Book Review: Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory By Tod Bolsinger

Tod Bolsinger’s book deals with leadership challenges in today’s church. The subtitle, “Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory” gives Bolsinger’s premise.  Many pastors trained in a “Christendom” reality, where the church enjoyed a privileged position.  We are now only one of many “faith-based groups,” with no special advantages in the rapidly changing culture that surrounds us.  Bolsinger warns that our training and education may prove to be of little or no help in our changed circumstances. 

 

According to the author, our challenges are similar to what Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery encountered in their famous expedition in the early 19th century. Lewis and Clark were charged with mapping and discovering the vast new territory acquired in the Louisiana purchase. 

 

A basic premise of European exploration for centuries was that there would be a water route from east to west. One of the prime objectives of explorers was to locate that water route. Once that water route was found the new territory would more easily open to settlement and commerce. 

 

When they got to the headwaters of the Missouri river, Lewis and Clark hoped that after a relatively short portage overland they would arrive at the headwaters of the Columbia River. From there they could canoe on out to the Pacific Ocean. What they found were the Rocky Mountains. They had never seen mountains like these before. 

 

They were experienced river rafters, but now were in unfamiliar territory. Canoes could not get them over the Rockies. They were now off the map. They had to adjust and adapt.

 

The only one at home in these surroundings was a young Shoshone Indian girl named Sacagawea, who was married to a French guide on the expedition. While Lewis and Clark, were now “off the map,” she was right at home. Sacagawea translated and negotiated with nearby Shoshone people for the purchase of the horses they would need to cross the Rockies. 

 

There was no water route across the North American continent. The assumption that there was such a route, held for centuries, was just simply wrong. William Clark wrote, “The Indian woman….has been of great service to me as a pilot through this Country.” 

 

The church and its leaders have to adjust and adapt to our new realities. New programs, and pastors working harder likely will be of little to no help. Change that is personally painful, and will likely feel like losing will be needed, so says Tod Bolsinger. 

 

For me one of the most thought-provoking ideas in Bolsinger’s book is a quote from Dave Gibbons, “The future is already here; it is just on the margins.”

 

I looked over at the children in this year’s graduating class at St John’s El Segundo pre-school as they were telling us what they wanted to be when they grew up. According to the children, they would be tomorrows cowboys (I didn’t know anybody still wanted to be a cowboy), police officers, doctors,  nurses, dancers, so it went; these children are now on the margins of things,  but the future lay right there in the dreams of the children and the in the hopes of their parents.

 

Tod Bolsinger seems to want us to get out of our comfort zone. It might be good for us to take a real good look and see what we see, out there on the margins. Canoeing the Mountains is a thought-provoking, well-researched book, and a great read on leadership for pastors and church leaders. 

 

Review by Pastor Chuck Brady, St. John Lutheran Church, El Segundo, CA

 

 

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