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Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,169 ratings  ·  178 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 250 pages
Published November 14th 2015 by IVP Books
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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 ·  1,169 ratings  ·  178 reviews

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Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Summary: Using the story of Lewis and Clark, Bolsinger explores the kind of leadership needed in the uncharted territory of our rapidly changing cultural landscape.

"Seminary didn't train me for this." "Our church is dying and I have no clue what to do." Over and over, Tod Bolsinger encountered these statements in his consulting work. Pastors are trained in teaching, liturgics, and pastoral care, and often, those tools just don't seem enough in our changing world. Bolsinger likens this to the mom
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Overview of current MBA thinking on "change management" applied to churches. You'll think it's great if you think churches should be run by MBAs as businesses.
Joel Wentz
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
No one is more surprised than me that a book about "Christian leadership tactics" is getting a five-star review here. Seriously, it's saying something that I loved the book that much, because I typically avoid anything that smacks of "Church, Inc." like the plague. But Tod Bolsinger has broken that mold for me.

First, he writes with a pastor's heart. At no point did I feel like the "institution" trumped the people we are called to minister to. At the same time, though, he has a clear-eyed view on
Sep 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to JK Jones for this recommendation. Took me a while to get to it. Wish I had read it earlier. Briefly interacting with the Lewis and Clark story, Bolsinger writes about leadership that actually transforms the organization (read: church, school, non-profit, etc). His principles are powerfully laid out. His insights are helpful and cause a number of light-bulb moments.

Two illustrations: 1) We regularly use three words to talk about the people with whom we want to serve--character, chemistr
Peter Yock
Sep 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Very stimulating read. Pretty light on the gospel - being more biblically grounded and gospel centred would've made the whole thing much stronger for me. In particular I thought he could've made use of Paul's example in 1 Corinthians 9 - 'I have become all things to all people that by all possible means I might save some ... I do all this for the gospel ...' - which would've been far more compelling ground to urge us to change for the cause of reaching out to the lost around us.

But that aside, i
Byron Fike
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The cultural shifts of the 21st century have caught the church completely flat footed. We know church doesn't work like it used to and many of us are alarmed at the declining numbers we are experiencing and the declining influence churches are having on the culture. Bolsinger has done us all a great service by giving us a book to open a much needed dialogue amongst church leaders. This is not a book of easy answers but thought provoking questions. The easiest summary of the book is that we eithe ...more
John Dobbs
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bolsinger has a message for the church, but not everyone will welcome it. Canoeing The Mountains is a book about culture. It is also a book about leadership. Specifically, given the author's background as a Presbyterian minister, it is a book about church leadership in a changing culture. There are five parts to the book. Each part examines an aspect of change. Bolsinger makes his case well in regards to the changing nature of church leadership in a culture that has restlessly moved on without r ...more
Will Waller
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religious, self-help
I found this book quite helpful in breaking down the challenges of leading outside the box or according to this metaphor, as you canoe the mountains. Worth reading.

The following are questions from the book and from my own mind that are guiding a book study I'm leading on the final section. They may be helpful to you.

What have you learned that encourages, motivates, or inspires you to learn a new way of leading?
What still doesn’t make sense or could use greater clarification? What concepts do
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This may have been the most helpful leadership book I’ve read, particularly for a ministry context, since Andi Stanley’s “Visioneering”.

• you were trained for a world that is disappearing

• those who had neither the power nor privilege in the Christendom world are the trustworthy guides and necessary leaders when we go off the map

• those without power or privilege are not going into uncharted territory. They are at home.

• in a moment of crisis, you will not rise to the occasion. You will defaul
Tim Knight
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish I could add a few stars to the review. This book was/is exactly what I need. I devoured it in two days. It doesn’t sugar coat the reality of in the trenches Ministry in the 21st century; yet at the same time, if point to a way forward. I’m so thankful to have read it (thanks Mark for pushing it on me!). Now I’m got to go over it again and begin to mine its rich wisdom for today.
Scott Burns
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is now on my must-read list. Bolsinger extracts the best from a number of celebrated leadership books and situates all the principles inside the story of Lewis and Clark. I found it stimulating and challenging to my thinking and leadership. I look forward to revisiting this book again and again.
Sep 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is very good and speaks to the moment we are in now. The urgency is here to imagine and then reimagine community, ministry and shared lives of faith.

This was published in 2016 but it was made for this time.
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful in-depth look at adaptive leadership in the church context. Approachable and easy to read yet full of leadership insights.
Sarah Kate Brewer
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I feel like this was a book of Russell Davis’s secrets
Darin Mirante
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If I were to make a top 10 list of necessary field manuals, specific to leadership in ministry, this would be on it. A timely read, to say the least.
Tyler Sollie
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely loved this book.
Ron Blake
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for those seeking to minister in the 21st century. I can’t recommend highly enough
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gang-of-8-books
Use of personal examples help to bring understanding and practical application to the theoretical concepts or principles--whichever fits best. The sequencing was logical as it built a foundation of understanding and then circled back around to explain, describe, apply. I liked his adherence to the technical and relational competencies required for adaptive change, bit then he added more chapters about allies, opponents, dissenters, and the saboteurs who exist in EVERY context!! Solution: Keep fo ...more
Aug 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I slipped Bolsinger's Canoeing the Mountains into my bag on my way to my denominations biannual ministers' conference. I thought I might have some downtime between sessions.

The conference was led by Susan Beaumont of She spoke on leadership and adaptive change, drawing heavily from the work of Ronald Heifetz and Edwin Friedman. In a time of congregational anomie, this was useful stuff.

In a break, I wandered to an out of the way corner of the conference center. I pul
Great read for stopping and really thinking through what it means to be church in a modern setting - how to not only be flexible as a pastor, but how to help a congregation as a whole become flexible with change while remaining faithful to the center of what it means to be Christian community.

Definitely has ideas worth rereading and considering.
Kayla McQueen
Jun 11, 2019 rated it liked it
This book wasn't life changing for me but it did offer some helpful insight to the importance if inner transformation and the impact that can have on your leadership teams, especially working in ministry.
Bonnie Wilcox
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An important read for those who know they are called to lead the Church into a new future, where "river rats must become mountain climbers." Good content for leading through adaptive change.
Tim Hall
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book that encourages and challenges you to be the best leader in your organization. Church leaders, this is a must read.
Oct 19, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: kindle, 2020, seminary
I’m not entirely onboard with Bolsinger’s assertions that this era of ‘post-Christendom’ is uncharted territory.

I want to examine one quote that really rubbed me the wrong way.

“In this new post-Christendom era, the church leader will be less a grand orator or star figure who gathers individuals for inspiration and exhortation, and more a convener and equipper of people who together will be transformed as they participate in God’s transforming work in the world.”

There is one New Testament figure
Clint Walker
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Some reviews come quickly, others take forever. That is for different reasons. As far as my interactions with "Canoeing the Mountains" goes, I have been digging into this book since I recieved it nearly three years ago. My interest was then deepened by my local denominational leadership becoming heavily invested in this text. Then, I went to a 6-7 workshop where the information in this book was presented by Tod Bolsinger. He preached the next day at the same training event. Let me tell you, I th ...more
James Hallmark
Nov 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Bolsinger relies heavily on the metaphor he creates where leading a church in America is analogous to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The canoes that brought Lewis and Clark across the plains and to the mountains were useless in crossing those mountains and reaching their goal. To cross the mountains Lewis and Clark needed different equipment, different collaborators, a different perspective than had served them well in getting them to the mountains. Bolsinger’s argument is that the same is true ...more
Steven Bullmer
Dec 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
If I were to summarize Bolsinger's book in one sentence, it would be: What got you here won't get you there. All the skills we pastors and church leaders learned how to lead (or more accurately manage, or perhaps more accurately still, chaplain) churches when Christendom was in full swing are now useless and counterproductive. To show what he means, Bolsinger describes what it was like to be on the Lewis and Clark Expedition to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean, which everyone thou ...more
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
We are heading into uncharted territory and are given the charge to lead a mission where the future is nothing like the past.

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.

“Your system is perfectly designed to get the results you are getting.” (Edwards Deming)

It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the
Miles Larson
Sep 18, 2020 rated it liked it
This one started better than it ended. There are a bunch of pearls in it though. I think Bolsinger, perhaps outkicked his coverage a little, or bit off a bit more than he needed to chew. Nevertheless, the general premise is beautiful. Stop, "keepin' on keepin' on" people! The Church is struggling, both in local expressions and nationally (hemispherically). We are all taught "how-tos" in whatever we do, and sometimes that's just wrong today. We all talk about how med-school trains students who ar ...more
Dennis Podryadchikov
Aug 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: leadership
In his book "Canoeing the Mountains", an ex-pastor and currently a seminary professor Tod Bolsinger brilliantly identifies a problem of many church leaders - they face problems for which their education did not prepare them. He then uses the famous discovery trip of Lewis and Clark as an example for church leadership. Imagining the contemporary world as uncharted territory, Bolsinger reminds his readers that the world has changed and gives lessons on how to prepare for leading off the map, how t ...more
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Tod Bolsinger (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is the vice president for vocation and formation and assistant professor of practical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian: How the Community of God Transforms Lives and Show Time: Living Down Hypocrisy by Living Out the Faith. A frequent speaker, consultant, and blogger, he serves as an ...more

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