The Corps of Discovery

On January 26, 2013, the Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger led a workshop for the Presbytery of San Diego Leadership Connection Day on Leading Adaptive Change in a Changing World. He began by talking about the amazing journey of Lewis and Clark, who gathered a team together (The Corps of Discovery), to leave the east coast, and find a water passageway that would take them all the way to the Pacific Ocean. August 12, 1805 was the fateful day when Lewis and Clark realized that everything they knew about their world was wrong. It was on that day, that they realized that there really was no waterway to the Pacific. They realized that the Rocky Mountains were nothing like the Appalachian Mountains they were used to. The Appalachians were more like hills. The Rockies were so much bigger and so much more challenging than anything they had imagined before.

Lewis and Clark thought they could canoe all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But, what do you do when you realize there is no water passageway? How do you adapt and adjust and figure out how to canoe the mountains? Their savior turned out to be a Native American woman, Sacajewa, who didn’t speak English, and whom was nursing a child. The “experts” (Lewis and Clark) needed help. They realized they were in uncharted territory. Neil Armstrong knew more about the moon when he stepped foot on it for the first time than Lewis and Clark knew about the Rocky Mountains. We have not been prepared for the future. We have not been prepared for the present. So, what do we do?

At the moment of crisis, we do not rise to the occasion, we default to our training. In the church, what do we default to? We most often default to programs (old tricks), preaching (talk longer and more forcefully), and personal touch (try harder). But, what happens when none of these defaults work anymore? We have systemic problems with no clear answers.

How do we know when we are dealing with an adaptive challenge? An adaptive challenge is usually identified in the following five ways:
• We have had a cycle of failure
• We have had a flight to authority
• We have had a chorus of complaints
• It is the same old fight, and
• It is the result of yesterday’s success.

We need to figure out what kind of challenge we are facing and then shift the system to discover new strategies for addressing that challenge. This is the job of ruling elders on session. This is discernment work. What is our mission? What stuff do we need for our mission? What would be different if being missional was our central organizing principle? When we have technical competence and good relationships (trust) then we can address our adaptive challenges.

In a book called Change or Die, the author wrote about numbers of people with heart problems. They had been told by their doctors that they had to change something about their life or they would die. In a study of these people, they discovered that 90% of the people chose to die. For them, the change was too hard. They couldn’t do it. Only 10% chose to change. Half of the people who attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are still drinking. Stopping bad habits is not that easy. So, how do people change?

The book describes three ways people don’t change and three ways people do change. We have learned that people don’t change out of Fear, Facts, or Force. Scaring people might change them for the short term, but it quickly fades away. Facts are interesting but often don’t lead to changed behaviors. And you can’t force someone to change. Change can happen through Relating (a new community of friendship and support), Repeating (developing new practices and new habits), and Reframing (new ways of thinking). These three ways of changing are actually very Christian and are concepts we find in the scriptures.

Adaptive leadership is hard. Adaptive leadership always involves conflict and requires trust to get through it. Adaptive leadership clarifies our competing values, and forces us to decide which direction we are going to go. Adaptive leadership cannot happen alone. Like Lewis and Clark, we need to build our own Corps of Discovery for today. We need to assemble a team of people, with a variety of gifts, a variety of perspectives, and a variety of insights. If we work together, we can begin to make progress on some of the most difficult problems facing us. We can glorify God, serve Christ in a rapidly changing world, and follow the Holy Spirit to discover new pathways into the future, even when we realize there is no waterway to the Pacific Ocean.


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