Willow Creek’s South Barrington campus welcomes guest speaker Erwin McManus for the first two Midweek Experience services of this summer (June 5 and 12). Erwin is the lead pastor of Mosaic, an influential church in Los Angeles that fosters the arts. He’s a best-selling author, well-loved Summit speaker, husband, and father. He’s a futurist and an artist—both in the world of fashion as a creative and artistic director and in the world of film as a writer, director, and producer.
But what makes Erwin a fascinating speaker is not the diversity of roles he plays—it’s his vision and passion for the church. Before you hear him in the Lakeside Auditorium on June 5 and 12, here’s your chance to meet the man beneath the many hats:
Willow Creek (WC): To get started, can you tell us a bit about your faith journey?
Erwin McManus: Sure. I didn’t become a Christ follower until I was grown, so I didn’t grow up in the church. I didn’t have the same dichotomy of faith many church-raised kids have. When I found Christ, I simply knew I’d been encountered by God, that Jesus changed my life, and that the universe was prescribed by Him. I’m grateful my first experience with the church was with sincere, joy-filled individuals who just encountered Jesus. As a new believer, I dived into a clear, freshwater pond of faith. My church was very traditional, and it didn’t relate to me culturally—and I learned relevance and innovation are important but love can cover a multitude of irrelevance. In seminary, I was profoundly impacted by two of my professors, but the Christianity I experienced there lacked joy. I knew whatever my future held, it needed to reflect the joy-filled faith I’d first experienced—that freshwater pond of faith in Jesus, in a relevant world.
WC: And your family?
Erwin: My wife, Kim, and I got married while completing our master’s degrees. We have two kids. Aaron (24) works as a brand ambassador for Yves Saint Laurent in New York City—and is heavily involved in Hillsong New York—and Mariah (21) is the leader of our worship ministry at Mosaic and continues to expand her music career as a singer/songwriter. (She has placed several songs on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and others. She’s in the studio this week recording her second album.) And we have a foster daughter, Paty, who is married with two kids and lived in Indonesia for several years, working in an intensely Islamic region of the world.
WC: So how did you end up as a pastor in L.A.?
Erwin: If you want to create the future, you have to go where the future is created.
What is the capital of the future? Los Angeles. When I finished seminary, L.A. was one of only five cities in the world with more than 5 million people and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.
People think if you’re called to ministry, you’re uncalled to everything else. I disagree. From the beginning, I never felt comfortable being in only one world—“the church world.”
WC: You wear several hats—any one of which could be a full-time job. What do you feel is your primary assignment from God?
Erwin: It’s the same calling, no matter the venue: to find beauty, story, and meaning in the culture around me—and to help the church create the future. It was always a given that I’d have an anchor in the culture around me. In my adult life, I worked 20 years as a futurist in the marketplace and 10 years with the urban poor; all of those years were in ministry. And today, no matter what else I have going on, I still see my calling as helping the church engage the culture and build the future, rather than letting the future happen to us—to lead from the future, where the church needs to go.
WC: How does Mosaic seek to create the future?
Erwin: Our singular focus is not to grow in size, but to grow in influence. If you reach 200 innovators, you can have a disproportionate influence on culture than if you reach 2,000 late adopters. So we are willing to sacrifice the early and late adopters. They’re not our target. We go after the innovators—those whose circle of influence brings the message of Christ far beyond our walls.
Mosaic was founded on the belief that every follower of Jesus was born to create. We are all creative—we were all made in the image of a creative God. So where are you creating?
Too often with followers of Jesus, we keep waiting for God to give us permission to create the future. But He’s already given us that permission! He’s invited us to bring His kingdom to earth. We just need to be courageous and create a better future. If we don’t take the courageous step, we are only leading from the past, not leading into the future. The church has a relationship with the future that we have not fully stepped into yet. The future is ours to create.
WC: You’ve directed a number of small film projects—including the Doritos commercial from the 2012 Super Bowl. How does your work in the entertainment industry relate to your faith?
Erwin: Being a pastor is how God has crafted me to be in a relationship with the community of faith. Being an artist is how God has crafted me to express my humanity. I couldn’t stop creating if my life depended upon it. I wake up wanting to create stories that bring life. I feel such connectedness to writing and directing. Directing is like painting without arms.
WC: Is there a story behind your increased involvement in film?
Erwin: Yes. Pastoring is about relinquishing your dreams to free others to live their dreams. When most of my energy went to being a pastor, parts of me were untapped, denied. A few years ago, at 49, I sensed God telling me, “I want you to absorb the beauty of the universe and make it known to the world.” My calling was being redefined. God redeployed me on a mission to create beautiful things. I felt freed to be an artist—to focus more of my energies there. I sensed God was inviting me to focus on three things: beauty, story, and meaning. And at that point, I began being more deliberate about making films. I am still the lead pastor at Mosaic, but these days I am letting the artist in me do more creating rather than just freeing others to create.
WC: What projects outside of Mosaic are you working on these days?
Erwin: I just finished a book called The Artisan Soul. No release date yet, but the premise is this: Everyone is an artist and life is a work of art.
And I have two feature films in the works. The Redemption of Cain is the story of two brothers and the one woman they love who both brings them together and tears them apart. In his guilt, one of the brothers takes a 365-day trek across Australia as penance—it’s really the story of Cain, the murderer, who became a restless wanderer, and how he tries to reconcile with God. And that’s our role as Christians—to walk alongside our broken brothers in their pain.
The other film is The Unusual Nature of All Things Human. It’s a true story of an American soldier in Afghanistan who was about to commit suicide when suddenly it began snowing there for the first time in 100 years. It’s about the divine intervention of hope.
Erwin will speak at the next two Midweek Experience services. Come prepared to hear Erwin’s messages that might make you squirm—and will certainly make you think. “I don’t speak to inspire,” he says. “I speak to change minds.”
- 7–9 p.m., Wednesday, June 5 (Note: Brandon Grissom and band lead an extended time of worship, followed by Erwin’s message.)
- 7–8:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 12