Culture / Newsy

PaperCity Conversations — Eric Huffman is Getting Joel Osteen Type Buzz, But The Story’s Non-Traditional Church Pastor Just Wants to be There for Skeptics

Francine Ballard Gets Another Fascinating Figure to Open Up

BY // 10.28.20

Eric Huffman does not look like a pastor. With his hip black glasses, slightly spiky hair, sports coat and blue jeans, Huffman comes across as more young entrepreneur than staid, strict religious leader. He looks like he should be leading a hot Austin startup.

Huffman does not talk like a pastor either. At least not, in the traditional sense. He encourages questions about everything (abortion and immigration included). He truly loves questions and questioning the church’s expected norms.

“You call your church a place for skeptics,” editor-at-large Francine Ballard says in our latest edition of PaperCity Conversations.

“That’s really the heart of the story,” Huffman replies. “We decided to have a mission here that says we are here to inspire non-religious Houstonians to follow Jesus.

“All my ministry buddies thought I was crazy.”

That’s just a snippet of the latest episode of PaperCity Conversations, a new regular video series that showcases interesting conversations with fascinating figures. Turning the focus to Eric Huffman was a natural choice. The Story — Houston’s church that does not seem like a church — has a River Oaks campus, a robust growing online congregation and it is on the verge of opening up a new campus in the city’s growing Timbergrove neighborhood (at 8200 Washington Avenue) that will further expand its reach. Huffman also is the host of the Maybe God podcast, which was rated a top spiritual podcast on Apple. Maybe God is now listened to in 40 countries around the world.

Yes, Huffman’s star is on the rise — even though he’d probably cringe at such a designation. The last time there’s been this much buzz around a young Houston spiritual leader probably came in the early days of Joel Osteen’s rise. While Huffman’s message is very different from Osteen’s, he understands the allure of turning charismatic religious leaders into celebrities. Especially in this TV and social media age.

“How do you feel about the word evangelist?” Ballard asks late in this PaperCity Conversation.

“I like the word,” Huffman says. “I’m scared of all of it going to my head. Luckily, I’ve got my wife who keeps me grounded. Well grounded.”

Huffman’s wife Geovanna is the co-pastor of The Story and has quite the interesting tale of her own. That’s for another day, though. The Story’s main church on Westheimer Road is not a showy place. You won’t find much glitz or plush touches. It has cement walls, unvarnished floors and simple chairs (the kind you might find in a college classroom).

Yet, its parishioners run a pretty far-reaching gamut.

“We’ve got River Oaks Houston Chronicle‘s Best Dressed coming here,” Eric Huffman says. “We’ve got twentysomethings working at coffee shops part time. Some people who fit into the old Christian mode, and a lot of people who don’t fit into the old Christian mode.

“I think the common denominator is you’re in search of the truth.”

Huffman does not assume that people who walk into The Story know the Bible. Every time he opens the book in a sermon, Huffman explains what he is reading and why he’s chosen that passage.

“We’re kind of starting from scratch every Sunday,” Huffman says. “. . . We’re trying to be gentle. We’re trying to be wise.”

“Your sermons sometimes seem like an academic conversation — or a class I might be taking in college,” Ballard notes.

Ballard and Huffman go on to talk about materialistic Christians versus mystical Christians. Want to find out more?

Watch the full episode of PaperCity Conversations in the video player above or below this story:

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