We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

Cowboy Church Pioneer Russ Weaver Honored with Award

In recognition for his lifetime of ministry to cowboys and others, Russ Weaver was recently presented the Ricky Davis Lifetime Achievement Award for Specialized Chaplaincy.
Russ W. Weaver became a cowboy church pioneer naturally. His father, Jasper, had grown First Assembly of God in Layton, Utah, by simultaneously pastoring and operating a quarter-horse business. An expert roper, Jasper became something of a local celebrity. Many of the adherents at the church first had purchased horses from him.

Russ, mounted on the best horses around, beat the high school state calf-roping champion half a dozen times while in 9th grade. Although he sensed the Lord calling him into ministry at the age of 16, a career of preaching initially didn’t appeal to him. He wanted to be a full-time professional rodeo roper. Yet Weaver struck a bargain with God after hearing that a cowboy acquaintance had been shot in the head. He agreed to enter ministry if the cowboy — who doctors said would live in a vegetative state, if he survived — recovered. By the end of the week, the cowboy miraculously left the hospital.

“I thought, There goes the roping, so I quit,” recalls Weaver, now 70. “I didn’t want to place rodeo and horses higher than God.” Weaver enrolled in Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas. He later joined the staff of Greeley First Assembly in Colorado, but he didn’t enjoy the conventional pastoring role. He yearned to be involved in rodeo as a profession.

A visit to the church by then-Eurasia regional director Charles Greenaway transformed his life.

“During the sermon, he pointed at me on the stage and said, ‘Your mission field in life is the people you can reach with the gospel,’” recalls Weaver, who attended Weber State in Ogden, Utah, on a rodeo roping scholarship. Weaver then realized God wanted him to concentrate on the cowboys he knew so well. Along with his brother Randy, Russ had ministered to cowboys at the college national rodeo team finals for three years, a span in which 43 committed their lives to Christ.

After the revelation from Greenaway, Weaver began preaching church services at rodeos — while competing as a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association calf roper and team roper. In 1980, Weaver received appointment as the second AG U.S. missionary to rodeos and horse racetracks. For the next 13 years, he roped calves in rodeos, qualifying to conduct services because of his contestant status. In 1978, Paul Scholtz, a Professional Cowboys Association rider, became the first AG chaplain appointed to rodeos. As many as 500 cowboys annually accepted Jesus as Savior at rodeo services where Weaver preached.

Once he aged out of the rodeo circuit, Weaver in 1997 decided to put down roots just south of Fort Worth, in Egan, Texas. He founded the first AG cowboy church, Shepherd’s Valley Cowboy Church, where the ambiance included wagon-wheel chandeliers and a dirt floor sanctuary. Since 2015, Shepherd’s Valley, now located in Alvarado, has included 5 acres under roof, including 32 stalls, in the former Diamond W Arena that hosted rodeos and livestock shows. The church averages 400 attendees.

“Cowboy church is a rural mindset, a cultural approach,” Weaver says. “Not all who come are cowboys. There are ranchers, farmers, wranglers, horse owners, agribusiness operators, and just rural residents with a cowboy hat.” Weaver’s mom, Velma, liked to say cowboy church is for cowboys and for anybody who can tolerate them. Today there are hundreds of cowboy churches in the nation across a variety of denominations.

Weaver retired as lead pastor in January, and he now is pastor emeritus. “I’m like the Walmart greeter at Shepherd’s Valley, staying in the background,” he says.

However, the energetic Weaver remains active on the weekly half-hour program Cowboy Church on RFD-TV. Since 2006, Weaver and Susie McEntire have co-hosted the show, viewed by an average of 250,000 people. Weaver, wearing blues jeans, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat, often preaches the sermon.

Johnny Wohlgemuth succeeded Weaver as Shepherd’s Valley lead pastor in January after serving as youth pastor at the church for 11 years. Long a lover of the outdoors, hunting, fishing, and cowboy life, Wohlgemuth says Weaver’s extensive experience leading horses and congregants has benefited him.

“Pastor Russ has shown me how to learn a lot about people and about life just by being around horses,” says Wohlgemuth. “Both people and horses bicker and fuss, but they can work together as a team. Much patience is needed when training horses and discipling people.” Wohlgemuth says Weaver in his role as pastor emeritus will continue to mentor him and others with authentic wisdom.

Weaver was presented with the Ricky Davis Lifetime Achievement Award for Specialized Chaplaincy on Dec. 3. Davis, who served as AG representative for Institutional and Occupational Chaplaincies for 15 years, died in 2001 of complications from heart surgery at the age of 46. Weaver says he is honored by the award.

“Ricky Davis helped us out a lot in chaplaincy,” Weaver recalls. “He was so down-to-earth, yet brilliant in everything he did.”

Manuel A. Cordero, senior director of AG Chaplaincy Ministries, commends Weaver and his brother Randy, who is pastor of Lone Star Cowboy Church in Montgomery, Texas.

“Although there were others before them, Russ and Randy really pioneered this concept of an organized cowboy church,” says Cordero. “The Lord gave them a great vision to reach many places and people who wouldn’t go to traditional churches.”

Cordero says Davis opened new horizons for chaplaincy in venues such as trucking, racetracks, and motorcycles by thinking outside the box. Russ Weaver stepped comfortably into the new paradigm, according to Cordero.

“Russ had the mindset of reaching a whole group of people at rodeos who could not go to a regular church because of their job on Sundays,” Cordero says. “Ministering to people prior to events opened up ministry to other subcultures, especially in the sports arena, in the Assemblies of God.”

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.