This is the second of three posts inspired by Tod Bolsinger’s book, Canoeing the Mountains. Flourish San Diego recommends this book for any church longing for culture change and transformation.

We would also invite you on June 1, 2017, to join Tod Bolsinger and Flourish San Diego for a Transformational Leadership Lunch and Canoeing the Mountains Seminar. Click HERE for more information.

Evangelist and author Leroy Eims said, “A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others see.”

What a great leadership quote! But I’m not sure it applies to church leadership in a Post-Christendom world.

In my previous article (The Adventure of Post-Christendom), we pointed out the difference between a Christendom world in which Christianity is at the center of culture and a Post-Christendom world in which Christianity is one of many spiritual and cultural options.

Christendom was a world in which we knew how to be the church effectively. It was an age in which it was possible for leaders to see more, see farther, and see before.

But in Post-Christendom, no one can see more, farther, or before. What worked in a Christendom age no longer seems to work.

Another expression for this experience is discontinuous change.

We Live in a Time of Discontinuous Change

Continuous change is change that is anticipated. When a twelve-year-old boy’s voice begins to change, for example, that is continuous change. In the age of Christendom, most change that took place was more or less expected, continuous change.

Discontinuous change, on the other hand, is change no one expected. It is the kind of change that “is disruptive and unanticipated; it creates situations that challenge our assumptions. The skills we have learned aren’t helpful in this kind of change.”[1]

The Church Needs New Maps

During Christendom, the church knew how to grow, how to serve its people, how to lead worship services, and so forth. In Christendom, the church had “maps” to help them navigate the world.

But now, the church doesn’t have any maps.

Tod Bolsinger, in Canoeing the Mountains, uses the expression “uncharted territory” to describe the discontinuous change the church is experiencing. When you’re in a period of discontinuous change you need new maps—just like you do when you’re in uncharted territory.

The question is how do you get those new maps?

Experimentation and Exploration

You get new maps by learning. By discovering. And by adapting.

That’s what adaptive leadership in a time of discontinuous change is all about. It’s a process of learning and discovering. Bolsinger says it’s about “leading the learning process of a group who must develop new beliefs, habits or values, or shift their current ones in order to find new solutions that are consistent with their purpose for being.”[2]

Ok, then. If leadership in uncharted territory requires learning, how do we learn?

We learn by trying things. By experimenting. By exploring. Because “adaptive challenges…require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments….”[3]

Experimentation is the only way to discover what you need to know and what skills you need to have when you’re in uncharted territory.

Expect Resistance

This, however, is not easy. It’s much easier to pay an expert to tell us what to do.   And that’s what most of our congregations will want us to do.

Unfortunately, there are no experts in times of discontinuous change. The only way forward is by trying new things.

And that will make people uncomfortable. Which will lead to resistance.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a reality of leadership in a Post-Christendom age.


Begin trying new things. Start small. Keep it simple at first. See what works.

And don’t forget to stay close to Jesus. Remember, for God there is no uncharted territory!


[1] Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader, p. 7.

[2] Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains, p. 111.

[3] Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line, p. 13.


Markus Watson
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