Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory

4147As we look to a new year, I thought it would be beneficial if this month’s book helped us to look towards the new without fear. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger does just that. Originally printed in 2015, the expanded edition (c2018) includes a study guide to help Church leadership discuss with each other, and the congregations they lead, the concepts and potentially scary moves they must make to survive. Bolsinger is currently a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, but uses his experience as a Presbyterian minister and church consultant to write most of this book. His thesis for this book is that Christendom is dead, and most Christian leaders have been trained to lead and work within the world of Christendom. He looks to Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery as a metaphor for how Christian leadership should behave in this brand new world.

For Christian leaders this means that ministry is not only the means to bring the gospel to the world, ministry together is how God makes a congregation into a corps that is ready to continually bring the gospel in new ways to a changing world.

Tod Bolsinger uses the research of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky to propose the use of adaptive leadership within the Church. This model of leadership would remove the pastor as the “authority” and main decision maker within the local church. Instead, the pastor would be a leader that encourages the congregation to join into the decision making process in order to create actual change. He recognizes that this is not an easy task. Many churches are still in the mindset of the Church being the most influential voice in society. Unfortunately, as Bolsinger argues, this is no longer the case. But like most change, resistance should be expected. However, the main the main advantage for this adaptive style of leadership is that it frees the congregation to reconcile unanticipated issues, and explore new ideas that lead towards innovation.

We are called to take the hill — with grandma.

I found myself particularly excited to read this book, and I think that anyone in a leadership position within their church should read it. I wanted to go out and make wide sweeping changes and attempt to get others excited within my own congregation. However I became frustrated with the content of this book because it still feels like my local congregation will not change. This could be due to the fact that I am not the pastor of my church. However, to overcome this, I purchased a copy for my pastor as a Christmas gift! I am convinced by Bolsinger’s argument that the Church now finds itself in a world that it has been unprepared for. Yet he offers hope in the last chapter by saying, “God is taking us into uncharted territory to transform us.” We do not have to look to the changing landscape with fear. We need to merely trust in God, and take a good strong look at the way we do things. That is what this book does.

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Are You Too Small?

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Juday,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”
–Micah 5:2, NASB

Have you ever thought that you were too small, or too unimportant, for God to care about? This is a thought that has often plagued my own mind. “God, I’m a nobody. What can you do with me?” Yet still, He gives me more to do.

I believe that God often looks for the ones who are overlooked, in order for His glory to shine the most. Jesus spoke on the mountain, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, … God blesses those who are humble” (Matthew 5: 3 & 5, NLT).  It’s the people that the world looks down upon, that God’s power shines through the most.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”
–Matthew 5:3, NLT

If you are doubting your worth, or do not understand how God can use you, remember this: God created you. “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139: 13, NASB). He cares deeply for you and created you with a purpose. I do not know what that purpose is. I even have a hard time knowing my own purpose. Yet I still trust that God will continue to show me why He put me on this earth. During this Advent season, let us pray for God to help us learn the reason why we are here.

The Love of God (Ephesians 3)

The-book-of-Ephesians

Paul spends most of this chapter reaching out to the Gentiles. His mission that was given to him, by both God and the apostles in Jerusalem, was to minister to the Gentiles. Before Christ, the Gentiles were widely regarded as outsiders by the Jews. Their belief was set around their status as the “chosen people”. This led them to believing that the Gentiles would not be a part of whatever salvation the Messiah would bring. However, Jesus and Paul thought differently. The basis of salvation is not by who you were born to, but is rather based on faith. Paul writes, “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6, NASB). This is Paul telling the Gentile and Jewish Christians, that the Gentiles are just as much a part of God’s Kingdom as the Jews.

It would seem that the Ephesians church is having a problem that was very common during Paul’s ministry. This problem was that Jewish Christians would come in and tell the Gentile Christian that they were somehow  of less significance or would have to conform to a Jewish lifestyle before they could be saved. We know this is wrong today, but it was something that many people believed then. Paul’s answer to this is the knowledge of God’s love. He tells them that he is praying for them; specifically he is praying that they learn about God’s love, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (3:17-19, NASB). The love of Christ is so all-consuming, that there would be no way for the Church to focus on things like Jews over Gentiles. Instead their focus would be to love each other, and spread the love to everyone else.

This is a message that I believe still rings true for us today. We can get all caught up in living in a way that honors God that we forget why we do it. Yes, we should live a life that reflects Scripture. We should stand up for our faith, and oppose the things that God opposes. But I feel that there are people, especially some in the media and politics, that portray our faith as a list of rules that if we don’t make everyone follow they will all go to hell. Well I have news for those people; if they don’t believe in Christ, they’re going to hell anyway. No amount of forcing anything is going to help their salvation. As a matter of fact, it will more than likely push them away. Is that really the life that Christ showed us to live? Is that really living a Christian life?

Christ said to the people, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, NASB). People can become weary when they are being told they are wrong all the time, or that their life should actually look like “this”. Jesus wants those people, and so should we. We should not be the cause of their stress. We should take them in and show them the love of Christ. We should take in the teenage mother, and tell her that Jesus loves her. We should hug the homosexual and tell them that God’s loves them. We should spend time with the felon, and share the love that God has given us. The point, I guess, is that God has given us so much love, we cannot contain it; we have to spread it.

Love does not come from following rules, following rules comes from love. If we love God, we will follow the rules. But we cannot force people to follow the rules and say that it is love. Love comes from personal experience. We cannot lead people to that experience if we are constantly pushing them away. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s give “Bible-thumping” a rest. It isn’t helping our cause any. God is love, and we should be wanting to share that with everyone. Only God can “fix” people, so let’s trust Him to do that. We can just share Him with every single person we come into contact with.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 139-142

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