Mark Batterson—Forming spiritual habits in an age of distraction

September 7, 2022

The last couple of years have been marked by distraction and disunity. While this has been true all over the US and even across the globe, political hotbeds such as Washington D.C. have felt this on a heightened level.

On this episode of Equip & Engage, we’re joined by Mark Batterson–author and lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C. He discusses the unique challenges of doing ministry in an overwhelmingly digitized and politicized age. We also look at the power and impact of spiritual habits.

Episode at a glance

[0:00-3:50] Tell us about National Community Church. What’s the heartbeat of your community, and what have the last few years been like?

Hosts Nick Bogardus and Carolyn Farny introduce and welcome Mark Batterson, whose church is in the heart of Washington D.C. During this current climate where the country is very politicized, it has given National Community Church a unique opportunity to stand in the gap.

“If you filter your biblical theology through political ideology—it’s called idolatry.” —Mark Batterson

One observation that Batterson has made is that more people are growing politically than spiritually. This factor motivates him and his church to focus on providing The Good News to their community during this time. National Community Church is very missional, ethnically diverse, and has a heavy focus on outreach.

[3:51-6:43] For the rest of us in other areas of the country, most of the polarization that we’re observing is happening online. You are in the heartbeat of this polarization. How is that experience?

Mark shares that it can be hard to get people to agree on pretty much anything right now. The question and challenge that National Community Church has been focusing on is how to find common ground with people who hold different beliefs. Beyond building a church, they want to bless a city, and this has taken patience and grace.

Their challenge has been redeeming their digital options—Twitter has been weaponized, so it’s not always best to take a digital approach. 

“People will be discipled by their phone one way or another.” —Mark Batterson

The question is: how are we engaging with people, and trying to bring healing? Batterson notes that during this time, the Church needs to promote and welcome better dialogue. Sometimes conversations are more effective than a sermon. 

Here are four ways Mark lays out to approach peacemaking:

  1. Ask anything
  2. Listen
  3. Disagree freely
  4. Love regardless

[6:44–8:46]  Based on that four-pronged approach, how do you embed that in your church culture?

Mark explains that his church hosts a lot of Listen & Learn events. These are often composed of just 25 people gathering around a table having conversations about difficult, and often divisive topics. During these conversations, they try to emphasize the importance of asking questions. 

“We reserve the right to get smarter later.” —Mark Batterson

Batterson emphasizes that it’s ok to not have all of the answers. He notes that the “disagree freely” step of peacemaking is often the most difficult. People are quick to tap into their fight or flight. Disagreement can make it easy for people to hit the “cancel button.” 

Mark explains that “truth is found in the tension of opposites.” The truth is there is no magic bullet or easy answer. It can feel uncomfortable, but the right place is often living in the tension of grace and truth. You can’t graduate from this. 

[8:47-11:17] In an increasingly digitized world, National Community Church has fully embraced a physical presence in the D.C. area—you have multiple campuses, event venues, etc. How do you hold the tension between in-person and online?

Batterson says that the important thing is to be a “both/and thinker.” We don’t have the luxury to determine one way or the other. The negative comments and trolling online can get exhausting, but those things aren’t going away. Instead of giving up on the digital space, lean in.

[11:18-13:08] As you’ve held the tension between how you engage on social media and on your platform, how do you determine how to do this?

Mark comments on this and points out that it truly is a “phygital” tension (a combination of physical and digital). He gives an example of how they blended these two worlds for their Holy Week experience. 

[13:09-22:26] You’ve talked a lot about habits, especially in your book Win the Day. How do you see the power of habits, and how have you seen spiritual habits change since 2020?

Mark says it’s as simple as this: “Show me your habits, and I’ll show you your future.” We can think of destiny as some sort of mystery, but it’s not–it's a daily decision.

Batterson goes on to say that spiritual formation and habit formation go hand-in-hand. 

“Change of pace, plus change of place, equals change of perspective.” —Mark Batterson

What does that look like–practically? Batterson gives us a personal example. He says that he does a daily Bible reading plan, but each year he switches up the translation that he uses. Once a habit is established, it’s important to not let it grow old.

Host Nick Bogardus jumps in and mentions a conversation he had with a pastor in Seattle about the habits of people since 2020 and what has changed. People were deconstructing their faith prior to 2020, but world events have essentially changed their habits. Now, for example, instead of attending church out of habit, their recently established routines look very different.

Batterson responds that his church went a year and two weeks without attending church in-person. This break in regular church attendance definitely messes with people’s habits. Even if people have broken their habit of attending church, and maybe even stepped away from faith, they surely have replaced this with something else. 

As the conversation continues, Mark and Nick engage in more conversation on the topic of tension and how Jesus embodied the perfect example of not condemning, but also not condoning. Batterson ends this section with the following remark that he says most pastors will resonate with:

“It’s never enough, and it’s always too much.” —Mark Batterson

[22:27-29:33] What’s worked well for National Community Church when it comes to creating formational touch points throughout the week?

One of the good things that the Covid era has forced us to realize is that it’s easy to become “spiritually codependent.” Mark goes on to explain that individuals have had to take ownership of their own personal spiritual growth during the week. 

“The only ceiling on your intimacy with God and your impact on the world is daily spiritual disciplines.” —Mark Batterson

Something that Mark has prompted and encouraged his congregation to participate in is a gratitude journal. Another area he points to is physical health. He finds that he’s in better spiritual health when he keeps his body healthy. During this era, National Community Church has doubled down on prayer and launched the House of Prayer. 

“If prayer is the way we write history before it happens, then let’s do more of that.” —Mark Batterson

Prayer is how we join together with God. It isn’t a “passing of the buck,” but rather it’s a partnership.

[29:34-32:38] How do you, as a pastor, cultivate that kind of passion and habits of prayer in your congregation? What does that look like?

Batterson says that it makes all the difference to pray over his sermon. His congregation can tell the difference when he’s praying over and through his messages or not. It becomes a thirty minute prayer rather than a thirty minute sermon.

A call out that Mark makes here is that everyone has a unique prayer genius or anointing. Where you’ve seen answered prayer in your life is where you have a special anointing. This is where your strength is. Pray through your history. Prayer can often become a platitude—that’s not how it should be! Prayer is powerful.

[32:39-36:05] We’ve seen the comment online, “your thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.” How would you respond to this?

Mark says, that is exactly what he’s speaking of. The goal of prayer isn’t for us to outline our agenda to God, but rather, for Him to outline His agenda to us. The more you pray–the bigger you dream. Prayer is us getting on God’s wavelength. 

“It’s all from God and it's all for God.” —Mark Batterson

[36:06-38:36] Conclusion: as we wrap this up, you have a new book coming out next year. What can we expect from it?

You only have to be good at three things: please, sorry, and thanks. If you’re good at these three things, then you’ll be good in your relationships, work, and really—life.

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