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Bestselling author and pastor Mark Batterson prays that his newest book would open readers to the tug of the Holy Spirit – that they would make a defining decision to follow Jesus, instead of asking Jesus to follow them.
"I think there are a lot of people in a lot of churches who think they're following Jesus, but the reality is they've invited Jesus to follow them," Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. and author of the new book All In: You are One Decision Away From a Totally Different Life, told The Christian Post in a recent interview. He said All In is a call to recalibration – for Christians to truly find themselves in Jesus.
Batterson spoke with The Christian Post on Tuesday, the day his book was released.
CP: Your book seems to convey one central message from Joshua 3:5 "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you." Can you explain what consecrating yourself really looks like?
Batterson: Yeah, that's one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and I think there's an important lesson that's often misunderstood. We often want to do amazing things for God, and that's well-intentioned, but that's God's job. God's the one who does the amazing things. Our job is consecration, and I think if we do our job, God's going to do his job.
In the book, I try to explain what consecration is not – it's not going to church, it's not leading a missions trip, it's not tithing, it's not doing devotionals, it's not raising your hands in worship. All of those are good things, but that's not the heart of consecration.
I think consecration is taking yourself off of the throne and making sure that Jesus is on the throne of your life. It's all of you for all of Him, and it starts with your heart just being surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ. So what I try to get to in the book is, let's start here. Let's start with consecration and if we really consecrate ourselves to the Lord, then God's going to do some amazing things in us and through us.
CP: You have some pretty amazing stories about those things that God does when we consecrate ourselves to Him. Which do you find the most compelling? Which best motivates you in your personal walk with God, to rededicate yourself?
Batterson: Over the years, I've found that when you put yourself in a surrendered position, it puts the ball in God's court, which is a great place for it to be. I like to think of it this way – prayer is the difference between the best you can do and the best God can do. So when I'm in a place of prayer, a place of obedience, a place of consecration, it's no longer the best I can do, it's the best God can do.
I think you do that in a number of different ways. Sometimes it's as simple as rolling up your sleeves, putting a towel around your waist and serving others. Sometimes it's more sacrificial than that, and it's going on a missions trip or even beyond the tithe, giving God a greater percentage of your income.
One way or the other, I've found that if you don't hold out on God, God is not going to hold out on you, and I think sometimes people are afraid that they're going to miss out if they don't hold out just a little bit. But I think it's the opposite – I think you're going to miss out on what God wants to do if you hold out on Him. But if you don't, he won't, and that's when you're going to see God move in incredible ways.
CP: So you talk about the rich young ruler, who similarly decides not to go all out. He gives up a real experience, "an unpaid internship with the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth" for worldly possessions. Can you explain what it looks like for a modern Christian to go all in, to follow Jesus in the way the rich young ruler should have done?
Batterson: That story of the rich young ruler is an interesting one because, on paper, he's got everything that we think we want – he's rich, he's young, and he's a ruler. But he still says "what am I missing?" I think what he was missing was this.
He was following the rules, but he wasn't really following Jesus. I think there's a lot of people in a lot of churches who find themselves in that same place. They aren't doing anything wrong, per se. The rich young ruler says, "I'm keeping all the commandments." But you can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right.
What I'm trying to convey in All In is that it's not just about the sins of comission, "don't do this, don't do that, and you're ok," but it's about the sins of omission – what you would have, could have, and should have done. If the rich young ruler had gone all in, think about the difference he could have made. He could have leveraged his power, leveraged his wealth for incredible good, but he ended up just spending it on himself.
At the end of his life, I think he had everything and realized it was nothing. Then you have the disciples, and they end up with nothing – eleven out of twelve were martyred for their faith – but they had everything. Their eternal reward speaks for itself.
I think All In is a recalibration. Let's not make the same mistake the rich young ruler made. Let's not accumulate the wrong thing. Let's make sure that we're not just following the rules but following Jesus himself.
CP: Would you say that your audience is the rich young rulers of the world? National Community Church has a vast population of – as you say – "twentysomethings." Are you reaching out primarily to the young with this book?
Batterson: I think, in many ways, we are reaching a lot of those rich young rulers. We're majority single twentysomethings, and many of them live or work on Capitol Hill. They're writing legislation, they're making decisions that are shaping our culture, that are shaping the direction our government is moving, so I feel like we're in a place to influence influencers.
What's beautiful about that is that these are rich young rulers. They graduated at the top of their class. They want to make a difference, that's why they've come to Washington, D.C. But then there's a reality check when you get here. We have found hundreds, thousands, of twentysomethings that, over the years, we've had the opportunity to minister to.
What they've discovered is that yeah, they can make a difference on a political plane, but ultimately it's in a relationship with God that we're then leveraged with the gifts He's given us to really make an eternal difference – not for a political party, but for an eternal kingdom. I think that line is drawn, in a way, in the book that calls all of us out of worrying about ourselves or our little world around us – no, God has called us to something bigger and longer than that, and that's the Kingdom of God.
CP: You mentioned pursuing this higher kingdom, and you're reaching out to twentysomethings. How do you address the idea that Christianity is associated with judgment and negativity – especially among the young – with the issues of homosexuality and the strong stance on sexual relations that the church takes because of the Bible?
Batterson: We live in a culture where it's wrong to say something is wrong, and I think that's wrong. I don't think we're doing anybody any favors if we pull punches. The truth is the truth. Now, we need to speak it in love, but here's what I believe – the Church should be more known for what we're for than what we're against.
So when Paul walks into Athens, and he's surrounded by all this idolatry, he doesn't put up a picket sign and boycott the Aereopagus. He walks in, and he competes for the truth. He goes toe to toe with some of the most brilliant minds in the ancient world.
I'm just cut from the cloth that believes you criticize by creating. That's what Michelangelo said. You write better books, you make better films. You start better schools. If you have an issue with what's going on, let's not just point out what's wrong, let's be the solution. I think that's part of what it means to be the people of God. All In is a book that calls us to that kind of standard – let's not just talk it, let's walk it, and let's make sure that our lives preach what we really believe.
You're the only Bible that some people are ever going to read. Are you a good translation? Each one of us is called to be, in a sense, a unique translation of the Bible so that people can see it with skin on.
CP: Taking that leap into a different understanding of what we are called to do, you talk about rim-huggers, who enjoy the sightseeing of the Grand Canyon, but don't know the true beauty or pleasure or pain of hiking the inner passes. How do modern Christians get that full experience with God?
Batterson: Hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim was one of the greatest experiences of my life – also one of the hardest. We did it in July, my son and I. It was one 110 degrees…in the shade. I lost 13 pounds in two days, and I remember when we came up out of the canyon and we saw these people on the rim, at first I felt sorry for myself – I was sweaty and smelly and exhausted, and they were getting to "enjoy the view," so to speak.
But then I felt sorry for them, because they were seeing it and missing it at the same time. I had experienced it. Now, they might know a fact or two about the canyon from their tour book, that I didn't know, but they hadn't experienced it.
I'm afraid there are a lot of rim-huggers in a lot of churches that haven't really gone all in and experienced the full 360-degree perspective on who God is. A.W. Tozer said that eternity won't be long enough to praise God for all that He's done, and I think that's true. What I'm calling people is, let's hike into the canyon.
Let me give you an example. This year, as a church, we'll take 25 missions trips. Part of that is because I believe one mission trip is worth more than 52 of my sermons. We want people to be missional, to be engaged in what Christ has called us to.
The bottom line is, you can't be the hands and feet of Jesus if you're sitting on your butt. So we try to call people out of the pew. We often say, around our church, a church that stays within the four walls of the church isn't a church at all. Let's be about the Father's business, and that doesn't happen in a 90-minute worship experience on Sunday morning – it's got to be more than that.
CP: Your book seems more a general call to action rather than outlining specifically which action to take. Do you expect your readers to feel the tug of the Holy Spirit urging them in the specific directions that they should go?
Batterson: I love that question. Writing books is a labor of love, with an emphasis on labor. It's not easy, but once a book is written, then my prayer is always that God would get a book into the right hands at the right time. When people read a book, my prayer is that there would be one sentence, one paragraph, one page, that is a life-changing experience for them. As an author and as a preacher, I don't think it's my job to tell them exactly what to do in prescriptive terms, but instead to paint a picture, to share some stories, to share my story – so that they can see what God's done in my life or other people's lives, but then it's going to look different in their life.
Going all in for me meant transferring from the University of Chicago – giving up a full-ride scholarship – and transferring to Central Bible College, or packing up a U-Haul and going to Washington, D.C. That's going to look different for the person who is reading the book, but I think the subtitle is my favorite subtitle of any book I've written and is probably the most helpful statement in the book – "you are one decision away from a totally different life."
There's a gap between my writing and the "still small voice" of the Holy Spirit, where I do pray that God would meet people in the pages of the book and that there would be that moment when a person makes a defining decision, goes all in, and will be able to look back at the book and say page 17 or page 121, and say "that is where my life changed."
CP: You use many sound bytes throughout the book, "there comes a moment when we need to go all in," "it's all or nothing, it's now or never," "go all out, go all in," et cetera. Have you found these simple, motivating phrases effective in calling your parishioners to a more dedicated life?
Batterson: I think our attention span is shorter in 2013 than it was in 2000 or 1990. Part of it is just the pace of life, part of it's technology. Honesty, part of it's twitter! If you can't say it in 140 characters, people probably aren't going to remember it.
Now, Jesus was the master of the one-liner, the master of the metaphor. Hear his parables once, you'll remember them forever. So as a communicator, what I try to do is say this in as few words as possible but also in a way that will be memorable. So I use a lot of parallels.
For example, "if Jesus is not Lord of all, He's not Lord at all. There is no middle ground." Things like "we're too Christian to enjoy sin and too sinful to enjoy Christ." What I try to do is find ways to turn a phrase that then the Holy Spirit can take that and lodge it into people's hearts, lodge it into their memory, and become something that is a life-changing not just truth but truism or aphorism – something that they can really remember.
CP: Is this book only for Christians, or do you expect a non-believer might pick it up and get some inkling of a different kind of Christian life?
Batterson: It's definitely both-and. I think there are a lot of people in a lot of churches who think they're following Jesus, but the reality is they've invited Jesus to follow them. This book is for that person who really wants God to serve their purposes, to have that moment of revelation that the true adventure begins when you accept that invitation to follow Jesus.
It's for that audience, but then I pray that there are a lot of people who pick up this book and say, "what is the Gospel? What does it mean to 'follow Jesus?' What is that and what is that about?" This book, I think, is a unique angle on that, that will speak to the person who's never made that decision to follow Christ, and hopefully does that in a way that's both biblical and creative, so that it calls people into that life of faith.
So, ultimately, that's why I set my alarm early in the morning, that's why I write books, because I want to see people experience that one life-changing moment, that defining moment, that "all in" moment, if you will.
CP: You mentioned "Sacrificing Your Isaac," allowing your dreams to die so that God can make them truly successful. Are there other examples of this that didn't make it into your book or that you'd like to bring forward?
Batterson: Almost every dream I've ever had has had to go through a death and a resurrection. You almost have to give it back to God, so that then He can give it back to you. Whether it's church-planting or writing, a lot of my dreams have died. But isn't that the essence of what Christ calls us to?
If Jesus hung on his cross, we can certainly carry ours, and what Jesus was saying there is "you've got to die to yourself, but it's not until you die to self that you truly come alive" in the fullest sense of what Jesus meant when he said "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly." So that call to death is really a call to life, and of course, it's eternal life as well.
What a deal that God's put on the table! I think this book lays it out in no uncertain terms: the Gospel costs nothing, but it demands everything. When you give everything, you've sacrificed nothing. If you get back more than you gave up, you haven't really given up anything at all.
CP: Is there anything else you'd like to add? What's your grand vision for this whole project?
Batterson: What excites me is the thought of individuals just going all in. One of my favorite little statements in the book is a statement that D.L. Moody heard and it changed his life. "The world has yet to see what God can do through one person who is fully consecrated to Him." So if this book makes a difference in one person's life, it was worth writing.
Then I start to think about small groups going all in together and churches creating a culture where we're not going to water down the Gospel – we're not going to pull punches. When churches start doing that as a culture, so to speak, then there is a shift that takes place.
I start thinking about churches going all in… I believe that we have not seen our best days. Our best days are in front of us, and I'm not just talking about National Community Church – I believe that for the Church at large.
I believe there is another great awakening in our future and I'm going to keep hitting my knees, I'm going to keep writing books. I'm going to keep preaching, writing, believing that if we do what God has called us to do, then God is going to come through in amazing ways.
If we do what they did in the Bible, God's going to do what He did, and we're going to see a revival in our generation. That's my prayer – God, renew your deeds in our day. I think that's at the heart of what it means to go all in and all out for the All-in-All.