Should The Church Reflect Heaven?


I was born in 1965 in the deep south right at the epicenter of the civil rights movement.  At the tender age of four my uncle and I developed a call and response routine.  He would, “What do you want?  And I would reply, “I want my freedom, now!”  Cute for a four-year-old, but potentially deadly for a twenty-four-year-old in the racially charged South.

I never felt I limited by the color of my skin. I grew up in the church. I hoped the church was the answer to all the racial tensions in the world.  God moved me at a very early age to be a pastor. God has a sense of humor. He called me to be a preacher in a church body that is one of the least diverse church organizations in America.  Still, I had hope that the color of my skin would not matter. That hope would face a stiff challenge.

During my four-plus years at the seminary, those cracks would develop.  At first, I ignored comments, which should have opened my eyes to the enormous tasks that would lie ahead.  They just seemed odd at the time.   I was determined this was my path, so I ignored them.

One comment kept playing in my head.  “Your career in this church body will be limited by your marriage.”  I should put that statement in context.  God blessed me with a beautiful wife.  She is my greatest cheerleader.  But we come from very different origins.  Her ancestors are of German-Prussian descent.    My ancestors came from mother, Africa.  This inappropriate comment should have angered me.  Instead, it motivated me.  I am wired a little differently. Everything inside me was stirred up. If you want to discourage me, that had the opposite effect.  You just gave me a deeper resolve to prove you wrong.  You tried to dissuade you instead, inspired me. I love stepping up the challenge of doing something that no one has ever done it before.  Stand back and see what God does through me.

The road was not easy by any means.  There were moments I seriously considered quitting.  Was this worth all the pain.  There was not financial reward only debt and a call that most likely would qualify us for government subsidy.  My desire was upon completion of my Seminary training was to serve college students.  They have a real hunger and thirst for seeking the Divine.  Unfortunately, due to my denomination’s lack of pastoral diversity, I was sent to an African American Church in Detroit.  Culture shock for a small town southern boy.  I spent the next thirteen years in smallish, dying, urban, mostly African American congregations, with one simple mission: revive the dead and deal with rejection very people I was called to serve.  My wife would never be accepted in that community, so we were strangers in a foreign land.

This blog post is not about slamming the church or my church body.  It is meant to open the eyes of the church.  Are we doing ministry in multi-ethnic settings in a way that is pleasing to God? Should the church reflect heaven?  How can the local church accomplish this?  Are we who God called us to be?

We have heard the statistics, but here are some more from LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer:

“Everybody wants diversity,” said Stetzer. “But many don’t want to be around people who are different.”

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Americans about race. They found only about a third (34 percent) of Americans have regularly attended a house of worship where they were a minority.  Among those who had attended a church as a minority, one in five said their ethnicity hindered their involvement.

Of those who have not been a minority in the church, nearly a quarter (22 percent) say being a minority in a congregation would make them feel uncomfortable. Many Americans believe churches should be more diverse. Half (50 percent) agree with the statement, “Churches in American are too segregated.” Four in 10 (44 percent) disagree.

A major hindrance to diversity is human nature.

To summarize all the data, the biggest impediment to a multi-cultural church that reflects what heaven will be when God calls us all home to be united again with him is US!  We like to hang out with and be around people who look like US!  If we truly are a new creation, then our outward appearance is also new.  You are no longer white, or black, Latino, or Asian. We have the presence of Christ.  Read what the Apostle Paul says,“…put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. 11 In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.” 12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Derwin Gray, of Transformation Church, a multi-cultural church in Indian Land, SC said this, “We shouldn’t wait long for racial diversity – we should long for the proclamation of Jesus, which creates ethnic diversity,” he said. “The apostle Paul didn’t start one church for Jews and one church for Gentiles in the New Testament. The Gospel brought people together.”

Ed Stetzer of LifeWay reminds us “The Bible talks a lot about men and women from every tongue, tribe, and nation being in heaven, so it might be good to get accustomed to that heavenly expression here and now,”

Hopefully, I have given you food for thought.  I honestly believe the church can reflect heaven on earth, probably because someone told me it cannot be done.  Regardless of why I believe it, the key to that dream becoming a reality begins with the people of God, seeing themselves as citizens of heaven not a group of individuals from different earthly tribes.

Finally, for those who wondered how my career in the church as gone so far, I am currently serving as a Mission Executive for one of the largest districts in my church body, not to brag but to prove God has bigger plans than our minds can conceive.

Other posts in this series:

64 Comments on “Should The Church Reflect Heaven?

  1. Good stuff Keith. Yes, we do want to hang out with people who are like us, and that is understandable. But, it becomes a problem when people who are NOT like us are excluded for that very reason. Thanks for writing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. wonderful message Pastor Haney.

    Thank you and look forward to seeing you at St. Paul when you come!

    Jeff Horn

    On Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 7:15 AM, The Light Breaks Through wrote:

    > Keith Haney posted: ” I was born in 1965 in the deep south right at the > epicenter of the civil rights movement. At the tender age of four my uncle > and I developed a call and response routine. He would, “What do you > want?. And I would reply, “I want my freedom, now!” Cute” >

    Liked by 2 people

  3. One of the things which surprised me greatly as I have continued with my theological education is the impact of psychology. I dreaded taking a psychology course, since I was raised in the church to believe that psychologists need Jesus instead of all their psychobabble. I was shocked to find how many excellent things I could learn through the advancements made in that field, and how relevant they are to the culture of churches. We tend to demonize anyone or anything that we aren’t familiar with or don’t understand. It’s always “us” against “them”. Groupthink (a psychological concept) is very prevalent in the church and greatly hinders its progress in the kingdom.
    This post is a strong challenge to not forget that without diversity we are truly not representing the kingdom of God. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks David for the insights and feedback. You never know when you take on a sensitive topic like this whether you do more harm than good. So far it as all been positive.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post! Couldn’t agree more. I read a great book last month on this topic called “A Fellowship of Differents:Showing the World God’s Design For Life Together” and the author wrote the entire book on this topic. Using the metaphor of a salad bowl, the author argues passionately that the Church should look like a “salad” of different tastes, different ingredients, and different mixes. In fact, the Church is “God’s world changing social experiment” for bringing all sorts of different people together. Differences are not to be despised but welcomed. Alternatives should be celebrated. This refers to not only gender or ethnicities but also status changes like widows and widowers.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I agree, the church should experience a transformation instead of conforming to the image of the world. Unfortunately, the lines are being a little blurred and gearing towards social acceptance instead of heaven focus. We should be the standard bearers.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes I believe it is possible, but we do need to see people as Christ sees them. Only faith can do that. Thanks for the insights and for giving input.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My response is not in judgement of people, but to align with the word of God which tells us to not to conform but be transformed. Since you are making reference to heaven’s image, I am only adding to what you are saying by saying this is the image we should strive for instead of conforming.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with your points and took it in the way you intended. My fear is that the church has lost hope of reflecting heaven and is settling for the ease of the status quo.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. “Everybody wants diversity,” said Stetzer. “But many don’t want to be around people who are different.”

    I really love this quote that you included. It’s a shame that it’s true.
    Prayers from Sweden.
    Happy Blogging. X

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That Galatians verse has been especially dear to me since coming to know Christ, because I believe the world goes in the wrong direction when we want to pride ourselves on our identity based on appearance. You are absolutely right about being citizens of heaven and living by those kingdom principles here on our earthly walks.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Amen, my brother! Praising God for His mighty work in and through you!
    I have on my heart to share two articles, the second being a semi-autobiographical article I wrote over a year ago; I have no understanding of why I am to share either with you, but the Lord knows! Please let me know if you discern a purpose for them sometime on down the road. 😊

    He Who Belongs to God Hears What God Says – The Lord Is With Us

    Becoming a “Fool” in Order to Become Wise – The Lord Is With Us

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for a great post!

    You said, “I truly believe the church can reflect heaven on earth, probably because someone told me it cannot be done. Regardless of why I believe it, the key to that dream becoming a reality begins with the people of God, seeing themselves as citizens of heaven not a group of people from different earthly tribes.”

    Yes! Amen!

    I was also told heaven on earth is only after we die or after an external physical second coming, but I believe the Word of God and it says “All things are possible with God” so I am passionately pursuing and eagerly expecting and working for “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Our God is beyond GREAT!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You bring up an important point: if we introduce people to Jesus HE is the one that unites us. We can only do so much for racial harmony in the flesh. We need the Wind from heaven. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. Amen! Revelation 7:9~ I have not had the privilege of attending a Church with ethnic diversity.. but I am a member of a prayer line.. and my African American sisters can pray ! I feel it is a special gift.. because they all know how to have Church! And when they sing it stirs the soul..

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a blessing. I have had the joy and challenge of leading a church with diversity. We had Anglos, African American and African immigrants in our congregation.

      Liked by 1 person

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  29. This is very true, the question though is how to do it without those lines becoming obscured?

    A person should never be made to feel uncomfortable about being in a congregation due to his or her color, social-economic status, or perhaps even any impairments he or she may have. Yet, we see it all the time.


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  31. just realized this was a post being referred to in a different blog… SO thought I should share my thoughts here as well 🙂

    What is the church? Perhaps the problems with “diversity” is due to our perspective. We tend to think that church is something we attend or go to on a certain day of the week. Rather than the example we see in Acts 2 of the called out (ekklesia) joining and knitting their lives together in one accord on a daily basis.

    Which brings Hebrews 3 to the forefront of exhorting one another daily as long as it is called today so the deceitfulness of sin doesn’t harden our heart. Not to mention Corinthians and the body being joined like a body with every part in need of the other…

    Often the need for change is because we are not looking at the reasons why we are facing obstacles to begin with. I would contend the diversity issue is resolved when we re-examine what the church is and its need for reflection in the world on a daily basis. {let me emphasize ‘in the world’ and ‘daily’}

    For instance what does John 13 tell us about how one is recognized as a disciple(follower)?

    Where can we find scripture which speaks about us being identified as a follower by where we are for a few hours on a specific day of the week?

    And what about John 14 and the father abiding in followers?

    Can we conclude if the father is abiding in us that we are reflecting him?

    Does Matthew 5 shed any ‘light’ on the subject?

    How does all of that apply to Acts 2:46 or Acts 5:12? Does it shed a different picture of how the ekklesia functioned than how the mainstream religions of today function?


  32. Amen my brother. God bless you for staying with the vision that God has placed in your heart! My wife and I are the only non Latino members of our church. We serve as assistant pastors and the struggles you faced we face also. There are some days I would like to serve somewhere easier but for 14 years God has kept us there. Be blessed…


  33. I’ve gone to many different churches. They varied in majority race, racial diversity, economic status, denomination, worship style, music and sadly I found them all to be unfriendly. It is as though everyone is in their own little worship world. Beyond a handshake only two had members who actually tried to learn something about me. People think their church is friendly and inclusive but only to those they already know. Since my divorce I’ve been searching for a church home. Race is immediately noticed but it’s funny how once I say divorced, conversation stops. So I’m at a loss as what to do. How do I find the place God wants me to be?


    • That is so sad. I have been preaching to congregations for over twenty years now the need to have trained greeter and a visitor plan. But like you said they all think they are friendly. When in reality they like a dog that welcomes the familiar and bites the stranger. I think I need to do a series on the welcoming church.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is sad but all I can do is go, join and try to make a difference. If you do a sermon series on being a welcoming church I’d love to read it. May God bless your work and words.


  34. Now, obviously if there is a majority of a specific race living in an area, that’s mainly who you’ll see in attendance…but ALL races should be welcomed to stop by, & even join if they desire to, without feeling alienated or isolated.

    I grew up attending mostly all African-American based churches……but as an adult, I had a strong desire to seek out more diverse ministries…& it’s been such a blessing! 🙂

    What better reflection of God’s love than to show representation of ALL the races in our churches? He did create ALL of us after all!

    Very thought provoking post 🙂


  35. Great thought provoking post…as a Rev in a small rural market town in the U.K. I know diversity isn’t always as easily accepted as you’d expect!


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