How to Pivot

The term “pivot” has become popular recently as a descriptor for the change a business must undergo to when it changes course.

Every business and ministry has to do it sometime; the question is how.

I spoke with a friend about his business.  He is experiencing a higher volume of work, but in the process he is finding that he is not staffed properly to handle the increase in volume.  In order to hire more staff, however, he would need more income than he does at present.

In the meantime quality is slipping and balls are occasionally being dropped because too few people are trying to do too much.

What to do?


In order to pivot, however, you need to know where you are going.  If you don’t have a goal in mind, you will get there fast!  If you know where you are headed, though, you can put a plan into place to reach that goal.

Here are a few steps that have been helpful for me:

  1. Plan a day or a significant block of time away from the office and electronics.  Looking ahead into the future of your company or ministry requires a distraction-free environment.  In Rochester, NY, I used to occasionally rent a room at a local Prayer House run by a convent.  For $15 a day I had my own room with recliner, bed, desk, and bathroom.  If you are doing this exerecise with a group of people, plan accordingly.
  2. Pray for guidance.  God has the true bird’s-eye view; why would you try to do this yourself?
  3. Describe (I prefer to do this on a whiteboard) where you see your ministry or business in 5 or 10 years or just on the other side of your present growth challenges.  Describe what you want your business or ministry to be doing.  Be specific.  DO NOT use vision speak (example: “I want to impact the world for Christ.”)  Instead, “I want to erase hunger in the inner city by providing food for those who do not have it.”
  4. List the kinds of roles people will need to play in order for your ministry or business to accomplish your targeted activities.
  5. List all of your present employees or volunteers, as the case may be.  Write the names of people you feel would best fill a particular spot in the future.  DO NOT just copy and paste from your present org chart.  Disengage yourself from personal feelings about individuals here and cooly assess each person’s skills in order to properly place them.  You want each individual to be successful in the new environment, and you want your business or ministry to succeed.  Choosing an individual for a role you know he is unable to do well will only hurt your ministry or business and prevent the individual from finding their true niche.
  6. Identify the roles that have not been filled and the people who have not been re-assigned.  You now know who you need to find and, unfortunately, who you may have to let go over the life of your “pivot.”
  7. Design a plan of attack to implement these staffing changes.

You will probably need to do this process many times.  What programs do you keep or end?  What property do you keep or sell?

Easier said than done?  True.  Especially when you might have to change someone’s job description or even let someone go.

In the end, however, everyone will win if you honestly evaluate and plan.

What kind of pivot do you, your ministry, or your business need to undergo?


How (Not) to Initiate Change

I saw this sign at a restaurant and I just loved it.

Sometimes the best example is failure.  Nothing speaks louder than, “Well, that didn’t work!”

The same goes in life; we learn the most from our failures, as long as we are willing to re-visit them in a healthy frame of mind.

With those thoughts in mind, here are a few ways not to initiate change at your church.

1.  Sign your notes to the pastor, “Your thorn in the flesh.”  I kid you not.  I had one lady in the choir who would smile and give me “suggestions;” then she would sign the note just that way, as if criticism was a spiritual gift.

Why not send your pastor an encouraging note and thank them for what they are doing right?  If you have a concern, take him or her out to lunch and have a healthy conversation.

2.  Yell.  Loudly.  In.  Your.  Leader’s.  Face.  This happened to me once.  One of my older musicians got up in my face because I refused to allow them into a confidential meeting I was preparing to lead.  I am not a superhuman.  I left the meeting in the hands of my elder and went home crying.

The best way to get your leader’s ear is to speak more quietly and sparingly than anyone else.  Leaders become masters at tuning out noise because they deal with it all of the time.  I take notice of the people who listen well and then interject thoughtful comments.

3.  Pass around a letter to gather support for your cause while the pastor is away.  Several people used this ploy in different ways during my tenure at one church.  Nothing does more to support Satan’s work and spread division.  Unless you make the letter anonymous, which is like lobbing a grenade into an unsuspecting crowd.

In contrast, Matthew 18 gives us a model for resolving conflict.  First, go by yourself to the person with whom you have an issue.  Deal with it directly rather than mulling it over with a few sympathetic friends.  If you cannot resolve the issue, then go again and bring one or two godly friends (not bouncers!).  If that still does not work, involve the key church leaders.  Finally, the last resort is to involve the church body as a whole.

4.  Leave in the middle of a rehearsal or meeting because you do not like a decision or comment the leader made.  Instead of punishing the leader for their supposedly errant decision or comment, you are emphasizing your inflexibility, self-centered-ness, and resistance to constructive criticism.

Instead of leaving the scene of the conflict, walk through it together.  Even if you come out agreeing to disagree, you will come out unified and stronger.  Few things in life outside of a bathroom emergency require an immediate exit.

How have you successfully initiated change?

When in Doubt, Throw It Out

My dad used this phrase yesterday when I mentioned that I was not happy with my blog post.

Yesterday morning I wrote down some thoughts quickly during breakfast that I thought were very good at the time. Later on, though, I felt uneasy.

I like to let things set a bit or read them through several times before I publish them, but yesterday I did not.

First I took 5 minutes and made a small change. Finally I came back later and deleted the whole thing, as well as the links on my social networks.

Almost immediately I felt better.

The saying, “When in doubt, throw it out,” can apply to a lot of things in life, not just blog posts. If you feel uncomfortable about a decision, change it or make it right. Better yet, don’t make it at all if you can.

I know I would have done well in the past to follow this little bit of wisdom.

What is bothering you that you need to “throw out?”

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Fail, Fail Again.

I wish someone had told me this is elementary school, don’t you?  I wish someone had told me it was alright to fail, that I most likely WOULD fail.  A lot.  That failure was even necessary.

And I should celebrate it.

Think about it.  When you have you learned the most in your life?

Have you learned the most when you succeeded on a grand scale, or when you have colossally failed?  I would wager you have learned the most in the latter circumstance.

I have.

I tell my musicians that I would rather them make a huge, loud mistake than play or sing timidly and make an unheard mistake.  Here’s why:

  1. I can only help them fix the mistakes I hear.  Timid musicians never improve.  You must risk yourself to improve.
  2. Timid musicians rob us of all the good stuff.  While you play quietly for fear of making a mistake, chances are 75% of what you do will still be good.  Who cares, though?  If you play quietly, I will never hear you.  You might as well turn off your guitar or mouth the words.

When you are tempted to timidly toe dunk into a risky world where you might fail, think about this:

  1. Risk is required for improvement.  Make a mistake.  The worst that could happen is that you could *gasp* find an area to improve.
  2. Don’t selfishly rob us of your successes.  Yes, embracing risk, whatever it is, pretty much guarantees some failure somewhere.  If you shy away from risk for fear of failing, however, you are going to rob us of all your successes along the way.

By the way, I have been thinking about this topic because, well, I need to hear it as much as you do.  So skip the toe dunk for a cannonball, OK?  I’m right there with you.

Where do you need to take a risk even though you might fail?

Project Management for Worship Ministry Leaders

The senior pastor pulls you aside and says, “We need to develop a plan for the future of the worship center of the church.”  Cool.

Except you have absolutely no idea what to do next.  The course in college or the worship conference seminar that prepared you for this task was . . . . none.

Does that mean you go out and hire a sound design consultant?  Should you hire an architect to give you some ideas?  Should you go sit in the auditorium and pray until a vision comes to you?  Is this your opportunity to eradicate the ghastly lavender paint behind the platform?

The answer is possibly “Yes” to all of these, but how you go about the process is super critical to the success of the project, your church’s health, your personal health, and the likelihood of you keeping your job!

Don’t worry.  I have been in the same place before.  Before you go out and stake your reputation on an idea (yes, I have done that – not a good idea), here are some things to consider.

1.  Pray for guidance.  Consult the Divine Project Manager, the Ultimate Creative who designed the entire world with a thought.

2.  Project Management is simply managing a temporary project (auditorium redesign, sound system overhaul, office redesign, etc.).  While this is a specific science, the principles are straightforward.

3.  Ask for help.  When I faced a similar decision God showed me a business individual in my church who actually trained project managers in the area.  He was an immense help.  Don’t be too proud to ask a business person for help.

4.  You need a plan.  Church leaders will want to pull something together and go for it, but your job is to cool their heels and help them to consider every decision carefully.  To do this you will need a clear plan.  Don’t wing it!

5.  Create a team.  On this team you will want to have experts from each key discipline necessary for the completion and success of the task.  In my case I needed creative minds, interior designers, construction experts, technical geeks, and others.

6.  Identify the stakeholders.  There are specific people in your church who have to approve something before it happens.  Some are obvious (the senior pastor, the finance team, the elder board chair), and some are not so obvious (the kitchen lady who has been there for 40 years, the anonymous millionaire who paid for the building you want to blow up/remodel to fit a style of worship he does not like).  Write these people down and don’t guess; know!

7.  Write a contract and make all of the stakeholders and team members sign it.  This may seem like lawyer paranoia, but, trust me, you will be glad you did this later.  The team members and stakeholders will push back on every restraint you put on a project and you need to be able to point to a document that has all of the guidelines in it: a document they signed.

8.  Understand the “Triple Constraint.”  Originally just three areas (Time-Scope-Cost), the “Triple Constraint” has now evolved into six areas:

  • Schedule – how fast the project needs to be completed
  • Resources – what physical materials and people skills you have on hand
  • Budget – how much money you want to spend
  • Quality – how good a job you want to do
  • Scope – how broad the project reaches (just one room or an entire building, etc.)
  • Risk – the balance between likelihood of success and the chance of failure

Every project is defined by answers to these six areas.  For instance, if you suddenly decide to rush the Schedule for the project, the Quality of project is going to drop.  If you want to rush the Schedule AND keep Quality high, you will have to boost the Budget.  If you end up boosting the Budget you stand greater risk of rejection of the plan by stakeholders.

When I was a leader at a previous church and helping to lead a major design discussion, some leaders decided to push the implementation of a particular feature faster than the constraints allowed.  After being warned of the implications of jumping ahead, they went ahead anyways.  Because they rushed the Schedule and did not raise the Budget, Quality dropped dramatically.  The Risk of dissatisfaction among the stakeholders and among the implementors was high, and that Risk became a reality when the project failed to be high quality.

9.  Do not take anything personally!  You have heard me say this more than once, but when you are leading a project every decision will feel like it is personally directed at you.  It isn’t.  Your job is not to be personally involved or even to make any decisions, but to simply hold the leadership and team members accountable for every decision they make.

Project management includes so many more things than these, but these points will give you a running start.

Anyone can lead a project.  You can do this!

Where in your life or job do you need to step back and employ some project management principles?

How to Be a Life Source

In John 6 many disciples were leaving Jesus because he had said some hard things, so Jesus turned to his disciples and asked them if they wanted to go, too.  Hearing that, Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

What a profound statement.

“Why would we go to anything other than a life source?”  Pastor Vince of Lakeshore Community Church posed this question last fall, and the question has continued to intrigue me.

Why would I give my time and attention to anything or anyone other than a life source?

Life sources give life and energy to everyone around them.  The opposite, black holes of negativity, suck life from everyone who comes in contact with them.  People and even organizations (dare I say churches?) can be either life sources or black holes.

It’s a choice.

My dad has always been an encourager, both personally and as a pastor, but several years ago he decided he was going to give life wherever he goes.  As a result he does not listen to negative talk without trying to turn it around to a positive perspective.  As an elder at his church he challenges people who are resisting authority because those people are sucking life from the pastor.  And he is always encouraging me and helping me to dream about what my future could hold.

I want to hang out with him just reading what I am writing.  I love my dad.  And so does everyone else.  The world is his pulpit, and in his wake are people smiling and encouraged by stories, laughs, and prayers.

I am already a bit like my dad in personality, but I have really tried to be more life giving in the past while, and I have noticed how people respond.  It’s addictive.  I love seeing people light up.  People desperately want to be loved, encouraged, and recognized.

Here are a few ways you can become a life source in your world.

1.  Always use a person’s name.  In the checkout line, grab the person’s name and use it like you have known them all your life.  “Hi, Nancy, how’s your day going?”  will change you from another customer into the person who took a personal interest.  9 times out of 10 they will brighten up.

2.  Ask them what their name means.  Only once have I had a person say, “Well, people ask me this a lot.  I was born as a result of an affair.”  And even then it was an opportunity to encourage her and love on her in a difficult place of her life by talking about how beautiful her name was.

3.  Eat chocolate.  What??  That’s right.  If a person has a tray of candies or something on their desk, if your diet will allow it, take one.  That is their way of lightening things up, so you will make them happy by taking one.  When I left my job at Lakeshore, the front desk person said, “But who will eat my chocolate?”  It made both of us smile.

4.  Don’t vomit.  When someone asks you, “How are you doing?” don’t vomit your life all over them.  They walk away stinking and messy.  You don’t have to lie, and you shouldn’t.  Have someone else you can talk to about the hard things, and then remind yourself that God is working on your future.  As a Christian you can know that “everything works together for good,” even when life is screaming something else.

5.  Fill your life with positive input.  Refuse to give prominence to black holes.  Turn off the gangsta rap (the radio, I mean; if that’s your spouse then you have a different problem) and find something else.  No, you don’t have to turn on John Tesh (ugh!).  John Ortberg talks about balcony people.  Get people in your life who are going to cheer you on and dream for you.

6.  Listen, look them in the eye, and ask questions.  Be present when another person is talking.  One of my biggest challenges over the years has been to bring myself fully into every conversation and not be day dreaming or scheming my cool response.  Just be and experience the conversation with your whole being, and the other person will feel validated.

If you are reading this and realizing that you are more of a black hole than a life source, get a trusted friend or counselor and talk it over with them.  Get some perspective so that you can begin to change.  Your life can be so much better.

How are you going to be a life source today?

Embracing Change

Several days a week I work in masonry with my father’s company, Fran Overholt, Inc.  This week as I was laying block, another mason on the job commented that he preferred to do things the way he was taught rather than to change.  Evidently at one point another mason had tried to show him a faster way to do something, but he refused to do it; the way he knew was preferable to change, even if the change would have made him more productive.

Several years ago I was the worship leader at a church that had two styles of worship – traditional and contemporary – and it had been that way for about 15 years.  The leadership decided we should do an experiment and lead one style of worship during our five week purpose series.  Needless to say, many people from both styles struggled with the decision.  Leading worship during those five weeks, and particularly during the first three, was more difficult than any other I had ever experienced in worship leadership up to that time.  Knowing that people in the congregation were angry and possibly even resentful towards me and the leadership over the song I was leading at that moment was brutal.

Prior to that experiment I had always said I liked change.  I liked to do new things and experiment.  I still do.  But I have made one small change to my statement.  No longer do I simply say I like change; I now realize that I like change only when I initiate the change.  Ever think about that?  Some people do like change regardless of it’s source, but I would wager that the majority of people only like the change they initiate.

When I made that realization, suddenly I had a lot more compassion and understanding for the older members of our congregation who were struggling with all of the changes.  Suddenly I found that I was often just like them, struggling with the change that someone else initiated without my consent.

I like to think that I interact with the older generations in a completely different way than I had before that change, and I like to think that I am much more honest with myself.  Yesterday I talked about learning to know yourself; well, this was a big step on that path for me, and it keeps me thoughtful when I am proposing changes.

Proverbs 3:13 (ESV) states, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, .  .”  Wisdom and understanding do not come to us naturally or by some bestowment from God.  We have to seek wisdom and understanding.  “Blessed is the one who finds . . ., and the one who gets . . .”  We must choose to accept and learn from change, to remain teachable.  God made Solomon the wisest man who ever lived, but only after he requested wisdom and understanding to lead Israel (2 Chronicles 1:7-12).

To dig deeper, read this post by Michael Hyatt: The Primary Difference Between The Wise And The Foolish.

How about you?  How do you respond to change?  How do you remain teachable?