A friend of mine tried desperately to make his son left-handed. His reasoning was simple: Left-handed pitchers are a treasured commodity in the baseball world. By training his son to be left-handed, he automatically would increase his odds of one day becoming a major league pitcher.

As you can imagine, his efforts failed. No matter how hard the father tried, his son was born right-handed. The child naturally used his right hand for throwing, writing, and waving. To the son, every situation –picking up a hammer, turning a doorknob, raising a fork- was addressed with a right-handed solution.

There is a divide in church leadership circles between a “practical” approach to ministry and a “theological” approach to ministry. Imagine for a moment that leaders who lean toward a practical approach are like lefties while leaders who lean toward theology are like righties.

When asked, “How should the church approach lost people in the community,” the left-handed practical pastor’s first reaction might be to host a community event that would attract the lost, start a bus-ministry for un-churched children, or begin canvassing the community with flyers for an evangelistic crusade.

The right-handed theology-driven leader might naturally suggest increasing the church’s understanding of the Christ’s atonement, the relationship between faith, grace, and works, and the depraved man’s need for redemption.

By reading those last two paragraphs, you probably figured out which way you lean. May I suggest that just as God created you physically as a lefty or a righty, God also created you mentally to lean more toward practicality or theology? I imagine that last sentence made some of our theological right-handers a little uncomfortable. But that’s ok (as long as you don’t label me a heretic).

Of course there are a few leaders who fall into both camps –sort of like switch hitters (to alter the analogy slightly).

For most of us, we see every decision, challenge, opportunity, and responsibility through the lens of either practicality or theology. This may work in a few situations. For instance, the broken air conditioner needs a practical approach while the broken sinner asking how to be made right with God needs a theological approach.

The problem is that rarely is an issue so explicitly practical or theological. To go back to the baseball analogy, even the left-handed pitcher has to catch with the right hand and the right-handed hitter has to grip the bat with both hands.

Likewise, the majority of ministry leadership requires using both hands. For instance:

  • Evangelism requires theological understanding of redemption and a practical effort to engage the lost.
  • Worship services require theological accuracy in preaching and practical planning in facility preparation.
  • Discipleship requires theological communication and practical scheduling.
  • Service projects require a theological purpose and a practical strategy.

Can you imagine how things would have changed if Jesus polarized his ministry? The feeding of the 5,000 could have ended in a disaster!

Like a batter who tries to swing with one arm or a pitcher convinced he doesn’t need to wear a glove on his non-dominant hand, a desire to polarize ministry into either theological exclusivity or practical exclusivity can quickly put the leader and congregation in a painful position.

Refusing to polarize, however, allows for a third approach: biblical. As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t pit the two approaches against each other.

We’ve all heard that “orthodoxy shapes orthopraxy.” I certainly agree. But that does not create a dichotomy between the two. Rather, it affirms the powerful relationship that the approaches share. If we separate the two completely, and in effect take practice out of the influence of belief, we have an even bigger problem. All the more reason for leaders to use both hands!

Here’s the takeaway:

  • Become aware of the way God made you and believe that your unique gifting is equipping you for your role in leadership.
  • Deliberately “use both hands” when making decisions, approaching opportunities, and facing challenges.
  • Quit trying to make every leader in your ministry left-handed or right-handed. Instead, work together for a more biblical approach.