Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (Expanded Edition) by Tod Bolsinger

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (Expanded Edition) by Tod Bolsinger. IVP Books. 276 pages. 2018

This book by Tod Bolsinger (Principal of Sloan Leadership, Senior Congregational Strategist and Associate Professor of Leadership Formation at Fuller Theological Seminary and former pastor), is a guidebook for learning to lead in a world we weren’t prepared for. The author tells us that in this changing world, we need to add a new set of leadership tools.
Our guides in the book will be the first American adventurers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery were about to go off the map and into uncharted territory. They would have to change plans, give up expectations, even reframe their entire mission.
The book is structured around five vital lessons that every leader of a Christian congregation or organization must learn to lead in uncharted territory.  Throughout the book, are a series of additional pieces to help you learn how to lead in uncharted territory. These “Reorientation” lessons are one or two sentence bullet points that help reinforce a concept.
The author tells us that leaders are heading into uncharted territory and are given the charge to lead a mission where the future is nothing like the past. In every field, in every business, every organization, leaders are rapidly coming to the awareness that the world in front of us is radically different from everything behind us. We now must use every bit of what we know and become true learners who are ready to adapt to whatever comes before us. Ultimately, this book is about the kind of leadership necessary for the local church to take the Christian mission into the uncharted territory of a post-Christendom world. It is about the kind of leadership needed when the world has so dramatically changed that we really don’t know what to do next. The strategy for leading into uncharted territory is:

  • Start with conviction
  • Stay calm
  • Stay connected
  • Stay the course

The author tells us that we need to press on to the uncharted territory of making traditional churches missionary churches. At the heart of this book is the conviction that congregational leadership in a post-Christendom context is about communal transformation for mission.
I read the book slowly as there was much to take in and consider. It would be an excellent book to read and discuss with others. A helpful Study Guide is included, which includes six lessons to help you learn the main lessons of the book and begin to develop the capacities to lead your community, church, organization, or company “off the map” and into uncharted territory.
Among the many topics the book covers are adaptive leadership, transformational leadership (technical competence, relational congruence, adaptive capacity), reframing, trust, a healthy organizational culture, mission, courage, and personal transformation.
The well-researched book is heavily footnoted. In particular, the author frequently quotes from authors Ronald Heifetz (The Practice of Adaptive Leadership and others) and Edwin Friedman (A Failure of Nerve).
Here are several helpful quotes from the book:

  • Only when a leader is deeply trusted can he or she take people further than they imagined into the mission of God.
  • Adaptive challenges are the true tests of leadership.
  • Leadership is always about personal and corporate transformation.
  • Any person who is willing to take personal responsibility, convene a group to work on a tough problem and persist in the face of resistance is a leader.
  • 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.
  • Transformational leadership is a skill set that can be learned but not easily mastered. It is not a role or position, but a way of being, a way of leading that is far different than most of us have learned before.
  • Leadership into uncharted territory requires and results in transformation of the whole organization, starting with the leaders.
  • Trust is vital for change leadership.
  • The most critical attribute a congregation must have to thrive in uncharted territory is a healthy organizational culture.
  • Before leaders begin any transformational work, cultivating a healthy environment for aligned shared values to guide all decision making must be a priority.
  • In adaptive leadership, reframing is another way of talking about the shift in values, expectations, attitudes or habits of behavior necessary to face our most difficult challenges.
  • That is what adaptive leadership is all about: the way that living human systems learn and adapt to a changing environment so they can fulfill their purpose for being.
  • Leadership is taking people where they need to go and yet resist going.
  • The mission trumps. Always. Every time.
  • The mission trumps, and real transformation in a congregation is only going to occur when the mission (and the decisions it inspires) begins as a clear personal conviction of the leader.
  • The leadership we have today is indeed “perfectly designed for the results we are getting.”
  • For leaders this is the point to remember about anxiety: People who are overly or chronically anxious don’t make good decisions.
  • Leadership off the map is inherently risky and frequently lonely.
  • Reframing, or “an ability to think about things in more than one way” is perhaps the most critical skill for adaptive leadership.