Ambidextrous Ministry

An article entitled “The Ambidextrous Organization” from Harvard Business Review has really resonated with me as a leader in a large traditional organization. “Ambidextrous,” in this case, means exactly what you would think it means: managing new initiatives and established ones at the same time. While reading, I noted many implications for ministry leaders in strong, historic, or established ministries.

The research behind the article reveals that companies who operate in an ambidextrous fashion are nine times more likely to achieve breakthrough. Instead of implementing a new initiative into the existing structure or launching a new team managed lower in the organization, ambidextrous companies gave new initiatives tremendous levels of freedom while keeping executive levels of leadership highly engaged at the same time. As a result, the new initiatives benefited from company resources and senior leader support without being encumbered by layers of traditional culture and systems. By keeping senior leadership engaged, the entire organization benefited because the right hand knew what the left hand was doing. Ambidextrous.

Leaders of these organizations must be ambidextrous: willing and able to lead differently and skilled to lead the proven and established with one hand and the explorative with the other.

In my context this means caring deeply and leading passionately the ministry and organizational functions that have made LifeWay into what it is while simultaneously launching new initiatives with disproportionate amounts of freedom and resources. I am excited to share details of these in the future and how I believe they will serve churches well.

In the context of a local church, ambidextrous could look like this…

•    A pastor senses the nudge from God to launch a new ministry but knows his team would be distracted from the essential ministries. Instead of forcing the new ministry through the existing team, he brings in a new leader (paid or volunteer) and gives complete freedom, manages the leader directly, and resources her/him well. I have seen churches launch counseling centers, art studios, and distinct mission organizations in this manner.

•    A mission leadership team senses a nudge from God to directly serve an unreached people group or a segment of their city. Yet there is a solid and strong mission philosophy and practice already in place. Instead of funneling the initiative through the existing structure, the team decides to launch a new mission endeavor with a new team recruited specifically for the new endeavor.

Very few leaders have been trained to think and lead in an ambidextrous fashion. We tend to exploit our current strength. But if business leaders long for breakthrough and greater impact, how much more so should leaders in the Kingdom?