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Explorers Lewis and Clark had to adapt. While they had prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, instead they found themselves in the Rocky Mountains. You too may feel that you are leading in a cultural context you were not expecting. You may even feel that your training holds you back more often than it carries you along. Drawing from his extensive experience as a Explorers Lewis and Clark had to adapt. While they had prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, instead they found themselves in the Rocky Mountains. You too may feel that you are leading in a cultural context you were not expecting. You may even feel that your training holds you back more often than it carries you along. Drawing from his extensive experience as a pastor and consultant, Tod Bolsinger brings decades of expertise in guiding churches and organizations through uncharted territory. He offers a combination of illuminating insights and practical tools to help you reimagine what effective leadership looks like in our rapidly changing world. If you're going to scale the mountains of ministry, you need to leave behind canoes and find new navigational tools. Reading this book will set you on the right course to lead with confidence and courage.


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Explorers Lewis and Clark had to adapt. While they had prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, instead they found themselves in the Rocky Mountains. You too may feel that you are leading in a cultural context you were not expecting. You may even feel that your training holds you back more often than it carries you along. Drawing from his extensive experience as a Explorers Lewis and Clark had to adapt. While they had prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, instead they found themselves in the Rocky Mountains. You too may feel that you are leading in a cultural context you were not expecting. You may even feel that your training holds you back more often than it carries you along. Drawing from his extensive experience as a pastor and consultant, Tod Bolsinger brings decades of expertise in guiding churches and organizations through uncharted territory. He offers a combination of illuminating insights and practical tools to help you reimagine what effective leadership looks like in our rapidly changing world. If you're going to scale the mountains of ministry, you need to leave behind canoes and find new navigational tools. Reading this book will set you on the right course to lead with confidence and courage.

30 review for Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: Using the story of Lewis and Clark, Bolsinger explores the kind of leadership needed in the uncharted territory of our rapidly changing cultural landscape. "Seminary didn't train me for this." "Our church is dying and I have no clue what to do." Over and over, Tod Bolsinger encountered these statements in his consulting work. Pastors are trained in teaching, liturgics, and pastoral care, and often, those tools just don't seem enough in our changing world. Bolsinger likens this to the mom Summary: Using the story of Lewis and Clark, Bolsinger explores the kind of leadership needed in the uncharted territory of our rapidly changing cultural landscape. "Seminary didn't train me for this." "Our church is dying and I have no clue what to do." Over and over, Tod Bolsinger encountered these statements in his consulting work. Pastors are trained in teaching, liturgics, and pastoral care, and often, those tools just don't seem enough in our changing world. Bolsinger likens this to the moment Lewis and Clark climbed the Lemhi Pass, having canoed up the Missouri River, and instead of expecting to find a river on the other side of the mountain that would carry them to the Pacific, they found...mountains. The needed to exchange canoes for horses, and adapt to an "off the map" situation. In this book, Bolsinger considers the adaptive leadership of Lewis and Clark, and applies it to Christian leaders often tempted to try to "canoe the mountains," because they don't know any other way to lead. Often, they may be the greatest obstacle to transformative change in their churches or organizations. The choice they face is between adventure and organizational death.  All of this is part of understanding the "uncharted territory" that calls for a new kind of leadership. Part Two makes the contention that there are critical "on the map" skills that leaders must demonstrate in order for people to follow them "off the map." These include competence and credibility in stewarding Scripture and tradition, souls and communities, and teams and tasks. It means leadership that develops "relational congruence" in which one builds trust by showing the ability to be the same person with the same values in every relationship. And it means clarity and embodiment of the core values one hopes to see manifest in the church. "Leading off the Map" is the focus of Part Three and critical to this is the adaptive capacity of the leader. Leaders must be able to look at systems rather than react to symptoms, to calmly face loss and the challenge of the unknown, leading a learning process expressed in asking questions rather than giving answers. Sometimes rather than doing something, it first means standing still...and then doing something through a process of observation, interpretation, and intervention. In the process, understanding the DNA of the church and not violating that is critical. Interventions should start out modesty and playfully--lots of experiments, and resistance can be expected. In facing resistance, leaders must be absolutely clear and convicted about the mission, which for Bolsinger, "trumps all" and ready to press into mission even when no one else is. Part Four goes deeper into the issue of "Relationships and Resistance." Leaders cultivate relationships with six groups of people:  1. Allies, aligned and in agreement with the mission. 2. Confidants, who are outside the organization and can give honest feedback. 3. Opponents who are not enemies but have a different perspective that must be heard and engaged. 4. Senior authorities, those above one with whom connection and relationship are critical to support one through a change process. Think of Jefferson's role with Lewis and Clark. 5. Casualties, those who stand to lose in a change process for whom leaders assume responsibility. 6. Dissenters who ask the tough questions that need to be asked and responded to without defensiveness because it is not about the leader but the mission. The real challenge though is recognizing and persisting through sabotage, which Bolsinger believes can be expected when leading in uncharted territory. That was an eye-opener. Finally, in Part Five, Bolsinger writes about the "transformation" that occurs with adaptive leadership. He observes the leadership transformation in the Lewis and Clark party, where the two share equally in command, where a woman, Sacajawea, leads, where both she and a slave vote, and a soldier is released from regular duty for discovery--long before such practices would be widely accepted in the culture. Bolsinger proposes that just as the most significant blockage may be the leader, so also, the most important transformation to occur in an adaptive leadership process is in the leader. This seems to me to be a critically important book for leadership teams and pastors. So often our approach when things are not working is simply to double down and try harder, which, as someone has pointed out, is a definition of insanity. The willingness to leave the canoes behind, and learn new skills, to get up on the balcony, and then try new interventions rooted in careful observation and interpretation and not reaction, and to stay relentlessly focused on mission separated Lewis and Clark from other explorers. I would have liked to see this leadership model rooted in scripture. Lewis and Clark certainly were singular leaders, and the book invokes good leadership theory. I can't help but wonder what one might draw from the leadership of Moses, of David, of Jesus, and of Paul, each who in some sense led in uncharted territory. The conflict situation of Acts 6 strikes me as a marvelous example of a system that wasn't working, and of leadership that exhibited relational, and spiritual competence linked to clear missional focus while adapting to problems associated with expansion, resulting in a transformed, rapidly growing church and an enlarged and diversified leadership nucleus. Nevertheless, there is much of profit here. If leaders can simply stop and realize they are trying to "canoe the mountains" that is probably worth the price of admission. To move from a speaking to a collaborating ministry that leads, not with answers, but is open to questions and learning is an important leadership transformation. It could make all the difference between catalyzing the giftedness within our organizations and churches, and losing it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    Overview of current MBA thinking on "change management" applied to churches. You'll think it's great if you think churches should be run by MBAs as businesses.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joel Wentz

    No one is more surprised than me that a book about "Christian leadership tactics" is getting a five-star review here. Seriously, it's saying something that I loved the book that much, because I typically avoid anything that smacks of "Church, Inc." like the plague. But Tod Bolsinger has broken that mold for me. First, he writes with a pastor's heart. At no point did I feel like the "institution" trumped the people we are called to minister to. At the same time, though, he has a clear-eyed view on No one is more surprised than me that a book about "Christian leadership tactics" is getting a five-star review here. Seriously, it's saying something that I loved the book that much, because I typically avoid anything that smacks of "Church, Inc." like the plague. But Tod Bolsinger has broken that mold for me. First, he writes with a pastor's heart. At no point did I feel like the "institution" trumped the people we are called to minister to. At the same time, though, he has a clear-eyed view on how any healthy institution should function. He manages to thread the needle between the relationally-messy-family-church, and the institution-to-manage-and-run church, and I think he does it brilliantly. Second, he writes with a clear view of the challenges that post-modernity are bringing. This book doesn't "double down" on what has worked before, or simply try to "water down" previous leadership tactics to appeal to Millenials. None of that, thank God (literally). And finally, the use of Lewis and Clark as a driving analogy was extremely helpful. I found myself tracking along with his ideas, and holding on to them, because of the through-line of the Lewis and Clark expedition (and he did his homework on that!). So, yeah, I actually completely loved this book. Anyone in some sort of church/ministry leadership capacity today absolutely owes it to themselves to pick this up. I will be keeping it in a prominent place on my shelf, and referencing it multiple times in years to come, I'm sure.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

    Thanks to JK Jones for this recommendation. Took me a while to get to it. Wish I had read it earlier. Briefly interacting with the Lewis and Clark story, Bolsinger writes about leadership that actually transforms the organization (read: church, school, non-profit, etc). His principles are powerfully laid out. His insights are helpful and cause a number of light-bulb moments. Two illustrations: 1) We regularly use three words to talk about the people with whom we want to serve--character, chemistr Thanks to JK Jones for this recommendation. Took me a while to get to it. Wish I had read it earlier. Briefly interacting with the Lewis and Clark story, Bolsinger writes about leadership that actually transforms the organization (read: church, school, non-profit, etc). His principles are powerfully laid out. His insights are helpful and cause a number of light-bulb moments. Two illustrations: 1) We regularly use three words to talk about the people with whom we want to serve--character, chemistry and competency. Bolsinger uses the word capacity instead of competency. That subtle change is huge. It's the power of the right word. We use competency but that implies a set of skills. In our explanation we always say that we can teach what we want. Capacity captures that. 2) We're all familiar with Covey's "win-win" scenario. Bolsinger realistically and convincingly argues that win-win almost always causes us to maintain the status quo. If we are truly going to move people at a pace they can tolerate (paraphrase of his definition of leadership) then someone is going to lose something. This is a great read...engaging...challenging...worthwhile.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter Yock

    Very stimulating read. Pretty light on the gospel - being more biblically grounded and gospel centred would've made the whole thing much stronger for me. In particular I thought he could've made use of Paul's example in 1 Corinthians 9 - 'I have become all things to all people that by all possible means I might save some ... I do all this for the gospel ...' - which would've been far more compelling ground to urge us to change for the cause of reaching out to the lost around us. But that aside, i Very stimulating read. Pretty light on the gospel - being more biblically grounded and gospel centred would've made the whole thing much stronger for me. In particular I thought he could've made use of Paul's example in 1 Corinthians 9 - 'I have become all things to all people that by all possible means I might save some ... I do all this for the gospel ...' - which would've been far more compelling ground to urge us to change for the cause of reaching out to the lost around us. But that aside, it was a very helpful read and one that'll make me keep pondering for a long time, I hope.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Byron Fike

    The cultural shifts of the 21st century have caught the church completely flat footed. We know church doesn't work like it used to and many of us are alarmed at the declining numbers we are experiencing and the declining influence churches are having on the culture. Bolsinger has done us all a great service by giving us a book to open a much needed dialogue amongst church leaders. This is not a book of easy answers but thought provoking questions. The easiest summary of the book is that we eithe The cultural shifts of the 21st century have caught the church completely flat footed. We know church doesn't work like it used to and many of us are alarmed at the declining numbers we are experiencing and the declining influence churches are having on the culture. Bolsinger has done us all a great service by giving us a book to open a much needed dialogue amongst church leaders. This is not a book of easy answers but thought provoking questions. The easiest summary of the book is that we either adapt or die! This is a guidebook to help us begin the painful process of adaptation that the message of Jesus might not simply survive, but thrive in a future that is radically different from the past.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Dobbs

    Bolsinger has a message for the church, but not everyone will welcome it. Canoeing The Mountains is a book about culture. It is also a book about leadership. Specifically, given the author's background as a Presbyterian minister, it is a book about church leadership in a changing culture. There are five parts to the book. Each part examines an aspect of change. Bolsinger makes his case well in regards to the changing nature of church leadership in a culture that has restlessly moved on without r Bolsinger has a message for the church, but not everyone will welcome it. Canoeing The Mountains is a book about culture. It is also a book about leadership. Specifically, given the author's background as a Presbyterian minister, it is a book about church leadership in a changing culture. There are five parts to the book. Each part examines an aspect of change. Bolsinger makes his case well in regards to the changing nature of church leadership in a culture that has restlessly moved on without religion. One would be hard-pressed to deny the truth that this has presented unprecedented challenges to the church and caused unhealthy reactions from church leadership that is confronted with a ministry setting for which there is no training. The "leading off the map" terminology is helpful for understanding where we are. He spends time identifying specific needs, challenges, and types of leadership to encounter those challenges. Bolsinger basically presents a "change or die" approach. He acknowledges that changes in the church bring about significant challenges and issues that are difficult and sometimes painful. He takes the position that this is not only worthy of our effort but necessary for the continued existence of the church. The ultimate hope is the mission of the church - reaching out to the lost world around us in ways that they can hear and see. 

  8. 4 out of 5

    Will Waller

    I found this book quite helpful in breaking down the challenges of leading outside the box or according to this metaphor, as you canoe the mountains. Worth reading. The following are questions from the book and from my own mind that are guiding a book study I'm leading on the final section. They may be helpful to you. What have you learned that encourages, motivates, or inspires you to learn a new way of leading? What still doesn’t make sense or could use greater clarification? What concepts do I found this book quite helpful in breaking down the challenges of leading outside the box or according to this metaphor, as you canoe the mountains. Worth reading. The following are questions from the book and from my own mind that are guiding a book study I'm leading on the final section. They may be helpful to you. What have you learned that encourages, motivates, or inspires you to learn a new way of leading? What still doesn’t make sense or could use greater clarification? What concepts do you need to go back and review? What is rubbing you wrong or creating resistance in you? What piece of this whole paradigm makes you want to discard the whole, or what about this whole paradigm frustrates you? What do you need to begin to do differently if you are going to learn to lead all over again? What do I need to learn in order to lead in uncharted territory? What losess do I need to face or prepare myself to face in order to keep going? What are the competing values or gaps between my aspirations and actual behaviors that I need to face? Questions from the quotes: In Christendo world, the dominant voices were rich, powerful, educated, mostly male, mostly white and from the center. This is explained as a result of the desire for stability, predicatbility and order. However, with the church losing its power within the larger culture, there is a tendency to bemoan that loss of the place of dominance. How might the death of Christendom in the West mean there are more and more brothers and sisters on the margins? How might the death lead to new life? Chrstena Cleveland once said: “People can meet God within their cultural context, but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation and on the cross. Discipleship is cross cultural.” How so? Theresa Cho once said: “You have to HAVE something to feel you are LOSING something.” How does a rural environment verify this statement? How have you in your ministry done the following: “Encouraging...diversity in your leadership pool means greater diversity of thought, which, in turn, leads to improved problem solving?” (197) “For Christendom trained leaders, perhaps the most encouraging realization is that uncharted territory does not make our experience, education, and expertise irrelevant, just incomplete.” What training and education do you have right now that can benefit you down the line? What biblical examples can point to a faithful church being led off the map? How is leadership off the map inherently risky and frequently lonely? Must it always be so? (207) The most critical skill for adaptive leadership may be the ability to think about thins in more than one way. (208). He includes reframing the weekly church attendance measurement. Can you think of others? Is reframing just putting lipstick on a pig? Is the church really in decline or is it the Western, Christendom form of church life that is now less effective? The beginner’s mind is referenced. How does asking stupid questions help a leader? How is God taking us into uncharted territory to transform us?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    This may have been the most helpful leadership book I’ve read, particularly for a ministry context, since Andi Stanley’s “Visioneering”. • you were trained for a world that is disappearing • those who had neither the power nor privilege in the Christendom world are the trustworthy guides and necessary leaders when we go off the map • those without power or privilege are not going into uncharted territory. They are at home. • in a moment of crisis, you will not rise to the occasion. You will defaul This may have been the most helpful leadership book I’ve read, particularly for a ministry context, since Andi Stanley’s “Visioneering”. • you were trained for a world that is disappearing • those who had neither the power nor privilege in the Christendom world are the trustworthy guides and necessary leaders when we go off the map • those without power or privilege are not going into uncharted territory. They are at home. • in a moment of crisis, you will not rise to the occasion. You will default to your training. • leaders are “in the system”. That is, they have stayed in relationship with those they are called to lead. You can’t lead from outside the system. (You can be a prophet or critic or consultant or supporter, but you cannot be a leader). And so. Much. More. What a thing to chew on. This should be required reading for anyone leading in ministry right now.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tim Knight

    I wish I could add a few stars to the review. This book was/is exactly what I need. I devoured it in two days. It doesn’t sugar coat the reality of in the trenches Ministry in the 21st century; yet at the same time, if point to a way forward. I’m so thankful to have read it (thanks Mark for pushing it on me!). Now I’m got to go over it again and begin to mine its rich wisdom for today.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Scott Burns

    This is now on my must-read list. Bolsinger extracts the best from a number of celebrated leadership books and situates all the principles inside the story of Lewis and Clark. I found it stimulating and challenging to my thinking and leadership. I look forward to revisiting this book again and again.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    This is very good and speaks to the moment we are in now. The urgency is here to imagine and then reimagine community, ministry and shared lives of faith. This was published in 2016 but it was made for this time.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Wonderful in-depth look at adaptive leadership in the church context. Approachable and easy to read yet full of leadership insights.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Kate Brewer

    I feel like this was a book of Russell Davis’s secrets

  15. 5 out of 5

    Darin Mirante

    If I were to make a top 10 list of necessary field manuals, specific to leadership in ministry, this would be on it. A timely read, to say the least.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Sollie

    Absolutely loved this book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ron Blake

    A must read for those seeking to minister in the 21st century. I can’t recommend highly enough

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Use of personal examples help to bring understanding and practical application to the theoretical concepts or principles--whichever fits best. The sequencing was logical as it built a foundation of understanding and then circled back around to explain, describe, apply. I liked his adherence to the technical and relational competencies required for adaptive change, bit then he added more chapters about allies, opponents, dissenters, and the saboteurs who exist in EVERY context!! Solution: Keep fo Use of personal examples help to bring understanding and practical application to the theoretical concepts or principles--whichever fits best. The sequencing was logical as it built a foundation of understanding and then circled back around to explain, describe, apply. I liked his adherence to the technical and relational competencies required for adaptive change, bit then he added more chapters about allies, opponents, dissenters, and the saboteurs who exist in EVERY context!! Solution: Keep focus (mission trumps) and stay the course. . . "Two illustrations: 1) We regularly use three words to talk about the people with whom we want to serve--character, chemistry and competency. Bolsinger uses the word capacity instead of competency. That subtle change is huge. It's the power of the right word. We use competency but that implies a set of skills. In our explanation we always say that we can teach what we want. Capacity captures that. 2) We're all familiar with Covey's "win-win" scenario. Bolsinger realistically and convincingly argues that win-win almost always causes us to maintain the status quo. If we are truly going to move people at a pace they can tolerate (paraphrase of his definition of leadership) then someone is going to lose something." Quoted from review by ??

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sagely

    I slipped Bolsinger's Canoeing the Mountains into my bag on my way to my denominations biannual ministers' conference. I thought I might have some downtime between sessions. The conference was led by Susan Beaumont of http://www.susanbeaumont.com. She spoke on leadership and adaptive change, drawing heavily from the work of Ronald Heifetz and Edwin Friedman. In a time of congregational anomie, this was useful stuff. In a break, I wandered to an out of the way corner of the conference center. I pul I slipped Bolsinger's Canoeing the Mountains into my bag on my way to my denominations biannual ministers' conference. I thought I might have some downtime between sessions. The conference was led by Susan Beaumont of http://www.susanbeaumont.com. She spoke on leadership and adaptive change, drawing heavily from the work of Ronald Heifetz and Edwin Friedman. In a time of congregational anomie, this was useful stuff. In a break, I wandered to an out of the way corner of the conference center. I pulled CtM out of my bag. My brother-in-law had recommended it. His congregation were working their way through it, and he though it might help me. I was shocked when Bolsinger kept name-dropping Heifetz and Friedman. In fact, CtM covered nearly the exact same material Beaumont had sketched for us in our four-hour seminar--but with the added depth of book-length treatment. I've been favorably impressed. I'm not one for jumping on the latest leadership tips and tricks. But CtM roots much of its advice in missional imaginations of church that feel at home in NT Christianity and our own post-Christendom world. I also need to admit that the Lewis and Clark co-text touches close to home for me. Growing up in Montana, the Corps of Discovery showed up just about every year in my elementary education. I was nervous that Bolsinger would import a lot of nationalism, Manifest Destiny, tin-earred ignorance of Indigenous-Settler histories. But I think CtM steers wide of much of that (those there are a few moments that raised my eyebrows). A great book. I've already recommended and loaned out my copy and ordered another one.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    Great read for stopping and really thinking through what it means to be church in a modern setting - how to not only be flexible as a pastor, but how to help a congregation as a whole become flexible with change while remaining faithful to the center of what it means to be Christian community. Definitely has ideas worth rereading and considering.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kayla McQueen

    This book wasn't life changing for me but it did offer some helpful insight to the importance if inner transformation and the impact that can have on your leadership teams, especially working in ministry.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Wilcox

    An important read for those who know they are called to lead the Church into a new future, where "river rats must become mountain climbers." Good content for leading through adaptive change.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tim Hall

    Excellent book that encourages and challenges you to be the best leader in your organization. Church leaders, this is a must read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    I’m not entirely onboard with Bolsinger’s assertions that this era of ‘post-Christendom’ is uncharted territory. I want to examine one quote that really rubbed me the wrong way. “In this new post-Christendom era, the church leader will be less a grand orator or star figure who gathers individuals for inspiration and exhortation, and more a convener and equipper of people who together will be transformed as they participate in God’s transforming work in the world.” There is one New Testament figure I’m not entirely onboard with Bolsinger’s assertions that this era of ‘post-Christendom’ is uncharted territory. I want to examine one quote that really rubbed me the wrong way. “In this new post-Christendom era, the church leader will be less a grand orator or star figure who gathers individuals for inspiration and exhortation, and more a convener and equipper of people who together will be transformed as they participate in God’s transforming work in the world.” There is one New Testament figure, other than Jesus, that this describes perfectly, and that’s Paul. Paul was actively engaged in the community, discipling directly, leading by example, and was as close as you could be to the groups of early churches. He was the first who crossed those mountains, laid out the rope, set grips and footholds for the rest of us, and generally provided the true north for those who would come behind. He was the first to canoe those mountains, along with the apostles. How we got to the point where the pastor of a church was ‘only’ a grand orator or star figure is the true problem. I don't see how that was ever the aim for someone entering the ministry. Leadership isn’t talk, it’s action. You don't even need to be recognized as a 'leader' to be one. Paul, himself, acknowledged his poor oratory abilities, yet he still equipped, inspired, and exhorted, leading to the transformation of those he was involved with, and by extension, many of those who’ve since read his letters. What Bolsinger seems to be talking about as a ‘new epoch’ is actually only a return to form. We’re not treading new territory, we’ve just become so complacent in our comfortable position that, when a storm rolls in, we’ve forgotten how to react. Worship of individuals, of self, and of complacency is what has brought the church down out of the mountains. We’ve burned our canoes for lack of use, and failed to pass on the necessity and understanding of belaying techniques, tying knots, and setting anchors for traversal of steep and difficult sections. This isn’t anything new, we’ve just become lazy and too distracted that it appears we have to relearn everything. He’s right in saying this is a divine moment, much like the coronavirus and turbulent political period is a divine moment. It’s shaking people from their complacency, asking them what’s really important, what community really is, how much we really care for our neighbors, and what our aims in life are. It’s testing us, poking and prodding our hearts, seeing if our transformation has been genuine, or if it’s only a façade. Faith isn’t faith unless proven through testing. Just because we throw the distraction of social media, 24-hour streaming services, worship of science, and expansion of postmodernism ideas, into the mix doesn’t entirely alter the course of our ministry. We do have to work around it, but I wonder how the early churches worked around actual persecution; how the churches of Corinth functioned amid the hyper-sexualized, idol-worship of its culture; during the volatile period of the Crusades; when reading the Bible was declared illegal; how Luther worked around the influence and power of the Catholic Church. We, as Christians, have always been ‘canoeing the mountains’. ‘Canoeing the Mountains’ reads like an extended business pep-talk given to middle-managers, circa 2010, about how to inspire employees as they 'boldly' march forth into a new world of digital-marketing, social-media application, and new customer-retention policies. Sure, we’re going to have to think differently about how to approach the culture, adapt and utilize the tools we have in creative ways, but that’s not groundbreaking. The comfort and structure of the last century's generally accepted leisure when it comes to ministry may not be there. The fundamentals of credibility, character, and consistency (what Bolsinger calls Technical Competence, Relational Congruence, and Adaptive Capacity, respectively) remain the same.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Clint Walker

    Some reviews come quickly, others take forever. That is for different reasons. As far as my interactions with "Canoeing the Mountains" goes, I have been digging into this book since I recieved it nearly three years ago. My interest was then deepened by my local denominational leadership becoming heavily invested in this text. Then, I went to a 6-7 workshop where the information in this book was presented by Tod Bolsinger. He preached the next day at the same training event. Let me tell you, I th Some reviews come quickly, others take forever. That is for different reasons. As far as my interactions with "Canoeing the Mountains" goes, I have been digging into this book since I recieved it nearly three years ago. My interest was then deepened by my local denominational leadership becoming heavily invested in this text. Then, I went to a 6-7 workshop where the information in this book was presented by Tod Bolsinger. He preached the next day at the same training event. Let me tell you, I think this is really good stuff! The book is about what is called "adaptive" leadership. It uses the metaphor of the journey of Lewis and Clark to talk about the task of ministry leadership in the 21st century. The thesis is this: We are called to lead into a frontier that we were neither trained for or equipped to lead in, so we are going to have to learn to lead people in and through "uncharted territory". While Bolsinger bases his study in his pastoral and institutional leadership experience, he is also strongly grouned in research. First, of course, he is grounded in research about Lewis and Clark. Furthermore, the book draws heavily on the research and writing of Ronald Heifetz. Heifitz advocates that leaders and organizations face challenges with adaptive solutions instead of "technical" fixes. Quick fixes don't work, but coming to terms with your identity and environment, and then adapting who we are to survive and thrive in a changing world offers promise. In order to lead "off the map", Bolsinger advocates leading "on the map" to build trust and demonstrate competency to those that you are leading. When one demonstrates that they are skilled and competent in doing the expected work of being a pastor, then the pastor can begin the process of leading them forward to a new place. However, if someone has not demonstrated enough competence to the congregation, the congregation will struggle to trust that leader to lead them into a scary and unknkown future. Step by step, Bolsinger offers persepective and guidelines for transformational leadership. He leads readers through a process of adapting, of clarifying vision, and of surviving the sabotage and push back that ultimately comes with any effort of transformational leadership. I cannot say it enough, this book is excellent, and a necessity for most pastor's libraries. I come back to it over and over again. I have two copies of this book. The expanded edition has a very thorough and expanded study guide and is in hardback, while my earlier copy is in paperback. I have kept both copies

  26. 5 out of 5

    James Hallmark

    Bolsinger relies heavily on the metaphor he creates where leading a church in America is analogous to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The canoes that brought Lewis and Clark across the plains and to the mountains were useless in crossing those mountains and reaching their goal. To cross the mountains Lewis and Clark needed different equipment, different collaborators, a different perspective than had served them well in getting them to the mountains. Bolsinger’s argument is that the same is true Bolsinger relies heavily on the metaphor he creates where leading a church in America is analogous to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The canoes that brought Lewis and Clark across the plains and to the mountains were useless in crossing those mountains and reaching their goal. To cross the mountains Lewis and Clark needed different equipment, different collaborators, a different perspective than had served them well in getting them to the mountains. Bolsinger’s argument is that the same is true for leaders of modern Christian churches: the strategies that made you successful in the past are not the same strategies that will allow you to continue to be successful because the terrain has changed. (The same could be said of higher education, I might add.) I’d say he exploits the metaphor well. I liked how he incorporated several different components of the Lewis and Clark story into the metaphor. For example, the slave and the woman on the expedition apparently had a “vote” in a key decision during the expedition whereas neither would have been allowed to vote back in “civilization.” They needed all voices, all minds, to tackle the challenges, not having the luxury of leaving any contribution by the wayside. In any event, it’s a good book. I read it because several of my friends have referenced it repeatedly. Truthfully, this book is clearly written for clergy who are leading churches. (I didn’t know that when I started the book.) I have two criticisms of the book: one is that Bolsinger manages to work into every chapter how he was the pastor of a large suburban church and is a professor at a highly respected seminary. Ok, we get it. You don’t have to mention it in every chapter. Secondly, the organizational structure of the book interferes with the storyline. He says “There are seven components of XYZ.” But those seven might be scattered over 3 chapters, so a chapter may begin with “Chapter 14 Climbing the Mounting” and then under the heading it might say “4 Reaching the Summit.” I made up that example but I found the numbering excessive and distracting. I honestly had no idea what he was referring to most of the time with his numbering and lettering. It’s like someone who says “First….., and next ‘B’…..finally fourth…..” No easily discernable pattern. To this OCD guy, it was annoying. With those two stylistic assessments aside, good and interesting book

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steven Bullmer

    If I were to summarize Bolsinger's book in one sentence, it would be: What got you here won't get you there. All the skills we pastors and church leaders learned how to lead (or more accurately manage, or perhaps more accurately still, chaplain) churches when Christendom was in full swing are now useless and counterproductive. To show what he means, Bolsinger describes what it was like to be on the Lewis and Clark Expedition to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean, which everyone thou If I were to summarize Bolsinger's book in one sentence, it would be: What got you here won't get you there. All the skills we pastors and church leaders learned how to lead (or more accurately manage, or perhaps more accurately still, chaplain) churches when Christendom was in full swing are now useless and counterproductive. To show what he means, Bolsinger describes what it was like to be on the Lewis and Clark Expedition to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean, which everyone thought was just on the other side of the western Continental Divide. Lewis and Clark were excellent navigators of rivers. But when the Expedition reached the Lemhi Pass and could actually see what was on the other side of the Continental Divide, there was no great river like the Missouri which they had navigated to get to this point. There were only mountains--range after range of immense mountains. "When a mental model dies, a painful paradigm shift takes place within us. It is disorienting and anxiety making. It's as if the world as we know it ceases to exist" (p. 88). What's an exploration team to do when they discover what they expected does not match reality? They had three choices. 1) They could go back to President Jefferson, tell him what they discovered, and have him assmble a new team more adept at mountain climbing that river paddling; 2) They could have tried to keep going with the skills they already possessed (and abundantly so). But, as the title of the book suggests, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to "canoe mountains." Or 3) they could apply the principles they knew about leading scientific expeditions and continue the journey; but trade in their canoes for horses. They chose the third route, and we are the beneficiaries of that decision. As Bolsinger defines the current reality facing North American churches, he sees us in an analogous place--standing at the Lemhi Pass, looking at a world that does not resemble in any way, shape, or form, the familiar world we grew up in. Everything has changed in the world around us from the 1950s and 1960s (it's kind of funny, really, watching movies from those decades and seeing the cars people drove, calling people on rotary telephones, and using carbon paper on a typewriter to make a duplicate copy of something). And yet the church is still living in a rotary phone-carbon paper world. Oh, some church have upgraded their technology, but their mindset remains the same. What they offer people remains the same. And they can't understand why families choose travel baseball over traditional worship services, or why they won't come to the church potluck when their life schedules don't permit them to eat together at their own dinner table. As I compare my own experience in trying to lead churches (and what went horribly wrong in the process) with what Bolsinger describes, I think he has a very good grasp on current reality. With that being said, were I still in a position of leadership, I would trust his advice on how to trade in my metaphorical canoes for his metaphorical horses and try leading my church into uncharted territory. And the first piece of advice that I would follow would be to not try leading alone. I would ask my leadership council to read this book with me; discuss its merits as well as its challenges, and see if there were a team of people who would be wiling to band together, like Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery, and find out what's the new thing God wants to birth in our congregation. There's no guarantee of success; but going forward is still better than going back to Washington admitting defeat, or trying to canoe the mountains.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    We are heading into uncharted territory and are given the charge to lead a mission where the future is nothing like the past. Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world. “Your system is perfectly designed to get the results you are getting.” (Edwards Deming) It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the We are heading into uncharted territory and are given the charge to lead a mission where the future is nothing like the past. Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world. “Your system is perfectly designed to get the results you are getting.” (Edwards Deming) It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another. (Margaret Wheatley, “When Change is Out of Control”) I’m not typically one for management books for the church but the title to this one caught my eye. This is applicable to many not-for-profits (especially churches) today as they grapple with a culture that is radically different from 10-20 years ago. Of course, Covid has only accelerated this change and the need for organizations to adapt or become completely irrelevant. Not surprisingly, the text is littered with the typical organizational theory jargon but there is also a lot of solid insight buried beneath. The basic premise is that strong leadership is all about rising to face “adaptive challenges”. This is defined as adapting to a changing world where the “future is nothing like the past”. This requires more than good management as we don’t currently have the tools to address the new challenges that we are facing. We need to completely change our models and systems to adapt to the new environment. All in all, this was worth the effort.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Miles Larson

    This one started better than it ended. There are a bunch of pearls in it though. I think Bolsinger, perhaps outkicked his coverage a little, or bit off a bit more than he needed to chew. Nevertheless, the general premise is beautiful. Stop, "keepin' on keepin' on" people! The Church is struggling, both in local expressions and nationally (hemispherically). We are all taught "how-tos" in whatever we do, and sometimes that's just wrong today. We all talk about how med-school trains students who ar This one started better than it ended. There are a bunch of pearls in it though. I think Bolsinger, perhaps outkicked his coverage a little, or bit off a bit more than he needed to chew. Nevertheless, the general premise is beautiful. Stop, "keepin' on keepin' on" people! The Church is struggling, both in local expressions and nationally (hemispherically). We are all taught "how-tos" in whatever we do, and sometimes that's just wrong today. We all talk about how med-school trains students who are behind the times when the graduate, computer science and tech people too. We too often forget that pastors (especially), leaders (generally) can fall victim to the same relentless onward movement of culture, and even the ramifications of technology. Sure, my seminary training on OT and NT stuff, Greek and Hebrew, probably isn't that different from what people 10, 20, or 30 years before studied; a little new scholarship, a few new manuscripts etc. But training people to lead in a world that changes as quickly as this one does, requires leaders NOT to be married to their "tried and true" ways, but to be "adaptive" in all things. To be flexible, humble, aware, courageous, risk-embracing, self-evaluative, and confident. Bolsinger leans heavily on "A Failure of Nerve," which is always a solid framework on which to lean. Give it a read for sure, but towards the end, just kinda "ghost read it." There's not a chapter I'd say to stop in, but ya know, just kind of stop returning to its calls until it just fades to the bottom of your stack, or gets put back on a shelf somewhere...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Podryadchikov

    In his book "Canoeing the Mountains", an ex-pastor and currently a seminary professor Tod Bolsinger brilliantly identifies a problem of many church leaders - they face problems for which their education did not prepare them. He then uses the famous discovery trip of Lewis and Clark as an example for church leadership. Imagining the contemporary world as uncharted territory, Bolsinger reminds his readers that the world has changed and gives lessons on how to prepare for leading off the map, how t In his book "Canoeing the Mountains", an ex-pastor and currently a seminary professor Tod Bolsinger brilliantly identifies a problem of many church leaders - they face problems for which their education did not prepare them. He then uses the famous discovery trip of Lewis and Clark as an example for church leadership. Imagining the contemporary world as uncharted territory, Bolsinger reminds his readers that the world has changed and gives lessons on how to prepare for leading off the map, how to adapt to anything, how to survive the sabotage, and how to prepare for change. The author writes for church leaders who are afraid that their church will die. Bolsinger's suggestion is, adapt or die. Nevertheless, one does not find many references to the Bible as the author speaks from the field of biology, or, more precisely, from the field of psychology. From that standpoint, there are multiple educational stories from his experience. On the other hand, when it comes to the few thoughts from the Bible, they are mainly references without much exploration and application. For example, the call to transformation is not followed by an explanation of how the author envisions or what it means for the reader. Overall, one reads the book a history textbook with similar stories from the author's life followed by life lessons.

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