More than 1,200 people filled the seats, aisles and lobby of the Blue Springs High School Performing Arts Center Tuesday night to say goodbye to pastor Joey Butler, who passed away at 9:33 a.m. Sunday after a two-year bout with renal cancer.
There was laughter, tears, laughter and more laughter as Butler's friends, family members and his former college roommate-turned-pastor Neil McClendon celebrated the life of a man who impacted the lives of far too many to imagine.
“Joey wasn't a thoroughbred, he was a plow horse,” said the fiery McClendon, who regaled the audience with tales of young Joey Butler and the way he developed his love of Christ and helping those in need.
McClendon talked about how Butler would keep plowing, so he could meet and help as many people as possible.
The standing-room-only crowd, which included the Blue Springs High School football team and coaching staff, was a living, breathing testimony to Butler's devotion.
Butler, who was the co-founder of Gatehouse Church in Blue Springs along with Scott Sterling, was the inspirational leader of the Wildcats, who are two possible wins away from a second-consecutive Class 6 state championship.
Butler would mentor the team on Thursday nights and was always a presence on the Blue Springs sidelines.
“The last time we met with Joey on his Message Thursday was this past Thursday,” said Matt Marble, a Wildcat assistant coach who is a member of Gateway. “We went to his Hospice House, and he was kind of asleep when we got there and he woke up and said, 'It's like POOF! and you guys are here,” Marble said, as the audience chuckled.
“One of the last things he said to the team was, ‘Guys, never forget that God loves you.'”
Marble paused for a moment and added, “Then he said, 'Go spread 'em.' He was talking about our Lee's Summit opponent last Friday (a Tiger team the Wildcats did indeed spread, 63-21). I know we have some folks here from the Lee's Summit School District, and my apologies, but there was no way we were going to lose that game.”
That was the type of impact Butler had on athletes – and those who were hanging on by a thread.
The featured speaker was a Gatehouse member named Doug, who said, “I was a dope fiend.”
He talked about the important role Butler and his family played in his life, and how he is now a responsible member of the community thanks to the giving hand of the popular pastor.
Butler's sons and daughter each spoke in one of the most emotion-packed moments of the night, and the service ended with the honorary pallbearers leading the crowd out of the auditorium to the wild ringing of cowbells – a favorite of Butler's, who would often punctuate his sermons with the ringing of the bells.
“Cancer did not take Joey,” said his longtime friend and co-pastor Sterling. “God did.”