LISTEN TO EP.71
Make Your Business a Kingdom-Minded Company
What does a Kingdom-minded business look like? John Houston, serial entrepreneur, founder, and CEO of John Houston Custom Homes shares his story to reveal how all the hardships and successes of his life led him to the realization that God had given him a gift in business. A gift that was not meant for John’s benefit but to further God’s kingdom. He addresses the importance of relationships and mutual respect between business and church leaders, he reminds us that we are on the same team, encourages us to reach out and serve each other, and work together for the benefit of all. Are you ready to become a marketplace minister?
Welcome to the Influencers Podcast. I’m Dave Donaldson, my co-host Scott Young, and there’s only one letter difference between hope and home, but for our guest, John Houston, they’re one and the same. John’s memoir is a must read book. It’s unbelievable. Every book case, every nightstand needs to have this book, Finding My Way Home, is a journey to discover hope and a life of purpose. He shares his journey from broken beginnings and going through the motions of faith, to discovering and allowing God’s altering love to train and transform every area of his life and…your life. And we’re gonna hear John’s story in a moment, but we’re longtime friends with John and Tracy, and I love this couple – they are committed to the local church as successful business leaders. I have personally seen them encouraging pastors like my good friends, Scott Wilson. They have a marketplace ministry where they’re not just building several hundred homes a year but they sow into their staff and minister to them and then they support missions around the globe. John what a joy is to have you with us today.
Man, I’m so blessed and honored to be here, man, Dave, I love you guys. And you’re right, we’ve got a long term relationship. In fact it was our local pastor, Scott, that actually connected us. Now we’re getting to do other ministry together. How awesome is that?
So good. And we’re so glad you’re with us, John, your life is a fascinating story. It, it began in hardship that could have derailed many people, but you’ve transcended that and you’ve become a successful business owner. And you not only founded John Houston Custom Homes, but you have branched out into five other companies. You’re really have a family of companies, the JH family of companies, which has mortgage land development, title company, insurance company, and environmental erosion company. But you’ve done something that’s is fascinating. And we love it on the Influencers Podcast, where we talk about using your life as an influence. You did your degree work in business administration, but with an associate in Bible, and what you’ve done is secular, or I shouldn’t even use that term. Your business is actually spiritual. The marketplace you’re in is actually a ministry. And that’s what we want to talk about today. How you’ve been able to do that and how you’ve maximized your influence right from the very center of our country in Dallas with your wife, Tracy and your young adult kids. Thank you for joining us and tell us a little bit of the journey you’ve had. Currently you’re a successful businessman. Currently you have a strong faith, but that always wasn’t the story. Can you just bring people from where you used to be to where you are today?
When Our Normal isn’t Normal
Yeah, man. Thank you, Scott, for having me. Thank you for that introduction. I grew up in Waco, Texas. My wife grew up right down the street as well. And when I was 11 and my brother was 15, literally we had never seen our parents fight, but they sat us down one day and they said, “Hey, we’re gonna get a divorce and you need to decide who you’re gonna live with.” That literally was a huge turning point in our life. And long story short, my dad had had an affair. We had chosen to live with my dad, because we didn’t know all that at the time. Shortly thereafter though, my mom moved to Nashville, Tennessee and my dad moved to Houston.
So that left my brother and I there to figure out how to take care of ourselves and raise ourselves. And that’s actually when we got into business. We started a landscaping company to provide for ourselves. Our typical day literally looked like, loading the trucks up early in the morning, we’d mow till school started. He would drop me off at school go to school all day. He’d pick me up when school was over, we’d mow till dark. A few years later, we really knew we needed to make a little bit more income. So we started a janitorial company and we started cleaning commercial office buildings at night. What’s crazy is that chaotic life that we were living by ourselves – we didn’t actually realize that wasn’t normal.
That’s actually one of the craziest things of our story is that, sometimes we can be living in something that we think is normal, that is not actually normal, but it becomes our norm. As I got older though, I got married, and ended up going to Bible college. When I was in Bible college, that really where the rubber kind of met the road for me as a Christ follower. I was in Bible college, and like you said, I was going for my business degree as well as my Bible degree. It was at that point that my mom ended up committing suicide and I was the last one that she talked to. And we had moved her back to Texas to try to help her because she was an alcoholic and she ended up overdosing.
A Painful Encounter Redeemed
And I remember what happened at that point in my life. It was like all the challenges, all the trials, all the troubles that I had, and all the negative impacts that I’d had with other believers, kind of all hit the fan at one time. And I went to my business teachers and I said, “Hey guys, my mom took her own life. I don’t even know what that means. Like how do I even… I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do, but I know I’ve got to clean it all up and I have to figure out what to do with it. And I don’t have any money and I don’t have anything to pay for it,” and all this stuff. And my business teachers were like, “Hey man, you go do whatever you need to do. Take care of business and just come talk to us when you get back and we’ll figure school out.”
I went to my Bible teachers and I told my Bible teachers the same thing and all of my Bible teachers said,
“Hey, we’ll just don’t forget. You can’t miss more than two of my classes or you need to drop it.” And that was a defining moment for me because I don’t know if I can actually say this on here, but, I literally was like, “You know what God. Screw you. Screw your people because if this is how you love people and this is how your people love people, I don’t want to be part of it. And I don’t need you and I’ll figure out how to do it on my own.” It was only through the grace of God that God allowed me to walk through that next year of walking away from him.
But He started through that year, started reminding me of these other Christian people that He had put in my life, a plumber, for example, that went to our church, that as a kid, when I was 11, 12, 13 years old. Then my brother and I kept going to church even after our parents had left us. He was the guy that was always standing at the back door. Because I always went in the back door because I was ashamed to go in the front door, I just tried to sneak in the back; go to church and then sneak back out. And I literally remember always looking back on that. And he was the guy standing there with a smile on his face, big guy with a big bur. And he would always say, “Hey John, man, it’s so good to see you. You want to come sit with me?”
And he’s actually the one who inspired me. I saw him growing up, impacting people in the church, but also through his plumbing company that he owned. And he’s actually the one I think God used to birth in me, what God was calling us to do. If you want to read more of our story, you can. It’s out there at meetjohnhouston.com. You can also find it at any bookstore or on Amazon. I encourage you to do that. But with my story, one of the things that I just want to encourage people on in that is really, that my story is a story of God redeeming me. In other words, He saved me. Then God began to restore certain areas of my life. But even before He could restore, He had to begin to reconcile me with Him.
Redemption Births Reconciliation
What I love about that is that I just turned 50 this last year. There’s still areas in my life that I’m going through a reconciliation process with God. So sometimes as a believer, I just want to be done with it all, but that’s not how that works. You know? It’s a redemption story. God’s saved me. Then I go through this reconciliation process of Him helping me become more aware of who He is and His love. And then He can actually begin to restore those different areas in our life. And man, if that’s any of your viewers, I just want to really encourage you. You’re not too lost. You’re not too far from God that He can’t bring redemption and reconciliation and restoration. And here’s one of my favorite parts of this story. One of my favorite parts is do you know who lives across the street from me today? My dad.
God actually restored that relationship to a place in which today he actually lives across the street from me. We got to pray together today. We get to talk about the things of God, but my dad didn’t get saved for over 20 years later, he was 46 years old before he got saved. And man, I just look at that and I’m like, “God never stopped pursuing any of this.” So no matter how old you are, how young you are, God’s gotta plan for your life. And I think that’s what really motivates me and excites me about what God is doing in the Kingdom right now. We’re all called. We’re all chosen. It’s just…are we gonna receive it? You know? Many times that’s all we have to do is take that first step. So hopefully that answers your question. I tried to not go too long with
How Church and Business Can Connect
That’s powerful. John, as I mentioned earlier, one of the things I admire about you and Tracy is your commitment to the local church and to really encouraging the pastoral staff, supporting the missions of the church, both US and abroad. You’ve been active in supporting ORU. And let’s talk though about your support and really your appreciation and love for the local church. Because unfortunately, increasingly, that’s becoming an anomaly where many people business people in particular, don’t have a relationship with their pastor or not involved in their church. And first of all, share with us and, Scott, you can chime in here too. You’re a pastor of a great church and you’re a pastor of pastors as a leader. But let’s have a conversation about that. What are some of the reasons why business people are not more engaged with a local church?
Well, Scott, you want to go first? You don’t need to.
So I would love, I’d love to throw the ball too, Dave. I feel like I have two giants here. You’re a business. You come from a business frame. We have Mr. Compassion, Dave Donaldson, who is gifted at building relationships with business people. So I’d like to punt back if I could, but John, why don’t you just tell your business from a business perspective, what can pastors, spiritual leaders do to help connect with you and your friends in the business marketplace world?
Well, if I can let me step back in my story just for a second, because I think this is really important for your viewers to catch onto because it’s a good thing for me to remind myself. The reality is that I honestly don’t believe Tracy and I would be where we are today without our local pastor, who has become one of my best friends in life. Who’s become one of my mentors – somebody that I live life with. We live next door to each other, and I know everybody doesn’t have that with their pastor, but that’s also 30 years of us living life together. When I say we wouldn’t be where we are, what by that is years later, after I had walked away from the Lord, a year later, I came back to the Lord and then that’s when all the, the junk really started hitting the fan for Tracy and I, to the point where, I had been very successful young.
Gifts Were Made to Give Away
I think when I graduated from high school, I was making roughly $90,000 a year in 1990. That was a lot of money back then. I knew how to make money. The issue was, I thought that it was all for me and I thought it was about building my kingdom and I didn’t really need people. God took us through this process. After my mom had committed suicide of really losing everything we had and literally had to file bankruptcy, but He also brought us to this place through the story of King Nebuchadnezzar. He actually showed me through my three year old son, if that tells you anything. My three year old son literally was looking at the table one day and I’m like, “Son, what are you staring at?” , “What are you thinking about?” And he said, “Well, I’m thinking about king Nebuchadnezzar and how God made him eat grass.” I opened up the Bible because I wasn’t even way back then. I wasn’t even familiar with that story. The very first thing that I read said, “King Nebuchadnezzar looked at his kingdom and thought, look what I’ve done”, and God took it away. And that’s when the Lord was showing me that God had given me a gift in business, but it wasn’t for me, the gift was for him to further His Kingdom. When God told us to start our first business, I went to my wife first and said, “Baby, we need to pray about this. If is this God”, and both of us felt like it was and my very next call was to my, my pastor.
And I said, “Will you pray with me on this?” He’d been on that journey with us, the whole ride. There’s been many times where I was calling him going, “Dude, I need your help. Like you, God; we need a miracle.” There’s other times where he’s called me and asked me the same thing, because I’ve been on the church board for years. So let me answer your question though now. I’m just reminding people basically it’s how do pastors connect with people, but also to their lay people. But I also think it’s really important before, as I’m answering that question, that as pastors, you do need to understand that. But we also, as business people, we to take responsibility for that too, if we’re both leaders, then not only should our pastor reach out to us, but we might have to be the ones to take the first step to reach out to our pastor.
That’s what I tell all my friends. I’m like, “Y’all quit griping about the pastor. How many times have you reached out to him? How many times have you asked him to go to lunch?” Right? That’s just my heart. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. I’m just saying, that’s what God has shown me. So for me, I think the real problem here is the enemy wants us to feel disconnected. He wants us to feel like we’re playing in two different fields. When in reality we’re on the same team, right? We’re one in this. It’s John chapter 17 that says we should be so one with each other that people see Jesus in us. Well, if I’m going around talking bad about my pastor or the local church, am I really United with Christ?
Am I really united with what God is doing in His Kingdom as a whole? Really what I would say to pastors, I would also say the same thing to businesses: there is a disconnect. As spiritual leaders in the Kingdom of God, whether your role is as a business person or a pastor, we need to take responsibility of that and actually ask God, “What is our responsibility?”. We need to reach out to each other and value each other for the gift that we have. Because one of the things that I think is really important for pastors to do is of my favorite verses in the Bible: Proverbs 29:18. This says “Without prophetic vision, the people will cast off restraint.” If I’m encouraging a pastor to do one thing, it’s pray for those top level business leaders that are in your church, and ask God to give you prophetic vision for them. Begin to speak that over their life because their identity is not in how much they can give; their identity is in Christ. Their identity is in what God is calling them to do. Here’s what I can tell you even with my own pastor: the greatest thing that Pastor Scott Wilson and Pastor Chris really do for me on a regular basis; they come alongside me and say, “What can I do for you? How can I pray for you in the vision God has given you? And how can we help you accomplish it?” To me, that’s the game changer. It’s when we remembered Christ said, “I came to serve, not be served.” As a business person or as a pastor, if we realize that, and we remember that I’m here to serve my pastor, and my pastor remembers, “Hey, I’m here to serve you”, I believe we can accomplish things far greater than what we can think or imagine. So I don’t know if that answers your question.
When you said these words, they hit me right here. We are on the same team. And I think it’s as important for a pastor. I work with a family of pastors and just because I stand on a platform and someone else sits in the seat, the calling that is on John Houston is every bit is important in the Kingdom of God as is the calling that’s on my life or on Dave Donaldson’s life; the calling has to be respected. And when you said, “How can I help you with your vision? How can help you with your life?” That is such a powerful key to influencing others.
A New Kind of Partnership: Church and Business
So, Dave, from your side you have talked to a lot of influential people across America. Your contact list is immense. From the compassion side, the need in the nation is huge. How can we build that bridge back to business leaders and people that really want to support the Kingdom of God?
And John, I love what you said because so many nonprofit leaders and even pastors, they have this kind of approach “Come help me” instead of a handshake, because the reality is business leaders like you have great vision for this world. You’re successful. You have best practices that churches, nonprofits could greatly benefit from. We can truly create, not a 50% partnership, but a 100% partnership, committed to each other, each and every day. And as I mentioned, that’s one of the reasons why you and Scott Wilson have been so successful. And one of the reasons why I’m so excited about us working together, as City Serve. Scott putting back to you, as a pastor, why is it that are our pastors are intimidated by business people? Influencers?
Work Hard, Create, Give
I think there has to be a paradigm shift in the way we see ministry. That marketplace is ministry – John and his five companies, they’re all kingdom companies, they’re all to glorify God. The chief end of humanity is to bring glory to God. So I don’t know how you have navigated that as you’ve got into these many ventures, John, you got these multiple companies. How do you, how do you keep the kingdom at the center of everything? Because I think that at the end of the day you see yourself as a minister, is that right?
I see myself as a disciple and a disciple maker in all honesty. And I do that because I’ve always gotta be reminded to stay humble before God and humble before man. Because what I know is that apart from God, I can’t do anything. I tell my staff, “I love you guys, but I ain’t the sharpest pencil in the box, you know?” And this is what I tell ’em. I say, “All I can teach you is what somebody taught me.” That’s how to study the Bible. How to pray and listen and hear the voice of God, write it down. Does what I wrote down line up with the word of God? And if it does, that’s what I’m going to do. For me, that’s how I know how to do it. I’ve got a great team and God has incredibly blessed us with so many different opportunities.
I always go back to the reason why God told us to start the very first company and every company He’s told us to start. And He said, “Son, I simply want you to start a home billing business, to reach people for Christ and to give to the Kingdom.” That’s it. So He said, “I’m not telling you to sell houses. I’m not telling you to sell mortgages. I’m not telling you to do that. What I’m telling you to do is be the best in class that you can be so that you can sell the house. You can sell the mortgage, but don’t ever forget the whole reason why you’re here is to reach people Christ and give to the Kingdom.”
So if I ever forget that, I believe the wheels start coming off the bus in all honesty. I don’t believe we have the companies that we have anymore for me. I constantly share that. My staff probably hears that a hundred times in a month. And they think it’s because I’m trying to remind them, but really, I’m trying to remind me too. That’s the only way I’ve been able to do it over the years. Even one of our leaders says, “Hey, I’ve got this idea and I want to do this.” My first question is, “How does it help us accomplish those two things?” If it doesn’t help us accomplish those two things, I don’t want to do it. I think it’s important though, too, for your viewers and your pastors to understand, I don’t always get it right.
Keeping the Balance
I started another homebuilding company one time to try to hit a much lower price point. And it failed. And I believe the reason why it failed is because God didn’t tell me to do it. The vision was there, but God didn’t tell me to step out and do it. So I think that’s other thing. We have to be surrounded by people that are reminding us. First of all, God. We have to be connected to God and make sure we stay focused on what he’s telling us to do. But then we also, like for me, I need my wife to help remind me of that. I need to support her in what God’s calling her to do, but I also need my pastor. A lot of times I call him out and I go, dude, “I’m just telling you right now, man, I’m getting off track.” I don’t know where I’m going, but I can tell you, it just doesn’t feel right.
I’m just real and vulnerable with him and I’m like, “I need you to pray with me.” We may have to do this every week for the next two months. I don’t know. And I know every pastor can’t do that with every person, but what I know is you need that spiritual accountability in your life at every level. That’s just how I do it.
Have you ever seen those old weighted scales? That’s actually what I use in my mind all the time because if I’m in business to reach people for Christ and give to the Kingdom, even those two weights can’t get out of balance. If I just start focusing on reaching people, it gets out of balance and then guess what?We’re not profitable anymore. We go out of business and the whole thing falls apart. But if I get so focused on just making money and I forget about reaching people… It’s a constant thing that I have to go, “Are these back in balance?” I’ve gotta have those people around me to help me make sure they, they stay in balance.
So much wisdom that. There’s another chapter in your book that Dave’s encouraging to write.
I do think you need to write a book on it and perhaps with Scott Wilson. But I love what you’re saying. As far as the honesty you have with your pastor and transparency. And I think that that’s one of the big pieces that’s missing where you literally sit down with your pastor and say let’s talk about our relationship and kind of let the guardrails down.
When I’m busy, you’re busy. I equate it to like the old swimming game, Marco polo: you’re swimming and you wait for that person to come up for air. And then you tag ‘em. Well, for business leaders and even government officials that I work with, I’m sensitive to if they’re underwater and they’re busy, then I stay away. But they know that when they come up for air and they need somebody to talk with, I’m there, I’m available for them. And vice versa. But I think for there to be that kind of transparency, we’re have to start bridging this this gap, really this chasm that that’s expanding. But business leaders, marketplace ministers, and pastors could be two of the most dynamic, if not the most dynamic partnerships in the world, if it’s done right.
How Vulnerability Plays Part in Partnership
Yep. I agree. One of the things I would add to that is that I think what we were talking about earlier, how, when, when business people and pastors add value to each other and serve them, that I think that’s what actually earns us the right to be vulnerable with each other. A lot of times it’s easy for us to say, “Let’s be vulnerable”, but we really don’t know if we’re on the same team. If we really, if we really open our hearts up and, and begin to serve the other, it creates this connection of unity that we know we’re on the same team. And when you’re on the same team and somebody’s encouraging you and spurring you on and the vision and the calling God has given you, and you’re doing the same for them, I think it just opens this door wide open that God wants to be open.
We can be vulnerable with each other because one of the things, and it probably took Scott a little longer than it did me, but Scott’s incredibly vulnerable with me as well. And I think that that takes time as well. Scott and I have this saying actually that I love and it was actually a pastor friend of mine, which just breaks my heart, who actually had to step down from his church a while back just because of a moral failure. It just broke my heart. And when I was talking to him, I said, “Hey man, here’s what I want you to understand, God still loves you. God’s not gonna quit pursuing you. But here’s what I want you to also understand. Do you understand I’m one dumb decision away from being where you are.”
You know who I got that from, Scott. Scott and I have this accountability deal. I just saw him this week. And we talked about that because we remind each other, we need each other because we’re all one decision away from our whole life changing and together we can call each other. We can spur each other on. I still believe that day’s coming; I think if we look at what God is doing in the Kingdom today, in the church, and what God is doing in the business realm today. I used to actually say, what’s wrong with pastors, man? Why don’t they step up and reach out to the business people and change it? Change that dynamic, quit asking us for money and ask us how our life is. “How can I help serve you?” And man, I literally, I feel and I apologize. I’ll actually apologize to Scott as a pastor, and all the pastors listening. I apologize for that attitude I had. And here’s the reason why I can honestly apologize – because God corrected me of that. And He said, “Son, you are you saying that the church as a whole has gotten all this wrong because whose church is it? It’s God’s church.” He said, “So really what you’re saying is I got it all wrong.” And He said, “Have you ever thought about maybe the reason why pastors are responding the way they are responding is because before the business people weren’t rising up and taking their responsibility on.” And He said, “So now the business people are starting to rise up.”
There’s this awkwardness where for years, the pastors have been waiting for people to rise up in the church, the business people, and now the business people are rising up and they feel this disconnect from the pastor. I look at it and go, “I think if we really step back as visionaries, and let the Spirit speak to us, then we understand that maybe it is God having the pastors ask some of these questions”, but it’s also God that’s raising some of the business people up. Do you understand what happens when the two of those collide in a positive way for the Kingdom? I think what launches forward from that is unbelievable. Not just in the marketplace, not just in the church, but in the world. I’ve actually challenged some of my friends that have said, “The next great revival is in the business world.”
And I’ve challenged some of my pastor friends who say, “The next great revival is in the church world”. I say, the next great revival is in our lives and that’s in business world and in the church world. And I personally don’t think the next great revival happens without both of them. Because we have to do it together. I’m just being honest as as a successful business person. If revival hit the business world today, we can’t manage that. We can’t steward that. Or at least I can’t, I’ll speak for myself. I need my pastor. I need the local church to help that help us process that and know how to walk through that. I’m sorry, I get passionate about it because I’m just pumped. I think God’s moving. I’m excited about it and I’m ready.
It was powerful before we started, John. You said, let’s pray. Then we had technical issues. You said let’s pray. There’s people that are part of our family of influencers now. And you just said that we need to let the Spirit speak. And that comes when there’s an openness that you have as an influencer and as a businessman too, tuned into the spirit. And that happens in prayer. And I think you are a minister. I know how you look at yourself: a “discipler” is a minister, someone that’s a disciple, makes disciples. That’s a minister. I would love to have you just pray for those who are listening to this podcast today.
All right, man, I’d love to.
Lord Jesus, above all else. God, we know that in first Corinthians it says, God, without love, it’s all meaningless. So God, above all else, Father, I pray God that every person watching this, every person viewing, Lord, listening to it, I pray God that they will know that You love them. That God, they will truly, truly know that You love them not because of what they do for You. God, You just love ’em because that’s Who You are. Because we know Your word says God, that You are Love. And God I pray Lord, whether they’re a woman or a man, God help ’em know that God, they’re first as as a Christ follower, God, Your child, they’re Your son or Your daughter. And that You love them. God. And I just pray God that You will just fill each one of our hearts, God with joy and peace and happiness, God, but help that hope that is with within each one of us, God.
And if there’s viewers and listeners that don’t have hope, I pray God, that You will fill their lives with that. Hope that God only comes from You. And I pray that You will just help that hope to rise up within each one of us. God, that we’ll be ready to go share a word for the hope that is within us. God, with gentleness and respect, God, to our pastors, to business people, Father God. And even those that don’t know You as their Lord to Savior, God. So we love you God. And I just pray that the viewers and the listeners, God, will just be reminded today that each and every one of us are called and chosen by You. We didn’t choose You, God, You chose us. And I pray God that well, whatever it is, they need God, whatever it is You’re calling them to do, God, help each one of us to take the step of faith to enter into a relationship with You, to enter into what You are doing. God, that we get to, that we get to play a part. And God, we love You. Thank you God so much for Scott and for Dave for their ministry, God, and what they’re doing. And I pray that You’ll pour Your Spirit, Your blessings, Your anointing out upon every part of that business and ministry in Jesus name.
Amen. Thank you so much. I think you said we can get your book.
It’s meetjohnhouston.com or Amazon or almost any book retailer
meetjohnhouston.com. Thank you so very much.
Hey, thank you guys as well. God Bless you. Thanks, John.