Learning from Sacagawea
Partly in preparation for year three of my program (it’s on the syllabus!), and partly because good friends have issued hearty recommendations, I recently picked up and read a book on the topic of adaptive leadership called Canoeing the Mountains, by Fuller’s Tod Bolsinger.
The book borrows its guiding theme from the 19th century journey of Lewis and Clark. Commissioned by President Jefferson to pursue a water route to the continent’s west coast, Lewis and Clark gathered up a corps of men and off they went. Why canoes? Because they figured that when they hit the continental midpoint, they’d simply be able to load up in the boats and float down to the Pacific.
So, imagine their surprise when they looked up one day and saw:
The snow-capped Rockies.
Hence, the importance of adaptive leadership. For Lewis and Clark, it was time to ditch the canoes and see about rustling up some horses.
To be sure, the book is a worthwhile read for anyone who is trying to guide a community through uncertain circumstances. In particular, I found Bolsinger’s four-fold framework for how to lead in the midst of change helpful. You should read the book, but here it is: start with conviction, stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.
But of all of the helpful passages in the book, one chapter, entitled “How a Nursing Mother Saved America,” caught my eye. No surprise there, right?
The chapter told the story of Sacagawea, the teenage mother-to-be who joined the corps alongside her interpreter husband. Lauded by Lewis for her “fortitude and resolution,” among other things Sacagawea did translation work, she negotiated with the Shoshone for horses, and she guided the corps through the (to them, but not to her) unknown territories. Indeed, Clark eventually praised Sacagawea as the “pilot” for the expedition.
In sharing Sacagawea’s story, Bolsinger was doing more than celebrating the pioneering achievement of a remarkable woman, though Sacagawea’s valor and industry are certainly praiseworthy.
Instead, Bolsinger was making a larger point, about the relationship between those on the margins and people in power. Specifically, for Bolsinger, in the midst of the shifting seas that the American church finds itself in, it’s critical that those in power learn from those on the margins. He writes:
“The key point here is that for lasting cultural change to occur (even within an institution) those in the center and those outside of the center must be truly engaged and valued in decision-making processes. The interaction of the margins and the center creates new possibilities. The combination of ideas and relationships, the sharing of experiences and especially the valuing of perspective come from a lifetime of living in uncharted territory that is needed for Christendom-trained leaders to move into uncharted territory. When the center engages the insights from the margins, the center comes alive and moves toward the future.”
From time to time, people will ask me about why I think it’s a good thing for men to release power to women.
Frankly, I think there are several reasons (here you go), but a critical one is captured in the story of Sacagawea’s leadership among the Lewis and Clark expedition:
The church will be better equipped to reach the world as it embraces the voices of those on the margins. And given our Tertullianized history, that means creating channels for women to use their voices and to lead.
Simply put, it’s about the mission. We’ll be better able to fulfill our mission if we devise new ways for men and women to equally share power.
Put another way: if we’re going to cross the Rockies, we’re going to need to do away with Tertullian’s canoes…