Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, by Tod Bolsinger, is what I am reading right now. I’ve only finished part one – Understanding Uncharted Territory, but it is worth writing about as I connect what I’m reading with what I’m doing as a Church Vitality Strategist (CVS) in the Western North Carolina Conference – UMC.
Bolsinger is drawing some parallels between the uncharted territory that lays before us in the “church landscape” now with the experience of Lewis and Clark as they tried to discover a water course that would connect the Mississippi River to the Missouri River to the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean which could be used to expand commerce in our growing nation (as directed by Thomas Jefferson). As Meriwether Lewis crested the hill at the headwaters of the Missouri River, “in front of him was not a gentle slope down to a navigable river running to the Pacific Ocean, but the Rocky Mountains. Stretching out for miles and miles as far as the eyes could see was one set of peaks after another.” (Loc 295 of 4571 – Kindle)
How many of us as church leaders have experienced this same kind of crushing blow? That realization that the hard work we have done to get to where we are has not put us where we thought we would be! And then, to know that what we have yet to do is completely unfamiliar to what we thought we knew. Bolsinger states – “All that we have assumed about leading Christian organizations, all that we have been trained for, is out of date.” (Loc 340 of 4571) I often hear Christian leaders bemoaning the death of the church, but in reality I think it is the way we’ve been doing church that is dying – the church of Jesus Christ is alive and well, it just looks differently that it did during the last century.
The purpose of this book is to name the problem – we are trying to lead our churches through uncharted territory; to connect the work of Bolsinger’s favorite authors in ways that make sense for leading through uncharted territory; and to provide some answers as to what leadership needs to be to lead through the uncharted territory.
I want to write a series of blogs as I read this book, so keep an eye out for them over the next few weeks. What I can tell you now is that using Bolsinger’s definition of leadership – “energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world” (Loc 598 of 4571) is a powerful way to start. I connected my work as a CVS to this definition immediately. As I’ve worked in a number of churches in 2015 to help them answer questions that have led to better clarity of how God wants to use them now, I think we’ve hit upon several right things. First, we recognized the importance of defining behaviors that will transform us as a community of faith. Second, we defined shared mission in new ways for each congregation. Third, we developed a new way of making decisions and sharing accountability to the mission.
Bolsinger states clearly throughout part one that an openness to adventure is necessary to lead through unchartered territory. Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime?
Bolsinger, Tod. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2015.