Sermon illustrations


Canoeing the Mountains

In their book Leadership on the Line, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky describe adaptive challenges as the work confronting a leader when there is no known fix to a problem. It’s when “best practices” are irrelevant, when there is no “expertise” at hand, no personal experience to draw on that is relevant to the challenge of the moment.

When a leader and an organization are facing a sudden disruption, a completely unforeseen “black swan” event, or uncharted territory, a different kind of leadership is needed. It’s like when Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Sacagawea, and the expert river navigators that made up the Corps of Discovery looked over the Lemihi Pass in Montana.

Their commission had been to navigate from the fork where the Missouri River emptied into the Mississippi River in St. Charles, Missouri, to the source of the Missouri River and to find the connection to the Columbia River that would provide an all-water route from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.

After eighteen months of traveling upstream, a long winter with the Mandan tribe in North Dakota, a strenuous passage over the Great Falls of Montana, and a winding, long slog up a rapidly dwindling creek, they had indeed found the source of the Missouri. Following a short hike to the top of the pass, Meriwether Lewis and his scouting party expected to find another stream that would become the Columbia River and propel them downstream to the Pacific Ocean and the accomplishment of their mission: finding a navigable water route across the continent.

Those dreams were disrupted when this band of expert river explorers discovered that they were instead facing hundreds of miles of foreboding Rocky Mountains with steep, soaring peaks that made water navigation impossible. Adaptive leadership is what is needed at moments like that: when you find yourself without a map and recognizing that you have to lead your people into a reality where the world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.

There is no clear plan, no map to follow, no past expertise to give confidence to both the leader and followers. Instead the leader must calmly and courageously tell the truth about their condition, and when asked, “What do we do?” must say the three hardest words for any leader to say: “I don’t know.” And then you begin the process of learning, facing loss, and navigating competing values that is at the heart of adaptive leadership.

Taken from Leadership for a Time of Pandemic: Practicing Resilience by Tod E. Bolsinger Copyright (c) 2020 by Tod E. Bolsinger. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Changing Landscape of Ministry

In this short excerpt, professor and pastor Tod Bolsinger describes how the changing world of ministry (in the west) has led some pastors to simply give up trying:

About twelve years ago, I heard a whisper for the first time. It was a pastor who was deeply discouraged and trying to make sense of why so much effort and faithfulness seemed to bear such little fruit. Over the years I would hear it over and over again: “Seminary didn’t train me for this, Tod.”

Back then, I was serving a congregation as their senior pastor and on a commission to prepare my denomination for the future. I had also started doing consulting and coaching in leading change with church and nonprofit leaders.

On one particular day, I was stunned when three of my colleagues all resigned from their churches. There were no affairs or scandals or renunciations of faith—just three good servants all throwing in the towel, overwhelmed by the task in front of them.

The circumstances were as different as the pastors themselves, but there was one thing they all had in common: their churches were struggling because so many of the approaches and assumptions of the past were no longer working. The pastors hadn’t changed their beliefs; the churches hadn’t changed their values. The world around them had changed. And it was continuing to do so at an even more rapid pace.

Taken from Leadership for a Time of Pandemic: Practicing Resilience by Tod E. Bolsinger Copyright (c) 2020 by Tod E. Bolsinger. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Difference between Conformity and Adaptability

There is a profound difference between adaptability and conformity. The “greats” seem to instinctively understand this difference, and while they disdain conformity, they cherish the courageous ability to adjust to changing circumstances. Conformity is the negative quality of blending in, becoming average, refusing to stand out or capitalize on one’s uniqueness.

Adaptability is the positive quality of being able to sense the shift in wind direction and proactively adjust one’s course to take advantage of that wind shift. While conformity is a weakness based upon fear of rejection, adaptability is a strength based upon confidence in oneself and in one’s own judgment and abilities.

Dave Martin, The 12 Traits of the Greats: The Twelve Undeniable Qualities of Uncommon Achievers, and How You Can Master Them in Your Life . . . Right Now! (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 2011), Kindle location 2707.

The Evolution of the Rose

A couple years ago I got to take a tour of the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California. The name is a bit misleading because what they are most known for are there amazing gardens. And so we were on this tour and I got to learn something about the history of roses. And it goes something like this.

There have been roses since we have been on this planet, but the wild roses in Europe, while all different colors and quite beautiful, would only bloom once a year, and so for most of the warm months you would be looking at a bunch of ugly green canes with thorns, no flowers. But then, some botanists in the late 18th century began experimenting by grafting the Chinese wild rose, which was only green, but bloomed all summer, with the European rose, and after a bunch of testing, created what we know to be the modern rose, which blooms from June through October, but not only in green, but in a myriad of colors. 

Isn’t that interesting, so roses as we know them are really a modern invention, and because of the grafting of the wild Chinese rose with the roses of Europe, we have this stronger, much more beautiful flower than we ever had before.And that is what Paul is getting at, but instead of it being one wild rose and another, we are grafted into Christ, God incarnate, and our lives should therefore look different than they used to.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Genes on a Razor’s Edge

Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success.

With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.

“The Science of Success”, by David Dobbs. “This article was originally published in The Atlantic and is republished here with The Atlantic’s permission.”

See Also ActionsChange, Perseverance, Transformation

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Adaptation. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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