Book Review: Primal by Mark Batterson

I recently received a pre-release copy of Mark Batterson’s new book, Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity.  Can I be honest? I was a little skeptical. I mean, I enjoyed his first book: In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. But a lot of “Christian living” books are all the same. They have good points. But they have the same points. And they’re about 200 pages too long.

But with Primal, I was impressed. It was a quick, interesting, and challenging read. Batterson has the ability to weave interesting examples around real truths, and it’s all built around a framework of application.

I really believe that as the “Church” today most of us are educated beyond our level of obedience. We need more books like this. It’s filled with simple truths you’ve probably heard before. But there’s also more than likely a few new perspectives in here, as well as fresh ways to apply that wisdom you already “know.”

Primal is wrapped around a desire to return to a basic, primal Christianity – to look at what it means to love the Lord with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Mark unpacks each section in detail, looking at “heart” through the lens of compassion, the “soul” through wonder, the “mind” through curiosity, and “strength” through our energy.

I was personally challenged by Mark’s thoughts about money. In his section on loving God with all of your heart, Mark tells the story of Stanley Tam, a man who transferred all of his successful business to God more than 50 years ago. For him, that meant he worked off of a salary. All of his profits above that went to kingdom work. He’s given away more than $100 million.

“A man can eat only one meal at a time, wear only one suit of clothes at a time, drive only one car at a time. All this I have. Isn’t that enough?” Batterson quotes Stanley as asking.

I’m at a point in life where I’m concerned about money and the future. How will I provide for my family? How can I bring security? There’s a real battle there between comfort and security and much of God’s call. I love Mark’s idea of setting an income ceiling – determining how much you need, tithing along the way, but once you hit that cap, giving everything else away.

“I stopped setting income goals and started setting giving goals,” Mark writes. “I finally come to terms with the fact that making money is the way you make a living and giving it away is the way you make a life.”

Primal is filled with more challenging, thought-provoking ways to apply Jesus’ simple message.

Mark’s publicist encouraged the advance copy readers to challenge our readers to make this their first book of 2010. That may sound a little PRish, but I actually think it’s a useful idea. I know Grete and I are going to be reading through and thinking through some of the concepts together in the coming weeks.

So overall, I’m excited. Sometimes the small steps we take are the most significant. And most of us have a list of things we know we should do that we just don’t get around to doing. Primal‘s like a list of basics attached to motivation and ideas of how to put them into practice. If you can unpack what it says and apply it to your life, I know it can be tranformational. That’s what I’m going to try to do.

(Disclosure: The links to the book in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click that way and buy, I get 4% or so of your purchase. I’ve made about $0 off that on this blog so far and only reviewed it positively because I really like the book, but if it bothers you, you can click here to get to without the affiliate code…)

Maximizing output

Life is usually a juggling act. I have to balance a lot of things at the same time, and I’m sure you do, too. For me, balancing work, school, home, other work, friendships, hobbies and more means something always gets less attention than it really should.

Here’s something I’m learning. Sometimes productivity is really about information management. Some folks like to get all of the info possible on a given subject so they can master it. But for most things in life, what you really need is enough input to maximize output.

It’s easy to get stuck in the absorbing and never produce anything. We live in a world where there is unlimited information to consider.

To top that off, most of the time absorbing is the relaxing part. It’s much easier to read a book than write a report on it. I’m betting it takes less effort to watch a television show than to make one.

Tim Ferriss writes about here:

In a digital world, the race goes not to the person with the most information, but the person with the best combination of low-volume and high-relevancy information. The person with the least inputs necessary to maximize output.

Now, there are some things that aren’t worth short changing. Things like relationships take time, and no one’s going to settle for a friendship where someone puts in just enough to get the desired results. But I think that’s the point. Put in the right amount of work in certain areas so you have a maximum amount of time for the areas that really matter – the areas that need that investment.

Just a few Thursday afternoon thoughts. Now it’s time to go absorb a little Hebrew…

Coffee Recon


Being a guy interested in church planting, if I’m near a church I’ve heard about, I have to visit and see what they’re up to. We had the chance to visit National Community Church’s service at Union Station and their coffee house this weekend. I’m a huge fan of NCC’s coffee shop/meeting space/office space approach in D.C., so I was excited to see what Ebenezers actually looks like. Great feel. Great location. For those who are interested, I’ve posted a few quick pictures of the coffee shop here. (Only got to see the main floor. Offices were closed on Sunday and a group was meeting downstairs)

It was an off week for Capitol Hill, so the church only had one service at Union Station and attendance seemed low, but I was excited to experience church in a movie theater setting. I’ve been a fan of the concept for a while, but this was the first time I’d seen it in action.

Here’s my top takeaway: The movie theater environment works. It’s comfortable and flexible. It’s in a place people are already familiar with. The setup does downplay interaction between people during the service, but let’s face it – a Sunday service isn’t where most meaningful interaction between folks is going to happen anyway. Most “main gatherings” exist for worship and teaching, and that’s easily done in a place where people are already used to sitting and absorbing information and stories.

And finally, I have to say that the folks at NCC have put together a great looking coffee shop. It seems to be in a prime location, and they pulled it off with excellence. I loved seeing people sitting around talking. The space for meetings downstairs and their office space upstairs works perfectly for how their church is structured.

(If you’re not familiar with NCC, their pastor Mark Batterson blogs at We’ve talked about them numerous times before, including here, here, and here.)

Worth reading: Missional churches and conferences galore

+ Scott Hodge is posting some thoughts from Q in Atlanta. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a conference similar to TED but with a Christian emphasis. This is a conference I would have loved to attend – even qualified for a scholarship. But it was still a little out of reach price-wise. Maybe next year. But until then, I’m living it through you, Scott! (Here’s his post on Andy Crouch and Rick Warren’s talks)

UPDATE: Michael Lukaszewski is also posting some notes on the talks at his blog. (Currently Robbie Seay and Rick Warren are posted)

+ I’ve been meaning to link to and summarize an interview with Ryan Bolger on the missional (and emerging) church since it was posted a while ago. But I haven’t gotten to it. Fortunately, Wess Daniels has. So now I’ll just send you to him (or watch the interview here). I love how Ryan can absorb and communicate a movement without feeling like he has to pass judgment on what’s happening one way or another.

+ Tadd Grandstaff has posted some notes from the National New Church Conference in Orlando on his blog. I’ve only briefly skimmed them, but one thing Darrin Patrick said jumped out at me: Don’t have too many ideas. Focus. I could fill a book in a few hours with ideas for what to do in a ministry. Some would even be good! But it’s far better to focus on a few and see progress.

Here are Grandstaff’s notes on session one, session two, Darrin Patrick, and Shawn Lovejoy.

My favorite spots for graphics


Although I do graphic design a lot less now than I used to, every once in a while I have to put together something that looks nice. And that thing that looks nice is typically low budget. So for those of you who may not have seen ’em, here are my top three stock photo sites.

Stock Xchange
This one’s free, which is nice, but it may not have exactly what you’re looking for. This is my first choice for blog images because … well … I’m cheap.
This one’s my favorite. It’s great site with photos, graphics, and nice icons. Images can run between $1-$15 depending on size.

Stock Xpert
The “costs money” cousin of Stock Xchange. Similar to istockphoto.

So why not just search Google and pick an image? Two reasons: poor quality and permissions. Most images online are going to be at 72 dpi and won’t look good if you try to print them at a decent size. Plus, at these stock photo sites, the permissions are clear. You know whether you’re legally able to use the image.

Sure, the guy or gal who took the photo and posted it on flickr may not find you using it – but it’s better to be safe and secure! Spend the dollar!

Isn’t She Beautiful?

Joshua Longbrake posted some of his notes from Mars Hill’s Isn’t She Beautiful? conference. It looks like a good snapshot of the event.


+the art of space

//”get in the boat.” _Jesus to His disciples
//Jesus was constantly getting away. sitting by a lake. praying on a mountain side. in a boat. people would be saying stay! stay! we have more people who need healing! but He’d just say nope. I’ve gotta go. sabbath is absolutely essential. creating space for yourself is vital to living.

+the art of risk

//be willing to fail. and fail. and fail. the fear to fail is the fear to try. the church has become obsessed with putting on the perfect show for the world. there’s no risk. everything is safe. Jesus is not safe. christianity can be (read:is) messy and hard and vulnerable. there’s risk in allowing ourselves to try, to create, to invite. i’d rather fail than be safe.

Want more? Go here. While you’re there, check out the rest of his blog. It’s a good read. I love his authenticity and storytelling.

::Want more notes? Others are posting as well. Try this site or just do a Google search.::

Fuller and the Vietnam War

I wrote a piece for Fuller’s campus paper that was published this week about the response at the seminary to the Vietnam War. It was interesting to talk with some of the people who were on campus at the time and hear how one of the protests impacted their lives. We even spoke about how that time in America compares to today.

If you’re interested in the issue, you can download it here.