“Ty has influenced the lives of many people throughout this community. He has been blessed with the gift of leadership and a passion for teaching. Whether it is in the classroom, on the playing field, or in the pulpit, he has used these gifts to make a lasting impact on the many lives he has touched.”Jennifer Taylor (friend of Ty Houghtaling)
While the idea of a second act in life is most often met with images of fresh starts, adventures, and the excitement of a new challenge, it does not always begin as such for all. In fact, many times a second act is preceded by turbulence or uncomfortable growth.
Not everyone is presented with a shiny new opportunity, but rather led to it by a realization that, perhaps, they have chosen the wrong path or are not fully serving their life’s true purpose. For those people, the second act can begin as less inspirational and much more fraught with uncertainty, trepidation, and sometimes heartache.
Ty Houghtaling is one who found himself in the latter category. A lifelong resident of Artesia, he returned after graduating with a Bachelor of Secondary Education from New Mexico State University to pursue teaching and coaching in the Artesia Public School system. Along with his wife, Jennifer (Needham) Houghtaling, they made their way back to Artesia in the fall of 2000 with the promise of jobs and the comfort of being back home.
As is common in secondary teaching positions, Ty immediately found himself joining in the juggling act of teaching and coaching. “I was a busy dude!” he explained. During his tenure in public education and athletics, he taught a myriad of subjects such as Early American History, Greek Mythology, Geography, New Mexico History, Sociology, and U.S. Military History. In addition, he coached Jr. High football, basketball, weight training, and off-season, to name just a few.
Ty began his teaching career in earnest. “I was eager and, like many first-year teachers, just knew that all the kids would love and respect me, easily making me their all-time favorite teacher.” However, he admits, “That’s not exactly how it happened.” While he still professes his love of teaching, coaching, and influencing kids, he also admits he knew at an early age he would serve the church in some capacity, though he didn’t believe it to be in a vocational manner, which led him to pursuing teaching and coaching.
Being an Artesia native and former Bulldog, Ty had the dream of coaching champions embedded in his DNA. Eventually, he decided to take his shot at becoming the head coach of boys basketball, but much to his chagrin was told he wasn’t ready just yet. However ego-bruising the experience was for Ty, it was, perhaps, the beginning stage of what would eventually become his second act. “Looking back, it is obvious God had different plans for me,” says Ty. “After 14 years in education, I began to realize that I just wasn’t that good of a coach and championships were not in my future. I started to imagine doing something else including possible vocational ministry.” While he was heavily involved in volunteer leadership roles in his home church at the time, he still had not made the full commitment to ministry and service to the church. “Our God has a way of nudging us to His plan. I don’t recommend waiting until He nudges, though, because sometimes His nudge can feel more like an earthquake.”
Our community rallied around my family and we will never fully be able to express our gratitude.
In the summer of 2011, an earthquake did indeed hit the Houghtaling family. Their young daughter, Kayci, became ill and eventually passed away at the age of 7. Because of the foresight of former Artesia Public Schools superintendent, Mike Phipps, a system was already in place that enabled Ty to stay home with his family and help care for Kayci while maintaining his employment status in the school district. “Our God knew what He was doing in our lives and we were given 5 months to love and focus on our daughter. If I had been a head coach, the stress and strain to meet my job expectations, coupled with a health issue like we were facing, would have created a nightmare, as if the nightmare of a sick child already in place wasn’t enough,” said Ty.
After another year of teaching, Ty was approached by First Baptist Church Artesia about possibly helping lead their children’s sports recreation ministry. While serving, Ty was approached to assume the role of Family Life Minister at FBC Artesia, an offer which he accepted in June of 2014. The church was down to two fulltime staff members with the hope of finding a new Senior Pastor to replace their longtime leader, Brother Rick Sullivan. Ty stated, “There are not many men like Rick – a man who loved his people with a deep compassion and patience unmatched by anyone.”
Ty describes that period of time as one of great learning and personal growth. “I learned what it was like to try and change culture. I learned what struggles could occur when philosophies of ministry collided.” He also confesses that he had to understand some new ways of teaching and learning with compassion in the hopes of addressing the countless needs of humanity that could walk through the church doors.
When it came time for the church to take a new leadership direction, it was evident that Ty was the man for the job. He had already begun pursuing a master’s degree in Theological Studies online and seemed like a natural fit to help further the vision of First Baptist Church. Although he was certain he felt the call to take the reins, he also admits to feeling nervous. “I prayed that God wouldn’t make this position available to me if He wasn’t orchestrating it. I prayed the nausea caused by my thinking of standing in front of a congregation every week would subside. The expectations of leading a church body can make you visit the bathroom regardless of what you ate that day, if you know what I mean.” Thankfully, Ty’s prayers were answered (and his nervous stomach calmed) when he accepted the position of Lead Pastor in June of 2017. He is now on track to graduate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the spring of 2020 and credits the convenience of online courses and gracious professors.
Ty is quick to acknowledge that there are a great many similarities between pastoring and coach/teaching, chief among them the calling to encourage, educate, and support those with whom his path crosses. “I have been challenged to motivate people for the Gospel. I have been challenged to teach people the scriptures in entertaining, thought-provoking, inspirational ways. I have had to help people see themselves, and others, through God’s eyes and to avoid the temptation to use the lens of this broken world. That’s really challenging.” While his ultimate objective has now shifted, he recognizes the value of the lessons learned during his time in public education and how they prepared him for this season of his life. “When I was coaching the goal was championships; now the goal is reaching the world for Christ. It’s a higher calling (though sometimes I do miss the simple ending of a season or the getting new students when I was tired of the old ones). I was trained to teach and coach and the lessons from those years of training have transitioned nicely to leading a local church.”
As for how his family has fared during this new phase of life, he says they have done it as they always have: together. “We continue to deal with the unknowns of ministry. My sons have embraced my career change. My wife and I are experiencing a good season. We have been drawn closer together in ways that can only be explained supernaturally.”
And although they have been able to remain in Artesia thus far, they are also aware that they may be called to serve elsewhere in the future. Should that time come, Ty plans to follow that new path in confidence. “Let me assure you, I have learned that it is always better to be obedient when God calls than to argue, question, or drag your feet. He is a patient God, but we should think twice about trying His patience.”
Ty has some hard-earned wisdom for those who feel the stirring in their heart to embark on their own second act: pray about it – then get moving. “I would encourage them to continue to take steps of faith headed to the place that they can see knowing that as they get closer, they will be able to see more.”