Ignore the 10,000-Hour Rule

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the so-called 10,000-hour rule in his bestselling book Outliers. In a nutshell, if you have talent, and put in 10,000 hours of practice in a specific area, you’ll acquire expertise and become successful in that field. Computer programming, Rock-n-Roll, preaching … you name it.


Obviously a “rule” like this was meant to be broken, challenged, contradicted, scoffed at. And of course I’m not the first, or even the hundredth, to say “ignore this rule”.


I once knew of a group of pastors who were looking for a church planter. They were deeply influenced by the 10,000-hour rule, and applied it to church planter candidates. They mixed this rule with the traditional professional qualification template: “at least 10 years of church planting experience and 2 successful church plants desired blah blah blah”.

Their main objective was to mitigate risk and to not fail.

What was interesting about this case was that when the experienced church planter they recruited went to make his church planting pitch, he ended up lifting whole sentences verbatim from the writing of a young church planting hopeful with approximately 0/10,0000ths of the requisite hours experience.

Another observer of this search committee noted that their 10,000-hour expertise criteria would exclude a vast number of noted, “successful” church planters from their search—in his reckoning, the best church planters of our time.


What’s the point? I think it’s this:

The whole idea of entrepreneurship is that 10,000 hours is too long for the world to wait for the thing that you want to make. 10 years of doing things in predictable, industry standard ways, carefully observing “best practices” and bowing deferentially to gatekeepers is intolerable to the woman or man with a calling to make something disruptively innovative and bring it to market now.

If you want a manager, ask for 10,000 hours.

If you are looking for a surgeon, the 10,000 hour expert is your guy.

If you’re in the market for a wealth manager, put your fat cash in the nimble hands of a gal who’s put in her 10,000 hours and made millionaires into billionaires.

But if you’re looking for a 10,000 hour fella to plant a church, you need to realize that the church that results—if it survives—is going to look a lot like the churches you’re used to seeing. Is that really what you want? What our communities need?


And most importantly, if you are an aspiring church planter, never let anybody use the 10,000 hour rule as a pseudo-scientific way to tell you to sit down and shut up.

You need a mentor to keep you aware of all that you don’t know. You need a coach who will keep you accountable for what you do know. You need elders to come alongside you and tell you when you’re talking churchplanterese.

But you do NOT need 10,000 hours of experience in church planting to do something that lies outside typical expectations of church. In fact, 10,000 hours might be exactly the thing that keeps your church from becoming an outlier.

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6 thoughts on “Ignore the 10,000-Hour Rule

  1. Good thoughts.

    For my own part, I’ve never seen the 10,000 hour rule as a barrier to entry (the old “if everyone has to already have experience to do it, how does anyone get experience?” problem). Rather, I’ve always seen it as a reminder to be humble. I don’t have it all figured out. I still have room to grow. I can’t rest on my innate ability but need to work towards improvement.

    You’re right: sometimes we need to dive in and do it. The 10,000 hours will come on their own. If I learned anything in my first ministry call, it was that.

  2. Hmmm. I wonder how many hours Paul and the other apostles had. If we’re establishing an organization we might want that much experience, but gathering folks together to live as a community learning to follow Jesus together… You’re right, there isn’t the time to wait.

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