PendulumMost church planters probably forgot physics a long time ago, but this is one lesson you might want to remember.  Newton’s third law of motion says, “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”  Swing the pendulum one way, it’s going to swing back the other way.  Worth remembering, because it applies to people as much as it does to pendulums.  I call it the law of unintended consequences.

  • You said you wanted to reach the broken and hurting. Now you have a church without healthy leaders
  • You said you wanted to have a “family” feeling. Now you have a church that doesn’t want to grow past 50.
  • You said you wanted people to go deep in God’s word.  Now you have a church full of people who can quote Ezekiel but can’t name a single unchurched person they are friends with.

The first thing is most often good – an expression of a genuine value or clear vision of who you want the church you lead to become.  The second thing is an unintended and most often undesired reaction to the first. Here are some practical suggestions for leading through the Law of unintended consequences.

Don’t compromise.  Depending on your experience you may or may not see compromise as a good thing.  In my experience, compromise is the choice to pursue an arbitrary middle ground in an attempt to avoid creating conflict, but it comes with its own unintended consequences.  Compromise is safe but it is also boring. It won’t inspire anyone.  Thus, it is not the solution.

Anticipate unintended consequences.  The biggest problem is most leaders are unaware of and unprepared for this law.  Learn to constantly ask this question, “If we value and emphasis this what are the possible unintended consequences?”  You’ll be surprised how many mistakes you’ll avoid.

Evaluate whether the anticipated consequences are worth the gain.  This is simple risk reward analysis.  We are subconsciously doing it all the time.  Start doing it consciously.  Ask, “Are the benefits worth the consequences?”  Once you weigh the action against the reaction, you may decide you don’t value that idea as much as you thought.  You may also decide this is exactly what we must do anyway.

Communicate with clarityLanguage and story create culture. Choose your language in ways that emphasises what you value but don’t accelerate the consequence.  You can do this best by always defining what you’re for, instead of what you’re against.  For example, saying you’re for having everyone in a group where they both know and are known will have far less consequences than saying your against the gathering of big crowds.


The sooner you take these steps the better.  The culture of a new church starts out very fluid but rapidly becomes wet cement.  By the end of the first year or two it is hard as stone.  Changing culture is always harder than creating it. Create wisely.


Where are you experiencing the law of unintended consequences?

How are you leading through it?