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Soul Cravings: Erwin McManus Q & A

Soul Cravings: Erwin McManus Q & A

Erwin McManus, the pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles, is the author of a handful of books on the Christian life. All of his books challenge and affirm—encouraging his readers to be who God has called him or her to be. His newest installment, Soul Cravings is no different from that standpoint. However, in his most recent book, Erwin invites the reader into a more personal relationship with God. Recently RELEVANT had the chance to speak with Erwin at length about his new book, his sense of urgency and being an irreligious pastor.

In Soul Cravings you seem to have moved from personal change to world change or, better-said, world change from personal change. You wrote, “the world will change when we change” with a more intense sense of urgency. Why the sense of urgency?

I’m so glad that that gets across. I think it’s several things. I was telling my wife—I just turned 48 years old—[about] the stuff that they tell you that will leave when you are no longer 20 years old, you know, that sense of irrational zealousness, passion and urgency. I’ve had it all my life and people try to categorize it by telling you that, “You are just in your 20s and you will chill, mellow,” and “You’ll stabilize.” And I told my wife, “I wake up every morning with an intense sense of urgency that something must be done.” I don’t guess that it’s ever going to leave me. I realize that I live on the bubble of insanity. I feel the weight of human suffering, loneliness and despair on me all the time. It’s not getting easier, if anything, it’s always right on the edge of my skin.

I’m not sure how to put this into a public setting, but I keep hearing guys that are my peers or older, and they talk to everybody like it’s time to retire. And my question is: why is everybody in retirement mode? I don’t really get it. Maybe it’s just that I’m not getting better. I haven’t found the cure yet, and maybe I don’t want to be cured.

I have a huge sense of concern, because a lot of the postmodern conversation seems to be incredibly self-indulgent. It’s about: “how do I connect to God?”; “how do I create an authentic community for me and my Christian friends?” It seems that the questions are wrong. We keep asking, “How do we create postmodern churches?” rather than asking, “How do we serve and reach the postmodern world?”

I was with a church recently, and I told them that they were still trying figure out how to do church better, and what you need to be asking is: how do we create the future?

That is a great question for the church-planting world.

As long as they’re more motivated by personal success than the transformation of humanity, we’re going to take the short route. You can plant a church and grow a church. That’s not that hard to do, but it’s harder to be a viable source of transformation in a city or your time or space. I’m just trying to get people to care about the things that God cares about, and I know somehow they will find the solution. Soul Cravings doesn’t answer a lot of solutions. I have an incredible confidence in the resilience of the human spirit and the creative ability of the Holy Spirit. So, if you can get people asking the right questions, it really will start moving in the right direction.

You claim to be an “irreligious pastor.” Please explain this in more detail.

I have so much confidence in the reality of Jesus that I feel no pressure to try to make people act or be a certain way. I’m banking everything on the fact that God actually changes people. For me, I don’t do what I do because I have to. As well, I don’t make my life choices because I worried about judgment or anything like that. For me, my whole motivation in life is love. And ironically, I know a lot of people think that to be irreligious means that they cuss a lot or drink a lot, and that’s where we are finding our freedom. But actually, what is happening is we’re finding safe ways to be risky. If you really want to be risky, do something that is genuinely valuable and risky at the same time. I don’t need to smoke a cigar to feel fully alive. I felt fully alive when I was in the middle of the Hezbollah.

The ways that young Christians are going about feeling alive and free and find their freedom in Christ is totally fine—I just want them to realize that there is nothing inherently dangerous, life changing or history making about those types of choices. With my kids, it’s amazing. They have grown up with such an incredible moral center without really talking to them about morality in that sense. I just talk to them about making choices that allows them to live a life where they can say “I’ve made a good investment with my seventy-eightness.”

I don’t have much value for religion. I don’t feel any need to defend Christianity. I think Christianity is the same as Buddhism and Hinduism—whenever a religion begins to say that these are the things you have to do to be loved by God, you have a religion. The defining difference is not that you have to do these things to be loved by God, it’s that God loves you, and if you would just turn around, you’d run right into His love. The Scriptures tell us that we are unconditionally loved, and we cannot lose that love. That’s a huge risk because now God can’t motivate us through fear, or judgment, or wrath—I mean He has actually leveraged everything where He believes in the power of love to change us. That’s a huge risk.

Any more thoughts on that?

I guess for me, I’m looking and going—what does it mean to be a person who is not trapped by the confines of religion but has actually experienced the power of God. Paul says, “Everything is permissible, but not all things are beneficial.”

The more people you love, the more you make decisions not based on yourself. I look at people who commit adultery, and in that moment of your life, you’ve decided that your personal satisfaction is more important than all the pain you might cause for everyone else in your life. The more people you love the more difficult it will be for you to make life destructive decisions. If I love my wife—even if I’m unhappy in my marriage—I will make decisions that are best for her; the same with my daughter and my son. I feel like my choices are based on trying to care for other people more than I care for myself. Does that make sense?

What connections do you see between trust and creativity?

Ironically, when you ask about trust and creativity, the first thing that comes to mind is failure—that how you deal with failure and mistakes is actually the best measure of the level of trust in your community. When you trust people, you will always find a moment when you’ll be disappointed or someone has failed or really made a wrong choice. You can use it as a basis to not trust people. We use it against them. At Mosaic, people feel incredibly free to fail. It’s a safe place to risk and make a terrible mistake. We do have an environment that is based on confidence in people.

Some organizations want to control the end product, and what we want to do is have a high control over the quality of people. When we trust a person’s character, we let them have an immense amount of freedom—knowing that even those people will not always make the best decisions because you grow in wisdom. The difference when talking about trust and creativity is that a part of our creative environment is that every organization has tight control somewhere, and where we are tight is control on character. As we get to know people and we trust their character, we give them huge freedom in the creative process. Then, if we find they make bad judgments, we help them to make better judgments in their life. We see it as a process not as an end result. Unfortunately, many churches are so afraid of making mistakes that they don’t; that’s why the creative process dies. Creativity and failure are twins.

Having visited Mosaic, the focus on character is obvious in that community, and it’s invigorating.

You know how most churches are focused on excellence? When your focus is excellence, and your focus is execution—in terms of it having to be executed precisely so it’s efficient—excellence and efficiency actually are enemies of the creative process. People confuse churches that strive for excellence and efficiency for churches that are creative. At Mosaic, when we are talking about creativity, we are talking about beauty. We know that we (Mosaic) don’t always execute with excellence, and we almost never execute with efficiency. The creative process isn’t really an efficient process. This is part of the challenge for our community.

Just one more thought. Because people don’t know where to put our community they put us in the “emergent” category, and we really are a different animal than emergent. We’re not against emergent, but we are not like them.

I’m just saying that it’s just not Mosaic. Our dilemma is that we are trying to create an entire new category and people keep trying to put us in different ones.

Well, I hope you keep evading them.

Soul Cravings will be in stores on November 14, 2006.

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