I have spent many years reading about ways to grow the Church--I think of it as a genre of books. For years, I was part of the leadership of a different Lutheran church, and we spent lots of time talking about how to get bigger, how to find members, what to do.
Then as now, I often turn to books when I'm looking for answers. And there were plenty of books written on the subject. The huge one of the time was Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, which was a best seller--but he also wrote a book called The Purpose Driven Church. I read both, and we did all sorts of exercises, which were enlightening, but in the end, the church membership stayed the same.
At some point in the past few years, I declared a moratorium on improving the church books. But I'd heard such good things about the book I just finished that I decided to make an exception. Plus, I loved the title: Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.
Tod Bolsinger has written a great book, but I have the same complaint as I usually have about these books. I've read it, but I still have no idea what to do. I have insight about what may help and what may impede, but no clear strategies.
It's got some interesting insights about life in general. He's got great suggestions about how to get clear on conviction by asking these questions: What are we passionate about? What do we have the potential to do better than anyone else? What will pay the bills? (pp. 129-130).
The book has lots of good advice when it comes to leadership. It talks about the good leader as having the ability to be a click or too calmer than everyone else, which allows people to dial back their own anxiety; as Bolsinger reminds us again and again: "For leaders, this is the point to remember about anxiety: People who are overly or chronically anxious don't make good decisions" (emphasis Bolsinger's p. 145).
Here's a quote (originally from Ronal Heifetz) that I triple underlined: "Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb" (p. 172). The book reminds us "Part of the dynamic at play here is that not only does everybody have a constituency but everybody also wants to be a hero to their constituency" (emphasis is Bolinger's, p. 158).
But what I loved most about the book is its rootedness in the Lewis and Clark expedition. The title comes from the expedition's original purpose, to find a water route across the continent. That results in this kind of language: "Be Meriwether Lewis and find your William Clark" (p. 167) and "Last, make it a conviction to stay calm and connected so you can stay on course. Endure. Stick with it. Be dogged and determined. If you stumble onto the Great Falls of Montana, find a way to go around them, even if it takes you thirty times longer than expected. If you find yourself facing the Rocky Mountains instead of a river running downstream, ditch the canoes and find horses. And if someone starts to sabotage what you have already been doing, consider it confirmation that you are exactly in the right path" (p. 178).
I'm guessing that the church growth parts of the book will turn off the majority of readers who don't care about such things--heck, I almost couldn't make my way through parts of this book, because of the rah!rah!grow your church against all odds! tone. But the other parts of the book were worth reading. I'm glad I navigated my way through it.
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