A Sacrificial Entrepreneur
Homebuilder John Houston developed a work ethic and generous outlook early in life.RED OAK, Texas — The unassuming John H. Houston doesn’t look like the typical business tycoon sitting in his modest office at his homebuilding headquarters in Red Oak. He does his work at a minimalist round table rather than a desk. The husky-voiced Houston sports a day’s beard growth and is dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt.
Nevertheless, the 51-year-old Houston is a success story, an entrepreneur who owns seven companies and oversees nearly 300 employees. The largest is John Houston Homes, here in this suburb south of Dallas, a company that builds 600 high-end homes annually.
These days, rather than the nitty gritty details of homebuilding or related companies, Houston spends more time sharing techniques and pouring into other aspirants what the Lord and others have taught him.
“I need to continue to learn and grow, but also to mentor and make disciples,” Houston says. In September, Houston plans to publish his second book, covering how God blessed him and his enterprises.
His first book, Finding My Way Home: A Journey to Discover Hope and a Life of Purpose, is a memoir detailing the trials, hardships, and painful mistakes he endured as he came to appreciate God’s faithfulness and love.
Houston certainly didn’t seem to be destined for such a flourishing outcome early in life in Waco, Texas. The youngest of three children, Houston’s life shattered at age 11 when his parents unexpectedly divorced. The family had attended an Assemblies of God church thrice weekly, John participated in Royal Rangers, and he never saw his parents argue.
“It came out of nowhere — right after we finished a family vacation,” Houston recalls. He and his 15-year-old brother, Mike, chose to live with their dad, who quickly remarried a woman with two children of her own. However, John clashed with his new stepmother; soon he and Mike moved into an apartment of their own.
“I often felt like my brother and I were abandoned,” Houston says. To survive, Mike started a landscaping business with help from John. The experience taught John the importance of perseverance and planted the seeds of a good work ethic.
But when Mike married at 20, John at 16 had to live by himself. While still going to school and church, he continued working by mowing yards and cleaning offices.
“I learned early on that hard work pays off,” Houston says. “To this day, I value young people who show up early, take notes, and are eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work.”
After graduating from high school, the lonely John asked the Lord for a wife. In youth group, he met Tracy Miller, then only 15. Her parents, Steve and Sue Miller, befriended him. With their blessing, John married Tracy halfway through her senior year of high school in 1993.
“Steve taught me how husbands show love and respect to their wives by their words and actions,” Houston says. Both John and Tracy enrolled in Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) the following fall.
Even though multiple SAGU professors urged Houston to become a church administrator, he set his sights on a business degree, which he earned in 1997.
During his college days, Houston’s mother, a depressed alcoholic, committed suicide by overdosing on pills. Houston stopped attending church after several parishioners told him his mother had gone to hell because of her actions. After Tracy’s parents occasionally invited him to return to church, Houston relented.
“God spoke to me that day that it was time for me to really choose if I was going to live for Him or not,” Houston remembers. “I made the choice to live for Him.”
John and Tracy experienced years of financial straits before John launched his custom homebuilding business in 2004. A loan officer laughed at him when he applied for funds to build his first spec home. Nevertheless, Houston eventually secured the funds to initiate the business.
Even during that tough monetary stretch — when Tracy gave birth to their two children, Austin and Ashtyn — the Houstons gave away money sacrificially.
“I had to learn to obey God even if it didn’t make sense to me,” Houston says. “Generosity started with me learning the lesson that nothing I had was mine to begin with.”
Houston continues to support SAGU financially. “That’s where I learned the most important foundational aspect of my life: how to hear the voice of God,” he says. His office is located 10 miles north of his alma mater.
He credits the Lord with sending a wise team of employees to help expand the company beyond building homes to separate enterprises in areas such as mortgages and land development.
“All the companies God has given us to steward are just vehicles for reaching people for Christ through relationships and giving profits to the Kingdom,” Houston writes in Finding My Way Home. Nowadays Houston is focused on a new company, Suit and Shepherd.
“Suit and Shepherd is designed to help consult and coach CEOs and entrepreneurs who want to lead their businesses with the purpose to expand God’s kingdom using a model similar to what we built on our family of real estate companies,” Houston says.
Scott Wilson has known Houston, who is now his neighbor, for a quarter century. Houston sought Wilson’s input when Houston had his crisis of calling, whether he really should step out in faith in a business venture. Wilson, then a youth pastor at Oaks Church in Red Oak, discipled Houston about how to hear from God rather than being swayed by the opinions of other people.
Houston has attended Oaks Church for 25 years. Wilson says Houston is a faithful attendee, ministry volunteer, and giver. He points out that over 50 young adult interns, many from broken homes, have been mentored as they attended the church-affiliated Oaks College and lived with the Houstons. The couple also have led marriage small groups connected to the church.
“John is a person who desperately wants to walk in obedience to God in all phases of his life,” says Wilson, 53. “He turned his business into a Kingdom business.”
Wilson, who has been on staff at Oaks Church for 34 years and recently transitioned to global pastor from lead pastor, notes that several employees at Houston’s businesses have accepted Jesus as Savior on the job. Houston also gives workers paid time off for mission trips.
Houston is a board member of both SAGU and Oaks Church.
“I’m not the poster child for boards,” Houston says. “I tell people what I really think.”
These days, SAGU teachers don’t dissuade students from pursuing entrepreneurial dreams. In fact, according to Business Department Chair Shelly Zaldivar, ministry majors might have such a bent.
“Even students going into missions work with nonprofits may be entrepreneurs,” says Zaldivar, 51. She notes that a new proposed business/education building on campus could include space for community entrepreneurs to partner with the school.
Zaldivar had professional business experience before teaching, working for a combined 20 years at Macy’s, Walt Disney World, and Bank of America — where she held a senior vice president post. She thought she could make a bigger impact at SAGU teaching students about marketplace ministry.
“All of our faculty have had careers, so they understand what it is like living out their faith in the real world — which you can’t get just from a book,” Zaldivar says. “We require full-semester internships of all our students so they have the needed experience to get a job serving in the marketplace while integrating their faith.”