How a Houston Church Weaves God’s Story Into Everything It Does

As pastor of Ecclesia Houston, Chris Seay leads a unique congregation that is living out the gospel faithfully in an urban environment. Chris is a church planter, author and third-generation Baptist pastor as well as the president of Ecclesia Bible Society, where he is orchestrating a captivating Scripture project. And it’s all about storytelling.

Giving a Story Its Voice

When Chris talks about the power of story, he’s not just using a metaphor. He truly believes that story is the primary channel for connecting people with their Creator and his ultimate purpose in their lives.

“One of the things we do in our community here in Houston,” he says, “is we have people tell their story, their brokenness, their ugliness. They begin to lay it out there. And what happens is—it’s remarkable—when they have an evening over a great meal to tell their story to others, they begin to own it in a new way. They begin to find their voice.”

Story captures a person’s imagination. It identifies shared experiences and emotional touchstones that lead to relational connection. Story reveals the hearer’s deep needs for self-expression, redemption, knowing truth and being known.

But he’s well aware that society has evolved in such a way that it hears and consumes information differently than it did even a decade ago. Traditional methods of teaching the Bible and telling the story can be obstacles for reaching the current and upcoming generations.

This belief compelled Chris to form Ecclesia Bible Society in order to develop a translation of the Bible that communicates to postmodern readers. This translation, called The Voice, expresses Scripture in story form, retelling the biblical narrative with the literary beauty of great poetry and story as well as historical truth.

Telling the Story

Chris’ reverence for story—and especially God’s Story—leads him to infuse it in everything he does. He wants to convey the story of Jesus’ sacrificial and unending love in compelling and convincing ways.

“We have an obligation to do our work in the highest quality we can and to tell our stories with integrity,” says Chris. “We can’t take short cuts, and we can’t rely on the greatest, latest idea by somebody else to be the right way to tell the story we have to tell.”

Sometimes story is powerfully expressed in the spaces we occupy. Unlike church leaders that may feel too spiritual for bricks-and-mortar, Chris has gotten his hands dirty buying and retrofitting an older church in the Montrose District of Houston into a seven-day-a-week art gallery and café. More recently Ecclesia Houston purchased and redeveloped a paper company warehouse where Chris’ grandfather had once worked.

He leads his church to connect with the community and express God’s story through experiential and participatory means like food, music and the arts.

Many of our most memorable stories revolve around food. Families and friends engage relationally when sharing a meal and stories around the table. So food and fellowship play a huge role in the Ecclesia’s story.

Ecclesia welcomes new visitors to the church with a meal at which they can meet and hear the stories of the church and its leaders. They host an organic food market and regular meals for Houston’s homeless population.

Although the practice of having a coffee shop on campus is becoming more common today, Ecclesia was one of the first churches to welcome the community by providing a place to share stories around hot beverages. Paper Co. Café accepts any payment amount for their tasty treats—all proceeds being raised serve homeless families.

Music and the arts also provide avenues for sharing the story. Ecclesia has offered its space as a recording studio, music venue and art gallery to empower the community to express its story in ways that touch people deeply.

But perhaps the most compelling and convincing expression of “the Story” was seen in Ecclesia’s response to Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey

Every story has a beginning middle and end, but in many ways, an event like Hurricane Harvey, which caused $125 billion in damage in one of the largest and most costly disasters in American history, acts as a reset button that begins the story anew.

Hurricane Harvey was a traumatic event for everyone within hundreds of miles of Houston. An estimated 13 million people were displaced or lost everything; 135,000 homes and around 1 million cars were damaged or destroyed. The storm became the instigating event that mobilized Ecclesia to serve the city on a scale and in ways it never had before.

One year later, the church’s story still involves action on behalf of families whose homes and lives are still in recovery from this regionwide trauma.

“We believe that the love of Christ compels the church, both in Houston and across the globe to lean in and love these families,” Chris says.

And that is one story the people of Houston hear and understand.

As Christians, we hold access to the most powerful story ever told. Don’t forget to weave it into everything you do for the sake of your church and your community.

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Mel McGowan
Mel McGowan

Mel McGowan is an Outreach Magazine contributing editor and the co-founder and chief creative principal of PlainJoe Studios, a multidisciplinary design firm focused on storytelling from branding to building. He also is the author of Design Intervention: Revolutionizing Sacred Space (PlainJoe Studios) and serves as an adjunct professor at California Baptist University’s College of Architecture, Visual Arts and Design.