Brennan Manning, Broward College and Me

I heard that Brennan Manning passed away today.

He was an author and a priest. His books include The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba's Child and All is Grace. He inspired the music of Rich Mullins and laid out the most incisive apologetic quote I've ever heard [sampled at the start of dc Talk's "What if I Stumble"]. I've enjoyed and benefitted from his wise words for years.

Brennan Manning and I have something in common. We both served as campus ministers at Broward College. For both of us, the weight of that service broke something in us.

In All is Grace, Manning writes about his experience at Broward College. [You can read the excerpt here All is Grace, 11]. He moved to Ft. Lauderdale in the 70's. Broward College and Ft. Lauderdale were vastly different then than they are now, but I live just down the road from the campus where he served.

At Broward Community College (which it was called at the time), Manning encountered students whose lives echoed his own ministry career and the state of his soul. Some students were succeeding. Some students were struggling. Some students were failing.

At the same time, Manning was doing each of these things as well: succeeding in ministry with top-of-the-world experiences, struggling with laziness and loneliness, and failing to maintain sobriety. After a year and a half, his alcoholism overcame him and he left Broward.

I've experienced this painful trinity at Broward as well: success and struggle and failure. This is an essential part of community college ministry.

When we moved to Florida, we located just down the street from Broward College. It was the center of the South Florida Area and we had work on two of the Broward campuses. I was thrilled to be so close.

I threw myself into the work at Broward, staffing both of the Broward chapters and planting a third. I saw students lead in spectacular ways, saw lives transformed by Jesus, saw God at work. Serving at Broward confirmed in me that I loved community college ministry. Before Broward, the community college was an idea to me. But no longer. Now the community college is Brian and Lisa and Leisa and Renata and David and Hannah and Juliana and Gaby and Jody and Daphne and Gonzalo and Francisco. Real people.

But I struggled as the Staff at Broward. The chapter I planted collapsed and is now being replanted by someone else. The chapter that grew from 12 to 70 students chose to disaffiliate from InterVarsity and said that it was, in part, because of my leadership. At every turn I found myself inadequate for the task of the work on campus.

And the work broke something in me. I had never failed at anything in my life. But I failed at Broward College.

I can see how Manning turned to alcohol for comfort. I turned to food and to workaholism. I worked 70 and 80 hour weeks until I snapped. Manning lasted a year and a half. I lasted 8 months. In 8 months I had put on almost 40 pounds, barely knew my son and could no longer walk due to an acute flare-up of gout. The ministry on campus was in a stall and no one knew about it but me.

Things are different today. Today I have a team of Staff at Broward. I learned from my experience. Chad and Fatimat are working together, Staffing BC South and planting BC Central. We're taking our time, finding allies, ministering with an eye toward sustainability.

Brennan Manning's story is spectacular. He emerged from rehab and went on to write and speak in beautiful and profound ways. But he carried with him a deep vulnerability. He shared his story, the story of his success and struggle and failure. In that way, he carried Broward with him everywhere he went.

My hope is to go and do likewise.


  1. Sorry to hear of Brennan Manning's passing. I have enjoyed reading some of his work. Thanks for sharing your struggle--does any success come without struggle? Can it even be called success if you've never failed? I'm really glad you are over that workaholic "thing" especially--you've got way too much going on at home you DON'T want to miss. Love in Christ, Susan

  2. Thanks for this, Steve.