Connections: Mark Batterson
Praying and Planting
Mark Batterson is lead pastor of National Community Church (Assemblies of God) in Washington, D.C. Batterson and his wife, Lora, planted NCC in January 1996 and have seen it grow into a multicampus ministry in and around the nation’s capital primarily using rented movie theaters. Batterson is also a New York Times best-selling author whose latest book, The Circle Maker, identifies prayer as key to personal growth as well as the growth of any ministry. He recently spoke with Scott Harrup, Pentecostal Evangel managing editor.
evangel: Talk about the role prayer played in NCC’s early days.
BATTERSON: I believe God gives you big dreams, not to promote your own agenda but to make you completely dependent upon Him. And our biggest dreams for NCC kept us on our knees.
One of my first experiences with the kind of prayer that motivated The Circle Maker was a prayer walk around Capitol Hill during our early months in Washington. I walked more than four miles around Capitol Hill, basically praying beyond my biggest dreams for the impact God would have through our church in this community.
If you walk that same route today, you can see the answer to those prayers in the form of multiple properties we are now using that are worth millions of dollars — buildings we never dreamed of acquiring. We’ve commemorated that prayer walk with a video on the opening page of thecirclemaker.com.
evangel: What are some recent milestones you have experienced at NCC in answer to prayer?
BATTERSON: Early last year we focused on 2 Chronicles 7:14 for an extended prayer emphasis. If you’re not familiar with that passage, it reads, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (NIV).
We saw some amazing things come out of that season of prayer, including one of the buildings that opened up for us to acquire. I think one of the highlight results from those prayers was a segment the TODAY Show did on NCC a few weeks before Easter last year. It aired on Easter Sunday morning and gave us some very favorable exposure across this region.
evangel: Your new devotional, Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge, was released on Dec. 18. What prayer principles have you emphasized in it?
BATTERSON: In response to The Circle Maker, we’ve received thousands of emails, letters and testimonies about answered prayer. Revelation 12:11 tells us we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, and yet we often don’t share those testimonies. So my goal with this book is to give the reader an incredible testimony every day about the power of prayer, and set on fire that reader’s own faith for answered prayer.
I also want to challenge churches to have a season of prayer. It’s not about 40 days, or 21 days, or any set time span, as much as it is about fully developing that prayer habit. If you do something for long enough, it becomes a habit. And there is no habit that will bless your life more than prayer.
evangel: What encouragement would you offer to a church-planting pastor and team?
BATTERSON: The very first thing that comes to mind for me is the disciples’ request of Jesus in Luke 11: “Lord, teach us to pray” (verse 1). What’s interesting is what they don’t ask. They don’t say, “Lord, teach us to lead.” They don’t ask for instruction in preaching or starting a ministry. Why? Because if you change the way you pray, everything changes.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a church planter, or you’ve been a senior pastor for 40 years, prayer is still going to define your potential in the kingdom of God. Prayer is going to spell the difference between the best you can do and the best God can do.
At the end of the day, I want to be sure the ministry the Lord has entrusted me with is not the result of human effort but of supernatural input. And that process begins the moment I hit my knees. When we hit our knees, the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. That’s my rallying cry right now.
evangel: Why is church planting indispensable to the continued vitality of the Assemblies of God?
BATTERSON: As a church planter myself, I’m definitely biased. But I think the way you reach new people is by starting new churches. The question isn’t so much “why” as “why not.” Why wouldn’t we be all about planting churches? We need lots of different kinds of churches because there are lots of different kinds of people.
So a more traditional church doesn’t necessarily need to change; it’s meeting a need just as much as any new church is within its area of outreach. But as we continue to reach emerging generations, we are going to need young pastors and young churches to reach out to our culture in a new way.
I’m convinced the Holy Spirit is infinitely creative. And what that means is this: There are ways of doing church that no one’s thought of yet.
I believe we need to take the Incarnation seriously — the amazing reality that Jesus, the divine Son of God, lived as a Man and built relationships with people one on one — and we need to find ways to incarnate the gospel message into our culture in a way that reaches each emerging generation. And the primary wineskin — or toolset, if you will — for that mission is a church plant.
evangel: What role do you see NCC continuing to play in planting churches?
BATTERSON: We feel a continuing call to be a church-planting church. And that goes beyond any additional sites we hope to establish across our area. When it comes to developing a new NCC site, or an entirely new church plant, it’s not either-or for us. It’s both-and.
We try to have a church planter in residence on our staff at all times. We want someone on our team who is always preparing to go out and plant a church. And then we try to stand in financial support of those church plants. Healthy churches produce babies, and those babies are church plants.
evangel: Any concluding thoughts?
BATTERSON: Planting churches is part of the life and culture at NCC, and it’s one of our priorities whether it’s locally or abroad. It’s got to be right at the center of our mission.
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