Flexible like Water

flexible like water

The infamous Ross Geller “pivot” scene from the TV show Friends resurfaced in Covid. Ross is trying to direct people moving a sofa up a stairway. All he can do is stand and yell “PIVOT.” Covid felt like that.

The flexibility we learned during Covid may bode well for our future. But let’s try a different metaphor. Water is highly adaptable. Just ask seven-year-old me. The walk home from school during the spring thaw was a blast. I got to race popsicle sticks down the sidewalk gutters with my friends. Strange kid, right? It was great fun! We would run ahead and build snow blockades and channels for the sticks to navigate. The amazing thing was the running water almost never got stopped. It always found a way past the obstacles. Water does that.

Let’s take that metaphor and apply it to church and ministry. In our rebuilding, I hope we aren’t simply rushing back to “normal”. I hope we are reflecting on what adapting to a new ministry context means.

We witnessed a fair amount of isolation and loneliness during the pandemic. I’m not sure that was isolated to the pandemic, it seems to be on-going.

Should we be thinking about strengthening “church as family” in this context? What would we need to do to make church feel more like family? In what ways do we need to shift how we function to ensure that people and relationships trump programs and structure? This is only one of the ways we could and probably should adapt. But adapting is hard.

One of the things that I love about my job is that I hear quite a bit from church planters. Church planters are typically highly adaptable. They must be like water, always finding ways around obstacles. Here are a few ideas from their world that might help us be more flexible:

Conduct short-term experiments

When church planters start, everything is a short-term experiment. However, established church have a harder time doing experiments. Most churches try to implement change with a vote on something that no one has tried. What if you could test drive a change? Try out a change for three months, or six months to see how it fits? Would that help us become more adaptable?

Foster an R&D environment

Church planters don’t stop experimenting. It’s pretty much their life. It’s necessary. Research and development are crucial to the process. While that kind of change is clearly uncomfortable for most people, how could your ministry or church be more like an R&D environment? How would this help you move ahead in ministry?

Make space for small failures

We almost always learn more from failure than from success. Church planters certainly do. I believe our churches and ministries could too. Now there is a huge difference between small failures and colossal ones. A culture of short-term experiments will result in some small failures. However, if we can’t make space for small failures so we can learn, a much larger failure may be waiting for us down the road.

Always evaluate

Experimenting, R&D, and space for small failure, don’t matter if there is no evaluation. A handful of questions should be asked after every experiment. What did we learn? How did this help us make disciples of Jesus? How has this helped or hindered our mission? Is there a better way to accomplish what we set out to do? What failure do we not want to repeat? What success do we want to celebrate? I suspect you could think of a few more.

Being flexible like water sounds a little bit scary, but it just might be one of the skills we need to move forward.

Neil Bassignthwaighte
ServeCanada Director & Interim Prayer Catalyst