Jacksonville College

‘Look Like Heaven’ symposium equips established churches to transition to diversity

October 29th, 2019 / By: Joshua Owens | Managing Editor / comments

Odessa—Prior to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention a hundred church leaders gathered at the “Look Like Heaven” symposium on Monday, Oct. 28, to hear from keynote speakers Gary Smith and Jason Paredes, retired pastor and current lead pastor, respectively, of Fielder Church, Arlington. The event focused on leading an established church from being mono-cultural to being multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. A diverse panel followed the keynotes, and the event concluded with worship and a sermon.

“If there is anything that is close to the heart of God, it would be that our churches reflect our community,” Smith said, adding, “and when they don’t, I would be so bold as to say I don’t think God’s pleased with that.” Smith started the program by drawing lessons from his 25-year tenure at Fielder Church. When he started as pastor the community around the church was primarily Anglo. But the community was changing, and he didn’t realize the church no longer looked like its community. “Where I was, in my track of life,” he said, “I didn’t see it.” Recounting a time when he went to a local high school event and saw how diverse the community had become, Smith remembered thinking, “Oh my goodness. My city has changed. While I’ve been sitting here as the leader of this church, and I didn’t know it.” He pointed out that “the one person that ought to know what’s happening in this community is its pastor. And I would admit to you that our growth in what we had done had caused us to coast along to the place of no longer examining reality and what was around us.”

Smith cautioned leaders to check their motives for wanting their congregations to reflect the diversity of heaven. “If this is about growing your church, don’t do it,” he said. “You’ll do it for the wrong reason, and you’ll quit before you get there… [You] ought to do it because it [is] right.”

Ultimately, Smith led Fielder Church to make intentional efforts to reflect its community. “What entity in our community ought to reflect the diversity of our community more than anything else?” he asked. “God’s church.” He added, “I personally cannot think of a bigger issue confronting the church today, as far as its future, than its ability to reach its Jerusalem.” 

Diversity is a commodity

Jason Paredes, who currently pastors Fielder Church, emphasized the need for prayer and fasting. “You will not become a multi-ethnic church and you will not maintain multi-ethnicity,” he said, “without prayer and fasting.”

At Fielder, these efforts resulted in intentional efforts to make the congregation and its staff diverse. “There’s no way you can ever become diverse unless you recognize the commodity that diversity really is,” Paredes said specifically related to staff hiring. “Diversity is a commodity.” He advised church leaders to “be in relationship with godly leaders who are of a different culture, ethnicity than you…not token friends, but genuine friends.” This will allow people from various backgrounds to “ask the hard questions but be in the context of relationship.”

Later, a panel discussion featuredSmith and Paredes as well as Averri LeMalle, a campus pastor for Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston; Hyoung Min Kim, SBTC evangelism and Korean Fellowship consultant; and Randal Lyle and Steven Lentz, pastor and worship pastor of Meadowridge Community Church in Fort Worth. The panel, which fielded questions from the audience, noted that one good place to start with intentional diversity was in the room. “That’s one of the beauties of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is that you have all these different churches with different cultures and backgrounds.”

Looking like heaven takes intentional effort and planning, but Paredes said it’s worthwhile. “Progress and growth will be slow and steady and you have to be okay with that,” Paredes said, emphasizing the need to play the “long game.” Paredes concluded, “Do not make multi-ethnic your goal. Make gospel community your goal.”

After the keynotes and panel, attendees spent time in worship, led by the Look Like Heaven Choir, followed by a sermon from Lyle.

Richard Taylor, evangelism associate, said attendees were helped “to learn and explore ways to be intentional about evangelizing and discipling all people and to lead their churches to reflect the community in which they sit.” He added, “Both diversity and culture are gifts from God, and should be celebrated.”