southerners.” Throughout the West, Northwest, Alaska, and north of the Mason-Dixon line you will find aging Southern Baptist Churches that were founded after WWII by transplanted Southerners. These churches grew by attracting transplants and did church like back home. They were cultural enclaves. Sadly they never became indigenous and now do not reach their own children and grandchildren who are not Southerners.

The rest of the day was filled with erecting the hospitality tent and going over to Bozeman. I dropped Cody off for his EMT class ( fireman  training) and then visited William and Teresa Johnson in Manhattan. William has done a great job reaching his community through outdoor ministries. He will cover all of that in his contribution to the coming book on church planting.

Rodeo Week-Livingston Montana Church Planting

Saturday –

I flew into Bozeman yesterday. Cody Wood and Paul Seddon picked me up at the airport. This is their third summer in Montana. Their families moved to Livingston in 2007. They were two of my North American Church Planting students during my time at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I don’t want to steal their thunder, because they are contributing a chapter to a book I am editing on church planting in North America. But, they are doing some great things and I want to pass on some of their activities/strategies through this site.

The Context: Livingston is a small town, approximately 7,500 on the Yellowstone River about 40 miles east of Bozeman. Trout fishing, tourism, and traffic on the way to Yellowstone National Park drive the economy in the summer. Ranching is the major industry. There are several subcultures in Livingston. There are the born and bred Montanans, some of the ranches have been in the family since the original settlers. There is also a newer group who I refer to as Biocentrists.  They are here to enjoy nature.  You could subgroup the people by two other terms: bunny huggers and bunny blasters. Reaching the whole community is a challenge. That is where the Holy Spirit is essential. Ninety plus percent of the population in Montana are unchurched and there are over 200 identified people groups in the state. Livingston’s largest church is C.U.T., The Church Universal Triumphant, a cult.

The biggest event in Livingston is Rodeo Week. The Livingston Rodeo is one of the top ten rodeos in the U.S. All the top bull riders, barrel racers, and ropers will be here. The group that organize the rodeo is the Rodeo Association. It is the most prestigious organization in the valley. You are invited to join by the commission. When Cody and Paul arrived in town they immediately looked for ways to connect with the culture. Since that time they have managed to become involved in all the activities, including the Pig Wrestling fund raiser. For those of you who have never been to the more colorful locations in North America pig wrestling is when a team of four people (there are male, female, and coed categories) attempt to place a 250 pound pig in a barrel within 30 seconds. For some reason the pig usually doesn’t wnat to get into the barrel so it is not as easy as it sounds, and the odds of four to one are not fair. The pig has the advantage. They are the only pastors in the valley who have entered the pig fund raiser.

Keith, Cody, Aaron, and Paul after their defeat at the hands (feet) of the pig.

Keith, Cody, Aaron, and Paul after their defeat at the hands (feet) of the pig.

Cody and Paul had lined up several mission teams to come out the first summer, which was part of their pre-deployment strategy. So, they volunteered to pick up the trash around the rodeo grounds. At the end of the rodeo the association gave them a “donation” of $500 for the work. They turned around and donated it to the rodeo. The association was surprised when Cornerstone volunteered to do the trash clean up a second year. They commented that no one had ever done the clean up a second year.  Cornerstone also volunteered to host the hospitality tent. The tent is for the cowboys. C &P used the state block party equipment for the tent and provided snow cones and cotton candy. Yes, bull riders like snow cones and cotton candy. At the end of the rodeo the association members asked C&P to join. There are people who have lived their whole lives in the valley and never have been asked ot join the Rodeo Association. It is a God thing that two newcomers from Virginia and Florida would be association members. So if you come to Livingston during rodeo you will see Cody and Paul in their Justin boots, Wrangler jeans, western shirts, and white straw cowboy hats (the required rodeo uniform) working the stock, stripping the gear off the bulls after the ride, opening the bull chute, or whatever else needs to be done during rodeo.

Aaron's baptism the day after the pig wrestling.

Aaron's baptism the day after the pig wrestling.

This week I will be working at the grounds preparing for Wednesday’s opening events and tearing out walls in their new building. (More on what God is doing on the building needs later.)

P.S. Last night we had elk and antelope steaks, Tiffany is a great cook. You have to love Montana! I got my boots and Wranglers out of the closet before I came. I’m ready for Rodeo Week. And, I am wearing my big “Montana Centennial” buckle that was given to me by Dave Howeth, the former Director of Missions and CP Strategist for the Treasure State Baptist Association. He told me that if I found him five church planters he would give me a buckle. God found the planters and I got the buckle. Belt buckles are the trophies in cowboy culture. You wear them instead of putting them on the mantle. It has a bronze rainbow trout on it and is a limited edition. It is good to be visiting the west again.