By Anne Granado
Matthew Butler, pastor of First Bikers Church of Texarkana, knows what people probably think when they hear the name of the church, but he knows they would be surprised at what they find within the church walls. “A visitor can expect a warm welcome, a loving environment, and a place to call home. We have a wonderful worship band that does a variety of songs from contemporary to southern gospel,” Matthew says. “We are full of great people who love to meet and get to know new folks.”
The church was built upon the idea that any person would be welcome. Matthew calls both the members and the visitors at First Bikers Church of Texarkana as “whosoevers.” This reference comes from one of his favorite verses in Revelation 22:17, “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” For Matthew, this explains God’s idea for the mission of the church. “He says that we would be His hands and feet to ‘whosoever’ needed Him,” Matthew says.
The church was started in February 2001 by a group of bikers who wanted to find a place to worship but “didn’t really fit the church mold.” The original group of seven people first met in a living room and eventually used Richmond Road Baptist Church on Tuesday nights as a place to meet. In late 2008, the church purchased the 1116 Walnut location and has been there ever since. The founders of this church came from biker backgrounds and wanted a place where the “unwanted,” not just bikers, could worship. The name First Bikers Church was suggested in jest, but now has stuck. “We are commonly called ‘Bikers Church’ by most who know us,” Matthew says. “Those first members saw a ton of biker-type folks and unchurched folks who needed a place to belong and to worship. The church was and is simply a place for ‘whosoever’ to come to. We want Texarkana and the surrounding area to know that we are not trying to be something that other churches aren’t; we are trying to be who we are for Him. I hope that makes sense. We love the fact that there are a variety of churches for a variety of people.”
As far as labels go, the church is non-denominational, but they prefer to just be called a Christian church. “The definition of the word ‘denomination’ implies a divide, which is ironically what we want to avoid. We want a place where Jesus is the focus instead of the division/branch that we think is the best,” Matthew says. “We want to be a place anyone, from any race, color, creed, or denomination, can come experience Jesus. Whatever ‘denomination’ is welcome.”
Matthew grew up in church, but he says that he was truly saved at age 23 in an all African-American church, The Gospel Christian Center, while stationed in Beale Air Force Base in California. He says it is a “long story, but a God thing.” He knew all of the Christian etiquette, but when he truly gave his life to the Lord and learned His Word at 23, everything he sat through as a child came to life. “God knew I would need the knowledge I didn’t know I was getting. Crazy, huh?” Matthew says. “God called me to this church years ago, back in 2005 when I got out of the Air Force as a worship team member. The whole pastoring thing was all God’s doing and was not in my plan. He is good at mixing things up, and He obviously has a sense of humor! I honestly had no intention of preaching or pastoring, and when He called me to pastor this church, I tried to run and hide, but He found me. I just wanted to play my little guitar and sing my little songs. Here I am and here we are!”
Though the structure of the church is fairly typical, once a visitor scans the staff list, they will see that the church is truly a family affair. The staff has their hands in multiple services and programs at the church, and their family members are serving right alongside them. Matthew serves as the senior pastor, and he teaches the adult Sunday school class. He and his mother, wife, daughter, and brother lead the music. His entire family has been an important part of Matthew’s journey in the church. Matthew met his wife, Jacque, during their junior year at Bloomburg High School in Bloomburg, Texas. They graduated in 1999, and just recently celebrated 20 years of marriage last Sunday. The couple has three kids: their eldest daughter, Ashlynn, is 18 years old, their only son Aubrey is 15 years old, and their youngest daughter Avery will be two in May. “My wife and kiddos are my sounding board, support system and cheerleaders,” Matthew says. “I couldn’t do half of what I do without them and their support. They are God sent for sure!”
The church also has an associate pastor, Johnny Rounsavall, who plays drums in the church service. In addition, Johnny oversees the youth department called Loud P.Y.P.E.S (Praying Youth Preaching Eternal Salvation). According to Matthew, Johnny and his wife, Shurl, also known as Flo, do a lot of work behind the scenes in the church. Johnny is also one of the three main elders in the church. The other two are Herb Davison and Darren Walker.
No matter what the age group, Matthew, Johnny, and the elders have made sure that there are activities for everyone. They have ministries for children from nursery-age all the way up to the children’s ministries: Little Trikes (3-5 years old) and Spokes Ministries (6-12 years old). There is also a Parking Lot Ministry headed up by Darren Walker and Jim Weehunt and their wives. “They have a service for the homeless on Saturdays and even feed them a meal,” Matthew says. “They are not too hip on being publicized because they don’t like tooting their own horn, but they are amazing!”
The Loud P.Y.P.E.S. attend an annual Mission Trip to South Texas around Lyford and work a Vacation Bible School for the underprivileged kids, among other things. “It takes thousands of dollars to pull this off, and we are just a part of it. Our church folks all pitch in through various fundraisers to make it happen every year,” Matthew says. “Our youth meet for Sunday school and on Wednesday night. We also have several folks that go into prisons. I go to the Arkansas Department of Corrections facilities along with Truth Infusion ministries, and Darren Walker goes to Southwest Arkansas Community Correction Center to do prison ministry there.”
Matthew says that he could keep going on and on about all the amazing ways that their church family serves the community and our members. “My favorite part of being the pastor of this church sounds cliché, but I mean it; it is the people. If other pastors knew how blessed I am with the congregation God has given me, I would be fighting for my job,” Matthew says. “These people, who don’t mind the truth being preached, the presence of God moving, new people showing up, or getting through tough times make my life full and complete.”
Right now, the church meets at 1116 Walnut Street in Texarkana, Texas, on the corner of 12th and Walnut. Their Sundays are full of available activities. They have Sunday school at 9:45 a.m., Sunday worship at 11:00 a.m., a Sunday prayer service at 5:30 p.m., and a Sunday night worship service at 6:00 p.m. Then, on Wednesdays they have a regular service and a youth service at 6:30 p.m. People are welcome to ride their bikes, drive their car, or walk to service. They do not care how you get there, what you wear, or where you come from as long as you want to find a place to worship Jesus. “What makes the church special is the unconventional way God uses regular people to reach His healing hands of mercy to the highways and the hedges,” Matthew says. “You will never meet a more awesome group of people from so many different backgrounds and walks of life who can somehow be a strong family of believers. It is truly amazing!”
To see the church grow from seven members in a living room to a church with multiple ministries and future plans on the horizon just strengthens the staff, ministry leaders, and elders’ belief in God’s calling to this mission. It shows them how many people in the Texarkana community needed a safe place to worship and be accepted by other believers. It brings them back to their church motto which comes from 1 Corinthians 9:22. “The verse says, ‘To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some,’” Matthew says. “Our redneck translation of that verse is that we want to be whatever Jesus needs us to be to reach whoever Jesus needs us to reach; whatever that is for whoever that is. Our mission and vision, if you will, is not to be what other churches aren’t, it is simply to be who we are: Jesus-loving, God-fearing whosoevers.”