Little did I realize two years ago as I read Tod Bolsinger’s book “Canoeing the Mountains,” the guidance it would provide me during times like these! The subtitle, “Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory,” was primarily addressing movement into a post-Christian era. However, its basic conclusions are worth considering as we negotiate through this international coronavirus pandemic.
Bolsinger used Lewis and Clark’s expedition to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean as his template. Their journals reveal the challenge they faced when, reaching the hilltop they assumed would provide first sight of the Colombia River, actually introduced them to the Rocky Mountains! Suddenly all their maps, and the canoes they were carrying, were worthless, while other things once considered troubling by many became invaluable.
The five vital lessons offered in the book are 1) The world in front of us is nothing like the world behind us. 2) No one is going to follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map. 3) In uncharted territory, adaptation is everything. 4) You can’t go alone, but you haven’t succeeded until you’ve survived the sabotage. 5) Everybody will be changed (especially the leader). (p.17)
I cannot help but think of Jesus and his disciples as I read this list. While I am not sure that numbers 3 and 5 apply to Jesus during his three years of earthly ministry, 1 (Easter changes everything), 2 (compare Jesus’ ministry pre and post transfiguration), and 4 (Judas, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin) certainly do. And I see the disciples nodding their heads at all five.
Jesus, the Twelve, Lewis and Clark … I guess there is precedence to this unprecedented time! And if that is the case, it might be wise for us to give that list of five a little more attention. For me this starts with the realization that sticking my head in the sand will only give me dirty ears! I must view this as a history changing time (#1).
My first thought as I look at #2 is that I’d rather be a gray-haired veteran right now than a fresh-faced newbie in ministry. Most people I know decided some time ago whether they are going to trust me or not, and I’ve learned to be more concerned about “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4.15) than trying to change someone’s mind. The only person I can control is myself.
And then it hit me – here I am thinking about myself, but it’s not about me at all! As uncharted as this territory may be for me (and us all), “There is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1.9-10). And my role is not to lead, but rather to follow the leader … and to encourage others to follow along … because, he trustworthy. His words are familiar and encouraging.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
For Lewis and Clark, the Lord “appeared” in the form of a teenage mother with a nursing baby named Sacagawea (#3). They put their trust in her and history was made. “The person who trusts in the Lord (#4), whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed. He will be like a tree planted by water.” (Jeremiah 17.7-8) His desire is to do more than just get us through this time, his goal is to use this time to work his gracious change in us (#5).