Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, By Tod Bolsinger
Canoeing the Mountains
  • Length: 272 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: April 24, 2018
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 4147
  • ISBN: 9780830841479

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Learning to Lead Through Uncharted Territory

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. In Canoeing the Mountains, he offers:

  • illuminating insights gleaned from decades of experience,
  • practical tools to help you reimagine what effective leadership looks like in our rapidly changing world, and
  • an expanded study guide to set you on the right course.

If you're going to scale the mountains of ministry, you need to leave behind canoes and find new navigational tools to give you the confidence and courage to lead in places you never expected to find yourself.

"A superb book on the need for adaptive leadership in the twenty-first-century church. With imagination and insight formed through his experience as a pastor, church consultant and seminary leader, Tod Bolsinger challenges leaders in the Christian community to recognize the unsettling reality of being 'off the map.' We have 'trained for a world that is disappearing.' Bolsinger offers fresh, practical advice that integrates the best of leadership theory with the realities of church leadership, illustrated with vivid metaphors and real-world examples, resulting in a seminal book on how to navigate this new world. A must-read for everyone interested in church leadership."

Uli Chi, former board chair, Regent College Board of Governors

"Contemporary pastors and church leaders face a daunting challenge. The world and the church have changed dramatically. Congregational expectations have never been higher or more complex. How can we lead our churches with wisdom and kingdom impact in the ever-changing world of today and tomorrow? Tod Bolsinger answers this pressing question in his timely book Canoeing the Mountains. Combining solid biblical theology, contemporary leadership theory and years of experience as a pastor and church consultant, Bolsinger offers a new vision of pastoral leadership as well as dozens of practical examples that bring this vision to life. All pastors and church leaders need to read this book, for their own sake, for the good of their churches and for the advance of God's kingdom in the world."

Mark D. Roberts, executive director, Max De Pree Center for Leadership

"Since the missional church discussion began to develop real momentum, the constant question has been how does this theological vision of the church after Christendom translate into the practice of real congregations struggling with enormous challenges? A great deal of excellent work has been done, and there are excellent resources for the community and leadership seriously committed to missional change. But Bolsinger's book is a major step forward. It is based on solid missional theology, rooted in concrete congregational experience, shaped by provocative research of many diverse voices and communicated energetically and creatively. Most importantly, it is shaped by theologically informed hope, not just optimism, and takes the risks that must be taken for the sake of faithful witness today. I strongly commend this book!"

Darrell L. Guder, Henry Winters Luce Emeritus Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"As a committed practical theologian, Bolsinger blends the best insights from Scripture and leadership theory with an empathetic understanding of the most pressing questions of today's leaders. If you're like me, you're not only going to want to read this book, you're going to want to read it multiple times."

Kara Powell, faculty member at Fuller Seminary, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute

"Combining the mind of a scholar, the heart of a pastor and the experience of a consultant, Tod Bolsinger is the rare leader who can also teach. Using the example of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery, he also authentically shares from his own experience, both positive and negative, to make the most important concepts in organizational leadership accessible to pastors, nonprofit executives and Christians in the marketplace who are charged with giving leadership in a changing world. Canoeing the Mountains should be required reading in seminary classrooms and leadership seminars. I know it will be for the pastors and leaders we coach."

Kevin Graham Ford, principal of TAG Consulting, author of The Secret Sauce

"Canoeing the Mountains is a must-read for pastors and church leaders who want to understand the precarious religious landscape in America today. Seasoned pastor Tod Bolsinger draws on his experience as a church consultant and student of contemporary leadership theory in order to tackle the most pressing ministry leadership issues of our day. Employing Lewis and Clark's experience of exploring the Louisiana Purchase as a driving metaphor for the leadership that is needed in the church, Bolsinger issues a bold challenge to contemporary pastors to learn how to lead all over again. With refreshing honesty and vulnerability about his own ministry, Tod does not allow the reader to wallow in discouragement over the fact that the world in front of us is different than the world behind us. Instead, he insists that this time in history offers pastors and church leaders an unparalleled opportunity to discover a deeper capacity for leadership within ourselves than ever before. He issues a clarion call 'not to try harder, but to start a new adventure' by abandoning our 'canoes' to become risk-taking mountain climbers. I am going to recommend this book not only to the hundreds of pastors in the Macedonian Ministry program, but also to church leaders across the country. Canoeing the Mountains gave me hope for the future of the church of Jesus Christ. I pray that it will do the same for you!"

Thomas K. Tewell, executive director, Macedonian Ministry

"Do not canoe another stroke or portage another step without Canoeing the Mountains in hand. In today's post-Christian world, we are navigating uncharted waters where our churches demand innovation at every turn. How do we lead for transformation when the world is transforming even faster? For anyone committed to and dazed by the changing realities of today's church, Tod Bolsinger offers a needed vision."

Meritt Lohr Sawyer, executive director, Paul Carlson Partnership, Evangelical Covenant Church

"I see many pastors and leaders of churches who are exhausted by the daunting task of leading churches in a culture that is changing faster than it ever has before. There are many books that tell us we need to change, and there are also many books that give a vision of what a new kind of church could look like. There are very few that address the difficult task of helping leaders navigate the complexities of leading that is necessary for a changing world. Tod Bolsinger's Canoeing the Mountains provides the right mixture of theological insight, leadership theory and relevant stories that will give the necessary principles to help leaders face unfamiliar terrain."

Dana S. Allin, synod executive, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians

"There are lots of books these days on leadership, but this one shines because of the author's ability to pull together the many threads of leadership literature. In a most winsome and engaging way, Tod Bolsinger weaves together the best of current leadership research—adaptive change, systems theory, organizational transformation—with the real-life challenges of a pastor/practitioner who has spent years trying to put all this together in a congregation while still preaching Sunday by Sunday and doing funerals on Monday. Tod has lived this book out in denominational circles and as a coach to other pastors trying to bring change within a congregation. Like a master storyteller, Tod also weaves in the story of Lewis and Clark as a historical parable of the change and challenge in which we find ourselves today in the church. This is a book that you simply must read!"

Jim Singleton, associate professor of pastoral leadership and evangelism, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"Given our ever-changing, complex and demanding world, all leaders will benefit from Canoeing the Mountains. From his personal experience as an accomplished pastor, executive coach and organizational leader, Tod Bolsinger provides powerful frameworks and tools that will inspire and empower twenty-first century pastors and church leaders to maximize their impact on their congregations and in the world."

Andy Chan, vice president, innovation and career development, Wake Forest University

"When I first heard Tod share his insights about questions that keep leaders up at night, I was hooked. Lewis and Clark prepared for river canoeing and then suddenly faced a literal and insurmountable mountain range that threatened their mission. We read headlines every month about some established company confronted with extinction. They were unprepared to adapt and climb. The lessons in Tod's book may be based in history but are so timely and relevant for today. Facing unpredictable and confounding unknowns defines this era of leadership. Tod's book is one I am recommending to my clients. It's a map for navigating the future that I have made part of my practice."

Rex Miller, author, futurist, principal for mindSHIFT

"When Fuller Seminary decided to launch out in our own uncharted terrain, we called on Tod Bolsinger to join our leadership team. When you read Canoeing the Mountains, you'll immediately understand why. Bolsinger brings a scholar's mind, a pastor's heart and a wealth of leadership and consulting experience to the task. His ability to translate the most important organizational leadership material into the day-to-day challenges of the Christian leader is without peer. His vulnerability and authenticity resonates as he shares his own leadership learning journey. This is the leadership book the church needs today."

Mark Labberton, president, Fuller Theological Seminary

"How does the pastor trained in the twentieth century connect the Word of God to the society of the twenty-first century in the face of the dramatic societal changes of the last few decades? Tod Bolsinger brilliantly creates tools for the pastor who works in these uncharted areas. Drawing on the historic Lewis and Clark, he shows the way to navigate a world that is not on any map. Along the way this wisdom spills over into meaning and insight for any leader in business, education or politics. This is an important new resource. Every pastor and leader should read it carefully."

Albert Erisman, executive in residence, Seattle Pacific University, retired executive, Boeing, author of The Accidental Executive

"Ministry in post-Christendom is indeed uncharted territory. For so many pastors and leaders, this is a time of uncertainty, the unknown and displacement in finding a way forward. In Canoeing the Mountains, Tod Bolsinger cleverly solicits imagery and vocabulary that today's pastors and leaders can cling to as they begin to truly climb the mountain of adaptive change necessary to transform churches to better health. While there are many books about adaptive change, the process takes years to grasp and understand. Tod's retelling of the story of Lewis and Clark provides concrete stepping stones to a fluid journey and repackages these concepts in a way that is digestible, inspiring and thought provoking. I will use this book with my own congregation as we continue to canoe the mountains of adaptive change."

Theresa Cho, copastor of St. John's Presbyterian Church, San Francisco

"Tod Bolsinger, a colleague of mine at Fuller Seminary . . . uses the metaphor of 'canoeing the mountains' based on the experience of Lewis and Clark, who successfully completed the mission of the Corps of Discovery because of their ability to lead creatively in light of unexpected circumstances. . . . Whether you're a pastor, a small business owner, a branch manager, or a CEO of a major company, you are probably facing challenges not unlike those confronting . . . Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. If so, I encourage you to get a copy of Canoeing the Mountains. You and those you lead will be glad you did."

Mark D. Roberts, Patheos, January 18, 2016

"Unlike leadership books from the business world, Canoeing the Mountains is written by a churchman for church people. He understands the unique pressures and complexity of relationships that exist in a local church. Instead of giving a 'one-size-fits-all' solution, Bolsinger provides guiding principles for doing church in this new era. . . . The book left me hopeful and eager for the adventure ahead."

Matt Merrill, The Presbyterian Outlook, July 4, 2016

"This is my leadership resource of the year for clergy. Pastors have heard the terminology about leadership in the postmodern world: 'trust,' 'DNA,' 'alignment,' 'passion,' 'team,' 'credibility,' 'adaptability,' etc. But Tod Bolsinger brings clarity and practicality as never before. He goes beyond skillsets to explain the interconnection of technical competence, adaptive capacity and relational congruence. The chapters on relationships and resistance and personal stress and change are especially helpful. There are nuggets of insight throughout that are like trace samples leading to the mother lode of leadership transformation. You may have heard it before, but in this book you will finally get it!"

Tom Bandy, 14th Annual Outreach Resources of the Year, March/April 2017

Read an Excerpt


Part 1: Understanding Uncharted Territory
1. Seminary Didn't Prepare Me for This
2. Adventure or Die
3. A Leadership Model for Uncharted Territory

Part 2: On-the-Map Skill Set
4. Competence and Credibility
5. Preparing for the Unknown
6. Eating Strategy for Breakfast

Part 3: Leading Off the Map
7. Navigating the "Geography of Reality"
8. My Italian Grandfather Was Killing Me
9. Don't Just Do Something, Stand There . . . Then Do Something
10. The Mission Trumps!
11. Take a Good Look into the Coffin

Part 4: Relationships and Resistance
12. Gus and Hal Go to Church
13. Et Tu, Church?

Part 5: Transformation
14. How a Nursing Mother Saved America
15. The End of Our Exploring

Epilogue: Taking the Hill with Grandma
Study Guide


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Tod Bolsinger

Tod Bolsinger is the founder and principal at AE Sloan Leadership Inc., the executive director of the DePree Center Church Leadership Institute, and associate professor of leadership formation at Fuller Seminary. He is the author of Canoeing the Mountains and Tempered Resilience. Tod and his wife, Beth, split their time between Pasadena, California, and Ketchum, Idaho.

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