Cowboys of the Cross

Welcome to Cowboys of the Cross: your resource for Christian cowboys. Cowboys of the Cross has been providing cowboy church for the rodeo and cowboy community for more than 15 years. The website is your source for stories of faith and encouragement as well as devotions and news and information affecting cowboys of faith. Cowboys of the Cross leads cowboy church at rodeos and bull ridings in both Ontario, Canada and across the north and southeastern United States. 

To support the mission

Cowboys of the Cross is a full time ministry shepherded by Scott Hilgendorff (His testimony can be found below). Like other missionaries, Scott relies on the generous support of private donors to carry out the work of the Great Commission within the rodeo and cowboy culture. Donations are managed through LifeSong Family Church in Lewisburg, TN. To give online, please click the button, selecton online giving and please choose Cowboys of the Cross from the dropdown menu. To give via mail, please make checks payable to LifeSongFamily Church but include a note that it is for “rodeo ministry.” Donations can be sent to LifeSong Family Chuch, 1041 S. Ellington Pkwy
Lewisburg, TN  37091

Mud season can remind us how dumb it is to cling to our sin

By Josh McCarthy / Cowboys of the Cross

“[March] is a busy time of year. Feedlots are full, calving is starting, and the lambing crew is still getting
the jugs ready. Cowboys are still wearing their winter long johns and five-buckle overshoes. It’s too soon
to take the mud and snows off the pickup. The days are getting longer, but nobody knows why. The
horses still have their hairy side out. It’s usually the last month you can stick a tractor up to the axle.
What most people do in March, is look forward to April.” – Baxter Black

If you’re in ranching, it’s the time of year that Baxter Black would call the month of mud. It’s when you
can get the first signs of warmer spring weather that can quickly change to a whiteout snow storm
that’ll take a week to dry out only to do it again. That kind of weather means a lot of mud and usually
doctoring sick calves in the process. One thing I was reminded of tromping through the feedlots the
other day was verses in Hebrews 12.

Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every
weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”

Especially the part about weight and sin clinging closely, it reminded me of the mud. Mud sticks to
everything; it’ll suck your boots right off your feet and makes it impossible for man or beast to move
around. It weighs you down and I don’t know anyone in their right mind that would say this time of year
that what we really need is just a little more mud around this place. We know that’s crazy but if you
think about it, that’s how we treat our sin.

When we give into our temptations, that promise fleeting pleasure. It’s like finding that biggest mud hole on the ranch and diving head first into it and loving it instead of what is actually good or helpful for us.

When we desire sin, we don’t see it for the mud hole it is. We believe the lie and see it as the best thing
since sliced bread.

A deeply personal moment to offer a message of hope

My father passed away just over a week ago and I’m sharing here a couple of the personal moments from what occured in the hopes they offer encouragement to others and in an effort to poin to the good of God’s love and plan even in what feel like our worst moments. The video below especially has a story I hope you will share with others you think might be encouraged.

A photo of a mural painted by artist Alan Hilgendorf and a photo of a Guideposts magazine cover featuring cowboy preacher Scott Hilgendorff

I hate the two photos above

I hate both of these pictures. My cousin painted this mural a long time ago in this hospital in Hanover, Ontario where I am right now. He was an artist, a cowboy and the only other born again Christian I knew in my family before he died of cancer several years ago. It’s where I’ve had to come home to say goodbye to so many of family members the past two years and it’s where I’m sitting now, watching my father die. He had a terminal cancer diagnosis that he was holding his own against. Together, we fought his illness and broken health and palliative care systems to buy him time in his old age to continue to work on what’s called The Trail of Dreams, a short nature trail filled with displays meant to spark the imagination of children in his hometown of Neustadt, Ontario.
This week, we lost the fight after two months of my dad trying to get his cancer doctor to listen and address the increasing swelling in his leg. It was a solvable problem but each call was responded to as of the previous one had not happened and weeks dragged on while nothing was done.
My dad tried to get help from the ER and an overworked family doctor who wouldn’t return calls. Infection set in on Monday and plans for him to be sent home Friday with me there to assist his recovery have ended with me watching, alone, yet in a room with three other sick men, because no one processed him as the palliative patient he is so he and I and other family could have privacy as he dies. The nurses are empathetic and kind, they get it. If my dad survives the night, I am waiting the outcome of one last fight for him– to get him to a hospice facility. His parents died in this hospital. His youngest sister died here in August, his last sibling died here barely a few weeks ago.
His brother and brother in law died here last year. My dad said he doesn’t want to die here too. But it’s the weekend and the decision-makers are off. I’ve been able to speak to a couple people who will try to reach someone who might help. If he survives until 9 am, that person might be able to pull a string and get him out of here.
I hate this other picture, not because I hate how I look, but because of when it was sent to me. It came today but without telling me and giving me a chance to talk to my dad one more time, he was placed on such a high dose of pain medicine, he hasn’t been coherent for three days. It wouldn’t have changed today. He needed the relief, but it’s one of my only regrets– they did a photo spread at a bull riding this summer on the ministry and I decided not to tell my dad but show him the finished copy when it was scheduled to be printed next month. They surprised me by posting the teaser of the cover today on different social media platforms and tagging me in them. I didn’t get to tell my dad that the photos were taken by a National Geographic photographer and that Guideposts Magazine is seen by more than two million people around the world. I wanted my dad, who has never seen me lead cowboy church or fully understand the mission work I do, to see this magazine and the affirmation it would give him in his way of understanding, of how real and credible the work is that I get to do. I hate these two pictures because they are tied to what for now is the most traumatic time in my life. I told a young junior bull rider last weekend who was scared of getting hurt by the rankest bull he had ever been on, to think about Philippians 4:8– Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I told him to think about what was good about being at the bull riding from spending time with friends to the chance to learn something from that bull he got on.
For now, I still hate these two photographs. Later, when I’ve worked through some of this, I will turn what I’ve learned from this into something good, into something that can glorify God by having a better understanding of what others are going through or have been through.
As an only child whose path into ministry took me away from building a family of my own, can’t imagine life without my dad. He may not be able to talk to me anymore but as I finish this, I pray God gives us enough time that even if he never knows it, I fought one last fight to get him out of this hospital and either home with a nurse or to hospice, with a team to see him through his final hours. If those final hours are here, I know my dad knows I did everything I could for him because in our last, brief conversation on Tuesday, while I was still in Tennessee, I told him I would still be fighting for him. Yes, I trust God, even when I don’t like what’s happening, but we have to do our part. I did everything in my earthly power, what happens in these next few hours is up to Him and I trust it works to His glory and good even if, for a time, I’m broken.

Riding for the Brand: What it Means to be a Disciple

Part Four, There is a cost to following Jesus

A special series from the Cowboys of the Cross team

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Phone: 865_293_2668




Mail: Cowboys of the Cross, 3710 Warden Branch Lane, Gatlinburg, TN, 37738

New devotions/teaching right here every other Thursday

Where to find us

Scott and Jesse Horton are found at events sanctioned by the Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association, the Outlaws and Bull Riders Association, the National Cowboys Association and Hangin’ Tree Ranch in NC. A more accurate schedule will appear here later this spring.

They can also sometimes be found at PBR Velocity Tour events, International Professional Rodeo Association events  and others.

In all your ways...

In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths — Proverbs 3:6
A Cowboy of the Cross believes God comes first and strive to follow His leading from a desire that comes from the knowledge of the cost of our salvation, paid for by Jesus Christ through is death on the cross. Through a saving and repentant faith in Jesus and the knowledge of his resurrection, we know God has forgiven our sins and will take us home to Heaven when our time here is done. Through God’s grace, we’ll get through the mistakes we make and grow more like Christ with study of Scripture, time in prayer and learning to hear God and following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

How we treat our animals or handle a loss shows our hearts

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

How we treat a drive thru worker when the wait is long or the order is messed up.

How we handle a person trying to merge in front of us in heavy traffic.

What we do with our shopping cart when we leave the store.

How we treat our animals, the ones that are worth the least, or nothing.

How we spend the drive home after we’ve bucked off or missed our catch at the rodeo.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

Thankfully, through repentance, seeking forgiveness from God and a saving faith in Jesus, God will no longer condemn us for the words, thoughts and actions that come from our hearts.

Once saved, God begins to change us through the Holy Spirit in us and though we’ll never be perfect, we begin to change how we handle ourselves and each other in this life.

How we respond or navigate in each of the described situations can be a good heart check as we try to work out our salvation or want to see just how far we still have to go to be more like Jesus.

TESTIMONY – Jesse McCarthy, Forsyth, MT – A broken relationship led to a real relationship with Jesus

TESTIMONY – Jesse McCarthy, Forsyth, MT – A broken relationship led to a real relationship with Jesus

Hello, I’m Jesse McCarthy. I competed as a bull rider for 10 years, first in a local state circuit then in the PRCA. Currently I work on a ranch in Southeastern Montana, my boss is a former elder of the church I attend and I am blessed to have the opportunity to build a cattle herd of my own. In October 2021 God blessed me with the opportunity to marry an amazing woman who has a heart for God and His Church. I grew up in Wisconsin where I was raised going to church and reading the bible on a regular basis. I was baptized at the age of 13 and though I believed in God and that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, I didn’t develop a true relationship and start to mature in my faith till I was in my late 20s. Even though I believed, called myself a Christian, and went to church, I still liked to drink, pursue women in an ungodly way and do the whole rodeo after party scene. One of the events God used to show me how much I needed to trust and obey him with my life happened in my late 20’s. I was praying about getting engaged to the girl I was dating at the time and God spoke to my heart telling me not to do it. Well, not liking His answer I went ahead and got engaged. Three months later the relationship ended. I was hurt by this but what hurt more was knowing that I purposefully disobeyed God. This was a huge turning point in my life and it pushed me to get me back into reading my bible for wisdom and direction so I would be able to discern His guidance and instruction for my life. By reading the Bible more I realized I needed to be a doer and not just a hearer of the word like it says in James 1:22-25. With the help of my brother Josh McCarthy and some other fellow Christians I have grown more in my faith, and understanding of what it means to be a doer and to live that out each day. God has transformed me from a guy who hoped he didn’t reek to much like alcohol at church to someone who has asked to preach on occasion and who shares a devotion and leads the...

Abortion debate: we can gloat and show judgement or we can show grace and Jesus

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

Last week, a monumental decision was made: The Supreme Court of the United States voted to overturn its 1973 decision in the Roe v. Wade case. The 1973 decision struck down a ban on abortions enacted by the state of Texas, effectively legalizing abortion in every state. In other words, abortion was made a federal issue and taken out of the hands of the states to determine how they would operate with respect to the issue. For nearly five decades since, every state has been forced not only to allow abortive procedures, but even to fund them as part of “women’s health and reproductive services.” That meant that the tax dollars collected from those who take any exception, religious or otherwise, to the procedure of abortion were being used to fund organizations that performed abortions. The federal government took away the voice of the people of each state; last week, they corrected this error.

Pro-lifers across the U.S. are celebrating this victory for the unborn while lamenting the millions of aborted lives that could have been prevented had we held the sanctity of life in higher esteem (even in the exceptional cases for which it was presented like rape, incest, etc.) 50 years ago. At the same time, pro-choice advocates are protesting the decision, concerned about women whose lives and health might be at risk due to pregnancy, wondering how they will find and afford the care they need.

The events and attention to the situation has even had the rodeo cowboy crowd speaking up about it.

Some in the greater Christian community, have asked why they aren’t seeing an outward celebration from all the pastors and church leaders they know; why aren’t they visibly happy about this decision? Some are even condemning faith-leaders who have not openly rejoiced over this monumental victory. Let me explain to you why I rejoice personally but not openly.

In our celebrations, I’ve seen people who claim the name of Christ act childishly toward all who are pro-abortion, like a school-yard bully who was held back a grade beating kids a year younger than they are in a basketball game. I’ve seen those who claim to be recipients of grace judge and condemn supporters of abortion to the fires of hell. I’ve even seen preachers being pitted against “this evil world”; you know…the one God so loved that he gave his only Son.

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

Why doesn’t everyone who calls themselves a Christian, carry out the Great Commission–the command from Jesus to tell others about him and then to go on to teach those who become follower’s of Christ? For a lot of cowboys and bull riders in the rodeo arena, it seems like their faith begins and ends with cowboy church and the prayer at the opening of the show.

So what is it that separates disciple-making Christians (those whose obvious faith in Jesus is taught to and reproduced in others) and all the rest who simply believe in God and assume they get to make heaven their eternal home but never really demonstrate much personal spiritual growth or reproduction? I used to think it was commitment – something each individual is responsible to produce for themselves; if you weren’t growing up into Christian maturity and making disciples of Jesus, it was because you weren’t committed enough. Deep down, though, I knew that even that kind of commitment was a gift from the Holy Spirit. But if that’s the case, why don’t all professing believers – those who are filled by the Holy Spirit – eventually demonstrate that life-changing commitment?

The answer to that question, I believe, is two-fold. First and most obviously, some professing believers are not really believers.

Even the demons believe in God (James 2:19), but that kind of belief – the type that denies and covets God’s sovereign kingship – won’t get a single human soul into heaven. In John 3 Nicodemus believed Jesus to be “a teacher come from God” based on the signs Jesus did, but Jesus condemned him for failing to understand that being born of the Spirit was of necessity for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven. Pilate believed Jesus to be the king of a kingdom, yet denied that there is any type of objective truth (John 18:37-38) – you know, the type of truth Jesus acknowledged when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). None of these examples believed and were saved as a result. The point is there are categories of belief that do not result in salvation. You can believe in God and never make it to Heaven.

If someone asks at the rodeo why you’re a Christian, do you have an answer?

If someone at a rodeo sees your cross necklass or the Bible verse written on your vest or someone asks you at the ranch while you’re reading a Bible as you eat your lunch, “Why are you a Christian?” are you ready to give an answer?
Is that answer going to come from thoughts and ideas you have about God or is it going to come from truths you know right from Scripture? Your answer will do one of three things: point someone to a real truth about salvation through Jesus Christ, point them completely away from Christianity altogether that leads them to eternal suffering or provide an answer about having ‘faith’ and being ‘good’ that gives them false hope that still leads to eternal suffering.
What kind of hope do you have for yourself? Is it one grounded in the truth of what Jesus did for us on the cross with a repentant heart and a secure understanding of a saving faith in Jesus? What kind if hope do you want to offer others?
1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
Telling others about Jesus so they can know him should motivate you.

Meet our Teachers / Preachers and Site Contributors

Keith Miller

Keith Miller

Keith Miller grew up in a strict Amish home in Indiana until discovering the freedom of an independent relationship with Jesus Christ. As a bull rider, he met his wife Natalie and together, they have a daughter Gracelyn and have settled in Westport, Indiana. Keith...

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Scott Hilgendorff

Scott Hilgendorff

Scott heads up Cowboys of the Cross, a ministry dedicated to bringing cowboy church to rodeos and bull ridings across North America but with a focus on discipleship. The ministry evolved out of Riding for Christ Ministries, the name which Scott operated under for more...

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Josh McCarthy

Josh McCarthy

Howdy! My name’s Josh McCarthy and I compete in saddle bronc riding in the PRCA and I’m the youngest of five from northeastern Wisconsin.  I grew up in a Christian home and went to church every Sunday. I accepted Christ into my life when I was little but I didn’t...

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Jim Bull

Jim Bull

I grew up always praying before meals and hearing that our friends that passed were in heaven. However, I never felt I knew who God was and definitely didn't have a relationship with Him. I lived my life thinking if I seemed like a good person, then I must be a good...

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Jesse Horton

Jesse Horton

I was 'raised Christian.' I can't remember a time before I was 10 years old that I wasn't a church-goer, though I remember several years of my teens where my family didn't attend church. I confessed my sin and my need for Christ when I was eight years old, but I do...

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