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Mark Batterson: What Happens When the Church Stops Praying?

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"I feel like prayer is the difference between the best you can do and the best God can do."

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Outreach recently spoke with Mark Batterson to discuss a wide assortment of issues, including the challenges of taking the Gospel into the culture of Washington D.C., the lessons he’s learned about prayer from his most recent book, The Circle Maker, and what it means to be a “current” church in our ever-changing culture. Here’s a glimpse into the conversation. Check out more from our Nov/Dec issue here

What are the most important ministry lessons you’ve learned this year?

We’re not trying to grow a church, we’re trying to bless a city, and when you bless a city then God grows His church. And I think that’s gotten into our DNA over the last year. You know how you can read a verse in the Bible a thousand times, but then one day the full force of it hits you and it’s like this revelation. This little statement Jesus made, “I will build my church”… I’ve heard that a thousand times, but I think it hit me this year. My job is not to build the church. It’s a little thing, but it’s been big for me. I’ve shared that in some settings with pastors and I think it’s been real freeing. We need to remind ourselves, it’s His church—He’s the one who will build it, and if we can stay out of the way, then some great things are going to happen.

Prayer has also played a big part. I feel like prayer is the difference between the best you can do and the best God can do. So if we’re not praying, then the best we can do is the best we can do, and that’s not good enough. When we get on our knees, the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. Prayer creates the culture and gives people a heart for evangelism, because when you get into God’s presence, you start to get His heartbeat. That’s been the game-changer for us this year.

In your recent book, The Circle Maker, you talk about the important transformation of becoming a praying church. What does that look like for National Community?

You can delegate a lot of things, but you can’t delegate prayer. The Lord convicted me out of Acts 6—when the church leaders were delegating stuff so they could be in the Word and in prayer. I love conferences. I’m a conference junkie, but I’d rather have one God-idea than a thousand good ideas.

You can go to conferences and get a good idea, but you’re not going to get a God-idea there—you get that by being in the presence of God and getting into prayer. When The Circle Maker came out, I had this thriving personal prayer life, but I realized I hadn’t led the church corporately into that. So we started doing these 7:14 a.m. prayer meetings (based on 2 Chronicles 7:14), and I realized it was changing things.

I don’t know if it took me writing a book on prayer to realize how far short I had fallen—to kind of wake up to the reality. I felt a sense of responsibility that I better make sure I’m not just leading the way in my personal prayer life—I better be leading the way corporately.

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