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EAST TEXAS GROWN

“YOU WILL GO FAR”

     You remember back in high school having that year book signing party?  It was the one time fellow schoolmates gave their autograph and a bit of proverbial advice.  For Jay Horton it was: “Keep your smile and sense of humor and you will go far.”

     Well Jay Horton has kept that smile and sense of humor and gone far!  It all began the day he was born, March 6, 1953 in the East Texas town of Marshall, Texas.  Jay’s dad, John Horton, grew up in a family of poor means along with his younger brother Harry and sister Helen. He would later pull himself up by his own bootstraps and become Vice President of one of the largest gas companies in the nation.

Jay’s mother was June Gerlach Horton.  She, and her older sister Mary Joyce, came from a modest family, whose mother was a school teacher and father a bookkeeper for the railroad.  Their mother, Daisy, taught piano from her home and served as pianist for her church.      June was the singer and entertainer of the family performing in various community Broadway musicals and active in the church choir.

Jay’s father and mother both had attributes of leadership, personality, integrity, humor, work ethic, family values, love for music and a Christian faith which meant going to church.  As Jay’s father pursued work and a career, the family settled in East Texas communities.  His father would sometimes hold down two or three jobs just to make ends meet.  They didn’t have a lot in those early days but Jay and his big brother Andy never knew it.

JACKSONVILLE

       Jay lived in Jacksonville through the 5th grade.  His father worked as a draftsman and his mother became choir director at their church.  It seemed that their lives as a family would evolve around church activity.  In fact, one of Jay’s best friends as a child was the pastor’s son Paul.

BAPTISM

    A vivid memory for Jay was when he was baptized at the First Christian Church. “I remember taking courses about Christianity and the meaning of baptism while in Sunday School.  The church and my family made a big deal out of it.  Me and Paul were baptized that evening and wore blue-jeans, a t-shirt and barefoot.  We walked down into a pool of water where the pastor “dunked” us. It was pretty exciting.  I would later learn that, I was dedicated by my parents and baptized as an infant at the First Methodist Church in Marshall.  So I guess I’m covered having been sprinkled and dunked as they say.”

In every community Jay and his family would join a church.  These early religious roots would later influence him toward a calling into the ordained ministry.

THE GIFT OF A GUITAR

     His third grade birthday was monumental in Jay’s mind.  His parents gave him a GUITAR! WOW!—a gift that would impact Jay’s life forever. From that point on Jay loved the guitar and its sound.  He had a knack for “playing by ear” even though he was learning to read some music from his guitar teacher.

Jay recalls, “My teacher, Mr. Lock, taught me well.  First, I learned note by note and then chord structures.  He told me that one day I would be a great guitar player.”  Jay’s mother would later teach him to sing and play the guitar at church banquets, nursing homes and youth groups.  For Jay, the guitar became like a close friend that would introduce him to a new culture of music and relationships.

“The guitar became instrumental in opening up positive doors in my life such as relationships, career and just enjoying playing and listening to music.  Songs, I learned while in elementary school, I still perform today.”

ASSASSINATION OF JFK

      It was in Jacksonville that Jay remembers the day that President Kennedy was assassinated:  “I was in the 5th grade when they announced it on the intercom system that the President had been shot and killed.  My teacher, Mrs. Green, was staring out the window with tears running down her cheeks.  She didn’t say a word. The room swelled with silence. Mrs. Green was always strict and never showed much emotion. If she laughed you knew it was going to be a good day.  For her to show such emotion was beyond my imagination.”

“We sat at our desk, quite, not moving a muscle. She walked slowly to her desk and said, ‘Class our President has been killed. He has a family with children just like you who are hurting.  Let us bow our heads and pray.’  And so she prayed. After class, when the room was empty, I walked by her desk and saw tear drops on her desk. They appeared as drops of water with small tributaries running across the wood.  I didn’t understand the full ramifications of such a tragedy, but I knew enough that it brought great sadness to the nation and Mrs. Green.”

LONGVIEW

THE BEATLES AND ROCK-N-ROLL

     A better job for Jay’s Dad sent them to Longview, Texas where he would spend the rest of his elementary and junior high days in a larger city and school district.  Jacksonville introduced Jay to country and western music and Elvis, but Longview gave him The Beatles. Jay couldn’t resist the new wave of music about to explode across America. The guitar and rock-n-roll were dancing to a new beat!

As a 6th grader, Jay and three other friends formed a band called “The What Four.”  They would later become “The New Breed.” Jay would establish himself as a pretty good lead guitarist and singer. They played around the East Texas area throughout their junior high days and sophomore year in high school.  Jay describes this time as the era of “garage bands.”  “If you could play ‘Louie, Louie’ and ‘Gloria’ you were a hit.”

Longview was also a time in Jay’s life when he excelled in a variety of sports such as football, baseball, basketball and track.  “It was an exciting time” recalls Jay. “You were experiencing adolescence, slow dancing, sports, traveling with a rock-n-roll band and dreaming that one day you would be like The Beatles.”  As the music moved from The Beatles to Jimmy Hendrix and The Cream, so would Jay’s family be moved to another town.

MINEOLA

THE NEW KID IN TOWN

     At the height of Jay’s 9th grade year and going into his sophomore year, his father was transferred to a little town called Mineola, Texas.  For Jay’s dad it was a colossal move up the ladder from salesman to manager for the United Gas Company. However, the move was devastating for Jay. He was leaving solid friendships, sports, the band and also becoming a Lobo for Longview High like his brother Andy.

Being the new kid in town was not easy and Jay became lifeless and despondent. In spite of feeling alone and angry at his father for moving, doors for new relationships soon would open.

It seemed that Jay had developed a personality that people took to.  He carried a charisma without even knowing what charisma was.  As a result he made friends easily.  Jay attributed this ability of “getting along well with people” to the experience of moving from town to town.  He had learned to adapt socially with different people for survival sake.  Jay was unconsciously developing one of his greatest attributes—being a people person!

SPORTS AND THE COACH

Once again Jay excelled in sports while in Mineola.  It was here that he would learn about winning, losing and team dynamics.  Jay had been fortunate in the fact that most of his life he experienced winning teams and some losses.  He understood the grief from losing and the challenge to keep on going no matter what.

Coach’s had a great influence upon Jay’s attitude. The mantra’s, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” or “your attitude will determine your altitude” and “no matter what happens never, never give up” impacted Jay’s life. These motivational thoughts would help develop Jay’s attitude for facing life’s challenges on the playing field and off.

A change in church denominations happened while in Mineola.  His family had been members of the First Christian Church or Disciples of Christ, but somehow the one in Mineola didn’t appeal to Jay’s parents.  They soon visited the United Methodist Church (UMC) and shortly after became members where his mother was choir director.  His mother greatly influenced him to sing and play guitar in public places such as the youth program, church banquets, and nursing homes.

Jay’s guitar/band experience soon became known in Mineola.  The popular band, “The Dominations” would lose a band member and Jay was the obvious choice as lead singer and guitarist.  Friendships were forming fast and Jay would grow to love his time in Mineola.

JAY AND SHARON MEET

    Loving Mineola became easy especially when a very significant relationship would form.  It would be the love of his life Sharon McKenney.  Jay was a senior and Sharon a sophomore.  She was a cheerleader and Jay a football player.  Her senior class would elect her as Miss MHS.  Sharon had an outgoing, witty personality and the two connected, as they say, and became high school sweethearts. They continued together through college and eventually married January 4, 1975 at First United Methodist Church Mineola.

TYLER

     Jay’s dad would receive another great promotion to District Manager. It would ultimately lead to the prize of becoming Vice President for Entex. However, it would require moving to Tyler, a short 30 minute drive from Mineola. Fortunately, the move wasn’t as bad as leaving Longview. He could still see Sharon and friends on a regular basis, and get free room and board with his parents upon attending Tyler Junior College (TJC).

GRIEF

     “America is a fluid society”, says Jay reflecting on the moving experience. “Some families move three to four times in one year.  I remember a seminary professor in pastoral psychology, Dr. Charles F. Kemp, talking about grief. He said, ‘Anytime you go through a meaningful loss you will experience a pattern of grief with all its many symptoms much like experiencing the loss of a loved one or death.’”

“Families that are always moving” says Jay, “will experience various symptoms of grief. However, children who move from town to town, even different states or countries, may often adapt socially better than others.”  This aspect would certainly prepare Jay for his future as a minister and his own children.

CRISIS  GIVES WAY FOR THE FUTURE

   Crisis loomed before Jay while attending TJC—an identity crisis, a “what am I going to do with my life crisis.”  Jay remembers it well:  “It is usually what every high school graduate goes through—a sense of being lost, without purpose or a future. You’re trying to find yourself.”

“I remember going out and sitting in my 1968 black Chevrolet in the parking lot at TJC and praying, ‘God give me a future’!  At least, for me, the next morning was different. I had an attitude that everything was going to be alright.  I was in God’s hands and He was in control even when life seemed out of control.  My life moved forward with a faith that doors would soon open.”

“A month went by when, one day after saying that prayer, I received a phone call that would take me down a pathway to the Church. A minister at Van United Methodist Church called to offer me a youth director’s job.”

Van was a little church with about twenty youth in their program. The town was not far from the outskirts of Tyler.  Jay was scared to death. He had never given leadership like this before.  It would mean praying out loud, teaching the Bible and organizing youth events and preaching. Even though Jay had grown up in the Church he never experienced being a religious leader. He had been a band leader, a sports leader, a popular guy among his peers, but that involved working with a team of other leaders and just having fun.  This involved being the key person, an example to follow, a youth program to build with the vision of the church.

“The fear I had was one of those heart pounding experiences. I really was too afraid to take the job.  But I had just asked God to give me a future and suddenly this comes out of nowhere!  I believed that it must be part of God’s plan so I took a step of faith and accepted the position.”  This became one of the defining moments of Jay’s decision making process.  He soon realized how fear certainly may save you but it can also hold you back from moving forward.

“Life is a journey and a great adventure.  We don’t get to choose what we will go through but we can choose how we will go through it.  Many times after you’ve done your homework you have to make a decision or a choice.  You never will know where to go until you get going.”

“I would like a direct phone call from God telling me what to do with my life, but God usually isn’t that clear (something I plan to discuss with God when I get to heaven.)  For me the phone call from Van, Texas was no accident and yet I could choose to take it or leave it.  Either way God’s purposes for me would still be fulfilled in my life.”

Jay became a hit as a youth director and in the life of the church.  His love for music and playing the guitar was a huge plus.  After two years he left Van to serve as youth director of his home church, Marvin UMC, in Tyler.

NORTH TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY

     Jay began having a deficit in his school work and dropping courses. He was busy being a youth director of a large church, taking karate lessons and fighting in tournaments (He won first place in the Louisiana State Championships in the heavyweight division.) He was also taking bluegrass banjo lessons (Roy Clark was his influence) and playing in ping pong tournaments (He still plays a good game).

Dropping classes became a pattern which didn’t make his parents happy.  Jay often refers to this period as his “lost year of college.” He soon realized his education had to have first priority.  After counseling with his parents and friends, he soon made the decision to go to Denton, Texas and attend North Texas State University (NTSU) and obtain a BBA degree.

His junior year he and Sharon were married.  Sharon was working on her degree to become a registered nurse and was in her last year.  They both traveled to Mineola on the week-end where they served as youth directors at the First United Methodist Church.  It was a grueling schedule but with determination they made it work.

WAXAHACHIE, SEMINARY AND CHILDREN

   His senior year was a year to decide whether or not to attend seminary at SMU or go into business.  Another phone call came from Waxahachie, Texas to take the position of Associate Pastor/youth director while attending seminary.  Again, Jay stepped out in faith accepting the job.  He graduated with a BBA and later attended Perkins School of Theology at  SMU in Dallas, Texas not far from Waxahachie.

It was in Waxahachie that Sharon and Jay would have their first child, Leah and next would come Angie.  Later, at their first church in Huntsville, they would have a son Luke.  Raising a family can be challenging but a wonderful experience.  Each of their children  received a college education, married  and discovered happiness in their careers.  It was a common saying in the Horton family:  “There is nothing like God and family to help you get through life’s valleys and celebrate the victories.”

How do you make ends meet on a pastor’s salary?  Sharon’s nursing degree came in handy.  Little did they realize how significant Sharon’s income and career would be for their future financial needs.  Sharon’s role as business leader, wife, and mother played a major role not only for her own success but Jay’s as well.

In 1981 Jay graduated seminary and was appointed to his first church in Huntsville, Texas. It would be the beginning of a thirty-three year career in the local church.  In Huntsville Jay pursued yet another degree that he never thought possible, a Doctorate of Ministry.  Through the encouragement of friends, and the financial support of his parents, Jay enrolled in the doctorate program at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey in 1983 and graduated in 1986. Besides getting through Statistics class for his BBA, this would be one of the most rigorous regiments of study, time and commitment he had ever gone through and yet the most rewarding.

THANK GOD FOR GOOD PARENTS

     Jay always felt very fortunate to have the parents he did.  Throughout college he had various jobs that supported his expenses such as books, entertainment, etc. But the majority of Jay’s college expenses were provided by his parents.

“It was a great sacrifice for my parents but they always supported me emotionally and financially so that I could obtain a good education.  And their prayers continued throughout my life.  When I was down and out they were there to lift me up.  And when I was on the mountain top they celebrated my achievements.  My father always told me, “Jay just try to do the very best job you can do wherever you go.  That’s all that can be expected of you.”

MOVING TO WEST TEXAS

     Through the years Jay served four churches in the Houston area before accepting the position as senior pastor of First UMC Lubbock, Texas, a 5000 member church and the height of his career.  By this time Sharon had moved into upper management of home health care and hospice care.  She even started her own home health care business called “Horton Personnel Care Home” and sold it not long after moving to Lubbock.

Jay had been serving First UMC Pasadena and in his seventh year when he got the call to go to Lubbock.  Pasadena was one of the great churches that Jay and Sharon were very fond of.  He remembers:  “We were in year seven at First Pasadena. At that time the historical downtown Houston First UMC was in search for a new senior pastor.  I was informed by the Bishop and my District Superintendent that I was one to be considered.  After months of deliberation by their search committee, I was told that I was one of four ministers on their short list.  There is a lengthy process of waiting and you come to a point when you are glad it is over.  When told that a selection had been made, Sharon and I could breathe easier and get on with life at First Pasadena.”

“Two weeks later the call to go to Lubbock came out of nowhere (a pattern for all Jay’s moves.)  I was never one to play politics or strategize for moving to a particular church or community.  I believed that my ministry was in God’s hands and not ecclesiastical authority.  God may use Bishops for his purposes but ultimately He is in control of our future.”

Lubbock First UMC had been looking for a senior pastor to fill the pulpit.  For Jay it would be moving into the major leagues. Lubbock was a 5000 member congregation with many possibilities.   On the other hand it meant moving to West Texas and leaving behind friends, family and East Texas.

“Our last child had graduated high school” recalls Jay.  “A search committee had invited us out to Lubbock and before we knew it, I was accepting the job.  They liked my preaching style which was enthusiastic, friendly and conversational and also the fact that I could raise money.   Building a 7.5 million dollar Christian Life Center was a goal for Lubbock and we did it.  It was the first major building program they had had in over fifty years.”

Lubbock was a long way from home for Jay and Sharon (Ten hours from Houston).  It was a long way from parents who were getting older, and from children and grandchildren.  After nine years Jay and Sharon realized they were missing out on some of the most significant relationships in their lives—family! Lubbock was a great experience that they will always be grateful for, but East Texas and Houston were home.

A JOURNEY OF SUCCESS

After thirty-three years of successful service, Jay decided to retire from the local church and leave Lubbock. He and Sharon would take some time off and do what most people dream of—buying an RV and traveling!  After two fantastic years on the road they came back home to Houston, and to parents, family and friends.  What a difference family and good friends make!

The guitar is still a great friend for Jay.  He has made two albums of  Gospel and contemporary music of his own composition.  While in Lubbock he was introduced to the “Blues” and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and remains faithful to “classic rock” and exploring different genres of music (His mother had him play the hits of the 40’s and listen to classical music).  He has played in several bands in Houston including his daughter’s band “Leah White and The Magic Mirrors” who have become one of Houston’s popular bands.  All of Jay’s children play instruments and sing so family gatherings usually turn into concerts.

The years of serving in the Church were invaluable for Jay. Out of his own experiences as pastor and leader, he has become one of the top speakers not only for the church, but for communities, civic organizations, companies and organizations everywhere. And, yes, he brings along his guitar for added flavor to the program.  As Jay likes to say, “I help people find the music of their soul.”

He is a keynote speaker and seminar leader for various venues.  Jay is a communicator, motivator, people person, counselor and team developer.  He believes that you cannot grow an organization until you grow the person from within.  That is why he is known as Personal GROWTH Expert.  He has vast knowledge and experience that enable people to be all they can be and reach their full potential as human beings.

Jay’s presentations do not involve giving an altar call, unless it involves preaching in a church revival.  But rather he motivates people to be all they can be and to develop meaningful relationships. And since everything we do in our lives, communities and businesses is about relationships, Jay offers what everyone wants–A JOURNEY OF SUCCESS!  And yes, he still has his smile and sense of humor and GOING FAR!!!