Erwin McManus, lead pastor of Mosaic Church in LA preached at City Harvest Church’s Emerge Conference from July 12-14, blessing youths of all ages with his authentic messages. City News caught up with Pastor Erwin on the topics of emotional issues, parenting and what inspires his books.
Pastor Erwin, on the first night of the Emerge conference you talked about depression in your message and invited those who did not know Jesus to receive Him as their Savior. For all the young people struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts who gave their hearts to Jesus that night, what are the next steps?
If a person struggles with depression, there is usually a certain pattern they take on. Strangely enough, when you’re depressed, you want to be alone; but when you’re alone, you feel more alone and you get depressed.
So there are some practical things, like joy, that are contagious. You need to be around people who are enjoying life. Take time to do things with friends and to do life. Go see a movie, have a great dinner, create memories that make life worth living—that will help establish new patterns in your life.
Also, simple things like getting daylight. If you avoid sunlight, it’ll actually accelerate the depression. That’s why a lot of time when you’re depressed you just stay inside, close the curtains and you turn off the lights. You are avoiding sunlight. I tell people to get out in the morning, get at least an hour of sunlight. Don’t wear sunglasses, don’t wear a hat. God created the environment such that the rays of the sun around 8 to 11am are actually necessary for mental health. Allow the light to get into your system: it’ll actually help you with depression.
Some internal disciplines [to start practicing]: when you pray, one of the most difficult things for a person who’s depressed is to focus on is other people, because when you’re depressed, you are overthinking your own life. The internal narrative is all about yourself. I would say some of the spiritual disciplines would be to serve others because when you begin serving other people, you ignite your endorphins. And you create a physiological response that makes you healthier and you feel good about yourself because you’re finally focusing on someone else and not on yourself.
Take time to meditate and reflect on all the things that are good in your life. When you spend time with God praying, take time to actually think about things that bring you joy and thank God for those things. A lot of times we only focus on our problems. But if you only pray about your problems, you’re increasing your depression. God already knows your problems! Take time to let Him speak to you about the things you should look at and be grateful for. Take time to see the beauty around you.
One thing I would do is to make sure I step out into something natural, look at trees or flowers. Humans are designed to interact with beauty. Beauty affects us. It is spiritual because God created us this way. And of course, it’s really important to allow the hope of God’s word to get into your life. You can memorize passages and meditate on passages that remind you of the hope and the joy that God has for you.
A lot of times, people who follow Jesus know those truths–they just can’t figure out how to make them work in their lives. It (the Bible) says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving…” (Phil 4:6). When you’re giving thanks, you’re overcoming depression. Thankfulness begins to overcome depression.
You also spoke about the lack of inner peace. Is that a trend you see in many young people today? How can the church help them?
[I see this] All the time. I think it’s more prevalent here in Singapore than people are willing to admit. There’s an epidemic of suicide and a high level of depression. I think any culture that attaches its identity with achievement is going to have young people who are really traumatized and empty inside.
One thing [the church can do] is to help parents feel more comfortable in showing love and acceptance to the kids. I know we want our kids to succeed, but we cannot build our own self-worth on our children’s success. A lot of the problems our kids are having are manifestations of the problems the adults have. The parents are passing on their own dysfunction to their children. We have to help our children know that they are loved without condition. We challenge them to be great because we believe in their greatness. But their greatness is not the condition of their acceptance and love. We need to learn how to build those narratives separately.
On the topic of parenting, you have a very close relationship with your children and they are all serving God. How did you do it?
I never made my kids think they needed to be in ministry. In fact, I probably led them in other directions. I encouraged them to pursue other things. My son (Aaron) was in the fashion industry, the film industry, and he has all kinds of interests outside of the church. My daughter (Mariah) was a recording artist for television shows like Grey’s Anatomy when she was 16 and she still has a very strong secular music career. They keep growing as people and have relationships in the broader world.
I love doing life and ministry with them. It’s not easy–they are very opinionated (laughs) and they’re very strong-willed. They both are really strong leaders. Aaron has helped open up our last four campuses and he is one of our most strategic leaders. Mariah has affected all of Mosaic, perhaps more than anyone, and created our worship culture. Mosaic MSC (Mosaic’s worship band) is now global. At the same time, she’s now in NYC performing her secular music. And it’s just been a joy to watch, but I think my kids know that I love them whether they work in the church or not, and that whatever career they want I’ll support them. I never told them what they should become.
Parenting is difficult in this era because there are so many voices out there talking to our children. How do we help our children navigate?
There’s always a world to navigate in. I think one thing parents have to realize is that the world never goes backward, so you’re not going to have a world without the Internet, unless we have some kind of apocalyptic moment where we lose all technology (laughs).
Instead of always lamenting social media, and hating technology, we need to realize that there was a generation that had to deal with the first time we had lightbulbs. Lightbulbs changed human experience, because before that, at sunset everybody went home; you never went back out. When the lightbulbs were created, it created nightlife, and for the first time in human history, there were restaurants you go to at night—entirely new worlds opened up. Now we have movie theatres and television.
Growing up, we only had three television stations and they only ran for four hours a day. That’s all. Talking about corrupting our culture right? Now there are so many channels it goes into triple digits. But we’re acting like our children are the only one facing technological evolution. We went through it as well and we survived it. We did okay and our parents before us, they survived their technological evolution. Right now, what I see is that technology is one percent of the inventions that will happen in the next hundred years. Their children are going to step into realities that this generation can’t even imagine. So what’s going to happen when we have AI and holograms that are interactive?
Social media allows our worst nature to spread faster. But I think there’s going to be a backlash because right now, we have a lot of anti-bullying campaign, there’s lower tolerance for haters. We see hate culture accelerate so high that even in social media, even in the secular world, people are realizing that this disruptive nature of innovation has to be stopped. I actually am very hopeful, because usually when there’s innovation, everyone goes crazy. And you see the worst come first: I think pornography is the first thing you see on the Internet. It shouldn’t surprise us that the dark part of who we are emerges faster but the good part of being human tends to come right behind it and say, “Enough is enough.” I’m always a very hopeful person, I always believe in the inherent desire in human to create a better world even if we are not always capable of doing that.
Is it really a more dangerous world than when we invented nuclear fusion and when we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? That, to me, is the most dangerous world we have ever known: when we had the bomb and we were using it and the rest of the world didn’t know when the next bomb was going to drop. Sometimes we lose our perspective; I have people hate me on Twitter, it’s not the same (laughs).
Maybe what we can do is to create a culture that cares less about what people think of us. I do think it has created a moment when we lack emotional intelligence. Because the one thing about texting is that it doesn’t allow you to develop facial recognition or facial expressions that allow you to know that you’ve hurt someone else’s feelings or you’ve affected someone emotionally. And so we have a generation that hasn’t develop the skill of close face-to-face human interaction. So I think this is a more blunt generation, more emotionally unaware of each other’s feelings. What we’ve got to do is to create ways to change and develop those natural human instincts.
What would you say to parents whose kids have walked away from God?
I come from a world where the parents aren’t in church, and the kids are. But one of the big problems in the established church is that the church tends to love their traditions more than they love their children. And you can know this is true because you gave up your children but you did not give up your traditions. I have never loved any traditions more than I love my children, so I’m willing to give up traditions but never willing to give up my kids.
And it’s funny how we do youth groups and the youth groups look like the church of the future, and once they turn 18 we put them into the church of the past. That’s why we’re losing our kids; we’re forcing them to go backward and our kids’ instinct is to move forward. No kid wants to be their grandparent, so why would they want to be in a culture that reflects their grandparents’ values and their parent’s culture. I think the best parents want their church to reflect the culture their children needs, not the culture they’re comfortable with.
You talked about authenticity, and there’s a lot of honesty in how you speak about anxiety, depression, childhood traumas. Why do you think other churches are afraid to talk about these things?
Not just churches, all of society. I think that we’re taught to put on our best face; we’re taught to impress other people. I don’t think we’re inherently trying to be fake; I think we are trying to help people see the best side of us. And we don’t know whether we can trust people with the side of us that is broken. Because when you open up with things like that, it usually doesn’t go well.
I actually think the reason therapy has become a lucrative profession is, people don’t have anyone they can tell the truth to. It’s almost like [the church thinks that] if we don’t talk about it, maybe it’ll go away. Or if we say the opposite is true, it’ll become true. But you can’t fix anything you’re not willing to acknowledge, you can’t change anything you’re not willing to confess. The huge part of the problem with the church is that we haven’t helped people because we didn’t let them admit they are not okay.
It became a part of my personal mission when I turn 40. That was the time I started talking about this topic. There came a certain point in my life where people would say, “I want to be like you”. Speaking across the world, writing books, doing a lot of wonderful things, people want to be like me because they only see my success, but I need to let them see my journey so that they can see they are more like me than they know. How can a person be like you if they don’t realize you’re like them? So I think it’s important to open up and say, “Hey, if you want to be like me, I want you to know I’m like you. I didn’t start on third base and hit a triple. I started swinging and missing, eventually I learned how to hit the ball and run the bases and live my life well. I began from brokenness and found wholeness.”
I think it’s a hopeful message. I love life, I’m a really joyful person. I love to have fun; people like hanging out with me I like having a great time. I’m not living in my brokenness, I’m living in my wholeness.
Have you experienced backlash from being so brutally honest? What’s the worst and best thing that has happened?
It’s hard to even when I’m with family because they are nervous about what I’ll talk about. But I try to really be respectful. It’s hard because how do you talk about the past without having your parents feel uncomfortable? There are so many things they don’t share. I try to find a fine line between telling my truth and my story, without having any sense of resentment or bitterness. So one of the things I do is make sure I never share stories out of bitterness—I never share a story to lash out or get back at someone. I don’t share any stories for me, I share them for others. So on stage, I tell people “Your stage is not for your personal therapy; don’t talk about things on stage that you’re not over, you’re just leaking all over, lashing out. You have to be healed from that so that you’re sharing out of love, out of hope, out of wholeness.”
Your books are always about warring (The Last Arrow, The Way Of The Warrior). Why this theme?
That’s just me (laughs). One of my first books is called The Barbarian Way And Uprising. My life story is a heroic narrative, it’s about awakening the hero within you. One time my wife said, “Do you have to tell one more story about people being heroic and living a heroic life?” And I went, “I do. I have to, it’s my life message.”
Everyone has a hero in them waiting to be awakened. So it’s just the way I write, it’s romantic. I work hard for my books to be literature, and I write books to be art. A part of my imagination of the universe is like The Last Samurai—shoguns, ninjas and samurai— and I write a lot by imagining that world. When I was writing The Way Of The Warrior—I’m not really talking about modern expression of the language or anything like that—I guess there’s just a romantic narrative of the small village somewhere in China that is being oppressed by an empire and there’s this unlikely hero who doesn’t want to go to war. He just wants to live a life of peace, and he eventually has to come back and save the village. I just feel that inside all of us there is a hero story.
And with (addressing) mental health, I didn’t know the book was about mental health. My books come to me; I don’t really know sometimes what I’m writing about. But I want people to know that “Hey if you’re struggling with this stuff, you’re not a coward, you’re a warrior”. I want to create a new language for it because there’s a lot of shame: look how weak you are, or how broken you are. Instead, look how noble you are, how heroic you are, how courageous you are to own this battle. So I want to create a new language for the things we have been ashamed of.
Click here to read what Pastor Erwin McManus preached on the weekend of July 13 and 14, 2019.