Tag: Christians

How Church is Different Than Other Organizations

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.


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?
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.


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:

A Church on Capitol Hill With Pastor Mark Dever

On Episode 97 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with Mark Dever, the senior pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.


A Church on Capitol Hill
About Mark Dever
What is a Church?
Are All Churches Equal?
Why Do People Go To Church?
Who Is God?
More Episodes
Show Notes

A Church on Capitol Hill With Pastor Mark Dever


Paul: So, welcome to the Edge of Innovation. Today were talking with Mark Dever from Washington D.C. Mark, I usually put in there the owner of ABC company, but I’m struck. What do you do?

Mark: For a quarter of a century now I’ve been the pastor of a church on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

Paul: Okay, so you’re a pastor. What kind of church? I mean is it Buddhist church? Help me out.

Mark. It’s a Christian church. It’s a Baptist church. It’s been around since right after the Civil War.

A Church on Capitol Hill

Paul: So, you’re in Capitol Hill. That sounds like a very interesting place to be. I know a bunch of different people that live in the Washington D.C area and do you suffer from the same myopic view of the world that other people in D.C. suffer from? Because I’m in Boston and people are listening to us from all over the world and I imagine that D.C. has a sort of realty distortion feel. Is that a part of your life?

Mark: People seem to think that is the case. That, you know, if you live, as we put it, inside the beltway, that your absorbed with things that go on here. I think the nature of my work takes me outside the beltway more than most. So, I might be a little less absorbed than the guy who works five blocks away in the Capitol Building.

Paul: Okay.

Mark: Behind the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. Five blocks just east of the Capitol Building.

Paul: Very cool. So that must be neat. Now you have a church and it’s been there since, you said the 1800s. that’s quite a long time. Do a lot of people go to it? Is it a thriving church? Is it a healthy organization?

Mark: We have about a thousand people on Sunday mornings. And yeah, about a four million dollar, not quite, 3.5 million dollar annual budget. The congregation’s average age is probably about thirty. Yeah, it’s a delightful congregation to be a part of. It has a lot of transiency because were in the middle of the city. A lot of young people come here to work after college and then they meet a spouse, start having kids, find D.C. in the middle is too expensive to live in so they either move out to the suburbs or back up to Boston or someplace.

About Mark Dever

Paul: I see. And so now, you’ve been there 25 years?

Mark: 25 years.

Paul: Wow! Is this what you, when you were young, is this what you envisioned you’d be doing?

Mark: Interestingly, you assume I’m not young but no, in fact, it’s not. I thought I would be a professor.

Paul: A professor of what?

Mark: A professor of historical theology, which means what people in the past have believed.

Paul: Okay, well that’s a whole interesting thing we should talk about. But let’s continue down our path. So, you were going to be a professor.

What is a Church?

Paul: A thousand people at a church. Is that a lot? Is that a little? Is that how you measure the success of a church? You know, I have a small business. We have eleven employees. And that’s a small business. A very small business. But then you’re talking, you know, Boeing. It has thousands of employees, tens of thousands. So, how do you rank that or how do we even discuss that kind of thing?

Mark: I think the average church in America is fifty to a hundred people. So, I think this would be a large church but it’s not what they call in the press, a mega church which is like two thousand or five thousand or ten thousand. This is just like a thousand. It’s a big church.

Paul: I imagine church has something to do with faith and there are many different faiths. How is a church different from like the YMCA or a club or a fraternal club or things like that? Is there a difference?

Mark: Yeah, I think a sociologist or an anthropologist could look at them and see some similarities of them being voluntary social organizations but certainly, from inside a church, it’s very very different because a lot of our members of our church will be members of other organizations. Like, for example, the ones you just named. Or maybe they’re an engineer and they’re part of an association of certain kinds of engineers or they’re a doctor or a they’re teacher and they’re part of a teacher’s union or part of the faculty of the local high school.

But no. A church is distinctive in that it’s specifically a grouping of Christians and it would be people who understand themselves to be taking on special responsibilities for each other and having others take on special responsibilities for them. So, for an example, when we had an older woman in our church a number of years ago, who had never been married and had no children and she grew older and became more infirm. She had worked in our church back in the 1950s and 60s on staff. In retrospect, we felt we had not taken good enough care of her back then, so we simply absorbed all of her costs of her last years as she moved into a home and needed medical attention. We simply as a church, paid for all of that.

Paul: Interesting. And so, does that happen from the leadership….? So, you mentioned you have members of the church. I’m thinking I’ve been a member of a photography club for years and we certainly don’t help people with their needs. We tell them their photo doesn’t look good or you need to do this, or the lens goes away from you when you take the picture and push the button. But this sounds very different.

Mark: Yeah. It’s probably more comprehensive. We would understand that a good local church should be at the center of each Christian’s life and it will help them think through everything from their marriage, to their own relationship with God, to their children, to their job, their education, their neighborhood. Yeah.

Paul: Okay, that’s interesting. So a church is a – I’m just going to repeat back to you what I heard – an organization much more holistic than a photography club, to use that example, that really is concerned with the wellbeing of the people within it? Is that fair?

Mark: That’s certainly fair. We’re also concerned that the basic understanding of God and the relationship we come to have with him through Jesus Christ, is something that he wants everyone to have so we understand that we are under obligation to make this known to others outside our church and even around the world and faraway places like Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Are All Churches Equal?

Paul: The church has so – I’m stopping myself here because there are lots of different types of churches. You mentioned that you’re a Baptist church. I’ve heard of the Catholic church. I’ve heard of Lutheran, Methodist, you know, Scientology as a church. I don’t even know much about that but what are the differentiators between these? Are they all churches equal or are they different?

Mark: Well usually if there’s a different name attached to a church, there’s some difference behind it that gives rise to that different name. So, Christian churches would be those churches that are Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, those churches that maintain that God became a man in Jesus Christ. That would be different that something you mentioned like Scientology which would not be that. Or even “The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints” – the Mormons – who would teach that every person is an incarnate potential deity. So, Scientology, Mormonism, would be very different.

Our church would be in the strain of Greek Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism, which would believe very much in Jesus Christ at the center. We would be different than the old strains of Greek Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. We’d be with the Protestants in that we believe the way we’re basically made right with God is by trusting in Christ. It’s not by anything we do to cooperate with the church. It’s just our faith in Christ. But that leads us to be a part of local churches which is what all Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Congregationalists have historically believed.

Paul: So, it sounds like you have a bent towards understanding the history of the church?

Mark: I did my PHD in Cambridge on history.

Why Do People Go To Church?

Paul: So, I’m struck by… there’s lots of different labels that we’re talking about and they mean different things. Like if you were talking to me about computers or a certain type of technology, I would understand those labels and I guess you’re saying that the belief… Why do people come to your church, Capitol Hill, as a oppose to a church down the street? Is it because you’re a good CEO or what is that?

Mark: I’m sure there are as many different reasons as there are people. Maybe because they like the preaching. They like the singing. They have a friend that comes here. It may be because they’ve found their life changed by this specific teaching that they hear here, or someone at another church that they had been prospering in spiritually, recommended they come here when they moved to D.C.

Paul: Now do you have a sign – not in reality – the idea of a sign that says “Here’s why you’d come to Capitol Hill Baptist church?” What are you advertising? What are you selling?

Mark: Yeah. We wouldn’t actually be in competition with other churches that have the same gospel as we do. So, there would be many churches in Washington D.C. and we would understand that there is no great difference between you going to them or you going to us. We would say the important thing is you going to a church where the Bible is understood and taught.

Paul: Okay, and now you’re The Bible, the Christian Bible which I guess is the Old Testament, New Testament, as opposed to some of the other religious books that have been out there?

Mark: Right. The Hebrew scriptures plus the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.

Paul: Okay, so you’re a place where that is believed, championed, it’s a good idea?

Mark: All of those things. Like if you read Justin Martyr writing in the middle of the second century. He will talk about how on the first day of each week all the Christians gather, and they hear the Gospels read and then they have someone explain it to them. That’s exactly what we do. We read the Bible and we talk about it. We sing and we pray. So, we do what Christians have always done and that’s what so many Christians around the world do every Sunday.

Paul: So, is that different from let’s say, reading the newspaper every Sunday?

Mark: Yeah, because we don’t understand that the newspaper comes from God, whereas we understand that the Bible comes from God.

Who Is God?

Paul: So, you’re saying that the Bible comes from God and who is God in this? I mean, there’s a lot of different definitions and I imagine if you lined up twelve people on the street and asked “Who is God?” you’d get different answers.

Mark: Yeah.

Paul: In your world, in Capitol Hill Baptist Church, in Mark Dever’s world, who is God? Is he…?

Mark: If God exists, He exists regardless of how you or I perceive him. So, regardless of whether we’re in Mark Dever’s world, we’re in God’s world. We can close our eyes but He’s still there. He’s a sentient being who made everything that is and He has made people especially to be like Him in His image and He’s given us His will and His word and His law and He calls us to follow Him. And by nature, we tend to follow Him some but also we break His law. We do what is wrong. We do what the Bible calls sin.

And that’s where Christianity comes in. We understand that God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live a life of complete trust in Him and then died as a substitute sacrifice on the cross. You’ve probably seen the cross and associated that with Christianity. That’s how it is at the center. That’s the sacrifice that we understand that Jesus made to assuage or satisfy God’s wrath against us for all we’ve done that’s wrong. Jesus took that punishment. He died in the place of all of us who trust in Him. That’s the good news that we as Christians share with people in our church and really all truly Christian churches.

Paul: Okay, but couldn’t God just overlook that? I have children that do things that are wrong and sometimes I discipline them for that but many times I overlook it

Mark: Well, you say “couldn’t” like that is an ability and to not do that is something like a disability. But when you’re talking about overlooking that which is good and overlooking that which is evil, that would not be good on God’s part. It would be an evil thing for Him to ignore injustices that were done. So, it’s really, it’s a problem with our language that we speak of God as being able to overlook that which is evil. That would really be a disability of God’s.

Paul: Okay. So, you’re not talking whether He’s able or not, but whether He would.

Mark: Yeah. He will not because He is good.

Paul: Interesting.

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 1 of 3 our interview with Mark Dever. Stay tuned for parts 2 & 3, coming soon!

Show Notes:

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