Canoeing the mountains

Canoeing the Mountains is the title of a new book by Tod Bolsinger. After serving for many years as senior pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church, Tod is now vice-president for vocation and formation at Fuller Seminary. He’s also one of the most thoughtful leaders in the church today focusing on church transformation and change. I’m pleased to say Tod was my coach for a year after our church did strategic planning a few years ago.

Canoeing the Mountains gets its inspiration from the Lewis and Clark Expedition (also known as the Corps of Discovery) from 1804 to 1806. Lewis and Clark were charged by Thomas Jefferson with exploring and mapping the Louisiana Purchase, and for discovering a long-sought after water route to the Pacific.

But Lewis and Clark set out with false expectations. They believed, like everyone before them, that the geography ahead of them was like the geography behind them. When at long last the Corps of Discovery reached the headwaters of the Missouri, they expected that just over the next hill they would find the Columbia River that would lead them down to the ocean. Instead what lay before them was the Rocky Mountains.

Their canoes weren’t going to be of any more use.

Tod Bolsinger says that churches today find themselves in a similar position to Lewis and Clark. What’s ahead is not what’s behind, so the maps aren’t any good. And yet Lewis and Clark didn’t turn back. In coming so far, they had bonded together as a team. They’d developed trust. Instead of turning back, they redefined their mission and pressed on.

Canoeing the Mountains asks leaders to consider these key questions:

  • How do we lead a congregation to be faithful to the mission God has put before us when the world has changed so radically?
  • What are the tools, the mental models, the wise actions and competing commitments that require navigation?
  • And mostly, what transformation does it demand of those of us who have been called to lead?

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