As part of preparation for serving on the Next Level Innovations Steering team we were asked to read Canoeing the Mountains (Tod Bolsinger).  You’ve heard the line from the movie, “You had me at ‘hello’”?  This book had me at the third page.  While the purpose was aimed towards encouraging leaders in the Church, there were nuggets, golden nuggets at that, which speak volumes to all of us.

Bolsinger caught me with his historical analogy to the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1804. President Thomas Jefferson tasked the two explorers to explore some land the United States had just purchased and in the process locate and map the water passage that surely must exist across the American continent, connecting the Atlantic & Pacific Oceans.  Bolsinger states “Lewis and Clark’s expedition to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory was built on completely false expectation. They believed like everyone before them, the unexplored west was exactly the same geography as the familiar east.” (p. 13)  What Lewis & Clark did when they discovered that they (and everyone else directing them) had been wrong is an instructive and inspiring story to those who are in a world that is changing faster than we can say “jack rabbit”.   

You see, Lewis & Clark were prepared for a water exploration.  For fifteen months they followed the huge Missouri upriver, enduring a strange land, strange animals, the elements, and a month-long portage of their boats around a waterfall.  But all the backbreaking labor would be worth it, for once they reached the source of the Missouri, the most challenging obstacle would be behind them—they’d only have to crest a gentle slope, their keelboats on their backs, and then gaze out over the source of the Columbia River which would take them to the Pacific.  At least that’s what all the intelligent minds of the day said.  But what they actually saw set them back on their heels.  For miles and miles, the only thing the eye could see was peak after peak after peak of the Rocky Mountains. 

The huge takeaway phrase for me was “The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.”  Let me repeat that.  The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.

How that phrase strikes a chord with me.  Who can’t relate to it in some way? 

So what did Lewis & Clark do? If you paid attention in history class you may remember that they plugged on.  But we do a disservice if we don’t examine this “plugging along” a little deeper.  We can appreciate the similarities and learn from their example in that:

  • They realized that the mission (what they were charged to do) was bigger than they were and even bigger than the commonly held beliefs of the day.
  • They acquired a new sense of adventure for what lay before them.
  • They adapted and learned new skills (aka, canoeing the mountains).


I’ll share the pithiest of the pithy with you in hopes that you might find something to chew on for a while, maybe even leading you to read the book. (And the pithiest of the pithiest I’ve italicized) At the very least, consider how we as God’s people, can apply what Bolsinger has shared from history and his personal experience as we are leaders for Jesus Christ in uncharted territory.  The numbers in parentheses refer to the book’s page number from which the passage is taken.

  • Bolsinger is laying out 3 purposes: (14)
    • To reframe this moment as an opportunity, all the while embracing the anxiety, fear & potential loss that comes from answering this call
    • To recover the calling for the church to be truly missional (italics added—how Wesleyan is this????)
    • To discover the capacity for leadership in all of us
  • Missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself & organizes its life around its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. (30)
  • Adaptave challenges are never solved through a quick fix. Before we can solve any problems we need to learn to see new possibilities. (33)
  • What does leadership look like in a post-Christendom day when we have left behind rivers filled with the waters of shared Christian culture and are facing a new terrain marked by mountains to climb? A lot like the earliest church leadership.(38) (italics added)
    • Spiritual transformation not just about becoming more like Christ as an end in itself. (italics added) Christian community is about gathering and forming a people, about individual & corporate growth, so that together they participate in Christ’s mission. (39)
  • When our old maps fail us, something within us dies. Replacing our paradigms is both deeply painful and absolutely critical. (93)
  • Core of adaptive work is clarifying what is precious, elemental, essential to the identity to an organization. This is who we are.  If we stop being about this, we stop being. (94) (italics added)
    • For church leaders facing this missional moment, the reframing of church strategy from a sanctuary-centered, membership–based, religious and life-service provider to a local mission outpost for furthering the kingdom of God enables our congregations to discover a faithful expression of our corporate identity in a changing world. (96) (It’s scary and exhilarating all at once—to think that we can serve as the early disciples (and as the first Methodists) did.  These are our roots, after all—to go out and be missional. Laura’s thoughts.)
    • As Lewis & Clark entered uncharted territory they had to start learning all over again, adjusting expectations, reconsidering strategies, forming new alliances & partnerships. (97)
    • Expecting whatever has been in the past to be the same in the future leads us to ignore real information coming to us from our environment. (109)

I’m one of the long timers in this congregation, I became part of it when I was eleven years old. I’ve seen a lot come and go over the years, but one thing I’ve heard said time and time again is that we as a congregation feel called to remain here at this location as we feel God has a purpose for us here.  My question is if we really believe this or if we just give it lip service because it sounds so noble.  So many times as I was reading Canoeing I felt as if Bolsinger had pulled back the roof, peered in, and then shared his experiences and thoughts with us, especially when he wrote, “The mission, when enacted and owned, becomes a conviction that holds and changes us.  It is a simple, clear, humble statement of the reason we as a congregation believe we are occupying the bit of real estate God has given us at this moment of history.”(129)