ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Mark Batterson on Setting Habits for the New Year


ArticlesState of the Church 2020in Leaders & Pastorsin State of the Church 2020•January 7, 2022

To kick off the new year, Mark Batterson (Lead Pastor at National Community Church) joins David Kinnaman on ChurchPulse Weekly to talk about what it takes to create healthy rhythms that will last as a leader. He shares lessons he has learned from the past year about responding to a changing culture, the importance of continual spiritual formation and the role of hobbies in the life of leaders.

On Navigating a Changing Environment
When asked, nearly two-thirds of Protestant Senior Pastors (64%) say their day-to-day work looks different than what they expected when they entered ministry.

Batterson describes this experience of leadership during the pandemic, asking, “Have you ever had to drive through fog? Your hands kind of white-knuckle the steering wheel at 10:00 and 2:00. When you get through, you think, ‘Wow, my hands hurt because I didn’t realize I was gripping the wheel so hard’ [….] That’s what it’s felt like the last two years.”

For leaders who have also felt uncertain or worn out over these past years, Batterson says, “Leadership starts with self-leadership. It’s why I went back to a counselor that I had seen a few years ago because I have to make sure that I’m navigating stress in a way that’s healthy and holy.”

He adds, “I think you have to be really good at rest and recovery during seasons of wear and tear.”

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On Establishing Healthy Rhythms
While pastors spend much of their days pouring into others’ spiritual lives, half of pastors (53%) say they find it difficult to find time in their ministry schedule to invest in their own spiritual development.

This season has been a reminder of how necessary this is for leaders. Batterson notes, “When you’re doing ministry out of the overflow of what God’s doing in your life, nothing is more fun. When you’re doing it on an empty tank, it can get challenging if you do that for too long.”

“Habit formation is spiritual formation,” he says. “It’s about breaking it down in a way that then you can build that habit and do it one day at a time.”

One habit that’s been helpful for his own spiritual formation in this season has been Sabbath. He shares, “For the Sabbath sundown, Laura [my wife] and I often try to share gratitudes as a way of beginning this Sabbath day, and it goes from sundown to sundown. That rhythm, whether it’s lighting a candle, or sharing a meal, or even doing communion together—you have to find a way to trigger the Sabbath and make it special, kind of set it apart.”

On Developing New Hobbies
In addition to healthy rhythms for spiritual formation, leaders also need to establish habits for recreation and developing hobbies. 

“We need that outlet, something outside the pulpit,” Batterson observes. “If your sermons are boring, it’s probably because your life is boring […] You need to do things that are actually story worthy. You need to kind of go after some of those goals.”

These hobbies may take on many different forms, but Batterson has found it a great opportunity to connect with his other values, like relationships with family. He says, “I try to have an annual challenge that pushes me physically. This past year, it was a bike century. Part of that is that my oldest son loves to bike.”

He continues, “For me, those physical outlets allow me to connect with my kids and also give me an outlet that allows me to live outside of the leader / church world.”

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About the Research
The research for this study consisted of an online study conducted September 16-October 8, 2020 with 408 U.S. Protestant pastors. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 4.8 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.

Featured image by Viktor Bystrov on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2022

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