Whether you’re passionate about DNA, leadership, finding the voice of your Church, or all of the above, this interview with Mosaic MSC’s Mariah McManus is for you. Mariah’s ‘you get what you put in’ approach to ministry is clearly paying the right kind of dividends.
We had the pleasure of talking with Mariah the day that Heaven, the latest Mosaic MSC album dropped. Filled with great songs and a message that you don’t need a thesis in religious studies to understand, this album serves as a powerful backdrop for Mosaic’s first headlining tour…
[WM] Mariah, thanks for joining us and congratulations on the release of Heaven!
[Mariah] Thank you!
[WM] The concept for the new album is about experiencing heaven, now and today, and not after we die. In your latest bio, you’re quoted as saying… “Heaven is not just something that we’re longing for and looking to, but that we can bring on earth. It’s not always about a destination and getting caught up in where we’re going, but about pulling people to where we are now. When people carry heaven with them, it looks like and manifests as peace and kindness to others.”
As a Church, Mosaic is filled with lots of new believers. What is your approach for helping people connect the dots between the message of Jesus and the thing that God has already deposited in them?
[Mariah] Yeah, definitely. I think for Mosaic specifically, when we decided that we wanted music to be a part of our Church story, it wasn’t because there’s not enough worship music in the world. There are so many amazing worship leaders and Churches and worship teams that we get to follow in the footsteps of. Specifically, in our Church’s heart, it felt like our mission was to give language to that space of just knowing and just learning about God.
It comes with being in Los Angeles, and being in a city that really is just finding Jesus for the first time. A lot of people in our congregation are just learning what it means to worship. Not only what it means to worship, but also what it means to follow Jesus and love Jesus. It’s all shown in the language that we use, so we always use language that can meet anyone where they’re at, and you don’t have to have a huge knowledge of the Bible to understand the character of Jesus.
I think that’s really important because a lot of times we can write things that need a lot of context and we don’t have the time to give that context when someone hasn’t yet met Jesus. We want to make sure our lyrics and what we’re trying to say about God is easy for everyone to understand, even if you haven’t met Jesus yet.
[WM] You’re not just a worship leader, you’re also a Worship Pastor. Can you tell us about your pastoring style and some of the biggest wins you’ve had leading your team?
[Mariah] Yeah, for me, I love teams. I love more than anything being a part of something, being a part of something that’s on so many people’s shoulders. I’m probably the kind of person that brings a million more people into something than there really needs to be, I want as many people to be included as possible. For me, especially on this record, there’s a different person leading every song, and that to me is the most beautiful thing about this record. There are so many cool things about it.
For our Church it shows that we don’t do this alone, it’s not riding on one person’s shoulders or talent or heart, it’s on so many different people. The way that we do it and what we’re saying is, that we have different people from different walks of life and every one of their voices is important and every one of their stories is important. It really represents the diversity and the inclusiveness of Mosaic.
[WM] In our last interview with you, you mentioned that you are missional about raising up songwriters on your team. How have you approached this, and do you have any suggestions for teams looking to jump-start and/or supercharge their songwriting process?
[Mariah] It’s the toughest thing that we do I think. For me, I came from a songwriting background writing Pop music and music for TV, so I already had that background which was really helpful. So I just found one or two other people that had some confidence in writing songs. I felt confident in teaching people and getting them there, so just finding those people that were excited and passionate about it was the first step. Anytime you want to do something, finding people that are willing to go the extra mile with you is really important. Even if they don’t know that they’re great yet, or don’t know if they can do it yet. If they’re passionate about it – I think it’s almost the hardest thing in the world to get someone just as passionate as you are. So, you find those people that will carry the torch with you.
For us, it started with just three people, and we probably have a core team of ten people now. From there we just try to pull people in who have a heart for it, and we’ll have songwriting exercises. When people want to be part of it we try to get them to be part of it. We are always writing songs for Church and we want everyone to be represented. It takes writing a lot of bad songs, it takes a lot of risks and a lot of time to walk someone through it. But I think it’s so cool, with songwriting, it’s so beautiful when different people see Jesus different ways. Different people have different interactions with God that they can bring to the table. It’s definitely one of the harder things to be able to find people who have that gift, but I definitely think it can be cultivated. It can be taught.
[WM] As a Church, you are primarily playing your own music now. That’s a huge move that comes after lots of other steps and hard work. Can you chart the musical steps you took to get there, as well as the supporting ministry moves?
[Mariah] I get so excited that we do that. For us it started with goals and big dreams. Especially my Dad, our Pastor, is the biggest dreamer ever. He’ll talk about, “Who told you that you shouldn’t have the child-like faith?” and “Who told you that you grew out of that imagination?” and he really hasn’t. For us, to dream bigger than we could ever imagine has always been part of the DNA of what we do. I think at the birth of this, it was always that we wanted there to be enough songs for us to sing the words that we’ve written as a Church. So, it started with the goal, and it took a lot of time. I think that’s the thing people don’t like to do as much anymore, is just take the time.
We’ve tried to force songs, we’ve tried so many different things and just throwing things out there, but you can’t cut corners. There’s no way around the fact that if your Church doesn’t connect with it, then it’s not your song anymore. It’s no longer a priority, because your priority is to connect people in worship and bring people to Jesus. So for us it was just taking time. Then for six months about a year ago, we said we’re only going to play our songs and see how far we can get. We really just wanted to sing songs that had our heart behind them. Now, we will sing other people’s songs, but it’s a lot more intentional. If I hear a song and it’s personally speaking to me, and I feel it’s perfect for a moment, we will sing it. But it’s not because we have to sing someone else’s song. We sing it because we want to.
It really was just taking the time, and I think it took like three years of writing all the time. We would have months where we’d say, “Okay, every single one of us needs to write three songs…” or, “We need a song a week…” or, “Eighty songs this year.” We would really set goals and sit down and spend the time. Most of us that write for MSC, maybe five of the writers are on staff at Mosaic. So we all have other roles that take up a lot of our time, and people have families. There are just a lot of life things that get in the way, so taking the time and prioritizing this has become harder and harder, but it’s more important all the time. When we take that time to write we just go as hard as we can and write as many songs as we can, because we want to set ourselves up to be able to sing our songs. I think it just took time, and it took care, and not rushing ourselves but also being proactive.
[WM] You co-produced Heaven with Chad Copelin, whose credits range from Christian artists like All Sons and Daughters, Crowder, and Gungor, to mainstream artists like Avril Lavigne and Third Eye Blind. How did Chad come into the picture, and what are some of the ways his background impacted this record?
[Mariah] So Chad and I have worked a couple of times together on some other projects. He’s produced some of the coolest records, there’s a band called Sports and another band called BRONCHO and they’re these really cool up and coming Indie bands. And he’s done Pop stuff, but I know him because of the smaller Indie things.
I just think he’s brilliant and has an instinct and artistry that hasn’t been heard in the Christian world, and honestly in the world, at all. To me it was really important that we could push the limits and express ourselves, and go as far outside of the box as we wanted to go, and I felt like he could take us there and help us get out of our own box and own heads and just help us make the record we wanted to make.
[WM] In your song story video for “Tremble” when you quote Psalm 97:4, you can really see that your passion for the Word transcends this song. Noting that many of the people who attend Mosaic are just getting to know Jesus, as a Worship Pastor how do you take your team on your journey with Jesus along with you?
[Mariah] I think a huge part of what Mosaic is, is community. So, me going somewhere is me going with people. It’s just a beautiful thing that when you find Jesus at Mosaic, you are brought into a family. Our biggest thing is that you belong here, and you don’t leave here alone, you leave here with a family. Even if you haven’t accepted Jesus yet, you’ve walked into a family.
It’s probably my greatest joy in life that I get to be surrounded by people who are as passionate as me, if not more passionate, about what God is doing in Los Angeles through Mosaic. So every time Mosaic does something we have an army, and I mean like a real army, behind us. I never feel like I’m going somewhere people aren’t willing to go. I never feel like I’m going alone. Even when my ideas are a little crazy or out of the box, I’ll ask them to just go with me for one second, and everyone will have my back. Until it doesn’t work, and they still have your back even if it doesn’t work, but we still go and give it one hundred percent. I just think it’s really special. So many people are in the same boat, so many people are young Christians and are just starting their journey, and just finding Jesus. It feels like we’re all together, and you don’t have to have any level of experience to be a part of our family.
[WM] Let’s take a moment to talk about generations, spiritual inheritance, and vision. I love your Dad’s (Erwin McManus) mission statement about the vision behind what the sound of Mosaic MSC is… “The worship music that carries the culture of Mosaic. Mosaic MSC is the worship of Mosaic, a Church in the heart of Los Angeles. Mosaic MSC is the ethos of their tribe and culture, carrying the sound of Mosaic and their city across the world.
Everything we do is about connecting people to Jesus. We know that worship opens the hearts of those who have closed their hearts to God. We also know that worship causes our hearts to burn brighter and our love for God to grow deeper. We hope that the music of Mosaic MSC will be a gift to the Church and a light to the world.” -Erwin McManus
That is a really powerful statement that is fueled by the fact that you ask people to serve in other ministries before joining the worship team there. All of this speaks of catching the vision so your team can carry the essence of that vision so you can share that with your congregation and the world. What are some of the nuances of this approach, and what suggestions do you have for Churches who want to connect the dots in the way that Mosaic the Church and Mosaic MSC the worship ministry are doing?
[Mariah] I think it’s all so interconnected. To me it’s scary to think of a worship team who’s not connected to the Senior Pastor’s vision, because there’s no cohesion in your mission. If you’re walking in your building and you’re seeing a team that is not on mission with the person coming and giving the message, what is the point of what you’re doing?
We talk a lot here about a spiritual structure within our Church. Our spiritual structure says that everything is pointing to the call to Jesus. Everything we do is from the moment that the Pastor says, “Now is the time to receive Jesus.” So nothing that we do is to distract. From the welcome team, broadcast team, worship team, backstage team, kids team, whatever, nothing is to distract and everything is to point people to Jesus and point people to worship. So for us, if we’re not connected to the vision of our Senior Pastor, we can’t point people to when he calls them to Jesus. We always say, “Our job is to create the wave, not to ride the wave.” Our job is to create the atmosphere and set the tone for the moment that he asks people to receive Jesus.
So whenever, even just talking on stage, we’re super respectful. We never preach on stage, because we know God has put something specifically into someone’s heart that day to get on stage and say. Everything we do is only to support that vision, that mission, that word. It’s impossible for me to have MSC without Mosaic. There is no MSC without the vision of Mosaic. I think it’s so important. And through all of our campuses, probably the closest relationship is the Pastor – whether it’s the Senior Pastor or the Campus Pastor – and the worship leader of that campus. So that’s the closest relationship, because everything that Campus Pastor does has to be translated through music on the stage during the worship. The culture that the Campus Pastor and our Senior Pastor want to create has to be carried by that worship leader because that’s the first thing that people walk into.
Seven years ago, our worship team was completely disjointed from the vision of Mosaic. Nobody engaged in worship and nobody came for the worship, people only came for the message. I just kept longing for the day that people wanted that, because I felt that it could change people’s lives if we could set the tone. It could give that Pastor or whoever’s speaking the attention of the room more if we were able to connect people with worship at the beginning. We always say you need to serve somewhere, you need to be connected, have friends, have roots, and build a foundation in Church before you ever are onstage. And this is truly so that you see the vision of Mosaic before you are ever attached to some platform. This is so that every single person has the opportunity to understand the heart of Mosaic. And the heart of Mosaic is not so you can make it on stage because we know you’re talented. The heart of Mosaic is that you would serve regardless of where you want to be, and that you would serve where you’re needed because that’s the most important place you could be.
That anyone on our team would step offstage to go clean a bathroom, because we know that, that is just as important…that somebody’s experience in the Church, the experience with the physical building of the Church, is just as important. That someone can find Jesus just by knowing that people can care about them, care about the environment, and that they care about engaging. It’s so important that everyone goes through that journey, that everyone can understand that the mission of Mosaic runs deeper than what just happens on stage. That everything that happens on stage is just an outpouring of all of the hard work of all of the servanthood, and all of the faithfulness that has come before that. That has to come before them being on stage. And that way we can really trust the people who are on stage to carry the mission of Mosaic. So, I can’t imagine not being fueled by the heart of Mosaic. All of the music that we’ve written is because of the stories, is because of the mission, is because of what we see God do here through Mosaic. I could never think that we could do this on our own. I could never have a vision or a dream this big if it wasn’t for the mission of this Church.
[WM] You now have five campuses, including one in Mexico who released an album in Spanish last year. As it relates to worship, what is the leadership structure between the campuses, and your approach sharing and replicating the DNA?
[Mariah] A huge part of at least the campuses here in L.A. has been that we communicate really well, and we’re talking about what we’re doing. All of our leaders came from our worship team. My favorite part of what I do, and I feel like the most important part of what I do, is instilling. If you’re a leader, or are leading a team or Church, you can’t carry a vision on your own. It’s probably the most difficult and important thing to do, to pass the vision on and to replicate what you’re doing. I feel like it’s also so incredibly difficult to be able to show people, share your heart, share your vision, and share your passion with people about what you’re doing. But that’s really what we’ve been able to do.
Every other worship leader at our campuses right now has helped build this together. We’re getting to see how we can expand it. The tough thing is that every time your ministry grows you have to change things. You have to change the structure because you want it to be fresh, you want it to be new and exciting and you don’t want to just coast on what you’ve known is good. You want to be great. So we’ve had to all put our heads together constantly and be like, “This isn’t working here…” and really just know that what happens here is Hollywood, which is our main campus, can’t just be copied and pasted in Venice Beach, or South Pasadena, or Mexico City. The culture and the values can be passed on, but the way that you go about expressing those values can’t be copied and pasted. So really just taking the culture and values and saying, “How does this work in this city, with these people?” Because everywhere we have campuses with such different cultures, it’s the total opposite of what Hollywood is. We have to constantly be thinking about what works here, or in Orange County or Mexico City.
It takes a lot of trial and error and a lot of support. And it’s so exciting because we know we can get to a place, because we’ve done it before, where we know we have healthy and thriving worship ministries. It just takes trial and error, it takes getting out of the box, and it takes trying new things. We try to meet as often as we can, we try to communicate and check in on each other throughout the week. We try to remember what we did when we were starting this out. Just get really creative and get really okay with failure.
[WM] So you’re getting ready to head out on your first headlining tour, joined by Cody Carnes, Mack Brock, and Local Sound, all of whom are in this issue! In the natural sense, a first headlining tour is a big deal. In the supernatural sense, you’ll be surrounded by some pretty amazing people on this journey. What are your hopes and expectations for this tour, and are there any things that you’re perhaps a bit nervous about?
[Mariah] I’m always nervous. I think I’m nervous because, obviously when you go out and you’re doing something, especially as a headliner, you think, “Are people even going to come? Are we even good anymore?” There are a lot of nerves that come with it. This is now our third tour this year, so I’m confident that we know what God is doing through us. We know what God is doing through Mack and Cody and Local Sound. I think it’ll just be really special to be able to join forces and create a beautiful night. I’m excited because I just love when people come together. I just love teams, like I said before. I just think it’s really cool, to be able to love on other people’s teams, and love on other people’s ministries. We just got off of a tour with Zoe Worship and Chad Veach, and just to be able to encourage them and be part of their lives for a short period of time was amazing. I feel like a lot of what God does in a room, God is also doing behind the scenes in relationships and friendships. I’m excited for that, it’s going to be awesome.
[WM] Is there anything else you’d like to add?
[Mariah] You’re awesome. That’s all I have to say.
[Editor’s Note] So Mariah’s last comment was a bit of an inside joke as my response to pretty much every one of Mariah’s answers was, “Awesome.” And frankly, they really were. Whether you lead a team, serve on one, or are thinking about doing so, this interview is filled with more best practices than I’ve seen in one place, perhaps. So please share this with your team and the leaders at your Church!