Drop Your Canoes!

Some of the most profound quotes come in the beginning of the book, “Canoeing the Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger.  He shares this from page 32, “Steve Yamaguchi, dean of students at Fuller Theological Seminary, says that when his spiritual director took a flying lesson, he asked the instructor why they use flight simulators so much.  The instructor said, ‘In the moment of crisis, you will not rise to the occasion; you will default to your training.’”  How many of us have been there?  When things aren’t working out, if you start a new ministry or even when a ministry has been around for some time and it begins to not work anymore, what do we all do?  Go through our files, reach onto our shelves and pull out something that worked in the past to see if it may help now. We may throw a new twist into it using the latest technology that we can afford.  The next quote from Ed Friedman really hits hard, “When any…system is imaginatively gridlocked, it cannot get free simply through more thinking about the problem.  Conceptually stuck systems cannot be unstuck simply by trying harder.” Bolsinger goes on to say, “We are imaginatively gridlocked. We can’t see our way to a new way of being, a new response. We are growing more anxious about the decline of the church and the demise of whole religious structures. We don’t know what to do. So we keep trying harder; we keep trying our old tricks. But, of course, it doesn’t work.” (pg. 32)

What is it that needs to happen?  Remember the premise of this book…we have to leave everything we know behind and move into the future with an open mind and fresh ideas to survive.  So, guess what?  We need to re-imagine ministry.  Discover new adventures.  Start asking how God is calling us.  How is God calling our churches to accomplish God’s mission for the world.  It will require new things done in new ways. Maybe we do not know what that looks like, and that will require some imagination and reinvention.  It will require some trial and error.

If we refer back to the illustration the Bolsinger uses, the Lewis and Clark expedition, we can make the same conclusions.  Once Mariwether Lewis stepped off the map into unknown places, he quickly realized that what he faced in front of him was nothing like the terrain behind him.  And what he had brought with him to help in his travels will no longer aid in the adventure ahead.  They brought canoes because they thought there would be a water route to help them get to the Pacific Ocean.  So what were they to do?  Change.  Come up with Plan B.  Adapt.  Figure out a new way.  Friends, this is exactly where we find ourselves.  There are big mountains ahead of us, and deep valleys we must go through.  How are we going to do it?  That’s a hard question to answer, but what I do know, we can’t do what we have always done.  We must change, adapt, find a new way.  Let’s ditch our canoes because we can’t keep trekking forward carrying tools that are no longer helping us.  We have to let go, and keep moving forward.  Trust that God will provide exactly what we need along the way.  But what is evident in the book, and a great reminder for each of us, the only way to tackle the mountains ahead is by keeping the course (mission) and being great leaders who others can depend upon.

Are you ready to drop the canoe?  Do you have what it takes as a leader?  It’s a huge step of faith, but I believe with the grace of God and leaning on one another we can hike these mountains, and valleys, together!

Not Safe for Church: Fourth Commandment-Thou Shall Check Yourself before You Wreck Yourself. Provide inclusive worship and Bible study.

I think most of us have experienced one time or another, feeling like an outsider, inside a church.  If you haven’t experienced it yourself, maybe you have had a conversation with someone who doesn’t feel like they are welcomed.  You know, we can’t have “them” in the church, they wear jeans, have tattoos, or have a different haircut.  There are plenty of examples of those “inside” the church creating an “us vs. them” mentality.  Jesus is the perfect example of loving people who didn’t always fit “the mold.”

This chapter begins by explaining the importance for churches to not simply continue what they have always done, or to try to tweak what they always have done and package it in a new way, but to truly make a change to reach the post-civil rights movement.  If churches are going to be welcoming to all people, it needs to be ALL, not just those that look like the 99% that sits in the pews regularly.

I particularly like this from page 50, “It is one thing to eat with those who are unfit and quite another to go into their domain.  Jesus went to their domain.” This is based on Matthew 9:10 where Jesus goes and eats at the home of a tax collector.  Everything the church does seems to be focused on the masses coming to the church: worship, Bible study, carry-in meals, fall festivals, and the list goes on.  If we change our thinking to focus on the gospel and not on our own comforts and ambitions, then maybe the post-civil rights generation will be more willing to engage in the faith community.

I feel as though the church is missing the point.  In changing, it’s not about having more programs, or ministry opportunities, it about having genuine conversations, building relationships, and hearing the gospel from a personal perspective.  Our faith isn’t something we do, it’s who we are.  Once the church gets that, then maybe we can move it forward.