Father, son share lessons learned from ministry

PLAINVIEW – Even ministers must take steps to protect themselves from burnout and depression and avoid the pitfalls that tough times in ministry may bring. That was the message from Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia in Houston, and his father, Ed Seay, pastor of First Baptist Church in Magnolia, during a men’s luncheon held Monday to kick off the 84th Annual Panhandle-Plains Pastors’ and Laymen’s Conference at Wayland Baptist University.

Sharing thoughts from a book the two are writing with help from Chris’ brothers (also ministers) titled Faith of our Fathers, the father and son shared a program for the first time in their concurrent ministries, bringing together each one’s views of ministry from their generational standpoint.

The luncheon message focused on the mental health of pastors and others in ministry, illustrated in part by a conversation the younger Seay had with Lyman Coleman, founder of Serendipity House, which publishes Bible study materials. Coleman, said Seay, had become depressed in ministry and, as a result, shut himself into his basement for two full years, canceling all engagements and living in isolation while trying to restore the joy of ministry. While extreme, Seay said it would not be uncommon for many ministers to find themselves in the same scenario metaphorically without staying grounded.

“I think for many of you it is not common to take time away to refuel, refresh and just pray,” Seay said. “There’s a sense that a good pastor has to work so hard and do everything, because there’s so much to do. But if the pastor can’t make sense of it all and find peace in the midst of the storm, how can we expect our people to?”

Seay said the conversations with Coleman, along with some from his own grandfather, now retired from the pastorate, reminded him that ministers were not superhuman, and they had to take care of their own needs as well.

“I came to the conclusion that if my life is going to be meaningful, it will have to be marked by order and a sense of rest,” said Seay.

The elder Seay added his thoughts, sharing the story of his father-in-law, who went through a particularly tough time in ministry while serving at a country church where the power rested in the hands of what Seay called a “church boss.”

“Somewhere along the way, this church had asked the two key questions and answered them the wrong way. The questions were ‘Who owns the church?’ and ‘Why do we exist?’” Seay said. “They had no vision to each others and no desire for spiritual growth, and it made for a rough time for him as pastor.”

Seay said the road might have been easier had he had fellow ministers to lend a hand and provide support, a practice at which most pastors are not adept.

“My advice,” Ed Seay said, “is to find somebody who’s in the basement and walk alongside them and help them.”

In reaching the younger generations, Chris shared some insights from his church experiences, mentioning an independent documentary/film titled “What the Bleep Do We Know?,” in which the modern science of quantum physics basically reveals that there is much we do not know, both about science and about the spiritual realm.

Seay tied it together, saying pastors should not attempt to have all the answers for people, but to admit a learning process with their congregations.

“Part of the new apologetic is humility, which says I don’t know a whole lot, but I am sure of these things,” Seay said. “It’s a challenge to speak with authority and passion but with humility.”

In closing, the younger Seay said preaching that will reach across the generations must prompt congregations to feel and think and ultimately do.

“Good preaching creates a tension in your gut, painting a picture of the world as it is and the world as it should be,” he said. “It should leave us all with a pit in our stomach, knowing there is something more we’re called to.”

The Pastors’ and Laymen’s Conference continues today, with sessions at 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. The public is invited and there is no charge. Joel Gregory will be leading the Bible study at both sessions, with Jesse Rincones and Russ Murphy preaching in the afternoon session and Dr. Tommy Brisco bringing the message in the closing evening session.