Serving coffee, and the gospel, on Capitol Hill
Pastor Mark Batterson offers hope for spiritual, if not political, revival in Washington, D.C.
Mark Batterson is pastor of National Community Church, which has eight locations in the Washington, D.C., area but perhaps is best known for its presence on Capital Hill. There church members run a coffee shop called Ebenezer’s, a popular meeting spot for Hill staffers. I had this conversation with Batterson in his office over the coffee shop.
What’s it like doing ministry on Capitol Hill, especially when the environment is so politically charged? I know you’ve made a point of trying to stay apolitical. When we first moved here, one of the newspapers would print a pastor’s sermon from the previous Sunday every Monday. As I read those, I realized that so many churches seemed to be focused on just public policy. I really felt convicted that we needed to preach the gospel. That’s been our focus for the past 20 years. I think it’s enabled us to reach across both sides of the aisle. We have hundreds of Hill staffers that come to the church, and of course they’re the 20-somethings that are running the world, here, in a sense. We have grown to love this city. To be able to influence influencers is a unique capacity. I know for a fact, there are a lot of people circling the Capitol in prayer. While the assessment of corruption is certainly undeniable on some level, I also know that there are a lot of people who love God and who are serving the public interest in way that I think is applaudable.
How do you handle issues that have both a strong Biblical and political component, such as abortion or sexuality? It’s the water that we swim in; it’s the air that we breathe here in D.C. … We live in a culture where it’s wrong to say something is wrong. I think that’s wrong. At the same time, I want to make sure that we’re more known for what we’re for than what we’re against. … I think we’ve tried to take an approach [of] let’s criticize by creating. Michelangelo said that originally. I feel like we need to write better books, produce better films, draft better legislation, start better businesses. That’s why we started Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse, where we are today. I think it’s important that the church talk about things that people are thinking about. We don’t have to do it in a political way, but if it’s a Biblical issue, let me just say, I’d rather be Biblically correct than politically correct.
What do you say about those issues when you preach or talk to people one-on-one? It’s important to operate in a spirit of love and operate in a spirit of humility. When we do, people respond to us, no matter what “position” we take. … For example, we celebrate life. Life is a gift from God. It’s something that we want to protect. Across the board, we want to recognize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, that God is the one who knits us together in our mother’s womb.
We’re going to take an approach like that but also be a church where those who have maybe had an abortion can find a place of healing and grace. I think in some churches, people don’t feel the freedom to even confess their sin. We want to be a place where we are not going to ostracize you for a mistake you made in the past. Grace always looks forward and says, “What’s next? God still has a plan and purpose for your life.” John 1 says Jesus was full of grace and truth. Grace means I’m going to love you no matter what. Truth means I’m going to be honest with you no matter what. There’s tremendous tension when we live in that place. We want to be a church where we preach the truth, but we also offer grace.
You mentioned Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse. What originally motivated you to start Ebenezer’s, and how is it working? Twelve years ago, it was a crack house. It was a dilapidated piece of property. I’m walking by one day, and I felt like God said, this would make a wonderful coffeehouse. I’d rather have one God idea than a thousand good ideas, and we felt like this was one of those. The rationale behind it was pretty simple. Jesus didn’t just hang out in the synagogue. He hung out at wells, a natural gathering place in ancient culture. Coffeehouses are postmodern wells, but instead of water, we serve coffee. Even better. We made a decision to open this coffeehouse, but we didn’t want it to be perceived as a ‘Christian coffeehouse,’ we wanted it to stand on its own two feet. … We give every penny of profit back to missions. We’re involved all around the world. We’ll take 34 mission trips this year, as a church. Then, we’re opening a dream center here in our city to serve kids who really need a helping hand. The coffee doesn’t just taste good, I think it feels good, because it’s business with a mission, and it’s been validated. It’s been voted the No. 1 coffeehouse in D.C. multiple times. I think it’s one of those little experiments that had God’s hand of favor on it.
How much money has the coffeehouse made? We’ve had more than a million customers. I think our net profits are over $1 million that now we’ve given away over the 10-year period.
What do you think about what’s going on now between Christianity and the culture? I am someone who is believing for a revival and believing that maybe it could start right here in Washington, D.C. That is certainly what we are striving for, praying for, and believing for. I was speaking at a conference of primarily Anglican pastors in England earlier this year. I had the distinct privilege of speaking right after the Archbishop of Canterbury, which was a little intimidating. … He actually commented about America and the level of nervousness right now, uncertainty about where we are headed politically. He reminded us that church predates all of these countries and governments, and it will postdate them. If you were to pit the Roman Empire verses the 120 believers in the upper room, who are you going to place bets on, in the first century? You’re going to bet on the Roman Empire, but it’s the Kingdom that prevailed. I don’t know how to describe this, but I’m less and less nervous, even living right here in Washington, D.C. The Kingdom of God is going to come. His will is going to be done. The question is, are we going to get in on it? I love our country, love our democracy, but I am first and foremost a citizen of God’s Kingdom.
When it’s all said and done, what do you want folks to say about you at your funeral? My definition of success is pretty simple and straightforward—it’s when those who know you best respect you most. That’s my wife and my kids. … I want to be famous in my home. It’s hard to be famous in your home if you are never home, so I’ve tried over the years to really prioritize those relationships, and at the same time fulfill the calling that God has for me. I know I’m called to pastor, and I know I’m called to write. … I write because I want to make sure that my great, great grandchildren, should the Lord tarry, know what I believed, what I valued. To me, a book is a time capsule that I send to the next generation. If anybody else wants to buy it in between, that’s wonderful. At the end of the day, that’s really who I’m writing for, and I want to make sure that I’m doing things now that will still make a difference a hundred years from now.
Listen to Warren Cole Smith’s complete conversation with Mark Batterson on Listening In.
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