7 Learnings From 7 Decades

It is true.  My birth certificate, passport and driver’s license all agree.  I’ve lived 7 decades.  Most of the time, I don’t feel like what I imagined 70 to feel like when I was in my 50’s.  But, it is true. I’m there.  I could write 70 things I’ve learned in 70 years.  But you wouldn’t read them.  So, maybe you will read just these seven.

Live Authentically – The easiest thing to be in the world is yourself.  The hardest thing to be is what others want you to be or to try to mimic someone else. Your fingerprints are uniquely different from the other 8 billion people on this earth. Just be yourself.  Be in tune with your values and passions.  Learn what fulfills you.  Prioritize what brings you peace.  Self-awareness is one of the keys to living authentically.  

Live with Intentionality – Purposeless living is meaningless living.  I’ve spent at least the last 50 years being very intentional about my relationship to my wife, Linda.  Linda and I were intentional with parenting our three children.  We were purposeful about starting a church that had a clear mission and focus.  We’ve been deliberate about our health.  I’ve been specific as to how I would grow my photography skills.  I’ve embraced aging and planning for the legacy that I want to leave behind.  And by the way, intentionality should never be confused with intentions.  As Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”   

Listening is a Key to Success – There are many aspects and measurements for success.  I could list a dozen  reasons that success follows some and not others.  But the top one is listening.  David Augsburger, my wife’s late uncle, wrote it this way: “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”  Leaders, parents, marriage partners, politicians and friends are successful when they learn how to carefully listen.  Listening to those different than you in age, views, values and beliefs. Listening matters. It really matters.

Love Unconditionally – This is how I’m loved by God. It is a life-long process of learning to accept and give that kind of love.  Love without strings attached is special.  Not based on what someone does for you in return, this love is selfless.  It’s the key to good mental, emotional and spiritual health.  Receiving and giving unconditional love provides a sense of security in both childhood and adulthood.  No human relationship is perfect.  So, accepting and giving unconditional love involves acceptance and forgiveness.  I’ve discovered that only God can ultimately give us the strength and inner resources to love this way.

Letting Go Can Be Better Than Hanging On – This can be counter intuitive.  We naturally want to hang on to the familiar and comfortable.  It takes courage and self-awareness that something is not serving us anymore.  For me, it started with a decision to either stay at home in Oregon and go to a local college or move across the country and attend college and graduate school in Virginia.  While pastoring my first church in upstate New York, there were decisions to be made.  Do I persevere beyond the seven years of a difficult and toxic environment or let go of the familiar to move 1,300 miles away to an unfamiliar setting to live out a life-long dream of starting a new church with no guarantee of success?  Again, after more than two decades of unprecedented growth and success, should I let go of my lead role in the organization I started to let an untested younger leader lead?  No matter if it is parenting children into adulthood, leaving the younger years behind to embrace the unknown of middle or mature years, letting go has ultimately proven to be better than hanging on.  There is power in letting go.

Learn How to Grow Your Fruit On the Trees of Others – This is one of my greatest joys at this stage of my journey.  Tasting the fruit growing on the trees of my successors and younger leaders is the best.  Recently, I was so awed to witness 20 of our top city leaders (city manager, fire chief, police chief, finance director, etc.) all listening to my successor teach on servant leadership at our monthly business leaders’ luncheon. For nearly three decades, I have planted seeds, watered them and tended to relationships with many of those leaders and their predecessors. Yet it was the growing connection of my successor with the current city manager that led him to bring his entire team to grow their leadership skills at our church.  To know that I planted seeds that have grown into productive fruit-bearing nourishment for our top city leaders and thousands of others every weekend is so much better than the limits of keeping it all for myself and doing it all myself.

Live With the End in Mind – Not just now at age 70, but for several decades, I’ve been asking this question of myself and many others at funerals I lead, “What do you want to be remembered for as a spouse, parent, grandparent, neighbor, leader?”  You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you could make decisions today that may very well change the ending.  If you only live in your default mode, you may not be remembered for what you wish. Forward-thinking legacy-leaving individuals and leaders plan for both their future and the future of things and people they value.  As a labor/delivery nurse for 33 years, my wife Linda always encouraged her new parents upon discharge from the birth center to remember “the future is in your hands.”  What outcomes do I want for this child, this family, this job, this role?  Habit 2 of Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is to begin with the end in mind.  This learning is pivotal for your physical, mental, emotional, relational and spiritual health.  It may sound obvious, but if you don’t have an end goal in mind, how on earth are you going to get there?

These seven learnings above, have brought me to a place of great contentment, inner peace, and satisfaction at this point of my journey.  Whether I have two years or two decades left in my journey, I’m filled with confidence that I’ve lived out God’s purpose for me well, I’ve left a significant contribution to those around me, and I have no regrets. So, on to the next decade of purposeful living!

My Favorite Guy

This post was first seen in my blog at www.DennisGingerich.com but it seems very appropriate for this particular blog focused on succession planning.

Next to Jesus, there’s a guy in the Bible who is one of my all-time favorites. Maybe it’s my season of life and ministry, but this guy is now at the top of my list.  When I was a kid, it was Daniel.  Spurred on by a Sunday School tune, “Dare to Be a Daniel,”I loved Daniel because of his bravery in the face of lions and more.  Of course, maybe it was because Daniel is my middle name. But honestly, my all-time favorite now isn’t Moses, Abraham, David, Daniel, or Paul, it’s a guy who is mostly known by his nickname, Barnabas.

About a year ago, I remember reading something that Jo Saxton wrote about Barnabas and it resonated with me as to why this guy is my hero.  His name was actually Joseph.   But he was so defined by his attitude and actions that they called him the “Son of Encouragement,” or Barnabas.

Jo Saxton’s commentswere about Barnabas responding to the exponential growth in the first century church by constantly celebrating it through giving up money, control and even his own reputation so the growth was never hindered.  Saxton’s challenging question to leaders was, “can you celebrate what God is doing in others on your team or in another church in your community?” My gut level response to that question was, “Usually!”

I think this Barnabas-like natureis one of the strengths God has developed in me over the years.  I’m grateful that I “usually” look for what God is doing and celebrate it rather than being so insecure I have to shut it down or highlight my past successes to “one up” someone else’s current victory. I’m confident it’s connected to the reason I planned and implemented a Successful Succession leadership plan 10 years ago at the church I founded.

But, back to Barnabas.  He first shows up in Acts 4 where he sells a field and gives the disciples the money and he doesn’t insist it gets used for a specific project.  In Acts 9, Barnabas risks his reputation on a newbie, named Saul, giving him access to other church leaders and asking those leaders to take a risk and give this new guy (later named Paul) a chance.  

A little over a decade ago,I had an “aha” moment when I discovered that Luke always used Barnabas and Paul’s name together (in that order) into Acts 13 and then switched it from Acts 14 and beyond to Paul and then Barnabas. It’s a picture of their changing notoriety.  I believe Barnabas understood that lighting another person’s candle didn’t blow out his own.  In fact, it never hurts us when we celebrate the potential and the successes of others. 

Barnabas willingly took a brash, bold, brilliant guy named Paul, and raised him up into prominence. We see it with Barnabas and John-Mark, (who completely messed up), and Barnabas personally coached him back to success. I find this fascinating.  There is no New Testament letter or book named after Barnabas. But the imprint of his influence is throughout the New Testament because, without Barnabas, would there be a Paul and would there be a Mark? 

I pray that my legacyas a leader is that I put this Barnabas characteristic into practice. This is what I know. It requires me to be generous and secure enough to share my life, my stuff, my gifts, my opportunities and my mission with others.  It requires that I give away without expecting anything in return. Am I ready for that? Can I invite people into leadership and help them get there, even if I become less and they become more? Can I invite people alongside me in mission? This always sounds lovely until you have to do it.  But then that person’s got something I don’t have or is doing something I may never do. Can I still celebrate that? I pray I will be known as one who lived up to the example of my favorite guy.

QUESTION:  How are you wrestling with this challenge of being Barnabas-like in your leadership? I’d love to hear more.

The Mission is Bigger Than Me


The mission is bigger than me.  That’s the premise behind Level 5 Leadership.  That’s the whole reason for this blog.  The church I started, the business you lead, or the organization you founded has a purpose that is likely much larger than you. That’s a good thing. To lead or start something that shouldn’t end with you is noble, honorable and magnanimous!  That’s how legacies are generated.

Unfortunately, I meet far too many leaders that fail to spend much time thinking beyond their immediate mission and call.  If challenged, they will usually tell you it matters.  They admit they are concerned about what may happen to the organization after they retire or die.  But, life moves at a face pace and there are too many daily operational concerns to slow down long enough to develop a plan—a succession plan.

I made an intentional decision when I was approaching age 50.  What started with me wouldn’t end with me. The mission that God put me on in my early 30’s should not end with me in my 60’s or 70’s. The mission is much bigger than me. That thought was both exhilarating and sobering.  All at the same time.

If you are leading a business, a non-profit, a church, a ministry, are you being intentional? Have you developed a succession plan for your organization?  I recognize that not every organization is set up in a way that the leader can make such a decision.  But are you initiating any conversations? Discussions? Proposals? Plans?  Have you cast a vision for an intentional and wisely planned succession?  All point persons will come to the end of their leadership run at some time or another. All leaders run out of time.

I fully agree with the words of J. Lee Whittington:  “Being a legacy leader is not about me; but, it starts with me.”


QUESTION: What one phrase in this short read impacted you the most?  Why?  (We would love to hear your comment below)

Top Level Leadership


It didn’t matter who, what, when or where.  A Sunday afternoon Monopoly game with my brother and cousin.  A six-man flag football game at my three-room country school. The 50-yard dash in the state-wide Junior Olympics.  High-school basketball. Hiking to the top of an Oregon butte, a sand dune or a Pacific Ocean overlook. I love to get to the top of the mountain for the first view. I grew up with a love to win.  Continue reading “Top Level Leadership”