Matt Comer--a cowboy ready to deliver a message
On Sunday mornings a short drive from Carthage on State Highway 315, a passerby can see a 40-acre field with vehicles parked in front of a round-topped building. It’s a place of worship with a rodeo arena instead of a steeple and livestock water trough instead of a baptismal. Whatever it has or doesn’t have, anyone attending Still Waters Cowboy Church can expect an enthusiastic greeting and to be filled with God’s word in a welcoming environment.
Just in his appearance as he steps onto the stage, it’s easily concluded that Pastor Matt Comer is a cowboy who is ready to deliver a message complete with scripture, maybe a personal story about how it relates to a cowboy’s experience, and how the congregation can apply it to their own life.
But don’t make any misconceptions that his sermon or that this church is only for cowboys. As a matter of fact, Comer estimates that only 10 percent of the members actually own livestock as an income. Most any other profession, business, or personality makes up the other 90 percent of membership.
“The western heritage is kind of the common ground for all of us,” Comer said. “From the guy who likes John Wayne movies to the guy who actually owns cattle and rides a horse, anyone in between is who we are,” he said about the 500-member congregation. “The typical average Joe who walks through those doors is just a regular guy who wants to be in church, wants to hear the word of God, and wants to find a church where he fits.”
Comer’s vision of people fitting in at church began around January 2009. “The Lord really changed my heart about people and whether they are in church or not,” he said. This heart-felt change happened after reading the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why it Matters by David Kinnaman. “That book opened my eyes about how much I am the problem of people not being in church,” Comer said.
After reading the book and a previous surrendering in 1999 to “do whatever God wants me to do”, Comer was waiting for God to let him know what to do next. The then Ag teacher for Beckville ISD was at a livestock show with his students and their animal projects when God gave Comer the direction he had been seeking.
“I had known what cowboy church was, but I never saw myself ever pastoring a cowboy church until a guy, Mike Morrow, pastor of Cross Brand Cowboy Church in Tyler, came to me at the Ft. Worth Livestock show and asked me ‘are you ready to go to work’,” Comer said. “When he asked me that question, I knew God had something he wanted me to do. He wanted me to be involved in starting a cowboy church.”
Comer and wife Shelbea, both members of First Baptist Church in Carthage, began meeting with other FBC members who lived the cowboy culture. They formed a core group and met in prayer on Monday nights in June 2009 at the Panola County Livestock Sale Barn.
The group, averaging about 100 people by now, met in September at the Cattleman’s Rodeo Arena for a Church-in-the-Dirt service. Still Waters Cowboy Church was officially launched, and Comer accepted the church’s call to be its pastor.
He said it was an easy call to answer because he had the support of his family, children Eli and Emorie, and especially the support of his wife. “Shelbea was a big support in starting this whole deal,” he said, “standing there beside me with the crazy idea that I was called to pastor a cowboy church.”
Comer grew up in a Baptist Missionary Association environment. With his father and grandfather being preachers and his three siblings also involved in the ministry, Comer knew his way around traditional worship. However, he knew he was being led to mesh his love for the Lord with his passion for being a cowboy.
In developing SWCC, he and the founding members used the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches as a resource, which provided training and a church model.
“For me, I don’t have any formal ministry education,” said Comer, now a licensed pastor. “But my qualification,” Comer stopped and smiled, “being a pastor that God and God only calls you to. I have no doubt in my mind that I’m where He wants me to be because I’m in the center of His will.”
Comer said he’s the pastor, but the members are the church and they are the ones who develop the activities and programs “from what the Lord has told them.”
One example is how youth member Morgan Hamilton developed her idea to have a prayer walk on the church property. She invited people to walk around the 40-acre church property and pray for the church, its future, its congregation, and whatever else was on their hearts. The response was great, and the prayer walk has become an annual event.
A weekly Monday night prayer meeting, military outreach, addiction support group, and home Bible studies are other examples of member-led programs. “It wasn’t really planned,” Comer said about each program. “The members did it on their own.”
Cowboy churches throughout Texas follow similar patterns and have grown in numbers during the past decade. The AFCC has an estimated 200 registered cowboy churches in Texas, and more cowboy churches are spreading across the nation. “The reason why I think people come to cowboy church is two things,” Comer said. “One, they’re in a comfortable environment, and two they get fed the word of God.”
He said the fact that you can come to church in your regular clothes is something some people want. “If you had to work that morning, even the oilfield guy can come to church from work and not change clothes,” he said.
“We worship in a hay barn. We are in the middle of pasture where cows once grazed. What is so great about that? Nothing. But it’s the people who are drawn to that that makes you want to be a part of that,” Comer said.
“Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love people. Those two things are evident when we get together,” he said about the SWCC congregation.
Comer said future plans for SWCC is a building project, which is currently underway, and a continued desire to follow God’s will in providing a welcoming place to worship. “I have no plans of going anywhere,” he said. “I would love to retire here one day. I’ll preach as long as God wants me to.
“As far as Still Waters, I see God continually sending us people that have hurts, hang ups, and habits that we can help to find life again, to find joy again through a relationship with God,” he said. “If that’s with 100 people or with 800 people, we want to help people with their relationship with God.”
For more information about SWCC, please visit www.stillwaterscowboychurch.org.