Mark Batterson on Double Blessing: ‘What We Give Away, We Get to Keep Forever’
He leads an evangelical megachurch that worships in seven locations across Washington, D.C. What they’re most known for is feeding the homeless and blessing their city.
“Never underestimate the ripple effect of one act of obedience.”
Mark Batterson didn’t just write those words. Since 2001 when he and his wife Lora launched National Community Church (NCC) in Washington, D.C., the pastor and storyteller has lived them out.
He traces the church’s origins to a prayer walk around Capitol Hill in 1996. Five years later, their fledgling congregation had a meeting space along that route.
Thirteen years following that, in August 2014, NCC was able to purchase a 100,000 square foot structure in the historic Navy Yard district. It was, once again, along the route of his prayer walk.
“Our heart is not just to build a church, but to bless a city,” said Batterson in a recent phone interview. “We want to practice the Gospel in really practical ways.”
The largest in the nation’s capital city, their church campus is slated to open next summer after years of permitting and construction.
God’s Vision Is Bigger Than Yours
In his book Double Blessing: How to Get It – How to Give It, Batterson shares of how others have caught the vision for blessing.
“We want to practice the Gospel in really practical ways.”
Their church closed on the massive $29 million city-block-size property thanks to the generosity of thousands — including one $14 million gift. With inflow comes outflow, according to the “double blessing” principle.
During Thanksgiving season last year, their Capitol Hill coffee shop closed for a few days to be repurposed. They served over 6,000 meals to those in the area experiencing homelessness.
NCC states they have invested $19.3 million in kingdom causes over the past 18 years, including the launching of other churches.
Speaking from his office, Batterson reveals the heart of his 18th book, explains how blessing works according to the Bible, and opens up about what inspires the growing ministry of NCC.
Beyond the #Blessed Clichés
The word “blessing” has been used so often that the meaning gets lost. Where does the idea of blessing come from in Scripture?
Pastor Mark Batterson: Before original sin, there was original blessing. This was the very first thing that God does. Blessing is God’s most ancient instinct. In fact, God wants to bless us beyond our ability to ask or imagine.
The catch is, we’ve got to position ourselves for that blessing. God isn’t going to bless greed or pride or laziness. But that doesn’t change the fact that blessing is God’s default setting.
Really, Double Blessing is about some of these habits of highly blessed people. How do we posture ourselves for blessing? That is really the heartbeat of the book.
You often emphasize prayer in your writing and ministry. How is a believer’s prayer life connected to double blessing?
Batterson: It probably starts there! The Psalmist says, We enter his gates with thanksgiving.
You don’t even get in the front door without an attitude of gratitude. The genesis of double blessing begins in gratitude. Then you have to flip that coin by flipping the blessing.
You take inventory of how, when, and where God has blessed you, and then you find a way to flip that blessing for someone else. It’s as old as the Abrahamic covenant, this idea that we are blessed to be a blessing.
Specific, Radical Gratitude
The roots of the Christian faith are intertwined with the Hebrew Bible, preserved by Jewish teachers. What can we learn from observant Jews about blessing?
Batterson: I love this idea from the Talmud, which is the Jewish commentary on the Old Testament. It says: A man embezzles from God when he makes use of this world without uttering a blessing. In other words, anything less than gratitude is grand larceny.
There is this idea that an orthodox Jew would pronounce a hundred blessings a day! We have a lot to learn on this front. I love the way that they would nuance some of these blessings — not just thanking God for rainfall, but for every drop of rain.
We’ve got to be specific with our gratitude. I don’t know if most of us can go from zero to 100, but we could probably manage at least one gratitude a day.
If we did that for 40 days, our circumstances may not change but our focus would. That gratitude would be a game-changer for us.
In the book, you encourage readers to grow in the grace of giving through four levels of generosity. Could you discuss each one of those?
Batterson: It starts, first, with giving spontaneously. That is prompting of the Holy Spirit to be generous with your time, talent, or treasure. If you’re obedient to it, there are opportunities all around us all the time to be generous with those things.
Second, it’s giving consistently. It has to become a habit. Generosity, like anything else, is a muscle that you have to exercise. It gets stronger over time.
Third, it’s giving proportionately. This principle references the tithe, giving that first ten percent of income back to God. It’s less about what you give and more about what you keep. In my experience, God can do more with 90 percent than I can do with 100 percent.
Finally, it’s giving radically. Everything we have is all from God and all for God. The goal then really is to give it back. What we keep, we eventually lose. But what we give away, that we get to keep forever.
Love Lived Out Through Local Church
You write in the book about a $14 million gift that National Community Church received. How does that reflect the truths of this book?
Batterson: Many of us think that, when we make more, we’ll give more. I would push back on that. Generosity starts with pennies, nickels, and dimes — it’s about being generous and faithful with a few things.
If we do little things like they’re big things, God is going to do big things like they’re little things.
You learn stewardship in those early stages. If you’re not generous with twenty spots, I don’t think you’re going to be generous with a hundred spots. Generosity begins right where you are.
If I’m being honest, the hardest thing for me to be generous with is time even more than my treasure. That’s where generosity starts, and it grows from there. You excel in this grace of giving until you recognize that, in the words of Jim Elliott, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” That idea is right at the heart of generosity.
How do you see “double blessing” being lived out at National Community Church?
Batterson: Last year, we turned our coffeehouse into what we called “the living room” and served about 6,000 meals to our friends experiencing homelessness.
NCC has helped resettle about 65 percent of the refugees in the D.C. area — either by furnishing an apartment or helping them acclimate to America. We do it even by hosting something we call “listen and learn,” where we get to eat some of their cuisine and it helps them make ends meet.
Part of that is just being a blessing to the people around us. It’s as simple and as hard as the Great Commandment: love God with all your, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.
As Elections Heat Up, Bless Your ‘Enemies’
You pastor in Washington, D.C., a city charged with so many political divisions. According to Scripture, what is the believer’s role in these contentious times?
Batterson: We are called to operate in the spirit of Christ, and sometimes that is contrary to the spirit of the times.
I believe in leading with blessing. This is the idea that Jesus taught in Matthew 10 when he sent out his disciples. He said, When you enter a town or enter a home, give it your blessing. And if it’s deserving, stay. But if it’s not deserving, it will come back to you.
That is so fascinating to me because, most of us, we try to assess the worthiness of someone before we bless them. Jesus taught and illustrated how to lead with blessing.
“When we lead with blessing, it begins to shift the atmosphere.”
The Gospels are so counterintuitive: we pray for those who persecute us, we love our enemies. When someone hits us on the cheek, we turn the other cheek. It’s this idea that we don’t return cursing for cursing.
When we lead with blessing, it begins to shift the atmosphere. Sometimes that can be as simple as a smile. Sometimes it’s giving someone undivided attention — or doing a little bit better at listening to someone we don’t agree with.
That could really change the tone and tenor of the times and, most definitely, the city where I have the privilege of living and pastoring.
Double Blessing by Pastor Mark Batterson is available now where books are sold.
A graduate of the University of Colorado, Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy issues for media outlets including The Stream and The Federalist.