Over the next eight months, six of our congregations along with six apprentices in our Presbytery will be taking the journey of deepening their learning about adaptive change along with our partners from Pneumatrix.  Together they will be reading through the book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.  

I’ll be blogging through the book for the larger Presbytery along with Tim Coombs to share some of our learnings along the way.  I’d like to encourage every congregation in the Presbytery to read this book.  Take some time to work through it in your book groups, or bible study classes.  Maybe use some of the themes in your worship or sermons.  There is much in this book to mine and use as we seek to live into our calling as reformed Christians in this 499th anniversary year of the Reformation, reformed and always reforming, seeking the will of God in all things.  

Adaptive change is something we’ve been hearing about for a while; it is a way of looking at change management in institutions like the church that needs to be returned to for learning over and over again.  Ronald Heifetz, one of the major thinkers on the issues and challenges of adaptive change offers some great ideas in this short video from Faith and Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School.

The first chapter of the book is appropriately titled, “The World in Front of You is Nothing Like the World Behind You.”  In this first chapter, Tod Bolsinger unpacks what the terms of Christendom and post-Christendom mean.  We’ve been having conversations about these concepts during the last nearly three years of our transitional work together, and these were conversations the Presbytery began under Cass Shaw’s leadership in the “flipping” process that preceded our current discernment.  

Bolsinger points out that when he went to seminary, he was educated for Christendom:

  • Teaching (for providing Christian education)
  • Liturgics (for leading Christian services)
  • Pastoral Care (for offering Christian counsel and support)

Does that sound like the way you imagine leadership?  Christians leaders teach, lead worship and offer pastoral care?  I hear the story oftentimes that a pastor tries to start up a pastoral care team to not just share the work of caring for a congregation and community – but to teach and disciple members of a congregation in their calling to ministry.  Have you heard this common story of resistance that sometimes follows this sort of a ministry shift?  Just one small example of an adaptive shift and some of the resistance that might come with it.  

One of the things I like about this book our Pneumatrix congregations are using is that it doesn’t stay stuck in theological imagery and language but plays off a story from the early days of exploration; that of Lewis and Clark’s expedition to Louisiana Purchase.  He reminds us that they believed that the “unexplored west was exactly the same geography as the familiar east.”  Lewis and Clark, as we know today, were in for a big shock to the system and had to change and adapt not just how they went about the task of exploration, but needed to shift their entire worldview.  Even harder than that, they had to let go and rely on guides and help from places they probably would have never looked in or acknowledged.

Bolinger lifts up five key themes that he unpacks in this book:

  • Understanding uncharted territory
  • No one is going to follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map.
  • Leading off the map into uncharted territory
  • Relationships and resistance
  • Transformation for everyone, especially the leader

Adaptation is all about learning and changing.  It is also all about experiencing and navigating profound loss.  Which is why we resist adaptive leadership in the church (I miss the pastor visiting me, having a member doesn’t feel the same, it feels like a loss).  

We are resisting loss.

My deepest prayer for each of us as we experience this time of rapid change that feels like profound loss to so many of us is that we will let go and let God lead us.  We will remember that Jesus came into our world in order to guide, love and change who we are.  That we will rest in the knowledge that the Spirit walks beside us wherever we go.  I believe that this is a holy and liminal time in which to be alive and in which to be engaged in the gift of the ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ.  And I have a feeling that we are in the midst of the new reformation that we are invited to live into.  And that’s Good News!  Blessings!

About Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo

Shannan grew up between the Jersey Shore and Philadelphia and have also lived at various points in Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey and upstate New York. Internationally, I have lived in Scotland, Greece and Colombia. My family is transnational, my husband is an immigrant and we divide our time between the United States and Colombia. You can learn more about Shannan at: https://srvoconsulting.com

The purpose of the Albany Presbytery Blog is to share information, tell stories, and promote the mission and ministry of the presbytery, synod and beyond. While the breadth of this medium is intentionally broad, it is not a platform for opinion pieces related to business coming before the presbytery unless designed as part of an initiative to provide a diversity of viewpoints at the direction of the presbytery. Exceptions to this policy may be brought to the presbytery officers who will determine appropriateness of submissions.