“I’m called to serve Christ—and, by the way, we build homes,” says John Hawkins, president of Hawkins-Welwood Homes and 30-year veteran of the real estate/homebuilding industry.
Although he’s one of the most successful high-end homebuilders in Dallas, John’s road has not been a smooth one. His relationship with Christ has been hammered out on the anvil of personal and professional adversity. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with John. We toured jobsites, met some of his employees and subcontractors, and talked about what living out his faith at work means to him.
John, you say the concept of “abiding in Christ” is central to your life, your work, and in mentoring younger Christians. Describe what you mean.
Abiding is a process that begins with the overwhelming realization that we are loved beyond comprehension. It’s not about my performance, but about Jesus’ love for me no matter what—and resting in his love no matter what happens. When we don’t draw from the well of Jesus’ love, we get exhaustion instead of energy. And that’s where the power to love others comes from, whether it’s counseling a hurting coworker or a satisfying a disgruntled client. If we’re not abiding in the love of our Savior then our efforts to serve will not be life-giving.
One of your subcontractors told me, “I know folks who go to church on Sunday and you’d never know it by the way they act on Monday. John goes to church on Monday just like he does on Sunday.”
How did God teach you the importance of abiding in Christ beyond Sundays?
When the real-estate market crashed in the mid-1980s, I learned the difference between “broke and broke-broke.” I joined a men’s Bible study where I learned that my work as a homebuilder actually matters to God—and it can and should be done for his glory. This was a game-changer for me. I’ve always been driven, but that’s when I knew I was called.
Then, in 1994, a tragic accident in my partner’s family pushed me into leadership of our company—before I was ready. But in spite of my inexperience, the business grew. From the beginning, we were committed to use our company to serve Christ by serving our employees and customers.
Another defining year was 2002. I was 45 and suffered a major stroke. This gave my wife Dianne and me the opportunity to claim God’s love and to understand that our blessings were in Christ—not in circumstances.
By the end of 2005, I had fully recovered and was looking forward to the year ahead. New Year’s Day 2006, the Texas Longhorns won the Rose Bowl and I just knew it was going to be a perfect year. Instead, it was the beginning of the most difficult four years of my life. I lost a dear friend, my wife was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the housing market went south, banks called in loans, and we faced the possibility of having to shut down the business.
I watched as others in business made fear-based decisions, and I knew I had to take another route. Not just because I knew that was better for business, but because of who I was learning to be. When I got anxious, I asked myself the question, “Am I abiding in Christ?”
You say that humiliation can be a road to humility. How did you learn that?
Humiliation is painful, but along the way I realized that it was a gift from God. He showed me what was out of order in my life. Stress reveals our idols, and wrong idols were eating me up inside, keeping me from abiding in Christ. Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods really helped me identify my misplaced priorities, the chief of which was my need for respect. I think I would have been fine with the financial losses if I had been able to keep people’s respect. That’s what I feared losing the most. Respect was my god. I don’t think I would have realized this apart from this humiliating time.
The only person who ever sought out humiliation was Jesus. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Our humiliation is often necessary for our own good and is small compared to the humiliation that Christ suffered for us.
How have the lessons you’ve learned on your faith journey worked their way into the business of building homes?
Our commitment to honor Christ drives us to excellence in the work we do but also in how we treat people. Conflicts do arise at times with clients. When they do, I remind our folks that honoring Christ is imperative and more important than being right. That doesn’t mean you let people run over you. But when you abide in Christ’s love, you don’t have to win either. When a client becomes unreasonable and angry, I remind myself and our people that perhaps this client wasn’t loved well—and this is our opportunity to show them the love of Christ.