This is the third 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. You can read Part 1 and Part 2.

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.

Leaders don’t know everything. Good leaders acknowledge this and understand this to be a strength.

That’s totally counterintuitive, isn’t it? There was a time when church leadership meant having all the right answers. It was a time when pastors and seminary professors were the experts. Professors told pastors-in-training what to do, and they in turn told their staffs and congregations what to do.

And it worked!

But that’s not how it is anymore. In this Post-Christendom world—a world that church leaders have not been trained for—the best leaders are those who admit their lack of expertise and, instead, ask really good questions.

The Church is on the Edge of Chaos

Tod Bolsinger, in Canoeing the Mountains, refers to the church’s location in the world as “uncharted territory.” Let me suggest another expression to capture this idea: “the edge of chaos.”

This expression comes from a book titled Surfing the Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business. In this book, the authors contend that in nature, organisms don’t make beneficial adaptations until their environment becomes threatening—what they call “the edge of chaos.”[1]

As a church, “the edge of chaos” is a really scary place to be because it means our environment is threatening our existence. And, yet, this is where real growth can occur. Michael J. Marquardt says, “…the ‘edge of chaos’…is the place where maximum creativity and possibility exist and learning best occurs.”[2]

But it can only occur if we, like biological organisms, are willing to learn and adapt.


How can we, as churches, learn when we are so close to the “edge of chaos”?

We need to ask good questions.

And how can we begin to ask good questions?

I have found a process known as “action-reflection” (or “action learning”) can be incredibly helpful. “Action-reflection” simply means taking an action (doing something), then reflecting on it, then taking another action based on the reflection, then reflecting on that action, and so on.

It’s a process of learning that leads to good questions that help us to interpret and understand our culture.

A Practical Idea for Your Team

Try this.

Get a group of people in your church together—staff, elders, a small group, or whoever is willing—and tell them you want to meet with them for one hour. During that hour, do this:

  • 20 minutes: Read and reflect on scripture (I like to use something like Luke 10:1-12 or Jeremiah 29:1-14, but any scripture will do).
  • 20 minutes: Ask some questions to get discussion going (Where have you seen God at work in your neighborhood/work/family/etc. this week? What do you think God might be up to?)
  • 20 minutes: In light of the discussion, have each person identify one action they will take. It might be as simple as, “I’m going to pay more attention to what conversations I have this week,” or as involved as, “I’m going to invite five of my neighbors to my house for dinner this week and listen to their stories.”

Gather together again the following week. Read and reflect on scripture again (I like to use the same passage as the first meeting), and then let people share about their experiences that week. Reflect as a team on the actions they took.

This is where you will begin to see great questions emerge. This is where the learning takes place that allows the church to see how God is inviting them to participate in God’s mission.

Focus on Transformation

Let me make a disclaimer. Asking good questions and the action-reflection process do not guarantee that your church will grow.

What it does is help your church enter the process of transformation and be open to however God may call your church to join in God’s mission.

That’s the key. Leading a church through uncharted territory is not about being the biggest or best. Bolsinger says the important thing for leaders is not to focus on “whether your church is dying….”[3] Rather, he says to stay focused on transformation.

That may be the greatest blessing of this Post-Christendom era. As we learn together by asking good questions, by experimenting and adapting, and by staying close to Jesus through it all, we may discover that “God is taking us into uncharted territory to transform us.”[4]


[1] Pascale, Richard T., et. al. Surfing the Edge of Chaos, p. 6.

[2] Marquardt, Michael J. Optimizing the Power of Action Learning, p. 7

[3] Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains, p. 217.

[4] Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains, p. 217.


Markus Watson
Latest posts by Markus Watson (see all)