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!