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

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.

Guest Links

Books by Gordon MacDonald

Episode Links

Pro Media Fire

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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.

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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.

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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the high impact leader

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  • You become a better leader, because you’re doing what you do best when you’re at your best
  • You become a better spouse, because you’re focused at home
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These principles will free you to thrive in every area of your life.

You can learn more and gain instant access to The High Impact Leader today.

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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.

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


  1. Ailsa Williams on January 6, 2021 at 4:53 am

    I heard you speak at Riverview church in Perth (Western Australia) – 3 or 4 years ago?- and began to regularly listen to your leadership podcast. At that time I’d been Chair of the church board for 3 or so years, and continued until last year. I’d been on the board for about 10 years as a member too. I’m not in leadership at the moment (other than co-leading a small group), but continue to listen to your podcast. I had heard of none of your interviewees (except Eugene Peterson), so always pick out an interview at random and 90% of the time, it’s just what I need to hear from God. Lysa Teukhuerst helped me through some very difficult times in my marriage and I bought her book off the back of the interview. Same with NT Wright, Caleb Kaltenbach and Andy Stanley. My husband and I both watch Andy’s sermons on You Tube, and I now also subscribe to his podcast. I would never have heard of any of these people had I not gone on the mini-conference at Riverview those years ago. I want to thank you – your interviews are interesting with well thought out questions, I’m so glad I now know of these jewels in the Lord’s crown who are alive and kicking today, as well as reading the books of those in former times.

  2. Russell Hill on September 21, 2020 at 11:53 am

    Carey, Thank you for taking the time to share life with us through great questions! This episode was such a great use of my time. I also wanted to say your closing remarks on leaving a legacy gave clear direction to order our days. Numbers 6:24-26 is what I would like to leave with you.

  3. Calum on September 15, 2020 at 10:24 pm
    Please notice that episode is spelt wrong in the link. At the moment the link from the main podcast page is broken becuse of it. IF you correct the link please point this misspelt link to it as i have already sent the link to all the staff at my church. This episode is GOLD DUST
    Thank you Gordon and thank you Carey.

  4. Chris Dixon on September 15, 2020 at 12:49 am

    Loved this episode. Thank you both. And at over 2 hours, it left me wanting more.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 21, 2020 at 7:05 am

      Chris, that’s such an encouraging comment. Thanks. Me as well!

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