“The Leadership Pendulum” by Garris Elkins

by | Feb 8, 2012 | Church, Culture, Leadership, Transition, Vision. | 2 comments

I remember the
first time I heard a concept that I knew was a leadership principle.  At the time I was in my 20’s and studying for the ministry. A wise leader said the Church is like a pendulum –
it is constantly swinging back and forth to find a place of balance.  As the years have gone by I’ve come to
realize that this pendulum never stops, but continues to swing from side to
side as the Church enters and departs different seasons of life and development.

I have lived long enough
to see the Church change and transition over time.  I have seen the pendulum swing widely through
areas of understanding in gender roles, the ministry of the Spirit,
interpretations of God’s sovereignty and a host of other issues.  

This continuous
motion of the pendulum is not because God is unsettled, or even that the Church
is neurotic; it is because from our viewpoint we only see things in part, not
the whole, and all of us are on a constant search for balance.

This is how the
Church moves forward – we advance by reconciling imbalance.  Someone once told me that the very act of
walking is a linked to a series of movements that have us seeking balance with each
new step.  To walk forward we need
to let go of our last foothold and pass through a swinging gait of imbalance to
gain a new balanced foothold.   

The pendulum of
the Church continues to swing because in any given moment we are out of balance
in our current understanding about what God is doing upon the earth. I am not
saying what we currently understand is wrong – it is simply not yet fully
developed, no matter how mature we think we are. There is always more than we are
seeing in any given moment.

Our tendency is to
park our comprehension of God and His Kingdom somewhere along the timeline of certain
events or revelations that we have experienced. When this happens we begin to build
our concept of ministry around that stationary observation. The outcome of this way of thinking is that we actually
stop growing and learning. Narrow vision sets in and we begin to view life and
ministry with the blinders on.  From this
stationary posture we can begin to construct a defensive compound from which to
protect our limited understanding against any perceived change from outside our

The pendulum has
been swinging throughout the entire history of the Church.  I think this is actually God’s plan.  Growing things are never static.  Motion means you are alive.

Just when I think I
fully understand a point of theology, or how the Church should be led, or what the best model is for doing church on Sunday morning, God will lovingly take
me to a wider and more expanded view of what He is accomplishing in His people.   He does
this by showing me the smallness of what I have chosen to see. Realizing the
smallness of my own vision allows me to repent and begin to live in greater
humility and see the value of differing opinions than the one I hold.

Realizing we don’t know
all things keeps us open to expanding our circle of fellowship to include others
who may not process life like us.  A
willingness to admit my limited understanding deconstructs the pride that comes
when I think I fully see and understand all that is happening along the
swinging arc of the pendulum.

I have learned a few things as I have watched this swinging
pendulum of understanding within the Church.

I have learned that
I need to be careful to not capture and define what I think God is doing, mid-swing
in the pendulum arc, and build a definition around that limited understanding.  The leaders I observe, who lead from a place
of peace, are not trying to get the pendulum to stop so they can define
something.  These leaders step back and
watch the pendulum from a distance and try to anticipate in what direction God
is taking His Church and then begin to move their lives and ministries in that

I have learned that it is wise to resist the urge to park our
understanding anywhere along the arc of a developing principle. At the point
where we park we become irrelevant in our ability to engage developing realities
and emerging generations of leadership. To finish well means that we must
remain mobile in the way we think about our lives and ministries so that past
seasons don’t define us. 

I have learned that the older a person gets the more the
desire surfaces to return to “the good old days”. This desire must be seen as a
warning that we are not engaging the moment. 
We all have preferences and life-experiences that warm our hearts. They
were never intended to lead us, rather, they are to be stones of remembrance
left behind along the trail of our developing journey. 
The destination is always out in front.

Finally, I have learned that the pendulum is a teacher.  Too many times I have felt I had some current
issue all figured out and then God had me sit in front of the swinging pendulum
and simply watch.  As I watched, I
realized that some of what I thought ten years ago I no longer processed the
same way today.  Those people and
ministries I disapproved of years ago are now closer in thought and fellowship
to me than ever before. The swinging pendulum has taught me let go of snap
judgments and it has freed me to wait awhile until the pendulum swings back my
way with a new and clearer understanding of what is taking place in the Church.


  1. McCapo

    There's a lot of freedom in what you're talking about; freedom to love and grow and move with an understanding that's ever expanding. Thanks for sharing. I'm quite encouraged.

  2. Haslem Home

    My vision of the pendulum you speak of has always been one that reflects the image of a plate spinner. You know, those talent show acts where the guy/gal gets a dozen plates to balance on the tops of small thin sticks. You may liken it to a basketball player balancing the ball on the tip of his finger (like that scene in THE PISTOL where Pete Maravic balances the ball on his finger for 30 minutes) The trick to these acts is keeping the ball/plate in motion. Constantly spinning and adjusting the pivot point so that the motion of the plate is actually what keeps it balanced.

    All too often, our image of something in balance is the scales or a teeter totter. But these images of a thing in balance are things that are static.

    In one of my business classes we were taught about managing business cycles. The overall concept was that trying to strike the right balance in any organization will lead to erratic situations where things look chaotic. But, if as you say, we step back and anticipate the direction things are going, watch and study when the inflection points occur, and adjust…we will soon learn to recognize the signs of an inflection sooner and adjust sooner. The change never stops occurring, but, if we anticipate change and expect it to happen, then we can be better prepared to adjust to it.

    The same thing happens by sitting back and watching the pendulum…sort of. As you sit and watch, you will begin to recognize a pattern. Pendulums swing within a time constant. Watch one long enough and you know exactly when its swing will change direction, when it will peak, when it will hit its valley, and how long each swing is in duration. But imagine if you were on the pendulum, rather than just observing it. This would be like being on a ocean baring ship. The ocean never stops swaying the boat, but the sways from side to side is rather predictable, and good sailors know how to adjust to the swaying. Ironically, they are constantly seeking balance, but their inner ear is also adjusting to the swaying. Step off of a swaying boat and you still feel like you are swaying because you never trully found balance while on the boat, your body simply adjusted to the motion. The only thing on a boat that is not in motion are the things that are inanimate.

    All of this to say. I agree with you. God has made our lives and this world to be constantly in motion and in balance would seem to be the last place He wants us to be. Thanks.


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