Canoeing the Mountains: Part 1

How does one canoe the mountains?

That is the question that Tod Bolsinger explores in his recent book titled, aptly enough, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing some nuggets of learning that I’ve gained through this book and a study guide prepared by Flourish San Diego.

The early twenty-first century is a far cry from the mid-twentieth century. We live in exponential times and change is occurring exponentially. This is especially true as it relates to the church.

In 1950, the church was at the center of society. It was a time in which “if a man didn’t come to church on Sunday, his boss asked him about it at work on Monday.”

Today, the church is no longer at the center of society. Rather, the church is simply one of many options—religious, social, and cultural—available to people today. The church is simply one menu item in a long cafeteria line filled with choices. Not only do far fewer people engage in church these days, when they do, it’s less frequent.

What can we do about this new reality?

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean. They believed, like everyone else, that the unexplored west was exactly the same geography as the familiar east. They traveled the Missouri River to its source, expecting to find another river they could calmly canoe to the Pacific Ocean.

Instead, as they crested that hill, as far as they could see to the north and as far as they could see to the south, were formidable, snow-covered mountains: The Rocky Mountains.

Lewis and Clark could have turned around and said, “We didn’t prepare for this. Let’s go back.”

But they didn’t.

They set off on a journey they hadn’t expected. They had to navigate unknown territory. They had to set their canoeing skills aside for the moment and learn along the way, relying on friends like Sacagawea, to navigate the mountains.

It was uncharted territory for Lewis and Clark and it is uncharted territory for the church of today.

What should the church do? Should we give up? Should we turn back? Should we return to the glory days?


Perhaps, we should face this uncharted territory with resolve, trusting that God is already ahead of us. Perhaps, we should look at the reality of our circumstances and ask, “What can we learn here? How might God want to shape us in this new place? Does God want to expand our imagination for who we are called to be today?”

What lies ahead is unlike anything we’ve known before. We stand on the cusp of the unknown. Here, we decide which direction we will go. Will we move onward into unknown territory or will we retreat?

Peace to you,



Canoeing the Mountains: Part 1
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