On Episode 99 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with Mark Dever, the senior pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, about whether or not church is the place for innovation.

Sections

Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the Church
Is Church Run Like a Business?
What Does the Church Try To Accomplish?
How a Church Measures Their Success
Running an Organization
Training Up Other People
Is Church the Place For Innovation?
Starting Another Organization: Is It a Good Idea?
Encouragement For Entrepreneurs & Innovators
Five Sources To Find Out More About Christianity
Entrepreneurs & Faith
Conclusion
More Episodes
Show Notes

Is Church the Place for Innovation?

Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the Church

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

So, do you think you’re an entrepreneur?

Mark: Well, in that I don’t mind trying new things, yeah. I think I’m an odd entrepreneur in the sense that I tend to be kind of traditional, conservative and extremely, by nature, content. So, I don’t feel restless or driven but I think I do work as hard as entrepreneurs tend to work and I think I’m very willing to try certain kinds of new things.

Paul: So, you’re mixing innovation in with entrepreneurship. And they’re very close and they’re very intermingled. Where do you think that there has been innovation in your work in the church? Or is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? It’s a fairly big subject.

Mark: I think I’ve worked to recover older, more biblical practices that have been largely lost in too many churches today and I’ve put those back in a modern church.

Paul: I see. Well that’s re-innovation, if you will. That’s cool. Do you think that there is room or opportunity to innovate in the church?

Mark: Yeah, sure. I think it can be done very badly and I think it can be done very well. But yes.

Paul: So, what’s some examples of that?

Mark: Well, badly would be if you change, if you innovate in the message. That would be a very bad thing. Badly would be if you create a kind of legalism where you’re requiring things that Jesus Christ did not require. Innovation could be a good thing if you are thinking of how to achieve your goals for your church in ways that haven’t been thought of before but work well and are consistent with what you think are good and true

Is Church Run Like a Business?

Paul: So, do you think that your church, do you run it like a business or is that fundamentally different?

Mark: Oh, I think it’s pretty fundamentality different. For example, when my salary is discussed by the elders, I literally leave the room so that I know nothing of those conversations. So yeah. We’re not trying to personally make money. We don’t profit in that sense.

Paul: Do you have customers?

Mark: People who are members of the church, who attend here, may think of themselves that way. We don’t use that as an image because it makes the customer, king and we understand that God is king and we understand that He has revealed in the scriptures what we should do, believe, have, and so we don’t think that’s just up to the individual’s choice.

What Does the Church Try To Accomplish?

Paul: I see. So, you have a thousand people coming to services. You are having an impact in their life and they’re having an impact in the people around them’s life. Do you think that the church, this particular church, accomplishes a lot and if so, what is the primary accomplishment that you would sort of extol?

Mark: That we try to be faithful to what God has revealed in Scripture and we try to help other people do that, to live in a life of love of God and love of neighbor as we should. So, that’s what we work for.

Paul: So, it’s very different, it’s a quality of life.

Mark: Right. It’s not a quantity. It’s not find me a metrical thing, like we can count it up.

Paul: Right.

Mark: So, for example Paul, our church has as a building, one large room that, I think, can seat about a thousand people. Well that room has been full for ten years so we’re not having growing number of members. Our number of members is kind of static at about nine hundred and fifty to a thousand. And what we try to do is, try to serve them as well as we can. We have people die or move on, so we’ve always got sort of more space for people who want to come in but success can’t be seen in our percentage of numerical increase each year.

How a Church Measures Success

Paul: I see. So how do you measure success?

Mark: Just by whether or not we evaluate ourselves as being faithful in being and doing those things that we’ve been called to be and to do.

Paul: I see. So, the teachings of the Bible, is what you’re saying. Do we fulfill those? Do we understand those?

Mark: If we have a husband who is abusing his wife and we do nothing to stop him from doing that, then we understand that we’re failing. If we act and stop him from doing that and we help the wife and we help the children, then we understand that as success.

Paul: I see. So, you actually get into the messiness of human interaction.

Mark: Very much so.

Running an Organization

Paul: Yeah, that’s very interesting. So again, revisiting the idea where you didn’t go to school for organizational management. You didn’t go to school for how to run an organization. You went to school for church history, I guess?

Mark: Yeah. Historical theology. Yeah.

Paul: How did you make that leap to running an organization?

Mark: Well, when you become the pastor of a church and then that church grows, you will end up having a certain amount of responsibility for that organization.

Paul: But is it just, you pulled it out of your hat or did you take a secret management class someplace or is it just that you were born with it?

Mark: I’m guessing born with it. It’s interesting. The seminary I went to did make us take what they called a leadership course, where we read books at the time by Ted Peters, folks like that. And I have to say all the stuff that we read… In Search of Excellence.

Paul: Yes. Tom Peters.

Mark: All the stuff I read seemed kind of obvious, so it didn’t seem unusually insightful to me. it seemed true, but I didn’t need somebody to tell me that kind of stuff.

Training Up Other People

Paul: So, what I’ve struggled with as being a leader is, well, I know it’s right, do it my way. And I’ve seen many leaders struggle with that. Has that been a problem with you?

Mark: Not so much. I’m a big believer in training up other people and then if you can get other people learning to do things, you’re multiplying.

Paul: Right. Okay.

Mark: So, I’d much rather have it done not quite as well but sufficiently well, and moving in a good direction by a new person, and then help them to learn how to train others also.

Is Church the Place For Innovation?

Paul: So, now, you have all of these members. Would the members say that your church is innovative? I guess you already sort of answered that question. And is a church the place to be innovative?

Mark: I think the fundamental answer to that is no.

Paul: Okay.

Mark: But you could misunderstand that. I think it’s fine if the church tries, you know, an new air conditioning system, a new PA system, to sing a new hymn. I think that’s fine. If you think the church needs to have new things like that in order to survive, I would say well that’s not true and I would say it’s basic marching orders have been laid down very clearly for thousands of years in Scripture and what we want to work at is to continue to be faithful and try to follow those instructions.

Starting Another Organization: Is It a Good Idea?

Paul: Now, you mentioned an organization 9Marks. Why did you start this? You have a church who is functioning well. Many times with business, you hear, “Focus focu,s focus!” And so, it’s very usually dangerous to take a tangent and go off and do something else because it dilutes tension and venture capitalists look at it and say, “No. Stop half of the things you’re doing and do the other half twice as well.”
So, you went off and started this thing called 9Marks. What was the impetus for that? What was the point? What was the problem you were trying to solve?

Mark: Well, it was actually some friends who started 9Marks kind of with me. It was more their idea to start an organization, the marks of a church, that is talking about are things that I had noted and I had taught and even written about. These friends thought, “Mark. You’re doing this well enough in this church, let’s try to reproduce some of these things you’re saying and doing and teaching.” You know kind of like a Harvard business review.

Paul: Oh, okay.

Mark: Best practices kind of stuff. Let’s share this with other pastors so they can see what’s going on and maybe develop resources that would help them improve their churches.

Paul: And has that gone the way you expected it? Better? Worse? When you started it, it sounded like you were a reluctant traveler. “Okay, you guys are interested in dong this, I’ll come along.” Is that fair or… and how has it worked out?

Mark: I think that’s fair. It’s gone well. It’s been around for twenty-one years. And yeah, if you go to the website 9marks.org, look on a church search map, you’ll find about four thousand churches in the U.S. that have affiliated themselves with this, saying they agree with these marks of a healthy church.

And we have produced lots of content for free, you’ll find on the website. And probably about sixty different titles, sixty different books of which I’ve only written, oh, five or ten of them. Not a lot of them, and most of those are being translated into many different languages around the world. Almost every week, I’ll receive some copies of some 9Marks title that’s been translated into – this last week, Polish. And you know, it just keeps going.

Encouragement For Entrepreneurs & Innovators

Paul: So, is there anything you’d like to say to would-be entrepreneurs or innovators or business people? Anything at all?

Mark: Yeah, just as a Christian, I think business is hugely important. It’s productive. It created wealth. It gives jobs to people. It helps people meaningfully organize their time to do things that help other people. So, I love business people, men and women. I love to see their creativity, their productivity, the blessing they are to others. So, as a pastor of a Christian church, I just couldn’t be more encouraged by men and women listening podcasts like yours Paul, and trying to get better doing what they do, because if they get better doing what they do, it’s going to help everyone around them. So, I’m super thankful for good business people.

Paul: Well, that could be a good oxymoron. Good business people.

Mark: Well you know what I mean. You know what I mean.

Five Sources To Find Out More About Christianity

Paul: No, I’m just saying, but it could be. Very much so.

So, let me go back. So, you’ve talked about Christianity, You’ve talked about what it is. I would imagine a lot of people listening to us don’t really know what Christianity really means. They may have a notion of it. Where would you direct them to be able to learn more about what you say Christianity is or what you believe Christianity is?

Mark: Okay, what I believe Christianity is. I’ll give you five sources you can go look at.

Talk to a good friend of yours who’s a Christian. That’s number one, a friend. Get him to explain it to you.

Number two, go find a good church near you and let them explain it to you.

Number three, grab a good book. I’ll mention two: C.S. Lewis, called “Mere Christianity” or Greg Gilbert, a book called “Who is Jesus?” So that’s C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”, Greg Gilbert, “Who is Jesus?” These books would very briefly explain to you Christianity.

You could yourself pick up a copy of the Bible and start reading the Gospels about Jesus. I would encourage you to read Mark’s Gospel. It’s short. It’s the shortest of the Gospels. We think it may have been the earliest written.

And finally, I would tell you go to the 9Marks website and just look up, just type in the word “gospel”. Because that’s the basic message of Christianity. G-O-S-P-E-L. Just type in “gospel” and see what articles come up and read or listen to some of the resources you find there.

Paul: Okay, well, we’ll put all those links in the show notes so people don’t have to furiously write them down.

Mark: You could also put one of capbap.org, so if they want to hear any of my teaching, they are there for free.

Entrepreneurs & Faith

Paul: Excellent. What would you, if you were to meet with a would-be entrepreneur, has really no experience with faith, what would your conversation be like with one of them?

Mark: Well, it happens from time to time, I mean that’s not just hypothetical. One of the guys who helped us start 9Marks, actually gave us several hundred thousand dollars to get started. He was just a businessman who lived here, a few doors down and he just liked what he saw happening in this church. He thought if other churches became more like this, it would help communities they were in. So, he gave us money to try to help us get started.

So, conversations can vary a lot. They can have a personal interest in faith themselves, they can just like some of the things that we’re doing and want to be a part of it, so it varies a lot.

Conclusion

Paul: Very cool. Any other things you’d like to cover or talk about?

Mark: No, I mean, it’s been a good conversation.

Paul: Alright, well, we’ve been speaking with Mark Dever, the senior pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. and I guess you’re four blocks behind the supreme court building?

Mark: Exactly.

Paul: We’ve been talking about a church in Washington D.C. where Mark is the teaching pastor? Do you have a particular title?

Mark: Senior pastor.

Paul: Senior pastor. So, you’re old is what they’re saying?

Mark: I’m very old.

Paul: Oh my gosh. Well, did you actually get to meet Jesus?

Mark: After a manner of speaking, but not in the way you mean it, I think.

Paul: Okay. Well, we’ve had a good conversation and we’d love your feedback.

More Episodes:

This is Part 3 of 3 our interview with Mark Dever. If you missed part 1, you can listen to it here!

And if you missed part 2, you can listen to it here!

Show Notes:

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