The Dick Staub Interview
Chris Seay was the founding pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, one of the earliest examples of generational church planting. He now pastors Ecclesia of Houston. Seay also loves HBO's The Sopranos and has written The Gospel According to Tony Soprano (Tarcher Putnam).
How did you come to the faith?
I'm a third-generation Baptist pastor, so I came to the faith quite naturally. But in the kind of churches my father and grandfather pastored, there weren't a lot of people who really cared about social justice and who were connected, kind, and loving people, which is what I saw in Christ, the epitome of real Christian love.
I also saw peers that were rejecting the church, and somehow I knew that if I were in ministry, it would be radically different. So the churches that I've started are very much connected with young people and artists.
How did you end up starting a church?
If my faith was going to be my own, I knew I had to venture out and find it. And in my university years I found that the reason that my peers were abandoning the church was because Christianity was more about Western ideals than it was about Christ. I had to ask, What is Christ really about? I ended up starting a church in Waco, Texas, with just a few people. Within six weeks the church was running over 600 people. It grew rapidly. Just people longing to connect to Christ in a creative way.
When I started that church, I knew that I wanted those who were being isolated outside of faith. We believe that artists are our current day preachers and storytellers, so we do things through visual art and film and literature that we couldn't do otherwise. We believe that that's the best way to tell the story of God.
When you grew up, Christianity was also a subculture cocooned from the broader culture.
I still think one of the great fallacies of Christian thinking is this kind of garbage in/garbage out mentality. You know, I remember being 16 years old and being taught that kind of thing. "Stay away from culture because what you think you will absorb. See, your brain is a sponge, you'll absorb whatever you hear and see."
And I began to study Scripture and I read passages like that in Daniel, where Daniel was educated by sorcerers, magicians, pagan priests, and astrologers. It says at the end of chapter one that he became ten times wiser in those things than the people that taught him. And yet, clearly, he wasn't a pagan priest or a sorcerer. Scripture was his guide through all of the mess of his own pagan culture that I find to be very similar to our culture.
What did you come to understand culture is about?
I've found it as a place where people are longing and asking spiritual questions. In music and movies, you see all of these deep spiritual questions. And the people that are supposed to engage those questions have removed themselves. We pull away from culture to the point where we can no longer affect it. Somewhere right in the middle is a really healthy place, but it's a difficult one to find.
You say your "primary relationship growing up" was with M*A*S*H. That's a very sad commentary on life in a pastor's home.
It is. It was a family affair, though. It was the closest to a real spiritual experience I ever had with a television show. I think in large part it was because my dad's dad died in the Korean War. M*A*S*H was our connection to him. Somehow as we watched these half comedian/half doctors joke around, it was almost as if his dad sat with us for those 30 minutes each night.
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