On Episode 98 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with Mark Dever, the senior pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. about how a church is different than other organizations.

Sections

Becoming A Pastor: Was it Worth the Investment?
How Church is Different Than Other Organizations
How the Church Can Help You Succeed in Life
Christianity Versus Other Religions
Investigating Christianity
Success: Random Chance or Careful Planning?
Is Being a Pastor, a Job?
Delegating
More Episodes
Show Notes

How Church is Different Than Other Organizations

Becoming A Pastor: Was it Worth the Investment?

Paul: So, welcome to the Edge of Innovation. Today were talking with Mark Dever from Washington D.C.

Okay, so, twenty-five years ago you were going to be a – as far as you know, or I don’t know exactly when it happened – you were going to go be a teacher and you went and started being a pastor at a church?

Mark: Yeah, I taught for a little while at Cambridge in England and then I had an offer to teach at a theological seminary back here in the States and then this church came up in the middle of Washington D.C. and after investigating it, I just felt this is what I should do. My wife agreed and so we did.

Paul: Wow! So, how has that worked out? So, I mean, that sounded optimistic at the point but I know obviously we’re twenty-five years later. Has that been what you expected? Was it worth the investment? Was it worth the risk?

Mark: Yeah. Super, super so. Yeah. Very much so. When I got here, there were one hundred and thirty people, mainly in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. The budget was in the red. They had the church kind of on the ropes. Now, as I said earlier, there are about a thousand people, the average age of thirty. The congregation is doing well. We’ve been able to see other churches in D.C. sort of turned around. So, yeah. It’s been very very encouraging success in the work.

Paul: So, you just said something that’s intriguing to me. You said the congregation is “doing well.” Can you flesh that out? What does that mean?

Mark: We’re seeing people who were not Christians become Christians. We’re seeing Christians grow spiritually, come to know more peace, more joy, to show more love in their lives. Marriages beginning and improving, ability to raise children, rear children well in the community. Just lots of good fruit in people’s lives. Dealing with hard things of cancer and unemployment and bereavement.

How Church is Different Than Other Organizations

Paul: So, it sounds to me, as you’re talking through this, that this is a little bit different than many other organizations that one might be involved in because you’re – I don’t want to say it this way – but it’s sort of like some of the things you’re doing seem to matter as opposed to me going to a photography class and saying, “Okay. Now I know how to take a better picture.” These seem to have more depth or more meaning. Is that true? Is that the nature of this particular church or is it the nature of the church in general?

Mark: It should be the nature of the church in general to be more comprehensive than a photography club. The closest analogy that you would have probably, socially, is ones’ family.

Paul: Go on. I have my own family. I’ve only had one. I only have one set of experiences. I can observe what I watch on TV and people I know. I see a lot of bad family experiences out there. So, how does this speak to that?

Mark: Well, I would see that in our local church, when we join, we take convenient. We literally read a big statement together where we say that we will care for each other and it’s kind of like what goes on in a wedding ceremony. The difference is that with this convent, we have the freedom to leave this church and go to another one or if we move someplace else with our jobs, or because of our families, that we move.

Sorry. You’re hearing the sirens of downtown Washington D.C.

Paul: Oh, that’s okay. It gives ambiance. We actually called the fire alarm to see if they would come and put that in the background.

So I’m struggling to…. I was raised in a church myself. A Catholic church. So, I’m getting a sense that there’s a lot more depth to, as you said, it’s not like a photography club. It’s more than that.

How the Church Can Help You Succeed in Life

And we’re talking with lots of different people and lots of different people are listening and one of the reasons people are listening is because they’re an entrepreneur and they want to be innovative. They want to understand how other people succeed in business. But really what that means is they want to know how people succeed. Success is a huge measure of a person’s wealth, success, or whatever it is. How does the church, play into that? Is the church something that you do once a week or does it change your reality. Does it reorder your priorities? How does it do that?

Because one of the things – I’ll let you talk here in just a moment – because one of the things you learn in photography class is that if you don’t take any pictures, you don’t have any pictures. And that’s how you get better at taking pictures, is to take them, live that out. And the church that you’re talking about, both specifically and more in general, can you talk to that?

Mark: Yeah. I was talking to a friend who got married about fifteen years ago and he was observing that as he looked around at other friends of his that got married about fifteen years ago, every one that was not involved in a good church, was either divorced or their marriages were on the rocks and struggling. Whereas, every couple he knew that was involved in a good church and had that really at the center of their lives, were doing great in their marriage. I don’t know if you can draw a direct cause and effect line, but I know that in the church we certainly do spend a good bit of time trying to help each other, including in very personal things like your marriage and family.

Paul: It sounds like it’s a good organization to be a part of. It helps me understand how to have a better family, have a better life. Is that what it is or…?

Mark: That’s certainly part of it. I had one friend in England when I lived in England who was moving up to Scotland. He told me he was moving next week. And I said, “What are you going to do in Edinburgh when you get there?”

And he said, “Well, on Sunday I’m going to go to church.”

I said, “Go to church? You’re an atheist!”

And he said,” Yeah, but whenever I move somewhere I always go to church because Christians are the nicest people. You just meet people who help you in so many ways, so I always go to church.”
So I don’t think that everybody’s testimony, but I think church is a good place to start to get to know people but the purpose of the church ultimately is for you to get to know God and for you to have a relationship with God.

Paul: Isn’t that a pretty bold statement?

Mark: It is. It’s a great statement too. I think it’s true. I used to be the agnostic and became a Christian.

Christianity Versus Other Religions

Paul: Well tell me about that. Why Christianity? Why not one of the other religions?

Mark: I looked into other religions. I read the Koran. I read the teachings of Daoism and Confucianism and all kinds of stuff and just through a long process I became convinced that there really was somebody named Jesus of Nazareth and that He really did rise from the dead. And once I was convinced that He really did rise from the dead, I felt an obligation to pay attention to Him in a way I didn’t really feel an obligation to pay attention to people, you know, no matter how great they are from Mahatma Gandhi to Mohammed.

Paul: So, the differentiator for you was this raising from the dead?

Mark: The resurrection. Yeah.

Paul: So, how do other religions counter that? In other words, that’s sort of like, okay, we have… Apple sells the iPhone and nobody else sells the iPhone so it’s sort of like if you want an iPhone you have to go here. Is that the same thing with Christianity? That if you want to believe in somebody that rose from the dead, which seems like a pretty miraculous thing – I don’t have many things in my life that automatically heal themselves. How does that – not battle but that discussion happen? Is it like the trump card? You lay that down and that’s it?

Mark: I think some people are disinterested in the fact. I think others don’t engage with it carefully. Others are skeptical of it for understandable reasons. Others, like myself, become convinced it’s true. And once they become convinced it’s true, they begin to consider the significance of it and they begin to read Jesus’ own words and listen to His teaching and beliefs and end up having their lives changed by it.

Paul: So, you are saying that this really happened and this is really true?

Mark: I’m saying this happened as much as the Macintosh happened. It’s that real.

Investigating Christianity

Paul: And so, what pushed you towards even investigating this? I don’t know, how old you were when you started to investigating this?

Mark: Teenager. I just wondered about a sense of purpose in life, why I was alive, if there was any higher purpose to it.

Paul: Interesting. So, you investigated all these different religions?

Mark: I did. I was a thorough and academic type.

Paul: What was the tipping point for the cause? Were there other tipping points that you said, “Okay, there’s something here. I’m going to go down this path,” and then returned with, “Oh no. That’s not the good path or not the path I believe.”

Mark: Well, I think I started with other philosophies that are less supernatural, just because I didn’t have any experience of the supernatural and so I just assumed that that was not true. And once I kind of exhausted what I felt that could contribute, I started looking at philosophies and religions and the religions kept seeming very explicable. I thought I could understand why, if a prophet, preacher, arises in that area, in those centuries, he can completely, for understandable reasons, for me as a secular person, create this movement, this kingdom. With Jesus – I turned to Him kind of last because I assumed I knew Him being an American, or I knew about him – with Jesus, He just didn’t fit into all my expectations. He was both too loving and too self-centered. He was both too grand in his ideas about himself and too self-giving. It was just stunning. He blew all my categories.

Paul: You just said self-centered. Isn’t self-centered a bad thing?

Mark: Well, if you’re anybody else yes, but if you’re God I think it’s appropriate.

Paul: Interesting. So, are you…

Mark: We’ve got to be way outside of what you guys normally talk about.

Paul: Well, yeah, I guess we are. That’s probably true. But heck, it’s my show. So…

Mark: True.

Success: Random Chance or Careful Planning?

Paul: One of the things that I’ve always wanted to get from people is why they do what they do or why they did what they did and those inflections points of those roads taken. “Oh, I went down this path and I learned this and I came back and I did this.” And you know, as we’re talking about these things, you’ve got a successful small business if I talk in my parliaments and you have been an effective leader, CEO, president, whatever the tile is. You’re a pastor. You didn’t go to school for business. You didn’t go to school for how to manage people. How did you get to this point? Is it just random chance? How did you set forth and did you plan to succeed? Or you didn’t plan?

Mark: I probably didn’t plan a lot. I think I tried to be faithful and then as opportunities came up, I tried to decide how best to use them. As I got to hire people, I always want to hire the best people. I want to hire people I can trust who will do thing without a ton of supervision and then when we started an organization to try to help other churches called 9marks.org, I did the same thing there. I tried to hire people to run that so that I would not need to do that. We’ve had excellent people running that parrot church ministry, which is about a two million dollar a year budget, with about twelve or thirteen employees. About half those full time, and half of those part time.

Is Being a Pastor, a Job?

Paul: And so, what is the fabric of the work that you do? Is it largely managing people or is it….? I think you’ve already said, you hire people so that they can manage themselves, but how does that work? When you come to work in the morning, is it work? I have difficulty in separating work from life because I enjoy work, so you know, I enjoy it as a oppose to… I know some people that go to work and they stop work. Tell me about your life that way.

Mark: Well, I know what your difficulty is because when my computer crashed a few weeks ago, I called you during your birthday dinner with your family and you very kindly helped me anyway which I’m not sure you should have done.

Paul: Well, yeah. We’re still working on that.
So how do you…. Is it a job? Because one of the things I’ve talked a lot about and read a lot about, is the difference between starting a business that can sustain itself without necessarily me, and/or just starting a job, which is I’m going to go out and fix somebody’s computer and I’m going to go from company to company and do that. And if I don’t do that, the business stops. And that’s vastly different than starting a business which equips people in that business to go out and fix people’s computers.
So, how do you fall in that realm? Because I would imagine that people are coming to see the Mark Dever show on Sunday. It doesn’t sound like that.

Mark: Is that your final question?

Paul: I think so. I think it is. Yes, I think it is.

Mark: They’re definitely not coming just to see me in the Mark Dever’s show. They’re coming – some of them may have heard of me and want to hear me preach particularly – but no, they’re coming because of what they know from a friend of theirs, from a family member, that’s happened in their lives and they’re wanting to learn more and understand more about what it could mean for them.

Paul: Okay, so but now, you as a leader of this organization, what do you do? I mean, when you come to work, what is it you’re thinking of? Because I think about, okay how do I improve this system? How do I improve this? I work with our customers. I make sure that their expectations are being met. What is your fabric of everyday work?

Mark: Well, it varies. It’s going to be me leading public services on Sunday and me leading a staff meeting on Sunday night. It’s going to be me leading a staff during the week on Tuesdays and then a planning meeting on Tuesday afternoons. It’s going to be me teaching scripture publicly on Wednesday night and me often leading a discussion for those who are interns who want to be pastors, on Thursday morning. And then Friday and Saturday, writing my sermon and Sunday preaching it.

Delegating

Paul: So, you didn’t really say managing people. I mean you sort of talked about having some meetings and discussions.

Mark: Yeah, in our church’s structure, there is an associate pastor and he is the one who will do more immediate management of people. I kind of delegate that to him.

Paul: I see.

Mark: So, it’s a small enough staff, you know, fifteen or so people, that I end up doing a lot of managing as well probably.

Paul: Would the staff say that as well do you think?

Mark: I think so I think so.

Paul: So, we’ve been speaking with Mark Dever, the senior pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.

Thanks for listening and we’d love your feedback!

More Episodes:

This is Part 2 of 3 our interview with Mark Dever. Stay tuned for parts 3, coming soon! If you missed part 1, you can listen to it here!

Show Notes:

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