Batterson Interview Part 2: All In
I had the awesome opportunity to sit down and have lunch with Pastor Mark Batterson recently (July of 2013) . Pastor Mark has done a remarkable job as lead pastor at National Community Church in Washington, DC. NCC is widely considered one of the most innovative churches in the country. He also operates the largest coffee shop on Capitol Hill, Ebenezer’s Coffee Shop, which has been a unique ministry outreach in the heart of our Capitol. We sat down to talk about his NY Times best-selling book , The Circle Maker, and I was honored to get his first interview about his upcoming book All In.
Kevin Syes: I am really excited about this book you have coming out this September. It’s entitled All In…what is it all about?
Mark Batterson: Well, it’s probably my favorite subtitle: You’re one decision away from a totally different life. I think that’s one of the most hopeful thoughts or statements. I don’t know if it’s original to me, but I am not quoting anybody. I don’t even know where it came from! Our staff [at National Community Church] calls them “Markisms.” I like turning a phrase, I like putting something into almost like a proverbial parallel form.
So, I really believe that. You are one decision away from a totally different life. Now, it’s probably going to be really tough decision, but I think that’s the hopeful undercurrent of the book. I mean, I am always going to write in a motivational tone because that’s kind of my makeup. Encouragement is one of my spiritual gifts and hopefully that comes through in the way that I write and preach. But I also throw down. I mean, I throw down the gauntlet: Either Jesus is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all—there is no in between.
And last year, Kevin, I felt like if there was one word that the Lord gave me, it was the word consecration. Now does that mean I am totally consecrated? No! In fact, I am more aware of my unconsecrated pieces. But I just feel like, if you fully consecrate yourself to the Lord, there is nothing He cannot do in you and through you. And so, it really is a call to consecration, but then I use stories and metaphors and illustration that kind of contemporize it. Even the language… you know, “All In.” But it is a call to consecration. And it comes out of my own personal journey of, “If God is going use me in a greater way, I have to consecrate myself to Him.”
Kevin Syes: Yeah, the “All In” language is a unique way to communicate that. Kind of poker language, right? Do you play?
Mark Batterson: Haha! Here is what’s funny, my agent is a former professional poker player and an on-fire committed follower of Jesus. When I found out she was a professional poker player, I said, “Yeah, that is who I want as my agent.” She is the best in the business.
Kevin Syes: Wow, that’s pretty amazing. So, Jesus didn’t have many kind things to say to lukewarm believers. Why do you think he was so harsh to lukewarm Christians? Because that is part of what this book addresses in some way, doesn’t it?
Mark Batterson: It does. You know, it’s amazing how much grace he showed to prostitutes and tax collectors… the chief villains in that culture. But if someone was playing religion… man, he would call you on the carpet!
Kevin Syes: Yeah, kind of scary, right?
Mark Batterson: It is! It’s sobering. I mean, even to me the parable of the talents and the guy, you know, that gave back the talent he buried. And you know, in this economy, breaking even isn’t half bad. Yet Jesus called him wicked. So, you know, he plays the game differently. You got to ante up. You can’t play it safe.
I try to define what consecration is not. You know, I give a laundry list…it’s not going to church, it’s not being in a small group, it’s not serving in a ministry, it’s not going on a missions trip, all of those things are awesome, but that is not consecration. To me, it starts at a heart level. What God wants is our heart.
So to me, the big payoff in the book, is going to be something that I don’t know if I had ever heard. I don’t know if I had ever heard someone say this. So maybe this one is original. To me, this is the key one in the book. Most people in most churches think that they are following Jesus, but the reality they have invited Jesus to follow them. They have inverted that relationship. And when I have spoken at conferences a few times on that, I am shocked at the response. I mean, hands fly up or people come to an altar and say “yeah, you know, I had never thought about it, never realized it, but the reality was I wanted Him to serve my purposes.”
But to me, the adventure starts when you say, “alright, it’s not about me. It’s about Him, and I’m going to follow Him.” So, I think a lot of people are going to read this book and it’s going to open their eyes to the reality that, no, they are going to have an inverted relationship to God. And then they wonder why they lack the joy or the peace or the power. And it’s because at the very core, the relationship is backwards. So, I think that’s it. If they get just that, it was worth the early mornings.
Kevin Syes: And that is your rhythm isn’t it? Get up early, write books.
Mark Batterson: It is. And I am in that rhythm right now!
Kevin Syes: Really? How early were you up this morning?
Mark Batterson: Well, not as early as I should have been. Set my alarm for a little after 5am, but hit the snooze button a few times! I get up and I plow. But I am a perfectionist, so every word is mine. Editors hardly touch what I write, but they are valuable in giving me feedback.
Kevin Syes: Feedback on how you will eventually rewrite it yourself…
Mark Batterson: Right.
Kevin Syes: To get back to your answer a second ago, and I know you talk about this in the book, what you are really talking about is Lordship. Who is really going to be in control of our lives? And it’s such a simple concept, just like Circle Maker, but it’s the kind of idea that can really make an impact on people.
Mark Batterson: Yeah, totally. One observation here is that pastoring a church that is majority 20 something and majority single, which is an anomaly.
Kevin Syes: Believe me, I know! I have been in youth and young adult ministry for years! It’s pretty remarkable.
Mark Batterson: Right, so we are like the inverted picture of most churches. What I know for a fact is: [young people] don’t want weak sauce. Weak sauce?! No. I mean, it’s got to be something that demands everything. Very cost oriented generation, and that’s what I love because that’s what the gospel is. So, you know, we will take 25 mission trips with our church this year. I mean, that’s pretty amazing.
But we are just getting started because we are challenging them to sell out. To go all in. To respond to it. Because if it’s half-way they are going to go somewhere else. So, I do think it’s a message for up and coming generations.
Kevin Syes: Right, if it’s not worth dying for, it’s not worth living for. This generation gets that. And so often we have been sold this half way watered down thing. So, you obviously feel this is problem in the larger church? Can you talk a little bit about that problem?
Mark Batterson: I bet most pastors would agree with me…you can go to church every week, and kind of play the church game, but no one can tell me that God’s purpose for their life is go to church for 60 or 90 minutes on a Sunday. It’s about living it out Monday through Friday, but a lot of people play the game the wrong way and get totally confused as to what’s the objective. And part of that depends on background, but a lot of people just feel they are doing their religious duty.
So, I actually try to come at that. I think church can be spiritual codependency. Let someone worship for me, I will stand there and listen and maybe sing a few words, but let someone else kind of worship for me, let someone else study the Bible for me and teach it to me, and I will forget almost everything I hear…
Kevin Syes: You just kind of check the box for the week…
Mark Batterson: Right, and then your educated even further beyond the level of your obedience. Let someone else pray for me…and all you’ve done is created a scenario that you don’t have a first-hand faith, you are trying to live off of someone else and it’s parasitic. So, I mean, my hope is that the book would silly slap some people and just wake them up to that reality to see… “Wow, you know, I was playing the game.”
Kevin Syes: We settle for spiritual milk. We want someone to give us the bottle every Sunday and Scripture is clear: when are you going to start eating meat? When are you going to start feeding yourself?
Mark Batterson: Right, haha. I think the stories, even the Biblical stories, I love seeing old things in new ways. So, I think they will come at it in a way that…the Noah story is probably one of my favorites. I come at it from a very different angle, looking at everything from boat technology, to the kind of analytics of the size of the arc and how many animals that would equate as it relates to the National Zoo. And then even draw on even Jewish tradition, that the first thing that Noah did according to Talmoid Jewish commentary is that he planted trees.
Kevin Syes: Interesting.
Mark Batterson: And the fact that historically Noah was considered an inventor. So, you have got to think of him as a Thomas Edison type. So, I like tweaking things enough to mess with people minds to see something that’s been there but they haven’t noticed. And hopefully it accomplishes that.
Kevin Syes: Yeah, it’s a gift. You have it! It is. And that’s what people want too. It is all there in Scripture, and it’s also much deeper than we even realize, and people sense that at some level. So then to hear the same story the same way again and again…it doesn’t work.
Another question: Why is it so hard for Christians to go All In? What makes it so difficult?
Mark Batterson: My blunt answer is: we are control freaks. We want our hands on the wheel. With children, one who just got his license and another about to get her permit, I get that. It’s scary. I mean, its scary being in the passenger seat. And you give up a measure of control. And I think that’s where it is, but you cannot have faith and control at the same time. They are antonyms.
So, it’s a scary thing. But it’s also the exhilaration. It’s why people ride Roller Coasters. It’s that moment when you feel like it’s out of control that is the exhilaration, and the same is true spiritually. It’s just a lot of people never get on the ride. For many years I thought I was, but really wasn’t.
Kevin Syes: Can you talk about that change in your own life?
Mark Batterson: You know, I was 19 years old, and I didn’t want to go anywhere with Jesus. Not the basketball court, not in the classroom. I mean, l wanted him there, but it really was, you know, “help me hit this shot” or “help me get this grade.”
Something happened, and it was hard to describe. For me, it was a summer of seeking God and there was just this moment, almost like “take me where I don’t know where I am going. I don’t want to be in control. I am tired of trying to do your job for you, tired of trying to play God.”
So, for me it was a defining decision to give up a scholarship at the University of Chicago and transfer to a Bible college. You know, everybody’s decision will look very different.
I mean, think about it Biblically. It’s the prostitute breaking the alabaster jar of perfume, it’s the tax collector saying “well, I’ll pay back four times what I took!” It’s the disciple’s dropping their nets. There is always some moment, and I don’t know what that looks like for everybody—usually its very different.
There is this chapter in the book called “Burn the Ships.” I think will be one that will really help people see a line of demarcation. And I even challenge people to do something dramatic. Legal…but dramatic. Because that’s what I see biblically.
Elijah burns his plowing equipment. In Acts they burn their scrolls, which were worth a ton of money. So, hopefully it calls people to that kind of decision. And the good news is that they are one decision away from a totally different life. If it helps them make it, it’s awesome.
Kevin Syes: I am sure it will!
Mark Batterson: You know this might be my first official interview for All In, I haven’t even started talking about it yet.
Kevin Syes: That’s a huge honor man.
Mark Batterson: You know, I am working on another book right now for the fall of 2014.
Kevin Syes: Really?
Mark Batterson: And I am trying to finish it before All In comes out. So it’s kind of weird because I am in the mode of…
Kevin Syes: …this other book.
Mark Batterson: Yeah. It’s on the seven miracles of John, which is kind of a unique look at each one of those. And then what will happen, I will flip back into All In mode.
Kevin Syes: That’s got to be kind of hard.
Mark Batterson: It is. But we’ll do a series at NCC in the fall.
Kevin Syes: An All In series?
Mark Batterson: Yeah.
Kevin Syes: I recall you already did that series a while ago…
Mark Batterson: We did. And it was one of the strongest series we have ever done. I never intended to write a book on it! I don’t know what happened, it just kind of, this one kind of came out of nowhere. And I felt like, yeah, that’s it.
And Laura and I give a copy of it to everyone at church. That’s kind of our give back. So, yeah, we’ll give everybody a copy, then do a series.
Kevin Syes: Cool! Well, thanks so much for this, it was great.
Mark Batterson: Happy to!
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