Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. Starting with a core group of 19 people, NCC has morphed into a church with multiple locations in various movie theaters throughout the area. He is also the author of two books: ID: THE TRUE YOU and IN A PIT WITH A LION ON A SNOWY DAY. Mark married his wife, Lora, right out of college and has three children: Parker, Summer and Josiah.
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November 10, 2006
Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of the National Community Church in Washington, D.C. and the author of IN A PIT WITH A LION ON A SNOWY DAY. In this interview with FaithfulReader.com's Margaret Oines, Batterson explains some of the key concepts in his book and provides examples of how he has utilized them in his own life. He also shares his thoughts on the "dimensional limits" of God, discusses some of the unconventional ways his Church shares the Gospel and describes the impact of his daily blog on his sermons.
FaithfulReader.com: The title of your book is so quirky. How did you come up with it?
Mark Batterson: I heard someone preach a sermon on 2 Samuel 23:20, titled In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, about 15 years ago. I had no idea I’d write a book on that verse, but the title stuck.
FR: What does it mean to you to be a lion chaser?
MB: A lion chaser is someone who looks at a lion and doesn’t see a 500-pound problem; he sees a big, hairy, audacious opportunity. Lion chasers don’t run away from what scares them. They face fear, embrace uncertainty, take risks and seize opportunities. Lion chasers know that the greatest regret at the end of their lives will be the lions they didn’t chase!
FR: Describe a lion-chasing moment in your own life. Who won?
MB: Eight years ago I started praying a ridiculous prayer. We asked God to give us a piece of property six blocks from the Capitol. It was actually a crack house at the time, but we had a vision to turn it into a first-class, fully-operational coffeehouse where our church and the community could cross paths. Several developers offered more money than we did, but we found favor with the sellers. It took a year to rezone it, a year to get approval from the Capitol Hill Historic Preservation Society and two years to build it. The end product is the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill that doubles as one of our three church locations.
FR: How often do you feel like a lion chaser? And what do you do when you'd rather sit home and let someone else chase the lion?
MB: I honestly feel like a lion chaser most days, because I love what I do as a pastor and writer. I’m always working on the next book or we’re thinking about launching our next church location. I get bored pretty easily and pretty quickly if I’m not chasing a lion.
FR: What does it mean to chase God? Can He really be caught?
MB: In the epilogue of the book I talk about the chasing gene. It seems like God has wired us to chase things. We chase everything from butterflies to boys to degrees to dream jobs. But, the ultimate chase is God. That is why eternity will be so exciting. To paraphrase A.W. Tozer, eternity won’t be long enough to learn all that God is or praise Him for all that He has done. Of course, the good news is that God loves getting caught.
FR: You write: “The mistake most of us make when it comes to God is that we think that he’s four-dimensional. But God has no dimensional limits.” What do you mean by that?
MB: We tend to think of God in human terms. We create Him in our image and the end result is a manufactured God the size of our cerebral cortex. God exists outside time and space and that is difficult for us to comprehend because four dimensions is all we’ve ever known. But as Scripture says, to God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. God is omni-dimensional.
FR: Throughout the book you address the issue of overcoming fear. How can someone unlearn their fears?
MB: Half of spiritual growth is learning things we don’t know. The other half is unlearning what we do know. I think spiritual growth has a lot to do with reverse engineering. We need God’s help untangling sinful knots in our lives. One of the ways we unlearn our fears is by facing them. In fact, we overcome fear the way we develop immunity to an allergen. We need to be exposed to fear in small doses until we develop a fear immunity. So, the cure for fear is fear in small doses!
FR: You describe yourself as a “recovering perfectionist.” What have you learned about yourself through that process of personal transformation?
MB: I’ve learned to work like it depends on me and pray like it depends on God. That is my approach to everything I do, including the writing of this book. I wrote like it depended on me, but a team of people prayed me through. In fact, every person who picks up a copy of the book has been prayed for. I think I’ve learned that prayer is the only prescription for perfectionism.
FR: Why do you think conformity has such an adverse effect on the church? On a person’s faith?
MB: There never has been and never will be anyone like you. And that isn’t a testament to you. It’s a testament to the God who created you. Your originality is evidence of God’s infinite creativity. According to entomologists, there are 250,000 species of beetles. That borders on creative overkill, but evidently God loves variety. I’m concerned that sometimes we confuse cultural conformity and spirituality maturity. Maturity doesn’t equal conformity. In fact, Christ was a non-conformist so conformity to Christ results in non-conformity. We need lots of different kinds of churches because there are lots of different kinds of people. We ought to celebrate the originality and personality of every church and every person. They are reflections of God’s creativity!
FR: While writing the book, you had to balance your responsibilities as a pastor, your speaking schedule and your family. How did you hold it all together?
MB:It’s definitely a balancing act, but family comes first; if there is ever a conflict between family and ministry, it’s a no-brainer. I also try to set healthy boundaries. I only give one night a week to church responsibilities because I need to be home to help my kids with homework or coach their teams.
FR: National Community Church is known for out-of-the-box thinking. What has your church done recently in order to reach those who wouldn't normally visit?
MB: We have a core value at NCC: irrelevance is irreverence. We love redeeming culture and using it to share the gospel. The 60% of Americans who don’t go to church get their theology from movies and music, so we try to juxtapose culture and Scripture. That is what we did in our annual God @ the Billboard series. We had a lot of people cross the line and put their faith in Christ during that particular series.
FR: You're a huge blogger. Tell us about the online community that you've built. How has it impacted you?
MB: I love the blogosphere! I used to think my blog (evotional.com) supplemented my weekend messages. Now I wonder if it’s the other way around. I have exponentially more impact via my blog than I do through any other medium. I think of it as digital discipleship. It allows me to share what God is doing in my head and in my heart with tens of thousands of people. It’s a great way of marking my trail.
FR: What was the hardest part of the publishing process for you?
MB: I think the hardest part of the process was patience. It took months to find a publisher. I had to write the book twice. And it seems like it takes forever for books to get from the press to the bookstore. But I’ve learned that the longer it takes for a dream to become reality the less likely you are to take it for granted.
FR: What advice do you have for other first-time authors?
MB: Write for intrinsic reasons. In other words, don’t worry about getting your book published or how many copies it will sell. Write because you’re called to write and God will help you meet the right people at the right time.
FR: What will your next book be about, and when might we expect to see it?
MB:My next book is on right-brain leadership and it will be released in August of 2007. I have a core conviction: the church ought to be the most creative place on the planet. Hopefully this book will help that conviction become more of the reality. I honestly believe that the future belongs to right
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