Exponential Conference 2018 Notes

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I just attended a conference for church planters… even though I’m not religious.

To give you some context, church planters are people who want to create, you guessed it, their own church. Hundreds of these pastors gather every year to network and exchange skills. In 2018, this gathering happened to go down on my home turf of NYC.

I bought a ticket because I’ve been craving mentorship in community building, and haven’t been able to find much of it. That’s what drew me to a gathering of hundreds of pastors— these folks know what’s up when it comes to growing a heart-centered project.

At the end of the second day, there was a moment for anyone who wants help with spreading their mission to come up and be blessed by a pastor.

Dozens of people moved to the front of the room, while the whole room stood up to sing and witness. This walk acknowledged that those leaders are committing themselves to a higher power.

After watching for a few minutes, tears welling up in my eyes, I found myself walking down the aisle to join them.

To be clear, The Joy List is a secular organization. Yet recently, I have been terrified by the idea of creating a worldwide project. Even thinking about creating something that’s so large feels isolating. So I went to the front of that room, excited to get acknowledge that I am ready to do something that’s bigger than me.

When I arrived in front of my bless-er, I grinned. “I’ve got a bit of an unconventional request,” I told him. “I run a newsletter and event series that has the mission of making the world less lonely. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to create a team, or how to lead others. Yet I feel called to do this work. Will you bless me?”

He paused, and I half expected him to tell me to step aside. Yet instead, he smiled. “An unconventional prayer!” he laughed, putting a drop of holy water on my forehead and his hands on my shoulders. “My favorite.”

And then, he proceeded to bless me. He asked that I might find the strength to shine light in the darkness, to lift women up with me, to smash the patriarchy— right?!— and to be a fierce warrior with love in my heart. I laughed and cried, my head bowed.

In this moment, it hit me that I had never been part of a ritual like this— something that affirmed that I am on the right path, and gave me a little boost of courage to keep going. That I have the power to create leaders and improve the world.

How can we give this type of experience to secular people?

Only 10% of people born after 1984 attend a church. Organized religion is on the decline. But that doesn’t mean we should all miss out on a ritualized, community-centered acknowledgement of our power.

What will these new blessings look like? How can we witness each other as community leaders, and acknowledge that we see the power in each other?

Below you’ll find a collection of notes from the two days of Exponential workshops. I hope they inspire you to grow your community, and empower other leaders to do the same. I’ve worked to remove the mentions of Jesus, and make the notes from the experience as widely applicable as possible.

If there’s one key thing I learned from this weekend, it’s this: whatever way you choose to help the world, make sure you’re not at the center of it. If you do anything to be a star, you’re hurting yourself and others. Humbleness, and a desire to help people tap into their gifts, is key.

Don’t just be a hero. Be a hero-maker.

Hero-Maker Workshop

Why spiritual shifts are different than personal development: “I don’t just want a behavior modification. I want a heart transformation.”

Brand new churches have 4-5 times conversions (common denomination) vs established churches of 10+years. This proves that we constantly need brand-new life

Shift a hero to hero-maker

Ministry happens through multiplied leaders

“I see what God can do through others, and I let them know what I see in them.”

Go from “me” language to “us” language

Pro tip: get everyone to do the same motion with you for each key point that you’re saying. It helps them remember, and it helps them stay alert

“Change the mental paradigm -> change the future”

Ways to dream bigger for your mission

1) Dream napkin: Take the current dream that you have, multiply that dream times a million. Figure out how you can accomplish that dream. Key takeaway: you need a TEAM to do that. “I know I can’t do that, I know my church can’t do that. I need to partner with lots of other leaders.” Forces us into multiplication thinking

Vision: “Don’t you think that everyone deserves a simple, decent place to live?” To fulfill that mission, you can’t just start a construction company. Habitat for Humanity: building the most homes on the entire plane

“Children don’t care what you think of their dreams”

“Having hearts like children” applies to our dreams too

“The issue isn’t that we want too much, it’s that we want too little.”

Bigger than our castle: it’s the kingdom

We have nothing to prove or earn, which means we have the freedom to dream mightily

If you knew no limits and secure enough because you had nothing to prove, get that dream out of you and onto paper

We have to baptize our dreams and get them out tangibly— held accountable to ourselves and a higher power. Invite others into that dream.

Sharing the dream feels scary. You’ll feel inadequate, and that’s okay

Writing the napkin dream will take you praying. Multiply what you put down by at least 100. If it feels daring, it’s not daring enough.

“God has an everest-sized dream for your life”

“We’ve got all the volunteers we need right now.” NEVER SAY THAT!

Give people permission to step into leadership

2) ICNU Conversation: We have the life-giver in us. “I see this in you.” We have a natural bent towards criticism, we don’t reflexively, intentionally tell people about the positive things that we see in them.

3) Five steps of apprenticeship: Making disciples who make disciples.

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  • We talk = what went well, what could we do better

  • Move through the progression as you think they’re ready and they think they’re ready

  • Critical that when you start, you have the next leader who will be learning from them down the line. Don’t say “someday in the future you’ll train someone else”

4) Commissioning: Asking god to bless the leaders that you’re sending out.

  • Having everyone in the community put their hands out to bless someone

  • Not training people to be your perpetual assistant. There to fully activate their gifts

  • “Spiritual fathers and mothers”

  • Laying your hands on them as a sign of affirmation

  • Praying for God to bless them as you send them out

  • Commissioning moment is an anchoring moment

  • We celebrate what we value

5) Simple scoreboard: Kingdom building. How many people am I sending out to do god’s thing? We’re playing for the name on the front of our jersey, not our own name on the back of our jersey.

  • When we ask wrong questions, we get wrong results

  • Train someone, tell them that they should choose someone who they’re going to train

  • You have to see yourself as the primary culture creator. After 5 years, you get the culture you deserve. Either you don’t have the gifts you thought you had or you’re not creating the culture that you want.

  • Being clear about wanting to multiply disciples

  • Have an apprentice at the smallest level as the example that you’re as entrenched as everyone else.

  • “The moment you get sick of talking about something, the moment your team is actually starting to hear it.

  • No role should be off-limits to apprenticeship== especially stage pastors. (Apprentice teaching pastor.)

  • Calling out weaknesses is best in the apprentice phase. “I love you too much to let you stay weak in this area.”

Multiplication thinking

  • “I have to confess to myself: I want to be the hero… not the hero maker! Call it out. If you don’t call it out, you won’t be content seeing your fruit grown on other people’s trees.”

  • Don’t just think about Jimmy. Think about Jimmy’s spiritual grandchildren

  • Your spreadsheets are not that fascinating

  • “Every ounce of you has to say, ‘It’s not about me.”

  • Opportunity landing on your heart vs flesh (ego)
    Hero maker takes people who are lost and helps them realize what they can become

  • Example of Wolverine burning out because he works solo

  • Pastors want to be Batman— they should be Alfred

  • If I give myself to those things too much, I will be destroyed by them

  • Villains begin as heroes who get their desire to help people turn into too strong of an ego

  • It’s more heroic to be a hero-maker than a hero. Making a universe of courageous people

Main Session 2

Five lessons:

Life is hard, we get punched in the mouth

Your life is not about you

You are not in control (if you want to live a significant journey)

You are not that important

You are going to die

Permission Giving

  • If I build a crowd, it’s all about me. Or I can build a kingdom

  • Fear that someone will do the thing better than me.

  • “If you’re trying to build a kingdom, the most powerful thing you can do is look someone in the eyes and see something in them. You’re not so stuck in the weeds, that you can give them permission and tell them that you’re in the boat with them.”

  • Story about the rocks that were actually valued at $60,000 each. Through the eyes of a master craftsman, they’re prized treasures

  • We are called to create pivot point moments for others

  • Am I willing to risk my reputation on others? Am I committed to navigating the ups and downs? Am I secure enough to truly empower others?

  • Champion: we are much stronger on the noun than the verb

  • Don’t stop at having your life be an inspiration to others

  • Champion others along the way

  • You can hold people loosely without treating them lightly

  • Key takeaway: telling people that they have the power to do something is a huge gift


  • Didn’t cross her mind that God was calling some of these women to be pastors and church planters

  • See the women who aren’t alpha females, and don’t be afraid of the alpha females

  • Love is about seeing. “I see the one who sees me.”


  • When you ask the wrong questions, you get the wrong results

  • Healthy things grow

  • Don’t increase seating capacity, increase sending capacity

  • We’re just stewards

Paradox of discipleship: Hanging out with Jesus, you want to go out and spread the word. Being in mission with Jesus activates mission. Can’t divorce mission from being Christian.

  • God never calls us in without sending us out

  • Disciples learned Jesus while they were walking with Jesus

  • Processing mission they learn about joy

  • Go and then learn (Connect to community building— just have to create the spaces

  • Discipleship is envisioned inside teaching, but it’s actually the other way around

2) Sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves: People are trying to seek happiness and self-gratification without bleeding. How do we convince people that the life worth living, full of joy, has wolf bites? You have to be the example. Show your scars and sweat and tears the in midst of your joy.

3) Paradox of joy: Joy is tricky. You’re seeing friends being liberated and homes being restored. “I see a foundational joy, a misplaced joy. These people are happy because things are happening.” The joy is dependent on the external.

  • Don’t try to build your identity in what you do.

  • With freedom we go to the wolves because we know we are safe. Help people be grounded in identity of Christ. Otherwise they become monsters. (Would love this to be expanded on.)

  • Pedagogy that’s divorced from the street can’t happen

  • Joy: I don’t have to do anything to feel that I’m something.

Last Session

Each skill set requires a certain type of character

Multiplication thinking: Skill is vision-casting. Character is humility to try something that is bigger than you are, and too big for your skills. To dream about something so big that you won’t be able to carry it without help. Without it, you won’t even let yourself conceive of something that’s too big for you. The gospel creates that humility.

  • You need to give away money, power, and ideas. That is a skill.

  • Do you have the confidence to see things going on in your community that you don’t like that much, knowing that the majority of the things you do do serve your mission?

Disciple making: Attractive godliness. People want to be like you. You can’t make yourself attractive. A gospel-changed person is inexplainable and peculiar. Humility and boldness together. “There’s something about who you are that people want to follow.”

  • Remember: You need quiet time. You need to go walk with God.

  • Don’t say, “You serve me and I serve you.” Serve them, and they’ll be faithful to you

Jillian Richardson