Dr. Joseph and M. and Corabelle Stowell have enjoyed more than 60 years of ministry together. Dr. Stowell’s ministry experience includes pastoring churches in Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Indiana; participating on the boards of Baptist Bible College and Seminary, Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, and Baptist Mid-Missions; and serving for ten years as national representative of the GARBC. Dr. and Mrs. Stowell have three married children—Margaret (Wheeler), Joseph, and Hannah (Jensen); fourteen grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
Let’s start at the beginning—what prompted you to go into the ministry?
DR. STOWELL: I was planning on taking over our family’s farm, but the Lord got hold of my heart. After my junior year in high school, I went to an evangelistic meeting, where I realized that I didn’t have full assurance of my salvation. I prayed, “Lord, if I never have accepted You as my Savior, I do so now.” I went to Wheaton College, and the Lord led me to become a preacher.
Tell us about your early preaching experiences.
DR. STOWELL: In high school I filled the pulpit for pastors a couple of times. By my last year in college, I was preaching somewhere almost every Sunday. I traveled with a gospel team to Michigan and the East Coast in the summer. I felt so at home in GARBC churches that I said, “These are my people.” That’s what directed me into the Regular Baptist movement.
How did you two meet?
MRS. STOWELL: I first noticed Joe at a pastors’ rally in southern Michigan. On the program was this whippersnapper [Joe] from the Upper Peninsula. I thought, Ohhh, Joe is so . . . , but he won’t pay any attention to me. I’m just a high schooler. But two years later we met at the Gull Lake Bible Conference, and he came over to me and said, “I’d like to come and see your father’s new tabernacle.” I told that to my father. He said, “Corabelle, what did he say he wanted to see?” [Laughter]
We admire you as a couple. How have you worked together in the ministry?
DR. STOWELL: Corabelle always stood by me, even during those times when people might hit against me as their pastor. We’ve had a wonderful time together in our 62 years of marriage.
MRS. STOWELL: You have to be able to laugh at yourself and laugh with others. You’re ready to cry with them also if they have difficulties. I love to be around and to help people of all ages. By serving as a permanent substitute teacher for Sunday School, I got to know our church family well. We enjoyed having groups in our home. We’d welcome new members by inviting them and established members over for light refreshments. We had a great time.
You’ve had a significant number of family members pursue vocational ministry. Why do you think you’ve been so blessed?
MRS. STOWELL: Our church people have always prayed for our children.
DR. STOWELL: Especially in Hackensack [New Jersey], where we ministered for 20 years. It was a great, praying church.
MRS. STOWELL: The church people could have said, “Did you see what he did? Why, he’s a preacher’s son!” But they prayed instead.
What do you think prompted your children to consider full-time ministry?
DR. STOWELL: We prayed for them. Also, we had great preachers in our home for meals, for example, Dr. DeHaan, Vance Havner, and Syd Baxter. Syd took a great interest in our son, Joe.
MRS. STOWELL: I think that the exposure to these great men made our children think that the ministry was not such a bad thing after all.
DR STOWELL: At one point in our ministry, 31 of our own church members were missionaries. That left an imprint on the lives of our children.
What qualities do you view as important for ministry in the lives of pastors?
DR. STOWELL: People have to see in your home a happy marriage—devoted to one another and to the Lord and His work. And you have to have a pastor’s heart. Paul said in Philippians, “I have you in my heart.” You have to have a big heart to do that with people’s sorrows, quirks, problems—and their joys. You can never get away from it.
Dr. Stowell, we appreciate your leadership. What makes a good leader?
DR. STOWELL: A leader has to be sure that he is right. Then he should stand by his decision, but do so graciously. If people see consistency and a godly character in you, they are more likely to respond to your leadership. The pastor is God’s called man to lead and feed His flock. It’s good for the pastor to sit on the platform. By taking charge of the services, he builds a spirit of influence in the church.
MRS. STOWELL: Usually the shepherd goes before the sheep.
How do you connect so well with young people?
MRS. STOWELL: We answer their questions, propose new ideas, and are happy over their accomplishments—we just enter into their lives. We cheer them on when they are getting started. I learn their “slanguage.” They have different words that fit in different spots. If I don’t know the meaning of the words, I ask them.
DR STOWELL: They can tell when you are interested in them.
How did you encourage young people in the church to consider missions?
DR. STOWELL: The biggest thing in our church life every year was our missionary conference. Usually we incorporated a number of our own missionaries. Our church people prayed for and encouraged the young people. Also, we appealed for lifeservice dedication every Christmas. In those 20 years, 77 people went into the Lord’s work.
MRS. STOWELL: During the missionary conference, we’d host a meal that was typical of a certain country. The young people took an active part in helping with the meal.
DR. STOWELL: Instead of giving out candy at Christmas, we’d plan ahead and have the missionaries send us curios from their fields. They’d ship various trinkets that would pique the children’s interest in that field. Each Sunday School department was assigned a missionary every six weeks. Teachers and students prayed for that missionary family and read letters from them.
As you think back over your years of ministry, what do you think makes an effective church?
DR. STOWELL: It has to be a church that is united in doctrine and has devoted officers and a loving, praying people who are concerned for souls.
MRS. STOWELL: The church has to be centered in the Word in every activity for every age group.
DR. STOWELL: I always gave an invitation every Sunday morning and evening. We would see people saved. In Hackensack [New Jersey] we had a deacons’ meeting before the Sunday evening service to meet with people who wanted to be baptized and come into the church. At one time we went for months when every Sunday night somebody met with the deacons. I was privileged to lead so many people to the Lord in my study that people referred to it as “the maternity ward.”
People today are looking for the secret formula for that type of response. How did you get those kinds of results?
DR. STOWELL: We had a praying church. The Lord was in it.
MRS.STOWELL: We demonstrated a genuine love for people. We accepted them, whether they had diamonds or rags. Loving someone to the Lord is contagious—one person would talk about how he or she loved someone through the Word and that person was saved. Then someone else would think, Well, I can do that too!
When you came to a point of changing ministries, how did you determine the Lord’s will?
DR STOWELL: As Spurgeon said, the specific call of God is an open door in front of you and a kick in the pants behind you. I never asked anybody for an opportunity to candidate or a place to preach. I wanted that to be from the Lord. When it came out of the blue, then I believed the Lord was in it.
When I was just out of college, two little churches in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula asked me to become their pastor. I prayed, saying, “Lord, if they invite me to come, I’ll accept it as Your will, and I will go.” I got a letter saying that they wanted me. They promised me room and board and $20 a month—but could promise for only one month. But I had promised God that I would go. It cost me $16 to get there on the train. Going there was like walking into an orchard of ripe apples—many people accepted the Lord. It was a great experience.
Do you have a verse that’s been especially meaningful for your ministry?
DR. STOWELL: My first pastorate was in northern Michigan in mining country. I didn’t have a wife, and it was lonely. I remember sitting on top of a rock in the sunshine one day, reading in Isaiah. The Lord gave me Isaiah 58:10 and 11, which I’ve tried to make my life verses: ”And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” [KJV]. I was way off on the edge of nowhere in a tiny church. From a humble beginning, God made me the national representative of the GARBC. All glory to God!
MRS. STOWELL: My life verse is Colossians 3:17: “And whatsoever ye do . . . ” [KJV]. A pastor’s wife has “whatsoever” to do—cleaning, making the beds, cooking, loving. We wear so many hats. “But whatsoever ye do . . . , do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Sometimes you have to remind yourself to give thanks!)
You two have given years of service to the GARBC. What value do you see in the Association?
DR. STOWELL: We’re still true to the Bible. In the book The Battle for the Bible, author Dr. Harold Lindsell talks about denominations that are turning from accepting the whole Scripture. He names the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches as one that isn’t turning. The Association has a future and a purpose. We live in a day in which people do not like to see a denominational name on the church, and that makes it hard for our churches. With our missionary, evangelistic, and educational emphasis, as well as our literature program, there’s a real place for the Association.
Daria Greening is executive assistant to GARBC National Representative John Greening.
This article originally appeared in the February 2001 Baptist Bulletin.