Cultivating Cross-cultural, Cross-racial Relationships

I recently attended a basketball game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Washington Wizards. The Mavericks’s home arena was packed to capacity. People from many cultures and races attended the game. They were smiling at each other, cheering together, and even sharing popcorn. The people I met were so friendly it seemed as though I’d known them all my life. The unity and oneness I felt and saw was incredible—we were connected! At the end of the game, people got back to their normal routines. The cheering was over and most people did not have time to exchange smiles. People rushed to their vehicles and went their separate ways.

I am not suggesting that these people should have done something different. The game was over and they went home. The brief relationships established during the game will never be nurtured. In fact, we may never again see the people we met at the game. That’s all right. No one should expect anything more from a group of people who attend a ballgame. However, should we expect the same behavior from people of various cultures and races who attend the same local church?

Unfortunately, in some multicultural, multiracial congregations, people attend church together, sing together, pray together, and exchange smiles, but when the Sunday morning service ends, those brief relationships are not nurtured. I call this “surface integration.” I don’t believe people intentionally avoid building and nurturing cross-cultural relationships. I do think, however, that people generally find it easier to develop relationships with members of their own culture and race.

Such tendencies should motivate us to intentionally cultivate healthy relationships with other races and cultures in the local church. Those who attend integrated churches have achieved the first step in the cultivating process, namely, worshiping together. There are, however, additional factors that contribute to sustained cross-cultural/racial relationships.

Working Together

Doing the Lord’s work with people from diverse backgrounds is rewarding. Sharing common ministerial goals almost always leads to a unique bond among those who minister. Currently, our preaching staff has representatives from the African American community, the community of India, and the White community. It is a joy spending time together planning and talking about our preaching ministry.

Crying Together

Another factor that cultivates relationships is ministering to hurting people. Pain knows no color, and suffering is not prejudiced. We all experience distress in our lives at one time or another. During such times, race and culture make no difference; the person who offers kind words, a prayer, a hug, or encouragement makes a difference. Shared pain is the “glue” of multicultural, multiracial relationships.

Playing Together

A few years ago, one of our deacons, who is white, asked me to attend a rodeo with his family. I thought, I grew up in the hood, where all I saw were rats, cats, and dogs, and some of the rats were killing the cats and fighting the dogs. I’m not the type of guy who would attend a rodeo. The entire experience was foreign to me. I did, however, attend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This event strengthened my relationships with this deacon and his family. Be willing to spend time together away from church and experience things outside of your cultural comfort zone.

Talking with One Another

It is nearly impossible to nurture cross-racial, cross-cultural relationships without talking about challenges and successes that exist among people. Open and honest dialogue strengthens relationships. We may need time to become comfortable speaking openly with someone from a different race. Yet, in order for relationships to advance to the next level, we must include moments when people of different races and cultures look each other in the eyes and talk about similarities and differences. When you engage in such dialogue, you will learn many things about other people and about yourself.

This post originally appeared in There’s More Than One Color in the Pew: A Handbook for Multicultural, Multiracial Churches by Tony Mathews.

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