TMC Digging A Deeper Well

One of the terms that has found new life and meaning during the pandemic is the well-worn word pivot. Everyone, it seems, has been pivoting all over the place.  Indeed, we wouldn’t be surprised if your church board has discussed and enacted several pivots of its own.  And certainly, the ground-shaking experience of the last two years has warranted, even demanded, pivoting.

A couple of observations for your church board as you (undoubtedly) continue to pivot.

Pivoting is crucial to playing basketball.  Years ago, Tom Friedman wrote a column in which he clarified that, in basketball, a player who pivots must begin by planting one foot firmly on the floor.  You can only pivot with one foot – the other must be stationary.  You plant with one foot, then you pivot with the other.  Likewise, all who seek to pivot in their congregational leadership must first stand on the values that they deem essential.  That – and that alone – opens the opportunities provided by pivoting.

Also, once you pivot, you need to stand tall, rather than go into a protective crouch. A coach of a middle-school girls’ basketball team offered this. “You need to get bigger.  When my players plant their foot, they have stopped, so the instinct is to fold into themselves, to protect the ball.  If you are going to pivot, you need to stand tall and use your space.”  There is so much to “protect” as a church board leader.  (And so many voices eager to “help” by suggesting what needs to be protected.)

But above all, pivoting is about choosing.  In fact, it might be helpful to talk less about how you pivot and more about how you choose.  On the basketball court, if you are going to pivot, you need to see the whole floor – all the possibilities, not just those you already see or want – in order to choose well.  Often church boards narrow their choices too quickly, out of an understandable anxiety to “get on with it.” But choosing that way is unlikely to change the game.

How good are you, as a board, at seeing the whole floor … planting one foot … standing tall … and, only then, pivoting?

In her poem about “Choices,” American poet Tess Gallagher (b. 1943) shows us how it’s done.


by Tess Gallagher

 I go to the mountain side

of the house to cut saplings,

and clear a view to snow

on the mountain. But when I look up,

saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in

the uppermost branches.

I don’t cut that one.

I don’t cut the others either.

Suddenly, in every tree,   

an unseen nest

where a mountain   

would be.



How does Gallagher pivot in this poem? What choices does she make, and why?


When was the last time that you, as a church board, did something you called pivoting?


Where are you, as a congregation, feeling called to pivot now? What are the possibilities? How will you choose? On what values should you plant one foot? How can you work together on standing tall rather than getting pulled into a protective crouch?

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