Unspoken Plumb Lines

Italy, Tuscany, The leaning tower of Pisa with plumb lineplumb line noun:  tool that consists of a small, heavy object attached to a string or rope and that is used especially to see if something (such as a wall) is perfectly vertical

This past week my good friend Ben Presten shared with me this interesting idea of “plumb lines” from the book “Sticky Teams” by Larry Osborne.  Here’s what Osborne means by plumb-lines:

Plumb lines are like organizational proverbs—a list of pithy sayings that describe clearly and concisely what we value and what our staff needs to think through when making decisions…

So how do you put together good plumb lines?  Be specific…Be honest…Be different…

For more on plumb lines check out a n abbreviated version of Sticky Teams and scroll down to chapter 11.

These principles, proverbs, and pithy sayings guide the way we lead and make crucial strategic decisions yet they’re often just in our heads as leaders rather than in writing like our organizational vision, mission, and values.  I realized after talking to Ben and reading Osborne’s thoughts that I have several plumb-lines that impact almost every leadership decision I make- yet I have rarely explicitly shared these with my leadership team.  Up until moving to Burlington many of my leadership teams in student ministry, collegiate ministry, and church planting were people I personally discipled and mentored, so we almost intuitively led with almost identical plumb lines.  Now, like with most ministries, I lead a team of leaders who arrived to this point after traveling different paths and with varied ministry perspectives.    Putting these plumb-lines in writing is a vital exercise if I want these guys to understand the why behind the what.

Below I’ve shared both my and Ben’s plumb lines.  As a leader, what are yours?

Kevin’s plumb lines:

  1. We win and lose as a team.
    • Applies to leadership team, Gospel Communities, and church as a whole.
    • Requires mutual accountability and team leadership- no prima donnas.
    • Every person’s giftedness and role matters- no bench sitters.
  2. We will take risks (and sometimes fail) to engage the community.
    • Become good stewards of failures- don’t repeat but learn forward.
    • Don’t dwell on past mistakes at the expense of present opportunities.
    • Risk much for what God values most.
  3. Teach in a manner that enables people to personally process the scriptures.
    • Focus on accessibility and interaction over polish.
    • Self-feeders bear more fruit and require less coddling.
    • Believe God speaks to people through the scriptures.
  4. Teaching should lead to an intersection with the gospel and its implications.
    • All teaching should lead towards communion- insures Gospel centeredness.
    • Gospel-centeredness will lead us away from religious moralism and self-righteousness.
  5. Every disciple has the God-given potential to disciple someone.
    • Education and socio-economic status are not indicators of disciple-making capacity.
    • Every believers with relationships has potential to influence someone to follow Jesus.
    • God’s scriptural M.O. is using ordinary people- no other way to explain growth of New Testament church.
  6. We unapologetically prioritize developing leaders- especially apostolic leaders.
    • Discovering and developing leaders will be our ceiling for reproduction.
    • Requires prioritizing time, energy, and resources around developing leaders.
    • Look for men who are Faithful, Available, and Teachable
  7. Discovering and developing leaders requires throwing them into the deep end.
    • Sometimes they’ll sink- apostolic leaders dive back in.
    • Growth requires stretching comfort zones and exercising new muscles.
    • Pull the boat close without pulling them out of the deep.
  8. In everything prioritize seeking the lost over coddling the found.
    • Don’t bow to Christian consumerism.
    • Coddling does not produce true spiritual growth.
    • Point people to established churches who want coddling.

Ben’s plumb lines:

  1. We won’t give in to consumer Christian’s desires.
    • It only reinforces wrong thinking. It may seem small, but it will snowball out of control.
    • This creates an inward focus instead of considering those who are not yet a part of the church.
  2. We will focus on feeding the hungry.
    • You can’t force a person to learn, grow, or come out of spiritual apathy.
    •  The natural tendency is to focus on the stragglers (those who aren’t spiritually hungry). That will never produce a healthy church. It causes us to neglect the ones who are truly hungry and therefore stunt the growth of the ones who actually want to grow and therefore WILL GROW.
  3.  We will be “seeker sensitive” in our hospitality, and “seeker aware” in our preaching and teaching especially in regards to men.
    • We don’t want to produce a stumbling block in a person’s path before they even hear the gospel. We want them to feel as comfortable as possible, especially men. Men are the least likely to attend church and the toughest to reach. We want to be sensitive to the first time guest from the time they enter the door to the time they leave.
    • We will be aware of the fact that unbelievers are in the room every time we preach and teach, but we will not hold back when expositing the Scriptures.
  4. We will unapologetically put priority time and energy into those who show the most  potential to become top-level leaders.
    • There are always going to be high maintenance people. Allowing them to take all our time will make us ineffective at developing leaders. If we don’t develop new leaders, no one will.
    • Jesus modeled this by spending most of his time with Peter, James, and John – the future leaders of the church.
    • Competent leaders are our bottle cap… the work progresses in direct relation to the number of leaders who can carry it forward.
  5.  We will think and plan organizationally according to where we will be in 6 months.
    • If you wait to “get situated” after the change comes, you will stunt your growth.
    • Good leaders are always looking down the road at what challenges and opportunities are coming so that they can be prepared for challenges and so that they can maximize opportunities.
  6. We will give away ministry, responsibilities and leadership as early and often as possible.
    • Instead of making yourself invaluable, make yourself disposable. The least will be greatest in the kingdom of God.
    •  Always think about who will take your place. Who is your next apprentice? That’s how we grow through multiplication.
  7. We will encourage failures.
    • Failure isn’t an option… its a necessity if we are going to try new things. Let’s be unafraid to take big risks in faith.
    • We will let dying initiatives/programs die.
    • If we will be an innovative church, we need to get used to failure.
    • People who are afraid of failing must settle for the status quo.

**Footnote: I wouldn’t necessarily recommend sharing your plumb lines with your entire church or organization.  They are much more relevant to those who share directional leadership responsibilities with you.


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