Mark Batterson: Behind Personal Development, God’s Power

By Neal Comment

“I feel as called to write as I am to pastor,” Mark Batterson said as we at a table outside Ebenezers, the Washington, D.C., coffeehouse owned and operated by the National Community Church. He’s just published Wild Goose Chase, his second Christian inspirational book with Random House‘s Multnomah division, after years of preliminary effort; he estimated that, once he hit upon the dream of writing while in the seminary, he started and dropped a half dozen different book projects before finally finishing one. He self-published that book as an experiment; “it’s pretty much available on and that’s about it,” he smiled. Things really kicked into gear when Multnomah signed up In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day—which, like Wild Goose Chase, effectively uses the themes and language of secular self-helo literature, then adds a layer of religion. Yes, it’s important to seize opportunities and to pursue your passions, Batterson says, but for what higher purpose? Where, he asks, did that desire for adventure originate in our souls?

Thus, in Wild Goose Chase, he writes about six “cages” that keep people from pursuing what he calls a spirit-led life. “You know when you’re in the cage of guilt,” he said. “You know when you’re in the cage of fear. But you can be in a cage and not know it.” He calls upon readers to reflect upon whether they’ve ensnared themselves in crushing routines assigned themselves responsibilities that direct their lives away from their true calling rather than towards it; he encourages them to challenge their assumptions about what’s possible and to remove the air of finality from failure.

His style of writing is of a piece with the non-standard approach of the NCC, which actively reaches out to the “un-churched” or “de-churched” in the Washington community, holding services in local multiplex theaters and in the basement of Ebenezers. “For Christians, the books turn the kaleidoscope a little bit,” he said, “and I want to engage others in ways that would make sense to them… to reach readers where they’re at and coax them out.”

The observation that this sounds a lot like the approach of fellow pastor/author Erwin McManus meets with Batterson’s enthusiastic approval: “Erwin and I are cut from the same cloth, I think,” he agrees; he also cites Donald Miller‘s Blue Like Jazz for the “generational chord” it’s struck with Christian readers, and points to Do Hard Things, a recent book by two young brothers, Alex & Brett Harris, aimed at teenage audiences as another great read. For his own part, Batterson is studying up on neurology to explore how Christians can apply right-brain imagination to their lives. “When Christianity becomes a noun, it becomes a turn-off,” he enthused. “It should always be a verb…. The church ought to be the most creative place on the planet.”