As we look to a new year, I thought it would be beneficial if this month’s book helped us to look towards the new without fear. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger does just that. Originally printed in 2015, the expanded edition (c2018) includes a study guide to help Church leadership discuss with each other, and the congregations they lead, the concepts and potentially scary moves they must make to survive. Bolsinger is currently a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, but uses his experience as a Presbyterian minister and church consultant to write most of this book. His thesis for this book is that Christendom is dead, and most Christian leaders have been trained to lead and work within the world of Christendom. He looks to Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery as a metaphor for how Christian leadership should behave in this brand new world.
For Christian leaders this means that ministry is not only the means to bring the gospel to the world, ministry together is how God makes a congregation into a corps that is ready to continually bring the gospel in new ways to a changing world.
Tod Bolsinger uses the research of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky to propose the use of adaptive leadership within the Church. This model of leadership would remove the pastor as the “authority” and main decision maker within the local church. Instead, the pastor would be a leader that encourages the congregation to join into the decision making process in order to create actual change. He recognizes that this is not an easy task. Many churches are still in the mindset of the Church being the most influential voice in society. Unfortunately, as Bolsinger argues, this is no longer the case. But like most change, resistance should be expected. However, the main the main advantage for this adaptive style of leadership is that it frees the congregation to reconcile unanticipated issues, and explore new ideas that lead towards innovation.
We are called to take the hill — with grandma.
I found myself particularly excited to read this book, and I think that anyone in a leadership position within their church should read it. I wanted to go out and make wide sweeping changes and attempt to get others excited within my own congregation. However I became frustrated with the content of this book because it still feels like my local congregation will not change. This could be due to the fact that I am not the pastor of my church. However, to overcome this, I purchased a copy for my pastor as a Christmas gift! I am convinced by Bolsinger’s argument that the Church now finds itself in a world that it has been unprepared for. Yet he offers hope in the last chapter by saying, “God is taking us into uncharted territory to transform us.” We do not have to look to the changing landscape with fear. We need to merely trust in God, and take a good strong look at the way we do things. That is what this book does.