Cross­ing high moun­tains

Chris­tian lead­ers face new world

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - STEVE SHEELY The Rev. Steve Sheely is pas­tor of Rolling Hills Bap­tist Church in Fayetteville. Con­tact him at stevesheely@sbc­

Sev­eral years ago, I loaded ev­ery­one into the fam­ily truck­ster and headed west. Ac­tu­ally, we spent our first night in We­ston, Mo., and then trav­eled up into Ne­braska, South Dakota, Mon­tana, Idaho and Wash­ing­ton. In to­tal: 8,300 miles. Yes, we fol­lowed the gen­eral route of the Lewis and Clark ex­pe­di­tion, but in­stead of flat-bot­tomed boats and ca­noes we trav­eled in a pe­cu­liar-smelling Chrysler Town & Coun­try mini-van.

Thanks to Google Maps, we knew ex­actly where we were go­ing. Lewis and Clark, how­ever, did not have the lux­ury of Google Maps. As a mat­ter of fact, their ex­pe­di­tion was based on the be­lief that they could float up the Mis­souri river from St. Louis and, when they reached the west­ern end of the river, sim­ply carry their ca­noes to the nearby Co­lum­bia river and float hap­pily to the Pa­cific ocean. Whoops.

In what must have been a heart-drop­ping mo­ment, Meri­wether Lewis got a drink from the rivulet that even­tu­ally be­comes the mighty Mis­souri, looked to­ward the set­ting sun and pro­ceeded to write in his jour­nal: “… I dis­cov­ered im­mence [sic] ranges of high moun­tains still to the West of us with their tops par­tially cov­ered with snow.”

Tod Bolsinger is a sem­i­nary pres­i­dent and pas­tor and au­thor of Ca­noe­ing the Moun­tains (IVP Books, 2015). He finds fas­ci­nat­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the dilemma of the church to­day and the Lewis and Clark ex­pe­di­tion. No, we can­not pad­dle across those moun­tains. Ac­cord­ing to Bolsinger, Chris­ten­dom as we know it is done. Our faith­ful ca­noes will no longer move us for­ward. The world in front of us is noth­ing like the world be­hind us. And he builds his book around the lead­er­ship prin­ci­ples demon­strated by Lewis and Clark that need to be prac­ticed by pas­tors and other church lead­ers.

For churches to­day — tra­di­tional or newly planted — we face ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenges and ex­tra­or­di­nary op­por­tu­ni­ties. And, adding to Bolsinger’s ter­rific guide to lead­er­ship in this new world, I’ve learned a few lessons of my own:

In­ten­tional ef­forts to dis­cern God’s will are nec­es­sary — as well as the choice to trust the out­come of th­ese ef­forts. God is still in love with this world and is ea­ger to see lives trans­formed. We sim­ply have to listen and not just rely on what we’ve done in the past.

Sim­i­larly, in­no­va­tion, cre­ativ­ity and adapt­abil­ity are es­sen­tial — even for peo­ple who have been steeped for decades in Chris­ten­dom’s meth­ods. I won­der, some­times, if we’ve fluffed pil­lows and de­liv­ered casseroles and pas­toral-cared one an­other to death — at the ex­pense of the wild, won­der­ful and un­pre­dictable chal­lenges of fol­low­ing Je­sus on his next ad­ven­ture.

Col­lab­o­ra­tive lead­er­ship will mean the end of the pro­fes­sional, “des­ig­nated” Chris­tian, but it will em­power ev­ery­one to be­come lead­ers. Per­va­sive Chris­ten­dom could af­ford to trust a few to do the work of many, but in to­day’s ter­rain, we need ev­ery­one to pull his weight.

An open and high-ex­pec­ta­tion re­liance on the on­go­ing work of the Holy Spirit is es­sen­tial. It is im­per­a­tive that be­liev­ers of ev­ery her­itage and fla­vor get com­fort­able with the in­cred­i­ble, su­per­nat­u­ral gift they have been given. We can­not find our way to the Pa­cific with­out the risen Christ trav­el­ing with us, and the world def­i­nitely needs some­thing big­ger than them­selves.

Pray for me and my church, and I will pray for yours. And even as you cross high moun­tains, do not be afraid, for he is with you even unto the end of the age.

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