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Note: this post is the thirteenth entry of a series entitled, “Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church.”

A Review of Canoeing the Mountains, Tod Bolsinger, Intervarsity Press, 2015

Author: Bill Boren, D.Min., Family Life Pastor, Covington, LA.

Christian leaders looking for helpful resources while leading in times of uncertainty may grow frustrated in their search. Bolsinger’s subtitle gives his readers hope that the contents of his book may prove helpful for Christian leaders. Published in 2015, Canoeing the Mountains may seem like a dated resource since much has changed in the past 18 months with COVID, culture, and churches. However, Bolsinger’s book proves insightful, helpful, and timely for pastors and leaders looking to lead the local church in uncertain times and uncharted territory. 

The author uses the historical explorations of Lewis and Clark, tasked with the mission of finding a water passage from the east coast of the United States to the Pacific Ocean, as helpful examples to follow for those “guiding” others during difficult days. Their journey was difficult, upstream and hindered ultimately by an unexpected reality, the end of a river and the presence of the Rocky Mountains. Faced with this new and uncharted territory, the explorers had to learn to adapt if they wanted to continue to explore. The canoes were perfect for the water, but a hinderance in this new territory. Their willingness to adapt allowed them to continue their mission and lead others well while traveling “off-the-map”.  

In a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, leaders must learn new skills of adaptation to survive, let alone, achieve transformation. Leadership and leadership development must be dramatically different in comparison to yesteryear. Bolsinger declares a leader must have an adaptive capacity that mimics the western frontier explorers who were charting uncharted territory. His resource offers readers tools to help them begin the process of adaptation.

Canoeing the Mountains reminds leaders that for people to follow you off the map, they must trust you while leading them on the map. Technical competence and relational congruence are key to gaining credibility and people’s trust. If trust is lost, the journey is over. Being consistent in character and competence are essential ingredients to gaining the following needed to lead people through uncharted territory. 

Bolsinger reminds his readers that engaging natives familiar with the uncharted territory is essential for those wishing to lead well (and survive) in the journey through unfamiliar land. Natives to the post-Christendom world are not unraveled by cultural changes of the day. Partnering properly with those who are familiar with the post-Christendom culture helps leaders understand and effectively minister to those in a strange and uncharted land. In other words, we must see “familiar” through a new frame and develop a willingness to experiment with new ways to minister to those inside and outside the church. The end result will be the transformation of both the leader and those he or she leads.

Canoeing the Mountains blends leadership principles, probing questions, historical references, and Scriptural insights to provide a hope-filled charge to today’s leaders in the church. Leaders will find the content helpful to provoke thinking and grapple with the dilemmas facing church leadership and congregations seeking to fulfill God’s mission in uncharted terrain. I encourage church leadership to order a copy, secure a highlighter, set aside a block of undistracted time, and begin to consider how to lead differently and more effectively in this strange, but potentially fruitful new territory.

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Louisiana Baptists
Louisiana Baptists are a statewide association of over 1,600 Baptist churches connected through a common mission. These churches minister both separately and cooperatively to reach our common goal to help every person find help, hope and encouragement in the midst of a busy world.

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