How does the church move forward when nearly everything we learned in the past no longer applies?  Another way to phrase this question was posed by Tod, “If western societies have become post-Christian mission fields, how can traditional churches become missionary churches?”

About 85 people gathered at United Presbyterian Church in Amsterdam to hear and learn first-hand from Tod Bolsinger, author of “Canoeing the Mountains,” a book read throughout the presbytery this year.

By now most of us know that Tod addresses this question by using the example of Lewis and Clark’s journey to discover a water route to link the east to the Pacific Ocean. Of course, at a certain point Lewis and Clark found themselves facing the Rocky Mountains and quickly realized they were going to adapt their plans. Their internal discussion mirrors are own these days: “We were not trained for this. We were trained for rivers, not mountains. We need to learn a new way of leading.”

Tod urged us to have the same “Spirit of Adventure” that Lewis and Clark had as they decided to continue their journey west. To adopt a Spirit of Adventure means one has to be open to both new learning and loss.

First, Tod said that when the Church engages new territory the best thing we can admit to ourselves is that “we don’t know” what to do next or even how to proceed; even so we need to press on anyway. Admitting “we don’t know” is the beginning of new learning. Often there isn’t an expert we can call to fix the problem.  If we could call an expert we would not be an adaptive challenge. New learning means adopting a spirit of experimentation, seeking guides along the way, and especially supporting one another in our efforts.

Second, Tod told us that engaging the Spirit of Adventure means that we will experience loss. Old perspectives will be replaced. Some treasured traditions will need to be laid aside for newer, more effective ways of being. New learnings will lead us on new courses. If one does not experience some loss there has not been an adaptive change.

Overall, the experience with Tod was a time to get clarity about the challenge that lay before us. Even though the way ahead is filled with unknowns we move ahead together. Every new venture, whether it succeeds or fails, needs to be supported, celebrated, and learned from. Let me hear your stories.


Resources from the Adaptive Change Workshop with Tod Bolsigner – September 30, 2017

About Rev. Dr. Tim Coombs

Tim Coombs serves as co-pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Scotia, NY with his wife, Rev. Kathleen Gorman-Coombs and leads a New Worshiping Community, Parallels ( He also worked on staff at Albany Presbytery for over a decade. Besides his work for the church, Tim is a storyteller, biker, guitar player, and intern to his cat, Sharpie. You can reach Tim at:

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