April 2019 E-news from the Siburt Institute

Share This Post

Canoeing or Hiking? The Face of the Future for Church Leaders

Last month, I offered some initial insights into the changing contexts of congregations in North America. Before pursuing those insights more fully, I want to offer a metaphor that might be useful for the season that Christian leaders currently face. The metaphor is not my own. Rather it comes from a recent book by Tod Bolsinger entitled Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory1.

Bolsinger draws from the story of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led the Corps of Discovery to find a way to the Pacific. The stated plan was to navigate to the headwaters of the Missouri River by canoe (actually, a keelboat and two pirogues). The assumption widely held by people in 1804 was that they would simply pull their canoes out of the water of the Missouri, portage them across a hill or two, and then drop them into a river that would take them all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The Rocky Mountains changed that plan entirely! With no Northwest Passage and no navigable river, the Corps of Discovery came to a screeching halt. Lewis and Clark had to adapt. Setting aside their canoes and boats, they became mountaineers and hikers. The new reality of their path changed the way they understood their journey. The mission was still the Pacific, but the way they were to achieve that mission took on a completely different form.

Bolsinger suggests that this metaphor serves well the reality that many congregations face. Built to canoe well in river waterways, churches have carried out their life and mission. But more churches now are reaching headwater regions – the terrain is shifting, and staying on the river is no longer a viable option. There is too little water to keep things afloat!

Increasing numbers of congregations are reporting that we are moving into contexts that reflect what futurist Bob Johansen calls VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. This emerging environment will require leaders to remain attentive, learn new skills and find new ways of being.

I don’t share this to alarm anyone. For generations, the people of God have encountered changing contexts and have adapted by abandoning one form of travel to lace up their hiking boots for a different form of travel. However, this reality does call for faith and prayer, and it will require us to learn humility again.

As explorers in new territory, we will need to rely on other explorers as we learn to follow well the presence of God’s Spirit. When there are no well-defined roads or markers, explorers, from Lewis and Clark to you and me, must rely on what we discover along the way.

More next month!


Carson 1. Intervarsity Press, 2018.

Simple children’s ministry
In her current Mosaic series, Amy Bost Henegar, a minister with the Manhattan (New York) Church of Christ, is sharing ways churches can lovingly and intentionally minister to children. She writes with a specific emphasis on smaller churches who have neither a large children’s ministry budget nor a staff minister dedicated to children’s ministry. Henegar’s first post focuses on how the church is positioned to offer hope and belonging to children, and the second explores advantages of intergenerational ministry.
Save the date: Summer Seminar with Randy Harris, Aug. 9-10

Join Randy Harris, ACU Bible instructor and spiritual director for the College of Biblical Studies and the Siburt Institute, for this year’s Summer Seminar. Harris will lead this year’s exploration of the topic, “Rich Heritage, Unfolding Future: Renewing Churches for God’s Mission.” In light of the rapidly changing religious landscape and sobering reports of church decline, Harris and other colleagues will tackle important questions, such as, “What can we learn from the past?” and “What are some signs of vitality in congregations today?” – while challenging us to catch a renewed vision of God’s preferred future.

The seminar will take place in ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center from 1 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9, to 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10. The seminar costs $60 per person, which covers meals, snacks and handout materials. Registration opens May 3 via the Siburt Institute’s website.

Register for the Dallas Racial Unity Leadership Summit
Registration is open for the upcoming Dallas Racial Unity Leadership Summit (RULS), May 15-18, at the West Dallas Church of Christ. Designed to enhance spiritual unity across racial lines among individuals and organizations, RULS is sponsored by ACU’s Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action. The event will feature presentations, panel discussions and concerts, including a performance by United Voice Worship (pictured). Registration is free with an optional, but highly encouraged, tour of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, for which there is a small fee. Register today. Biblical Storytelling Pathway at Summit 2019

Imagine hearing Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount. Imagine receiving a letter from Paul at church and hearing those precious words read over you. We treat those experiences as if they are lost to time, but thanks to people like Dr. Cliff Barbarick and the Network of Biblical Storytellers, the tradition lives on.

This year at Summit, Barbarick, assistant professor of New Testament at ACU, will host an all-day Biblical Storytelling Pathway and will perform Monday evening.

Long before the narratives of the Bible became formalized written Scripture, they existed in oral form as stories shared in the faith community and were passed down from generation to generation. Using their gifts as natural storytellers, pathway leaders will tell the stories of the Bible with emotion and excitement, capturing the feeling of the original text and allowing people to truly hear the Word. Join us on Monday, Sept. 16, for this exciting pathway as we explore sorrow, hope and joy in the Psalms at Summit 2019!

Mark your calendars to attend Summit at ACU, Sept. 15-18. MARK YOUR CALENDARS Dallas Racial Unity Leadership Summit, May 15-18Summer Seminar, Aug. 9-10Summit 2019, Sept. 15-18Minister Support Network Retreat, Sept. 19-22 THOUGHTS TO PONDER “The scriptural instruction, ‘confess your sins one to another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed’ (Jas. 5:16) is profoundly countercultural for most leadership settings. Instead, we are much more accustomed to putting our best and most polished foot forward. Confession runs counter to human nature as well and yet it is profoundly hopeful! If we are willing to engage in the practice of confession, it is possible for us to be healed in relation to one another and to limit the effects of sin in our gatherings so that Christ’s purposes can go forward unhindered.” – Dr. Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups “Human beings are not built to be indifferent to the waves and pulses of their social world. For most of us the question is whether we have even the slightest reluctance to drift along with the flow. The person who genuinely wants to think will have to develop strategies for recognizing the subtlest of social pressures … The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.” – Dr. Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More To Explore

Do You Want To Boost Your Business?

drop us a line and keep in touch

%d bloggers like this: