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Last week I was given the opportunity by Christian Reformed Home Missions to attend Church Planting Leadership Fellowship (CPLF). This is a gathering of church leaders are involved in church revitalization and planting. I have attended this gathering about 7 times in the last few years and have found it to be very helpful.

One of the featured teachers at this last gathering was Larry Osborne of North Coast Church in California. Part of his talk was on leadership wisdom. I think that what he offered is helpful to both church planters and to pastors of established churches as we do our work. It is also helpful to coaches and councils as they set out realistic expectations. Here are some of the notes from Larry’s talk.

  • Leadership Wisdom:
    • Wise People live in the world of the possible, too many live in the world of the ideal and it breaks the spirit.
      • Church planters are crushed under the weight of unrealistic growth expectations both in terms of numbers and spiritual growth
        • remind planters that most church plants (80%) never break 200
    • Wise people know that most people on stage (Exponential, Willow Conferences) are huge in the area of leadership gifts. Most other people don't have those same gifts. Instead of demanding planters have those gifts, allow planters to own and use the gifts they have.
      • Note: You can't put into someone what doesn't exist, you can only we pull out what is there. We believe that information and experience will change a person (Skinner B.F.), but you can't pull stuff out of person, if they have never have built something, they won't do it etc.
    • Wise people know that healthy things do not always grow and multiply. What actually grows all of the time are things low on the food chain, other things grow and decline. We stop growing when we reach our right size. For church planters the question is, "What is God's right size for this congregation and for me?"
      • Notes:
        • Church planters try to put their churches on steroids when they don't grow the way they want. Steroids make churches unhealthy.
        • Deep in our American thinking is that we can grow to any size we want and get whatever size we want: this sends people into depression.
        • We need to learn from Romans 12, "Don't think of yourself more highly than you ought."
    • Wise people know the NT Church was seriously messed up
      • It is crazy to want a NT Church, even the Acts 2 church was disobedient by not bringing the gospel to the world. It took persecution to get them on mission
        • Most church planters don't understand the fallenness of the world and so they believe their church is unique in its lack of commitment.
    • Wise people know that not all church planters are made to create a movement. Some people are gifted this way, but others are not. Planters live with guilt and feel like failures because they don't do all they are told. Planters need to live in the freedom of their gift and have realistic expectations. Planters die trying to be what Jesus never made them to be.  
    • Wise Planters Plant the Church they would like to go to: It is the only church they are gifted to plant and the only one they can do authentically, it is the only one God gifted them to plant.
    • Wise people understand the difference between potential and calling: A blind spot is that all have is we believe we have to live up to our potential. Our potential and calling are different things (if you want to live up to your potential the only way to do so is stay single—See Paul in 1 Corinthians). Once you marry, have children, etc. your calling changes. These people are part of your calling. The more needs that present themselves in your family systems, the more this takes away from your potential in the church plant. This fulfilling of a complete calling is a godly thing.
    • Wise people know encouragement comes when we undercut the messages and myths of our culture: myths of growth, success, power...we need to blow up these voices
    • Wise people shepherd the Sheep you have, they don't use them to get more sheep: we put the sheep to work to get the church we want, but that forces people away. Take care of people and let the chips fall where they may.
    • Wise People are  flexible: It is great to have a plan...but then tomorrow comes
    • Wise People kill the perks: live like a regular person, beware the perks of ministry.
    • Wise People watch out for gift projection: pastors can be ahead of their congregations in spiritual growth, they become impatient with the lack of progress and push hard for change--they get angry at their people.

So what wisdom would you add to the list as you’ve either planted, brought renewal to your church, or sought to do ministry in a wise way?


Hi Larry,

As the Section Administrator for Leadership Development, I wanted to say "Thanks!" for your posting. It's great to see a name other than my own in this neck of the woods. Traffic is growing and I am excited for the dialog that is happening on and off the site about this incredibly important topic. 

This is a fantastic post that gives us lots to think about in our own ministry context, whether we're are a leader or not. As a pastor's wife I know how this list will resonate with the desires of my husband's heart when it comes to the church he yearns to lead. And as a Mission Developer working with a steering team to plant a new hybrid of church plant/campus ministry, this list gives them an opportunity to ensure priorities like these are front and centre when hiring the new ministry leader and establishing a launch team. Anything that causes us to stop and reflect on present realities, challenges them and then motivates us to adjust to the newly discovered 'desires of our heart' is time well spent. Thank you for passing this on to us.

I want to add to the question you posed. So, with the established church as the context, I'd love to hear feedback on which items from this list of leadership wisdom have the greatest potential for church culture transformation? And second to that is the question of where within the church should the locus of change begin for permeating and lasting change? The pastor? A small group of passionate individuals outside of the leadership? Both?

The list is the relatively easy part...but determining (agreeing on) the place to start and starting are two much more difficult tasks it seems. Or do we just make them difficult by seeing the traffic jam and not the destination? One simple, possible, immediate "Yes!" at a time, I guess.  

Thanks, Larry,

Your summary, sharing made for encouraging reading. It's applicable for planters as well as pastors in "organized" and maybe even declining churches, of which we have sufficient, if not way too many.

I'd like to underscore the one observation/wisdom shared regarding pastoring the sheep the pastor has and not using them just to get more sheep. In observing the church from a more and more removed vantage, I'm seeing a reluctance on pastors' part to be the shepherd, although I'm glad the ranching model appears to have vanished.

"...taking care of people" is the still the pastor's responsibility and it'll receive a promised blessing, as Jesus told Peter after restoring him to his leadership role.

Just some thoughts from a pastor somewhat out to pasture...


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