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Home > 2014 > June > Dancing in the Rain

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.

What changed?

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.

Christian celebrity was not a good space for me, and it was brutal on my kids.

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.

A lot of people had only seen me in success. now they saw me in absolute, utter failure.

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.

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Related Topics:ArtAuthenticityChangeCreativityFailureVision
From Issue:Innovation & Creativity, June 2014 | Posted: June 2, 2014

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When Joel and Rachel Triska moved into the depressed neighborhood of Deep Ellum, they asked residents what they needed—then designed a community to meet those needs.

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Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

Albert Reyes

August 09, 2014  4:38pm

Oops, I forgot my rating! Excellent story and interview.

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Albert Reyes

August 09, 2014  4:36pm

Erwin, thanks for your willingness to model authenticity and vulnerability. A Harvard professor recently said, leaders want to learn from successes but nobody wants to learn from our failures. It is not popular to start with the point of departure at failure but you have set the bar high i doing so. There is much to learn in failure. I know from experience. Thanks for leading the dance in the rain, thanks too, for your call to creativity, innovation, and imagination. Your message is so refreshing. Just as refreshing as you were when we first met. Blessings to you and your family.

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David L Hatton

June 17, 2014  9:21pm

I'm a pastor and RN. Nursing's literal view of nakedness shows the power in its biblical metaphor. We are not our fig leaves. The external persona worn to hide the true self often gets diagnosed and treated, while God's target is missed. But God's Word strips us bare for a good reason: healing. Based on this metaphor, I wrote "WILL YOU UNDRESS BEFORE GOD?" (It's Google-able.) BUT it works both ways. Truth becomes ineffective when wrapped in false clothes, no matter how popular the label or accommodating the style. There's still ministerial wisdom in the "Fable of the Naked Truth." Here's the last stanza in the poem I wrote about it: "The morning doesn't fight with night. It simply says 'So long!' with light. Just so, confusion from a lie Must go at Naked Truth's 'Good-bye!'" In the light of "naked truth," there's surely much we need to say "good-bye" to in both are personal and ministerial self-portrayals.

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Tania Harris

June 17, 2014  5:31pm

I for one, am blessed that Erwin is back in the public space. Love your ministry Erwin and all you do to inspire creativity and artistry. Looking forward to soon reading The Artisan Soul!

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