CNLP 366: Gordon MacDonald on The View from 80, 15 Life and Leadership Lessons After Eight Decades on the Planet

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To mark his 80th birthday, Gordon MacDonald took some time to write down the top leadership and life lessons he’s learned so far.

In this in-depth interview, Gordon unpacks all 15 lessons including avoiding the evils associated with institutional life, how to make sure you don’t cheat your family and close friends, overcoming doubt, obscurity and discouragement, reinventing your interior life every 7-10 years and learning how to ask penetrating questions that open people’s hearts.

Welcome to Episode 366 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Plus, in this episode’s What I’m Thinking About segment, Carey talks about what you need to do to get momentum when you can’t seem to find any.

Books by Gordon MacDonald

Pro Media Fire

What do all these people have in common?

  • Marie built the creative team from the ground up for Hilton hotels as a senior creative operations manager.
  • Sam is an award winning film composer and video producer.
  • Kyle is an award winning graphic designer.

The one thing these 3 people have in common is they had great success in the world and are now working for Pro Media Fire helping churches and non-profits.

Marie left Hilton to be the creative operations manager at Pro Media Fire. Sam is leading the video team and Kyle is leading the graphics team.

Your church can have an entire team of professionals providing digital strategy and a creative framework to help your church grow online.

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Red Letter Challenge

Red Letter Challenge is the perfect tool to use in a time where most churches are still distanced to some degree.

More than 400 churches and over 100,000 people have completed Red Letter Challenge up to this point, and in this particular time, where many of us have a divided church, physically, some in person, some online, some a combination of both, how about a 40-day series that can bring all of the church together? One church that went through this during COVID said that even though they were distanced, they’ve never been as unified before.

So what is Red Letter Challenge? It’s a 40-day study that dives into the words of Jesus and then gives really practical challenges for each person in your church to complete based on His words. It can be done by individuals or small groups, but to get the most power out of this resource, it’s best done as a whole church, a 40-day church challenge.

Author Zach Zehnder has made this tool available at a discount of 10-40% off for our podcast listeners. And, if you are a pastor, you can get a FREE copy mailed to you. This thing is turnkey—small groups, sermons, kids materials with kids books, graphics—all done for you.

Go to to sign up today.

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald

Rebuilding Your Broken World by Gordon MacDonald

God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet

Slow Medicine by Victoria Sweet

Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent J. Donovan

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

CNLP 297: Gordon MacDonald Shares 8 Decades of Wisdom and Life Lessons, Father Wounds, the Dangers of Drivenness, Counselling a U.S. President, and What Leaders Struggle with Between Ages 32-42 and at Age 48 and Age 62

CNLP 152: Eugene Peterson on Why He Wrote The Message, The Rhythms of a Reflective Life + Mark Batterson and Adam Weber on Peterson’s Legacy

7 Keys to Finding Momentum and Growth When There are No Good Options by Carey Nieuwhof

Text CAREY 33777 to join more than 70,000 subscribers to our leadership content


15 Insights from Gordon’s view at 80:

  1. Put the people you value most into your calendar first.
    • Pastors, your family is the Lord’s work. Live like it.
  2. Never stop learning and growing!
    • If you want to do what you’re called to do, you need to keep growing.
  3. Be more a priest and less a preacher to people.
    • A preacher is a one-way conversation, but a priest is a dialogue. Be more like a priest to the people in your life.
  4. The time will come when you will have to relinquish titles and privileges and slip into obscurity. Ultimately the obscurity of death.
    • What kind of an old person do you want to be? Plan for it.
  5. Prepare yourself for those occasions. When, you like most people, you will suffer, fail, fall into doubt, face conflict and experience loss.
    • Disappointments and doubts will come into your life. Sometimes Satan wins a battle, but he will never win the war.
  6. Be trustworthy and dependable. A person who keeps his or her word. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
    • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Your integrity relies upon it.
  7. Be a spiritual mother or father to teachable people who may someday inherit your responsibilities.
    • The next generation needs what you have to offer. Don’t withhold it.
  8. Live modestly, stay free of debt. Be generous, develop a financial strategy for your future, and be wary of those who try to buy your favor.
    • The way you handle your money is one of the ways your congregation judges you.
  9. Expect to reorder your internal life once every 7-10 years.
    • Life goes through basic definitional changes in 10-year increments. The way you think about life will need to change with these things.
  10. Receive compliments, criticism, and counsel with humility and appreciation. Avoid whining, complaining, self-pity. Assume that there is at least a grain of truth in the things critics say about you and your work.
    • Always in a conversation, look for the grain of truth. Everybody has something God has planted in them for you.
  11. Stay alert for the evils and temptations embedded in institutional life.
    • Every relationship has its flaws. And good leadership is “assuming that there are flaws in this organization, and I must always be aware of when they might show themselves and what I as a leader would do to bring it under control.”
  12. Be quick to say with sincerity, “Thank you.” “Well done.” “I’m sorry.” “I forgive you.” And, “How can I help?”
    • These are the five inner core transactions in all relationships. None of them can be missing if you would like to have a healthy relationship. Always look for the thing you can find in another person that’s worth praising.
  13. Always maintain a relationship with one or two mentors who can aid you in hearing God’s voice.
    • Over the course of a lifetime, aim to have had over 100 mentors that have left their wisdom with you.
  14. Master the art of asking the penetrating questions that open someone’s heart.
    • You know that you are asking penetrating questions when you get responses like:
      “Boy, you really ask good questions.”
      “Wow. Nobody’s ever asked me that before.”
      Or, “I’ve never thought about that.”
    • When you get those kind of responses, this person is welcoming you to a place that’s near to their heart.
  15. Retreat to the cross regularly. Express your appreciations. Name your sins. Pray for the world. Listen to God’s call to do things that are bigger than you.
    • This point eclipses all other points on this list.

Quotes from Episode 366

Put the people you value most into your calendar first. Click To Tweet Be more a priest and less a preacher to people. Click To Tweet Master the art of asking the penetrating questions that open someone's heart. Click To Tweet Master the art of asking the penetrating questions that open someone's heart. Click To Tweet As I get older, I find my hunger for wisdom increases all the time. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet Always in a conversation, look for the grain of truth. Everybody has something God has planted in them for you. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet One of the greatest problems in all institutions and organizations is the failure to purely communicate. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet If you want to be a person who's known for being interested in other people, you're going to have to give something up. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet If you want your public talk to truly resonate, deepen your private walk. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet A timely word is almost always a timeless word. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet Work twice as hard on your character as you do on your competency. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet Competency gets you in the room, but character keeps you in the room. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 366

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Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode here.

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Next Episode: Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird

Multi-site expert Jim Tomberlin and author and researcher Warren Bird talk about their latest research on the future church, including why attendance will be lower post-COVID, why and how church mergers will increase, and they offer ideas on practical, hopeful steps you can take if you fear your church won’t make it, or what to do if you’re growing and need more resources.

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 367.

Lead With Confidence and Clarity. Grow Your Church.

As leaders, we tend to see the challenges and roadblocks before other people do.

We've all been there before...

  • You need to refresh your vision for the future but know that change will be an issue for that person.
  • You're overstaffed (or missing a key role) and can't find the right person to fill the role.
  • You aren't reaching enough new people even though you've tried everything that's working for other churches.
  • You can see the issue but aren't confident in what to do about it.

And with another Sunday morning coming up, it'll just have to wait until next week when you have a few minutes to figure it out.

Now ask yourself this:

What would it feel like to have those answers at your fingertips 24/7?

Whether it's reaching new people, improving your preaching, increasing volunteers, refreshing your vision, engaging your staff, or any of the countless challenges we face as church leaders, The Art of Leadership Academy will equip you to lead your church with confidence and clarity.

Between comprehensive church leadership courses, live coaching calls, staff and volunteer training resources, and direct access to a private online community of senior-level church leaders, you'll get the exact insights and answers that fuel your church for growth.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.