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The Pendulum Principle

 —  March 21, 2013 — 2 Comments


The pendulum swings, and it almost always swings back. It rarely swings all the way back to its original starting point, but tends to come to rest someplace in a new, healthier middle. Here are a couple examples:

* Chick-Fil-A: Chick-Fil-A gets on the radar for donating funds to organizations that support traditional marriage (or oppose same-sex marriage). When questioned about it, Dan Cathy, the President and COO defends his company’s decisions. Suddenly, the pendulum swings. the initial swing of the pendulum created headlines, got people excited, sparked debate, etc. But the pendulum eventually swang back to a new, healthier middle. The swing of the pendulum, as uncomfortable as it was, actually served to create a few steps of progress and understanding, at least for those honest enough to recognize it. You probably didn’t read this story, because it doesn’t fit the narrative of either side but it shows that the pendulum principle is true in the Chick-Fil-A case:

* The Accusations Against Youth Ministry: A few years ago Researchers, bloggers, professors and “thought leaders” suddenly began to focus on an issue that has always been an issue: Faith abandonment in churchgoing teenagers after high school. Because these people have avenues to distribute these new findings, because juicy topics get attention and because many youth workers have, in fact, grown far too comfortable with the status quo…and the pendulum swang. Suddenly youth ministry was broken. It was the primary cause of faith abandonment. Paradigms, programs and attempts to attract teenagers to church were attacked and questions such as “is youth ministry even biblical to begin with?” began to dominate our landscape. But the pendulum is already beginning to swing back to a new, healthier middle. The initial swing forced many of us to ask tough questions, challenge our assumptions and make some overdue changes; changes that without the initial swing of the pendulum would have seem to big or unnecessary.

Here are some thoughts about how to lead when the pendulum swings:

* Thank God for the “Pendulum Pushers”! Without men and women pushing the pendulum, most of us would never change. The status quo is a safe place. Pendulum Pushers don’t play it safe. They force issues. They make us uncomfortable. And that’s a good thing.

* Respond, don’t react! A sudden, knee-jerk, reaction to the initial swing of the pendulum is almost always the wrong move. Instead try to discern what factors caused the initial swing, and how/if you should wisely respond to those factors. The issues causing the initial swing are usually warranted….but the first swing is usually too big and reacting to it can result in decisions you’ll later regret.

* Take a few steps toward the new, healthier middle. To ignore a significant pendulum swing, and the progress it might help you make would be a mistake.

Would love your thoughts. Where have you experienced a pendulum swing? What lessons have you learned?

Kurt Johnston

Kurt Johnston


Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

2 responses to The Pendulum Principle

  1. I think some pendulum swings are necessary. Christianity sometimes seems to be more of a cultural lifestyle in this country then a transforming, Jesus-filled life. Our move in the 80’s – 90’s to become “relevant” and “seeker-friendly” was needed, but we may have swung too far. We’re not called to compete with the glitter of this world. We already have gold – Jesus. Being relevant to our students is good, but being Jesus to our students is better. I honestly think our US church needs a revival of Jesus…and that would be a great great pendulum swing for our country. Thanks for the article, it gave me a lot of food for thought.

  2. My ministry experiences one significant pendulum swing between pouring into students and equipping them to give back to the world.

    We’ve been so focused on mission for the last 18 months, that I feel like we are starting to swing back the other way to slow down and make sure our students really know Jesus.

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