Letting Go of the Pivot

I have heard a common word associated with ministry at the local church level for the last two years. That word is “pivot,” as in “we need to pivot our plans.” This has commonly been the word associated with the need to adapt and change to the challenges Covid has brought to ministry.

The problem is that I don’t recall hearing this word spoken about ministry outside of these last two years, in my previous twenty years of working in the church. 

The definition of pivot is as follows, “To pivot is to turn or rotate, like a hinge. Or a basketball player pivoting back and forth on one foot to protect the ball. When you’re not talking about a type of swivelling movement, you can use pivot to mean the one central thing that something depends upon.”

When I think of a pivot, I immediately think of someone making a hard stop and moving in the opposite direction. But for me, the emphasis is on the hard stop. It implies a stop of momentum, and as a result, everything jerks awkwardly to a halt. I’ve just seen so many youth kids play basketball over the years that I can picture the hard stop, swivel and then attempt to gain momentum again for the pass.

When we think about Covid and the last two years of ministry for many of you, the change of plans was a hard stop, and maybe it was also a bit awkward. Those first few adjustments might have felt like a pivot, and I think that’s okay. However, we repeatedly used the word pivot, and I kept hearing story after story of people being exhausted by ministry. The hard stop was draining people. But there was another word that I think works better than any I heard during Covid; that word is flexibility. 

The definition of flexibility is as follows “Flexibility is the ability to bend or stretch. Lots of things can have flexibility. Pipe cleaners are designed for flexibility. A piece of software can boast flexibility when it can be used in different ways by different people.”

I think it’s time to let go of the pivot and bring back flexibility to our ministries. For me, ministry should always have been flexible. The pivot, from my perspective, was not needed because what we were doing already should have been able to bend and stretch to meet the challenges of our world.

The pivot was born out of the reality that our ministry systems, structures, and vision were ridged and maybe even a bit formulaic. So when Covid showed up, it was like a shock to the system because the formula no longer worked. We made a hard stop to try and adjust and lost momentum in the process. 

The challenge (and a blog for another day) is that I don’t think we can ever go back. I think we need a leaner, more flexible approach to ministry. Let me be clear I’m not talking about theology or doctrine. I’m talking about the system, structures and vision of why we do what we do. 

I used to ask my youth leaders what we would do if the Holy Spirit moved and 25 new students showed up to our 50 student program on a Tuesday night? Or what would we do if we dubbed essentially overnight? The questions though simple, forced us to think about how we structured our program. It challenged us to reevaluate how we welcomed people, introduced new kids into small groups, and shifted our leadership towards a team model. But I didn’t just ask these questions once. I asked them every 4-6 months. They were a consistent part of our leadership discussions because I never wanted us to get ridged; I wanted to stay flexible. 

  • What if your ministry exploded this next year? 
  • What if 50% of your volunteers just don’t come back? 
  • What if your venue got flooded?
  • What if all your tech just stopped working?
  • What if the Pastor’s flight got cancelled, and they wouldn’t be back for service?
  • What if 20 people wanted to get baptized?
  • What if…

Maybe it’s time to kill the pivot and usher in the age of flexibility.

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