In 1997 Paula Cole recorded her only pop hit "Where have All the Cowboy's Gone?" A song that both pined for the past structure of relationships and yet also realized that this romantic image was in fact quite unrealistic.
The reason I mention the song is that it immediately stuck into my head (the danger of songs recorded in an era when you listened to radio 10 hours a day) when I was contemplating another thought. This thought was brought on by a recent sermon I heard and a new book I have been reading.
The book, The Forgotten Ways is both a historical, analytical text as well as a call to action for the church. It encourages us to reclaim our "Apostolic DNA" and move forward boldly into the world as the early church did. To be in my own thinking "cowboys" against the establishment of institution and structure that binds us from being apostolic, that has limited both the lay responsibility to evangelism as well as limiting Pastor's to more or less lives of caretaking the established flock through word and sacrament. Neglecting the necessary and God given gifts of Apostleship.
The recently memory is the result of a preacher recently I heard who extorted the congregation that gathered, a newly formed congregation installing its first pastor, to "convince people" of the relevance of the faith in their lives. They needed, this preacher said, to have this sort of conviction to convince others that the mission of the church is both relevant and essential to their lives of faith.
So where are the Cowboys of the faith? Where are the open rangers who are willing to go out into the undiscovered country. To herd restless bands of sheep (and probably a lot of goats) towards more fertile fields as well as keep them from danger? Where are the convincers? Or in another "churchy" word, where are the apologists?
We need more apologists in our church. Understanding the term apologists is not encouraging an "apology" in the modern sense (to say they are sorry) but in the ancient sense. Apology is to make the argument for, to explain why the faith is true, the proclamation necessary and frankly, at the end of the day vital for the very life of the people who most need to hear it.
Cowboys were apologists in many ways. Their values were practical and wise, based on a need to survive, not on ideology that divided. With so few of them, and so much work to go around, they needed to trust one another and have accountability that they would do the tasks assigned.
Living lives on the open range, encountering those they encountered, did this lifestyle always go well? Well like Cole's song, it was a mixed bag. Of course not everyone claimed and lived into these things in a positive manner. Any maverick instinct results in unexpected responses.
But ultimately they overall did what needed to be done to get their flocks to safety and ultimately lived in a way that became legendary. I know a few, but I believe we need some more Cowboy apologists for the faith, especially in Cowtown, but also throughout our world. Those who aren't afraid to invite others to hear a word of grace, to break down walls of oppression, to try new things, to focus on a mission and to value people for their gifts and abilities, not for their standing in society or wealth (which never got you far if you have watched a few John Wayne movies).
A while ago a wise professor once stated that he thought I might be an apologist for the faith. I was honored that he might think so, based on the witness of others in my life. I am not sure I am yet living into that role, but given my current place, perhaps a little more Cowboy would be appropriate. In fact, maybe the best role of all of us pastors is not so much to be the Cowboy, but living into it so as to train others to do so. Then there isn't one "John Wayne", there would be a whole posse of folks, proclaiming the good news of the One who sent them. That would be an exciting way. Imagine, a congregation of Cowboy apologists? Proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and raised, calling all to new life. Now that would be worth a "Yeeeeeeeeee-Haw!"