Have you ever considered that your greatest gift to the world is your vulnerability?
Erwin McManus learned this lesson in the middle of one of his deepest failures.
On Thursdays in the month of January, I’m sharing some of my favorite interviews over the last couple years. I’m not the interviewer in any of these, but I will explore selections from these interviews because I feel they speak to the human struggle with fear. They speak to our longing for hope, our desire to live a courageous life. And frankly, the interviews fascinated me.
In June 2014, author, pastor and artist Erwin McManus sat down with Christianity Today. Erwin has been leading Mosaic, a church in Los Angeles, for over 20 years and I’ve been impacted by his sermons and books in a profound way. I helped lead a ministry for six years whose name came from a concept in one of Erwin’s books.
In the interview, Erwin shares about how he became deeply cynical.
“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.”
Many of us have had an experience like this where life experiences have left us jaded and we want to run away. We become cynical. I believe cynicism is a self-protection mechanism, insulating us from future hurt. Erwin became less involved in the church he led for so long and threw himself into the world of fashion and film with a lot of success.
“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…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.”
What’s so funny is that often right as we begin turning a corner, we encounter adversity which threatens our new momentum.
“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.”
When the “bottom fell out”, Erwin was faced with a choice each of us face. What do we do with our pain? Do we suffer alone or do we let others in? Are we vulnerable or do we put on a good front, faking our way through it? Erwin made an interesting decision.
“When everything collapsed, it coincided with Mosaic’s leadership retreat—we had all our leaders come together all day. I just took the day to share what had just happened. I walked through my disorientation, pain, loss, sense of betrayal, hope, my aspirations. At one point I said, “I’m telling you all this because I want you to watch God restore and rebuild my life.” You see, a lot of people had only seen me in success. Now was my chance to let them see me in absolute, utter failure.”
Erwin invited other people into his brokenness. I can remember listening to the podcast where he shared this loss with his church community during a Sunday sermon. I stopped was I doing and just listened for 20 minutes as he shared from his heart. It was one of the most profound messages I’ve heard from him.
As I was re-reading this interview earlier this week, I began to wonder, “Where am I afraid of letting other people see my scars?” I mean, as much as we post on social media, do I have people in my life – do you have people in your life – with whom you share (like Erwin) your “disorientation, pain, loss, sense of betrayal, hope, (and ) aspirations”?
I think it’s surprising what happens when we face our fear of being vulnerable. The people of Mosaic responded to Erwin.
“I’ll say it this way—it took failure to convince me that (the) real tribe of Jesus would follow me naked and unashamed. When I came to Jesus, I was willing to be naked and unashamed, but there was something missing. You know, when you’re naked, everybody sees all the wounds. They see all the scars. I wasn’t at the point to lead others into that yet. I don’t know if I was willing to say to everyone this is the life you need to live as well. Just take off the clothes and run with me. I’ve seen a lot of people live out what I try to live out and their lives have been full of pain and failure. And I want to live that out? I want to call people into that?”
It seems that Erwin still wrestles with it. It’s scary to lead authentically and vulnerably, in any setting. As one writer I enjoy once said, “Authenticity is the cry of all, but the game of few.” Vulnerability is fun to talk about but scary to do.
At the end of the interview, Christianity Today included a sound bite from one of the other pastors at Mosaic, a man named Ralph Neighbor, who shared the impact Erwin’s vulnerability had on their church.
“Even still, months later, there’s a lot of deep emotion that emerges for me as I think back to Erwin’s honesty and where that took the church. That day, a lot of Mosaic’s leadership heard things that they felt but didn’t know how to put words to—we had known something was wrong, but couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
Erwin is a very private person. He’s not the kind of person that catharts. So for him to share his failure and crisis so openly was a big deal for all of us. It felt like ground zero for us as a church leadership team. Looking back, I feel like on that day we started at the bottom and we drew a baseline of reality. It was very important.
Erwin’s always been very vulnerable as a communicator, but that day he showed his soul in a new way. Had his crisis and sharing the crisis not happened, we wouldn’t be talking about this new surge of life and new faith in our community.”
Ralph mentioned a new surge of life and faith in their community. It was during this season that Mosaic’s Hollywood campus experienced explosive growth, including nearly 500 baptisms in 2013 (more than 4x their highest yearly total previously).
Being vulnerable is always scary and it’s not without its risks. But I believe relationships on an individual level and a communal level rarely change without moments of serious vulnerability.
In 2016, you’ll face opportunities to be vulnerable with others. If you’re wise and take some of those chances (with people who are safe, who you trust), I think you’ll be blown away from what emerges from you sharing your story.