By: Rick Carder
What is the secret to longevity in ministry? This question danced around in my head while meeting this week with pastor Dr. J. Scott Howington, a twenty-year veteran at one church. The fundamental notion of a long-term ministry is not unusual especially in smaller churches. I thought to myself, others have served in church ministry for many years but not many remain in smaller congregations. To the point, in a recent survey poll from Lifeway Research, “suggested the average pastor’s tenure in a local church is 3.6 years (See Dennis Cook, July 18, 2011)” recorded in an article written by Dr. Franklin Drummons.
Eight Point Eight Two: How long do pastors stay in one church?
While it is suggested by Dr. Charles Arn from Wesley Seminary that long-term pastorates are best when leading larger, growing churches. Dr Arn shared;
I agree with Roger Parrot, who says: “Lead as if you’ll be there forever! Imagine that the organization and position you are in right now is what God wants you to do for the rest of your professional life” (Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders, Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2009, p. 19).
A pastor that exemplifies the maxim, “Lead as if you’ll be there forever!” is this week’s Pastor of the Week, Dr. J. Scott Howington. He pastors a smaller church in the suburbs of Chicago as a long-term pastor. This has worked for him now for twenty years. I wanted to know the secret. We have “become a community,” says Howington in a recent discussion we had over lunch. His acknowledgment that he knows of ministry colleagues who do not stay in ministry long term. He referenced that in days gone by many homes were built with front porches that symbolized the openness to having visitors. “We now have back yard decks with fenced-in yards,” he said. He is saddened that we just don’t seem to know our neighbors these days. In his usual optimism for church ministry he shared that we need to be intentional about efforts to “get to know people.”
Howington was a delight to speak with as he shared that ministry can be hard and disappointing but “People can let you down,” he shared. He said that his father, a pastor himself, cautioned him about this. “I went to Moody Bible Institute to become a TV news anchor,” he shared. He was not looking to go going into the ministry. One might say that he was it was his reluctance that helped fuel his commitment to ministry once he accepted his Call. “It was during a church service when a lady pastor shared a message about Abraham. It was the words he needed to hear that day that changed his future path and solidified his Calling. Howington said that the minister shared that, “God cannot have any part of you unless He has all of you.” These words forever changed his heart and mind and he changed his direction (completing the Communication Broadcasting degree). One significant lesson he learned which contributes to his longevity is that you must not hold onto things too tightly. He said, “Hold all things to God in an open hand.”
“My wife felt a Call to ministry or missions,” he shared. It was and is her influence that has impacted my ministry. “If it weren’t for her I would be living and sleeping in a refrigerator box in lower Wacker Drive in Chicago” he shared with a smile. According to the church website.
“Charlene and I were married in May of 1981. We lived in Winona Lake, Indiana for 15 years while I attended seminary and then became a staff member of Pleasant View Bible Church from 1985-1996. (We can talk sometime about our penchant for churches with the name “Pleasant”).”
His ministry is intentionally focused on serving single mothers. His D.Min focused on research that he shared many “churches do not have specific ministry to single mothers,” he shared. This is one of the ministries he is passionate about and he shared a story about how his church recently helped a student from a single mother in his church has been mentored by the men of the church. This student shared with Pastor Howington, I don’t have a father but, “the men in the church are like a father to me. They have always been there for me.”
Pastor Howington shared the importance of teaching the Truth of God’s Word. Referencing his church website;
“I believe that my task is to understand and explain the Bible as it relates to living life in the 21st Century. Then I must model what I preach and teach. I am convinced that the Bible is the most relevant book any of us will ever read.”
Pastor Howington also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling from Grace Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministries from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
It is a joy to welcome Dr. J. Scott Howington to the ranks of the Pastor of the Week.
Written by Rev. Rick Carder, Director of Alumni & Church Engagement at Indiana Wesleyan University.