Canoeing the Mountains: Part 4

Churches in our context are facing a problem.

For Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, fixing the problem isn’t the solution…oddly enough. Instead, “adapting to the changing environment or circumstances so that new possibilities arise for accurately seeing, understanding, and facing challenges with new actions” is the solution.

Just like an organism adapting in order to thrive in a new environment, organizations must adapt to the changing world around them, without losing core identity, their reason for being, their core values, or purpose.

Heifetz and Linsky go on to make an important distinction between technical problems and adaptive challenges.

Technical problems are “those where the solutions are available to and within the repertoire of the community.” These solutions are known as best practices, offered by experts or those with the most experience, and once implemented, solve the problem.

In the church world, this looks like having a good preacher, playing the latest songs, running a streamlined organization, offering a smooth “user” experience. When these technical fixes are offered, the problem goes away.

But what if the church is facing a different challenge, one that is beyond our current repertoire?

Adaptive challenges are “those that cannot be solved with one’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring people to make a shift in their values, expectations, attitudes, or habits of behavior. These are systemic problems with no ready answers that arises from a changing environment and uncharted territory.” Adaptive challenges happen when the world changes so rapidly that the planned strategies and approaches are rendered moot.

When Lewis and Clark came up against the Rocky Mountains, canoes in hand, they were not facing a technical problem. They didn’t have the experience, equipment, or resources to navigate what was ahead. They were prepared for an entirely different journey and suddenly, all their preparations were useless.

They were facing an adaptive challenge. They had to go through a transformation process to equip themselves for the journey ahead.

What might transformation look like for us?

Might we leave behind our technical prowess and embrace a humble posture of learning?

How could we adapt to the challenge at hand?

Peace to you,



Canoeing the Mountains: Part 4
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