When stationed for the US Air Force in Naples, Italy, Howard Houtz had no idea the impact attending the Baptist Church of Pinetamare would have. For starters, it was there that both he and his wife became Christians. Evidence of Houtz’s growing faith soon led their pastor, Ronald McDonald (yes, seriously), to ask him to lead the church’s youth group. But McDonald wasn’t just clowning around – because this small step would be the first of many in a full ministry career, from church leadership to church assessment.
Finding Education for Ministry
Feeling a vocational call to ministry, Houtz discovered he needed more training in how to study the Bible. Upon returning to the U.S., he attended Bible college and chose Grace Theological Seminary for his seminary education. Married with two children and working full-time while taking a full load of courses left little time for extra activities.
Yet the relationships he established with friends and professors were endearing. The depth of instruction provided in his theology and exegetical Bible courses served as a foundation for a ministry career that would take more than one unexpected turn. Houtz recalls both a professional approach from the professors but also kindness when his vocational and family duties called for him to leave a class early.
Just Love the People
After seminary, Houtz was offered the Associate Pastor position at Calvary Bible Church in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. He would serve there for the next thirty years, thirteen as an associate pastor before taking over as the senior pastor.
When he was initially offered the position, he called McDonald to ask for advice in his new pastorate – a question many trained seminary students have asked when wondering how to put their life calling to work. Pastor McDonald told Houtz, “Just love the people. If they know that you love them, they will forgive any missteps.”
Remaining faithful to the proper interpretation and exposition of scripture and crediting a very forgiving congregation, Houtz knows his love for people helped sustain him through many trials and tribulations over the years. During those years he saw the transitions of two senior pastors, oversaw two building programs, and enhanced several programs which led to overall church growth.
Paving Pathways to Future Ministry
Over the years, Houtz made some of his favorite memories in church ministry, which were always connected to time spent with people. Memorable infant dedications, baptisms, and weddings resulted from countless beautiful relationships…relationships which opened the doors to what he is doing now in church assessment, as the founder of Church Ministry Assessments in Mifflin County.
Always having a penchant for organization and administration, Houtz was often approached with concerns from other churches. He resigned himself to offering pieces of advice to fellow pastors and church members of other churches. While he wished he could do more, he knew the concerns went much deeper than what a short conversation over coffee could fix. But through those coffee conversations, a vision for a church assessment ministry was born.
Similar to his early ministry start in Italy, Houtz understood his need for further education. Taking a course on church consulting and drawing on church assessment tools, Houtz kept the idea of beginning a church assessment ministry in his back pocket as a possibility for the future.
From Church Leadership to Church Assessment
Houtz admits that while he has not seen it all, he has seen a lot. His transition from associate pastor to senior pastor was not without extra drama. The church’s transition to a new facility had only just begun and people were wondering how they would continue. With confidence that comes only from the Lord’s calling, Houtz responded, “If it was God’s will to build a couple of years ago, it is still His will, and we should move forward.”
And move forward they did. The church continued in its transition under the mantra ‘God’s Will, God’s Way, God’s Timing’, and would eventually engrave the phrase on the cornerstone of their new building. Seeing God move through interactions such as this helped confirm that his longevity in ministry had left him with something to offer other churches.
Houtz has spent thirty years ministering to people in Mifflin County, and his church assessment ministry will begin there as well. His goal is to see the churches in the community glorify God and lift up the name of Jesus Christ. For Houtz, this also means church growth, because healthy things grow.
Unlike church consultants, who often charge a lot of money and may only offer a to-do list to churches, Houtz sees his assessment ministry differently. Working hand in hand with church leaders and people who understand their unique context, he hopes to assist in helping leaders catch a vision of what can be accomplished.
It is clear that, for Howard Houtz, his love for people and his foundation of seminary training continue to provide him with a pathway to ministry. If you’re seeking ministry preparation, the Master of Divinity degree in Pastoral Studies is a great place to begin. Be prepared to face the many challenges of ministry in your context and beyond.