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Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  4,859 ratings  ·  274 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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 ·  4,859 ratings  ·  274 reviews

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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.
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
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
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
Cory Shumate
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for church leaders today

A research-driven, theological , pastoral, and practical guide for Christian leaders in navigating the uncharted territory of post-Christendom leadership in the West. I’ll be coming back to this again and again.
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
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
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
Aug 18, 2022 rated it liked it
I’m sure it’s fine! Not quite the read I was anticipating at this point; one I may pick up later on/at a different time.
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
Jun 20, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
So far this is a book for pastors over the age of 50. If you’re a young pastor (up to age 45 or so) don’t read at least the first three chapters. It’s stuff you already know and makes you feel like you’re in “that” group of older pastors that constantly talks about how hard pastoring is nowadays. It’s also overly wordy, which shouldn’t surprise as it’s written by a professor and teacher. Lots of unnecessary “look what I know” kind of stuff that is otherwise unrelated to what you really want to k ...more
Tyler Collins
Jun 18, 2021 rated it liked it
I read to page 139 in this book for my Christian Leadership class with Dr. Don Dunn at MidAmerica Nazarene University. I found it to be full of extremely helpful advice in leading the church in challenging circumstances.

Bolsinger constantly reminds you that you must have a core mission that informs and guides all you do. It must be the one thing that trumps all others in decision-making. He talks about how adaptive leadership necessitates you being able to give things up that are non-essential
May 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The beauty of Tod Bolsinger's book "Canoeing the Mountains"is that he takes a famous but little referenced historical event and uses it to teach about how to lead in changing times. The ongoing image is of Lewis and Clark who rowed up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to find a water passage to the Pacific Ocean. The story is well know and he makes several references to Stephen Ambrose's book about the journey. But what he wants us to see is that halfway through their journey Lewis and Clark e ...more
Grant Klinefelter
Mar 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a great leadership book for Christian leaders navigating increasingly post-Christendom circles. How do we lead when the methods we learned don't work anymore? By weaving the intriguing story of Lewis & Clark's expedition to traverse across America to the Pacific Ocean, Bolsinger ties many great connections and applications for how to navigate uncharted territory.

A couple favorite quotes:

"We who have been trained in a Christendom context will never thrive as leaders as long as the majorit
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
Nov 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good book on leadership for a season of radical change. The theme of the book is what lies behind is nothing like what lies ahead. That certainly seems like the position of the church in 2020 not just because of Covid but even more so as cultural attitudes toward Christianity have changed so radically.

A few quotes (some might be paraphrases):
We can fail... but we can’t suck

People don’t resist change... they resist loss.

Leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can absorb

John Richards
Jan 22, 2022 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite leadership reads in recent years. Added plus: Bolsinger is at the seminary I graduated from. To be honest, I wasn't so sure how I was going to feel about the Lewis and Clark illustration throughout, but it wasn't too overwhelming for my anti-colonial self. I liked the transformational and adaptive change models that he lays out in the book and it's quite relevant to pastoring during a pandemic and thinking through digital discipleship. Some great nuggets in this book for any p ...more
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.
Feb 15, 2021 rated it it was ok
One reason for not giving just one star is because there are some basic truths in this book. But the only reason the author really has for trying new things is still for the sake of success. And the way he uses his "friends" in the last chapter is disgusting. The only value he sees if people of color is to help the white dominant culture. There is no acknowledgement of their value in and of themselves - only what use they can be to the dominant culture who finds themselves at a loss. ...more
Keith Lenard Jr.
Aug 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I felt I understood this book better after having read Failure of Nerve. The author refers to this book throughout the book. This book also had a good narrative component with the story of Lewis and Clark.
Mark Knight
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.
Tim Littleford
May 16, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Essentially Ed Friedman's "a failure of nerve" applied to congregational renewal. Mostly fantastic, I felt it was building up to something but never quite got there. ...more
Tyler Sollie
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely loved this book.
David LaLone
Mar 07, 2022 rated it really liked it
Tod writes a great book for leaders in the uncharted Christian landscape. He uses the story of Lewis and Clarke to illustrate the qualities of adaptive leaders. I would recommend this book for every church leader.
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
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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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“Trust is vital for change leadership. Without trust there is no “travel.” When trust is lost, the journey is over.” 3 likes
“To live up to their name, local churches must be continually moving out, extending themselves into the world, being the missional, witnessing community we were called into being to be: the manifestation of God’s going into the world, crossing boundaries, proclaiming, teaching, healing, loving, serving and extending the reign of God. In short, churches need to keep adventuring or they will die.” 2 likes
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