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Cody Cochran grew up a cowboy, spending most of his young life on the back of a horse, enjoying the cowboy life, from roping to rodeo. He grew up with "good morals" and in church, but there wasn't a deep commitment to relationship with Christ.
So how did this cowboy end up pastoring a church of 500 in a town of 2,200 people?
It began with a girl. There was something special about this one. When Jennifer invited Cochran to attend her Assembly of God church in Abilene, Texas, he agreed. Not long after, they decided to get married and ended up moving about 90 miles from Abilene, but would drive 55 miles one way to continue attending an AG church.
Then one day, God changed Cochran's cowboy world. While attending a service something unexpected happened: He found himself overflowing with a passion and zeal for God that he never had before when he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Cochran recalls coming home from that service and telling Jennifer all about it. He was excited, not knowing what God had in store, but knowing it was something different. "All I know is," he told Jennifer, "I'm not going to be an Assemblies of God pastor—especially not in Abilene."
Six months later, as improbable as it was, Cochran was pastoring an Assemblies of God church just 30 miles north of Abilene.
Cochran was for all practical purposes, a professional cowboy—he had no formal Bible training, he had not attended college, he was not a trained public speaker, he had no experiences or training that pastors "need" to have—but there he was in Anson, Texas, pastoring a small AG church with a provisional license issued by the North Texas District Council.
Bethel Assembly was not most pastor's—provisional or otherwise—dream job. In addition to a salary of just $50 a week, the 28-year-old Cochran now had a church of 13 members whose average age was nearing (if not surpassing) 70, located in a community of 2,200 and whose former pastor had served for 46 years at the church. For those familiar with that kind of an environment, saying the congregation was "set in their ways" would be courteous.
Being more comfortable on a horse than behind the pulpit, Cochran admits that he and his small congregation frequently "bumped heads" as he attempted to initiate changes. During this time, he also began taking Berean Courses to become a minister and wasn't just a bi-vocational pastor (holding down another job in addition to pastor), but more like a quad-vocational pastor—having four other jobs in order to keep bills paid and food on the table.
"It was difficult," Cochran says matter-of-factly. "I packed UPS trucks at 4:15 in the mornings, I was breaking 2-year-old broncs, I was watching over 2,200 head of cattle and I sold insurance for Farm Bureau. It was hard on Jennifer too, because as a pastor's wife of a small church, she got to do all the things nobody else wanted to do."
As Cochran and his congregation worked on their differences, he approached his new ministry in the only way he knew how: as himself—straightforward, honest, friendly. He also decided that he shouldn't just be concerned about pastoring his church, but also be a pastor of the community.
"I'm a common guy. I worked on a ranch all my life and spent 90 percent of my time on a horse," Cochran says. "Most people in our town drive flatbed pickups. They're absolutely sincere, raw and real. I am a friend to all of them, the saint and the sinner."
Cochran says that the years he spent in the saddle and making connections in the ranching and cowboy community has resulted in people checking out and then choosing to make Bethel Assembly their home church.
"A lot of our church wouldn't feel comfortable with a suit-and-tie preacher," Cochran says. "Our church was a cowboy church before it became popular to be one—we have real cowboys attending, where they take their hats off and put their spurs up before coming in."
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