Monday, June 25, 2018

Book Review of Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory
by Tod Bolsinger
ISBN 978-0-8308-4126-4
IVP Praxis
Reviewed by Clint Walker

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 think this is really good stuff!

The book is about what is called "adaptive" leadership. It uses the metaphor of the journey of Lewis and Clark to talk about the task of ministry leadership in the 21st century. The thesis is this: We are called to lead into a frontier that we were neither trained for or equipped to lead in, so we are going to have to learn to lead people in and through "uncharted territory".

While Bolsinger bases his study in his pastoral and institutional leadership experience, he is also strongly grouned in research. First, of course, he is grounded in research about Lewis and Clark. Furthermore, the book draws heavily on the research and writing of Ronald Heifetz. Heifitz advocates that leaders and organizations face challenges with adaptive solutions instead of "technical" fixes. Quick fixes don't work, but coming to terms with your identity and environment, and then adapting who we are to survive and thrive in a changing world offers promise.

In order to lead "off the map", Bolsinger advocates leading "on the map" to build trust and demonstrate competency to those that you are leading. When one demonstrates that they are skilled and competent in doing the expected work of being a pastor, then the pastor can begin the process of leading them forward to a new place. However, if someone has not demonstrated enough competence to the congregation, the congregation will struggle to trust that leader to lead them into a scary and unknkown future.

Step by step, Bolsinger offers persepective and guidelines for transformational leadership. He leads readers through a process of adapting, of clarifying vision, and of surviving the sabotage and push back that ultimately comes with any effort of transformational leadership.

I cannot say it enough, this book is excellent, and a necessity for most pastor's libraries. I come back to it over and over again.

I have two copies in exchange for an honest review from IVP. The expanded edition has a very thorough and expanded study guide and is in hardback, while my earlier copy is in paperback. I have kept both copies.

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