Jamie Merritt: Building a Multi-Ethnic Community in a Racially Divided Culture

Berean1This past year our nation has once again experienced the immense sting of racial conflict. From Ferguson, Missouri to Dallas, Texas, the scars of racism continue to inflict pain like a dirty band-aid being ripped off an old wound. The heartbreaking events have caused many to feel completely exasperated, angry, and confused. Every time another event takes place, it is like we are in a horrific version of the movie “Groundhog Day”, where we’re forced to relive the same event, hear the same dialogue, and experience the same emotions.

On one level, this year has been deeply troubling. Yet, on another level, the raw emotions have provided me some encouragement.

I have the privilege of serving on staff at a multi-ethnic church plant right here in Gwinnett County. I have been amazed to watch a diverse community being forged together right before my eyes. In fact, Berean Bible Church is celebrating its one year anniversary this week, and while we are far from having everything figured out, this milestone is a great time to consider the lessons God has taught us through our inaugural year. What principles have benefited our church in creating a multi-ethnic community? Are there principles that might also help build a multi-ethnic community right here in Gwinnett County? I think so. In fact, two principles stand out.

1. We must leave our preferences at the door.

When I teach our new members class here at Berean, I like to tell people our goal is to make everyone uncomfortable. It sounds funny, but it’s true. I say that, not because personal preferences are a bad thing, but when your way becomes “the way”, you can forget about building a multi-ethnic community. The reality is our personal preferences tend to be shaped by the culture in which we grew up, and if we are not careful, preferences can quickly turn into demands.

For example, I grew up in a home that after every dinner, we got dessert. For my wife Tiffany, dessert after a meal was a special treat. On one of our first days as newlyweds, Tiffany worked really hard to prep, cook, and present a meal I would enjoy. Setting my fork down once I cleaned my plate, I grunted out my call for dessert. Rather than thanking my bride for the time she poured into dinner, I was only thinking of my sweet tooth. That probably was not the best thing I could have said at that moment! What I thought was “the way” to do dinner was really just the result of my upbringing.

Demanding our personal preferences in a community tends to be like demanding desserts after every meal. It may be delicious for a season, but it destroys what is healthy, and in the end, it kills something beautiful.

2. Enjoying a Meal Together Goes a Long Way.

At Berean, we encourage our people to eat together… a lot! In fact, our weekly Community Groups just about always involve food. We love to gather, eat, laugh, and just enjoy each other’s company. Many of us enjoy meals together outside of church as well. Think about the times you have sat down at the table this week. Who are you with? We tend to eat with friends, family, and people closest to us. If you are married, you probably remember falling in love over a few meals. The table is often the place where deep friendships are made.

In fact, the word “companion” comes from the Latin “cum” (together) and “panis” (bread). So in a real sense, companionship happens when people come together and break bread, literally. Food matters. Meals matter. Is there anything more expressive of friendship than a diverse group of people enjoying a good meal and laughing around a table?

Too often though we address race issues using the lowest common denominator. In other words, we tend to think “Well, as long as I’m not a racist…” or “I sure don’t think other races are inferior to mine…” or “I have a co-worker that’s a different race, and we get along just fine.” Yet none of these sentiments reveal a heart that embraces diversity. It sounds more like a heart that tolerates diversity.

Berean2Building a true multi-ethnic community will not come by merely tolerating one another, but rather by celebrating one another and our unique differences. It goes beyond us having dialogues about race. We need diverse fellowship accompanied with meaningful conversation around our dinner tables. We need to sit and enjoy a meal while we hear the background stories of life. We need to laugh. We need to struggle through the awkwardness of developing a new relationship. We need to embrace one another because when meals happen, community happens.

If authentic, intentional friendships are formed within a diverse community, real, deep-down healing starts to happen. Community is built, and the church can shine like a city on a hill.

It would be our honor to have you join us this Sunday at Berean Bible Church, 480 Cooper Road, Loganville GA. Our services are at 9:15 and 11 AM. Who knows? You might just get a free meal out of it! bereanchurchga.com

Jamie was born and raised in Columbus, Georgia. He grew up as a pastor’s kid with nine brothers and sisters and accepted Jesus at a young age. While attending Toccoa Falls College, he met his wife Tiffany, and they were married in 2004. They have 4 children: Hallie, Sophie, Tucker, and Evie. Jamie has an MDiv from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a DMin from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jamie has a passion to teach and preach God’s Word. He also oversees Berean’s Community Groups. Jamie enjoys time with his wife and children, as well as hunting, fishing, golfing, and watching Georgia Football.

Author: Jason

Jason Brooks is the owner and editor of Grayson Local. A resident of Grayson for over 14 years, he loves the Grayson community and the potential it holds. A former pastor, Jason now works as a freelance writer. He has written for The John Maxwell Company, North Point Ministries, The Ford Motor Company, Catalyst, and several regional magazines as well. You can follow Jason on Twitter (@JasonMuses).

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