A pioneer in transforming the church to reach a post-modern and post-Christian world for Christ has again shocked the world with his latest endeavor – Rethink Conference – which brings leading secular figures such as Rupert Murdoch, former President George H.W. Bush and Larry King onto the same church stage.
Erwin McManus, head pastor of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, spoke to The Christian Post ahead of the Jan. 17-19 Rethink event about his personal thoughts on the controversial conference and his predictions for Christianity in 2008.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
CP: What was your first reaction when you heard about Rethink? Did you accept the invitation to co-host the event right away or did you have some hesitation?
McManus: Well I was part of the process of putting the event together. So what happened was Bill Dallas said we have an opportunity to bring together a lot of different people but we need someone who could bring all the different thoughts and ideas and create something cohesive and meaningful and I thought that was a great idea because we try to do this all the time.
I think the opportunity to bring together the people in the world of politics, business and entertainment and have an opportunity to listen to their best learning and thinking is a great opportunity. I think many times Christians don’t really take the opportunity to hear what people are saying and seeing in the world around them.
CP: Perhaps the most unique feature about Rethink is all the distinct voices – some secular, some Christian – that is being brought together on one stage. How would you respond to critics of Rethink who point to polls showing young Christians not having a firm grip on the gospel message and having a “truth is relative” attitude, that attribute those statistics to events such as this?
McManus: What I would have them do is look carefully at their own churches because those kids who do not have a firm hold of the scriptures actually come from those churches. It is not events like this that has made them “postmodern” or lack connection with the scriptures, but actually it is the traditional more mainstream church that has pushed kids away and made them conclude that the Bible is irrelevant to their lives.
So this is a great opportunity to actually reclaim those young people that were lost by the mainstream church.
CP: What do you think will be your greatest contribution to the Rethink Conference?
McManus: Well I hope my greatest contribution will be to try to extract principles of truth that will cause us to live our lives in a more effective way and to advance Jesus’ purpose in the world. So I think this is a great opportunity to really help us think better and to live better.
CP: Your church is hosting a conference in April, Awaken 2008. Many of the Christian leaders at the Rethink Conference will also participate in Awaken. Do you plan to reassess and integrate what was heard at Rethink at this all-Christian conference?
McManus: No, they are different conferences. At our event, we wouldn’t really bring certain speakers because we really look for people who have gifts of leadership. So our Awaken conference is experimental and really our passion is to bring leaders of every kind, in the sense of whether they are modern, postmodern, emergent or megachurch, and to say, “Look, there is something to learn from everybody and let’s bring them together and have this amazing experience together.”
So we keep on trying to break down these walls that people keep on creating between each other. So I am very excited about that.
Rethink is a little different. Rethink is traditional in a lot of ways because you can have people in the secular, business and entertainment world but they are more traditional. So ironically, Rethink is a conference that most of the speakers would strongly bring forth all the traditional values that most Christians would be passionate about.
We’ve been doing conferences for years and we really focus on raising up a generation of leaders that will effectively engage the future culture and that is what Awaken is about, which is a little different than Rethink.
CP: I want to ask your opinion on why you think so many churches in America are facing declining membership?
McManus: My primary assessment would be because American Christians tend to be incredibly self-indulgent. So they see the church as a place that is there for them to meet their needs and to express faith in a way that is meaningful for them. There is almost no genuine compassion or urgency about serving and reaching people who don’t know Christ.
I think the bottom line is our own spiritual narcissism. There are methods and you can talk about style, structure and music, but in the end it really comes down to your heart and what you care about.
CP: What are your predictions in church trends for 2008?
McManus: Oh I was just telling my wife as we were having breakfast that 2008 has already been a great year. It just started but it doesn’t take long for a year to be great.
I think it will be an amazing year and frankly be a year where modern Christianity and American politics will almost be like Siamese twins where they will be nurtured and then separated. It is the first time in a long time where Christians are going to be divided in terms of what they believe is a biblical view of political engagement.
I sense a fragmentation among Christians in terms of their political affiliation and alliances. I think in the next two, three, four years there will be likely equal number of people who identify themselves as Christians who will be democrats as are Christians who are Republicans.
Over the last 20 years it has been pretty monolithic. I had someone a month ago tell me at a campaign lunch that you can’t be a Christian and a Democrat. I think that that view is dissipating very, very fast. If we are not careful there will be a day in a couple of years where people will say you can’t be a Christian and a Republican. I don’t think the political stronghold that the Republican Party had on Christians is going to last very long. I think everything will be up for grabs and people are going to rethink everything.
CP: Do you have predictions for trends that will occur inside the church in the new year, such as multi-site or satellite broadcast?
McManus: I’ve been doing multi-site since 1988 so for me this is not a new thing. I’ve been part of multiple sites for 20 years, but back then people just thought I was out of my mind. But now they think it is the new way, so it’s never fun doing it so early because everyone thinks you’re just crazy.
But I have to be frank that even though I admire what people are doing with videos and using satellites, I think it is not where we are going probably because we want to raise up the next generation of great communicators. My great concern is we skip an entire generation because we invest in technology and not humanity.
Seminaries do not develop the next great generation of communicators and if the church does not do it then who will? I’m for everything that is good and helps people, but somewhere you have to have the willingness to let the next generation develop.
So for us, it will not be as much about satellite and technology, but we are putting all our eggs in the basket of developing the next generation of great communicators.
CP: Is there anything that you would like to add?
McManus: I can’t think of anything other than I have a book coming out in June called Wide Awake, and so one of my talks at Rethink is going to be around that. Part of it is I think we have to help people not only have great dreams that God gives them but learn how to live out those dreams in a way that creates a different type of world.
And that is what I hope will happen at Rethink, that people will begin to realize that God is working all over the world and that if we have the courage, God can also use us too.