I first met Eric Bryant about 5 years ago. Eric was up in Seattle doing some training for the Strength’s Finder Assessment. One of my strengths, I discovered, is locking my keys in the car. Eric was nice enough to hang around and wait for the locksmith to come and save the day. Well, technically Eric had no choice since Gary Irby was Eric’s ride and Gary’s job at Seattle Church Planting, was solving my problems :-). So while Eric had no choice in waiting 2 1/2 hours for AAA to come and rescue me, he was still nice enough to not get mad or call me names. Seriously though, it was a fun spending time getting to know Eric and now I get the chance to introduce him to you.

At the time of the Great Car Fiasco of 2007, Eric had already moved from church planting to take a nice “cushy” job as Navigator for Erwin McManus at Mosaic Church in LA where he got paid to travel all around the world (Can I be your valet Eric?). Since then, Eric has moved to Texas and gone on staff with John Burke at Gateway Church.

While Eric was at Mosaic, he published his first book, Peppermint Filled Piñatas. PFP, is a book that discusses the importance of friendship in overcoming prejudice. From his perspective as a Bald White Guy (BWG), Eric shares stories from his life that help inspire people to develop transformational friendships.

Rather than give a detailed critique of the book, I decided that a short interview with Eric would be more insightful. Eric was gracious enough to agree so lets get right to the questions.

JOE: Welcome to More Than Cake Eric. I am so glad you made the time to talk with my readers. Eric, why do you think making friends is such a difficult task for many Christians and pastors?

ERIC: I think it is a difficult task for people in general. Unfortunately, we are growing up in a world where people don’t know how to have healthy relationships. Even more challenging, pastors and Christians get sucked into relationships with people who look, believe, and act just like we do. It is easier for us, but the world around us is quickly changing which requires developing the relational skills to develop friendships even in the midst of disagreement. Too often believers forget that we have been “sent out” into relationships and “set apart” in our behavior not the other way around. We are called to love, serve, befriend, and influence the people around us – even and especially those with whom we may disagree.

JOE: Eric, in PFP you talk about overcoming prejudices. You tell some funny stories about your own experience of being a bald white guy (BWG) in a largely minority community in LA. Now relate that to the staff at Mosaic which is very diverse; from the top down. What are some of the prejudices that you all, as leaders for Mosaic, have worked through in creating such a tight knit group of leaders?

ERIC: I think the normal trajectory for people is towards broken relationships. As a result, we have to work really hard at developing meaningful friendships that stand the test of time and test of trials. Our diverse team works really hard at having meaningful conversations. As a result we try to affirm each other and apologize often. A big part of what brings us together is our common mission to change the world. It is the cause of Christ that creates community! Another important factor which keeps us unified is our friendships. We have fun together! We enjoy being with each other – even outside the context of our working relationships. Diversity makes relationships more complex, but there is so much beauty in getting to know others from different backgrounds.

JOE: Cool, I am with you 100%! So let me follow up on that point. Do you have some examples of prejudices from within the staff or toward the staff from those on the outside looking in that could help others learn from your experience to create a healthy and diverse team within their church?

ERIC: I think there are always going to be examples of prejudice, but not just as a result of gender or ethnicity but moreso with personality or passions. Working through conflict always involves being honest about what we are experiencing and feeling, but it is possible to work through it when the conversation is in the context of building a genuine friendship. Overcoming conflict requires humility and the willingness to listen and learn.

JOE: I was talking with some folks here in Seattle about diversity in the church. Their approach to diversity was more about tearing down what they called “power structures” of the white church. They see the road to diversity more in terms of creating new power structures to replace the old ones. Do you see diversity as a struggle for power or more as a struggle to broaden friendships? Or is there some kind of mix between the two?

ERIC: I think there is a mix between the two. Some churches have achieved remarkable diversity in terms of those who attend yet not among those leading. I wrote an article years ago entitled, “Creating a Diverse Community.” In the article I point out the path towards creating a diverse community includes sacrificing our mission (to match the mission of Jesus), our relationships (to befriend those being overlooked), and our power (to empower those who aren’t represented). In many ways at Mosaic, we have created a new community with a new culture which is experimental, missional, and goes beyond ethnic or socioeconomic or religious barriers.

JOE: We definitely share those values for create a diverse community. Clearly Eric you are a guy who thrives on making relationships and building them to last. My wife and I share that passion. Obviously though not all relationships last forever. Sometime people just quit on you. Sometimes people betray your friendship. Sometimes, you let people down and they just can’t forgive you. How have you learned to deal with the heartache and disappointment in these kinds of situations?

ERIC: When we love and serve and invest in broken people, they bring their brokenness and unhealthy patterns into the relationship. We need to remember that they aren’t always rejecting us, but they are rejecting the God who wants to help them change. I find comfort in reading about Paul’s struggle as a church planter who was often betrayed and abandoned. I also try to make sure I have done “everything I can to live at peace with everyone.” If I have, I simply have to pray for God to change their hearts, but I cannot allow their brokenness to slow down my attempts to help others who are broken.

JOE: Great stuff Eric! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me and share your heart with the readers here at More Than Cake. I hope everyone will get motivated to go out and buy a copy of Peppermint Filled Piñatas. As people read your humorous short stories, I hope everyone is inspired to pursue lasting friendships that will tear down prejudices make a Kingdom impact.

Blessings brother!

About Dr. Eric Bryant: Eric serves with Gateway Church in Austin as the team leader for the Central Austin region, the South Austin campus, and as part of the teaching team. From 1998-2010, Eric served as a speaker, navigator, and an elder with the leadership team at Mosaic in Los Angeles, a church known for its creativity and diversity. The four years prior to that he helped plant a church in Seattle, WA. Eric serves as part of the The Origins Project, a movement of people committed to Jesus, Humanity, and Innovation Eric earned his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership with Bethel Seminary and has taught at the Southern California campuses of Golden Gate Seminary and Fuller Seminary. Eric lives with his wife, Debbie, and two children, Caleb and Trevi near downtown in Austin, TX.

Dr. Joe Miller (aka JR) is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. In addition, he is a church planter and coach for emerging leaders. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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