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REVIEW | Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger


Most human beings, when confronted with a challenge, rely on past experiences and knowledge to figure out what to do next. In the Church we are facing a challenge of a world that is changing, rapidly, around us. Our mandate to share the Good News of Jesus Christ has not changed, but many are finding that the ways we have gone about serving that mandate in the last century are no longer producing the results we expect. We are up the creek without a paddle.  

In Tod Bolsinger’s book, he uses the story of “Lewis and Clark” to draw parallels to the current experience of church leaders. The narrative of the expedition of white settlers discovering what lay beyond the Mississippi river, we are invited to see how their structure, decision making strategies and team work resulted in a successful exploration of parts unknown to the newest settlers. I appreciated how the narrative of the Lewis and Clark expedition provided a framework for considering the ways the church and its leaders might apply some of the process to how we confront the challenges we are facing in our congregations and denominational bodies. It made a connection to something familiar that allows the reader to go deeper in conversation about the church.  

Tod Bolsinger is an experienced pastor and church leader. He uses his own experiences of learning how to develop and use new skills. He is honest that the pivoting necessary was not always easy to do. Much of the book explores the work of adapting what we do to the current situation and context we find ourselves in.  

These are my top three take aways from the book.  

TRUST – The communities we serve will only be able to follow into the uncharted territory of the future if they trust in their leaders. Bolsinger outlines how we can work to build trust with the communities we serve so that we can invite them into the unknown with us. The truth is the leaders don’t know much more about the unknown territory than others but are prepared to explore the possibilities.  

ADAPTION – Flexibility, the willingness to try something new or different, is key to the exploration of what comes next. The willingness to ask critical questions about why and how we do things in order to assess whether or not we are achieving the intended goals is key to knowing what and how to adapt in the future.  

“THE MISSION TRUMPS” – Throughout the book Bolsinger reminds the reader that the Mission of God is the ultimate goal. Everything we do or choose not to do is in service of the call to serve God’s people in the world. Congregations with clarity of mission in their context will be able to evaluate new adaptation ideas, long held practices and leadership needs in light of the mission to keep moving forward.  

***It is important to note that these three take aways are things that any congregation can cultivate, practice and develop! 

I think this book is a great resource for pastors and congregational leaders to read as a group or individually. I believe it would produce a good conversation and basis for discussion in individual congregations.  

It seems we can all see that things are not working the way they used to. This book does not lay out an answer about what we should do but a way to discern God’s vision for us together. The process of exploration, discovery, and adaptation is possible for all of us. This book could be part of the conversation that helps you discover what is next for your congregation.  

About the reviewer

Photo of Rebecca, her husband, and her two young boys.

As Director of Congregational Development, Rebecca works with congregations and provincial leadership to provide resources and support their ongoing work towards greater health and vitality. She works to cultivate collaborative relationships between and among pastors, congregations, provincial and interprovincial agencies and other partners. Working with communities of faith, her passion for capacity building and innovation have shaped her 15 year career in ordained ministry. She has led communities in reimagining their structures, practices, and traditions as they embrace Jesus’ call, supporting them through organizational change, worship creation, and adult learning curriculum. Rebecca’s evenings and weekends are often spent investing in good conversation over a mocha, making new connections in the community, or delighting in the laughter of her children and spouse. Email Rebecca.