Church Doesn’t Look Just Like Me Anymore

Jul 03, 2017

I have been around the Summit longer than most people. But then again, I’ve been around places longer than most people. You could say that I’m chronologically mature. So not only do I remember what it was like when the Summit was “Homestead Heights”; I also remember what Homestead Heights was before Pastor J.D. showed up.

Some people may find this surprising, but I think Homestead Heights was destined to become a church that valued diversity. Sam James, our church’s founding pastor, was a leader in trying to bridge the white-black divide in Durham churches, way back in the 1960s. I’ve heard him tell the story of how God called him to the mission field in Vietnam, and a key part of that was his passion for those who did not look like him. It began by fighting against a culture that wanted to keep black people out of white churches. And it propelled him to the other side of the world.

So the seeds of diversity had been sown in Homestead Heights, even if we lost our focus along the way. Now, you may think, “Carl, he’s an old white guy. What does he care? He probably wishes everyone was old and white.” But the Holy Spirit has always moved me toward people who don’t look like me. Take, for instance, a young man by the name of J.D. Greear.

When J.D. came along, wanting to be Pastor J.D., I was on the pastor search committee and was really hung up on his age. At 27 years old, the guy was just so young. The Holy Spirit, however, made me cross over. J.D. had been around the church for a while, and God was preparing him—and our church—for this new role. He was preparing our church to take its first step toward diversity, beginning with age. I started seeing packs of people that, well, didn’t look like “Homestead Heights” kind of people. They were young. And the hesitation I had felt at hiring a 27-year-old pastor began to disappear. In fact, I was delighted.

Back then, J.D. gave us an ultimatum: “If you want me as your pastor, you need to know that I’m a ‘missions man.’ I want the church to look like the community and the world.” We agreed, even though we didn’t really know what he meant. We would soon find out. Pastor J.D. shared the same heart as Sam James—a heart to reach all of the peoples of the world. And as Raleigh-Durham became the international city it is today, our church began to draw people—seemingly randomly—from India, China, and other parts of the world.

Being a “missions man,” it turned out, also meant reflecting the diversity of our community. I vividly remember being in a directional elder meeting when Pastor J.D. asked Chris Green (now one of our African American pastors), “If I were to make you a campus pastor at Chapel Hill, would you think you were a ‘token’?” Chris responded, “If you aren’t ever intentional about it, it’ll never happen.” Thank God that Pastor J.D. was intentional about it, because it’s begun to catch.

I have a friend in Dubai who contacted me about finding a church for some of his friends here in the area who are doing post-doc work at Duke and UNC. They told me that they were looking for a good evangelical church online, and when they saw pictures of ethnic diversity on our website, it made them want to see what we were doing. Our focus on diversity is impacting the world.

I sit toward the back on Sunday mornings now in an effort to get to know new people. And it has astonished me how far we’ve come. Recently I looked around and saw dozens of Asian, Hispanic, and African American people sitting within 50 feet of me. It’s an answer to prayer. And it makes first-time guests feel like there’s a place for them at the Summit—because, of course, there is.

People often ask me, “When you called J.D. to be the pastor, did you realize it would look like this?” And I always respond, “No, because if I had known, it would’ve scared me to death!” The Summit has changed tremendously in the past 15 years. It doesn’t look just like me anymore.

And I thank God for that every day.

by Carl Scott