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 position.
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 direction.
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.