Erwin McManus is a difficult man to sum up. Equal parts preacher, artist, entrepreneur, and iconoclast, his ministry over the past decades has consisted as much of breaking pastoral expectations as fulfilling them. His passion for creativity and artistry of the spirit are highlighted in his latest book The Artisan Soul, a spiritual "manifesto for creativity."
I sat down with McManus in a little bistro in Los Angeles' Larchmont neighborhood to discuss the new movement of life at Mosaic and the experiences of failure and honesty that are leading the community to discover the voice of its own artisan soul.
Let's begin at the end. Mosaic baptized 468 new Christians in 2013. That's a departure from the year before, right?
It's a departure from every year before. From the beginning, our community has been focused on people outside of Christianity. But that emphasis means that a lot of hard work is represented in every person who is baptized. It took sweat, blood, tears—brutal hard work—for each new Christian. It took talking to them for years about faith. Months, if it was fast. In the past, the most baptisms we ever had in a year was 118. The average was around 60, I think.
Much of the change was a personal one for me. I've worked in the business world and as a futurist the whole 20 years that I've led at Mosaic. But about five years ago I took a hard detour and stepped back to focus on fashion and film. The system of Christian celebrity was not a good space for me, and it was brutal on my kids—my son in college was frequently confronted by people railing against me as a heretic. At one point he said, "Dad, I don't want to spend every day in my life defending being McManus." It was hard. I would literally go on Trip Advisor every day and start looking at places where I could disappear. Where no one would know I existed.
I wanted to quietly become a non-story in the Christian world. Even though I was still connected to Mosaic, I wasn't profoundly integrated. I thought I was going to step out of public conversation with the broader Christian movement. I stopped writing books or speaking at Christian events.
Five years later my son sent me a note: "Dad, if we make bags and make films but don't take Jesus to the world, we've accomplished nothing." He challenged me to reengage. Reflecting on that later, I told my wife Kim, "I feel like God turned a light on." I felt like I was alive again.
In the meantime, my company did really well. I had 30 or 40 employees around the country. We were making a lot of money. I thought I was going to reach the fashion and film industries for Christ. I felt like the church didn't want to imagine or create. At one point, I was walking on the beach and felt like I had heard God say to me, "I want you to absorb the beauty of the universe and give it to the world." That became my mission for life. But I think the false assumption I made is that I could only do that outside of the church.
Beautiful things were happening. God was working in amazing ways—already bringing an unusual number of people to faith. I reconnected with Mosaic, and began to make sense of my own story.
And then right after that, my company was stolen from me. I lost millions of dollars in one day. I had to fly home and tell my wife that we lost everything. I felt like I was going to die. Everything had felt so affirming. So clear. Like God was moving. Then the bottom fell out.