Recently I was talking with my wife, Beth, about a situation at work where we were heading in one direction, faced some major obstacles, and had to pivot to a new direction. Then we faced additional obstacles and had to pivot again. As I shared my frustration, I noticed Beth grinning, and asked why. “That must be your new word,” she smiled. “You seem to be ‘pivoting’ a lot lately.”
I had to admit it was and is true. These days we are still meeting obstacles and changing directions over and over, it seems, and in ways that are making many of us, not just me, look for a word that is more precise than just change, or adjust, or even turn. We are pivoting.
I think I first came to understand what pivoting means when I was a young boy learning to play basketball. After learning the fun parts of the game like dribbling and shooting, I was told that if you stopped dribbling you had to keep one foot in place, your pivot foot.
At first, I found that quite limiting, and even a little annoying. But I eventually learned that, once stopped, the ability to pivot on a firmly grounded foot actually gives you much-needed flexibility to look all around for a different way forward. And in these days of sudden stop due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of us are doing just that.
For several weeks now, most churches have needed to stop public meetings and pivot to online worship services. Sunday school and Bible study groups have had to stop small group gatherings and pivot to helping members learn how to videoconference. We’ve pivoted from offering plates to online giving, from personal visits to phone calls, and from the handshakes and hugs of fellowship to virtual waves and smiles.
And the pivoting is far from over. Some churches have already pivoted again to drive-in worship services or drive-through giving. Others are preparing to pivot to reopened buildings with physical distancing, one-way hallways, face masks, hand-sanitizing stations, and alternate service times.
Some churches are pivoting to new financial realities. Some are pivoting to new ways to perform funerals and weddings. And thankfully, many are pivoting to creative new ministries in their communities, communities full of people being forced into their own pivoting.
As in basketball, having your forward progress and plans halted suddenly, and against your will, can cause frustration and sometimes even a competitive anger. Many of us have been forced to “pick up our dribble” when we’d much rather be driving directly to the basket and scoring.
But there are some wonderful, innovative things that can happen when you are forced to stop, and to reevaluate, and to look for creative alternatives. You may be able to see your options, and even your defenders, more clearly. You may be close enough to the basket to pivot to a creative shot you hadn’t planned. Or you may spot a teammate who is in an even better position to score.
Even in the midst of this tragic and frustrating pandemic, I have seen churches reach wider audiences, discover creative new ways to serve their communities, and mobilize members with previously unused skills. I have seen older pastors learn to use new technology tools, and less vulnerable members learn to compassionately serve more vulnerable members. I have seen churches display remarkable resilience, generosity, and creativity. And it all came as a result of pivoting.
We certainly didn’t choose this stoppage. But how we as churches choose to pivot in the midst of it will make all the difference.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.