The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of SBTC’s Look Like Heaven emphasis

February 18th, 2014 / By: Sharayah Colter | Staff Writer / comments

The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of SBTC’s Look Like Heaven emphasis

The American School Board Journal says school systems champion diversity because it helps produce capable citizens.

Forbes magazine says the business world touts diversity because it boosts profits and spurs corporate success.

The federal government’s Office of Personnel Management says individuals and organizations perform better and yield the maximum benefit when diversity is a priority.

But churches say it pleases the Lord and draws sinners to the savior.

The secular institutions seem to define the importance of diversity using what could be called a gumball-machine mentality: Put in whatever is necessary to get out whatever is desired—a pragmatic and self-serving tactic. 

For churches, diversity is not about making money, making better people or even making people feel better. Instead, diversity is only about pleasing the Lord. Terry Turner, who finished his second term as president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention last fall and the visionary behind the SBTC’s “Look Like Heaven” emphasis, said as much in describing his joy over the statewide plan.

“I am so proud and thankful for our convention, that took the initiative to make it a five-year plan to have churches be a part of,” Turner told the TEXAN. “It’s just exciting to be a part of a convention that thinks like that and is moving in that direction. I can see how it is really going to be a blessing to congregations and pastors as they represent heaven during that time. God is going to be really pleased.”

The Look Like Heaven emphasis is an endeavor adopted by the SBTC last fall. The goal: To promote and encourage the building of cross-cultural relationships among SBTC pastors and churches.

Greater diversity translates into more effective evangelism, said David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church and chairman of the committee that presented the emphasis to messengers at the 2013 SBTC annual meeting.

“As a convention, we understand we can more effectively reach our community for Christ when we more intentionally reflect the diversity that is in our community,” Fleming said. “The New Testament world was divided and diverse as is our world today. God did something amazing in the early church. He brought Gentiles and Jews together. So as we come together, [we’re] celebrating unity in the midst of diversity. As a convention, we are looking beyond our differences and embracing our diversity to see Jesus in each other and to let him be the draw that brings us together.”

But churches have not always led the way. Martin Luther King Jr. called the 11 a.m. hour on Sundays the “most segregated hour of America” when he preached in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on March 31, 1968.

Research suggests most Christians want that to change.

According to a recent LifeWay study, only 13 percent of non-Catholic pastors say that in 2013—45 years after King’s observation that churches had not kept pace with national integration—their churches have more than one predominant ethnic group represented among their congregation.

Eighty-five percent, though, say they want to see their churches become diverse. So how can they do it?

Pastors, you could:

  • Swap pulpits with a pastor of another ethnicity
  • Combine choirs
  • Plan a joint revival
  • Take another pastor to lunch or coffee
  • Plan an outreach in each other’s communities
  • Stop by another pastor’s church to pray for him
  • Model diversity by hiring a diverse staff
  • Launch foreign language ministries
  • Invite smaller ethnic churches to meet on your church’s campus
  • Incorporate multi-cultural worship styles

Church members, you could:

  • Use the 1Cross app to share the gospel in other languages and invite people to church
  • Personally invite people of other ethnicities to Bible studies and events
  • Participate in joint worship services
  • Intentionally build relationships with members of churches unlike your own
  • Go out of your way to make every visitor welcome in your church service, especially those who may feel they don’t blend in
  • Learn another language
  • Help teach ESL classes
  • Teach your children what the Bible says about God’s love for people of all nations
  • Practice biblical hospitality in your home by welcoming people who don’t look like, talk like or live like you
  • Be willing to joyfully give up some comforts of “church as I’ve always known it” as your leaders design church services to reach and include a more diverse congregation.