The Six Senses of Right-Brain Thinking: A Model for Ministry?

In the first half of A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink establishes the basis and rationale for his suggestion that right-brain aptitudes are increasingly necessary in our era, which he terms the Conceptual Age. Without negating the value of left-brain reasoning, Pink suggests six specific proficiencies: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. When combined with more traditional thinking, these “high-concept, high-touch senses” create a whole-mind approach that gives individuals a competitive edge in our changing world.

Specific examples of each of these senses being successfully and meaningfully utilized today can be easily cited. From upper-level management, to training schools and continuing education, these concepts represent the cutting edge of innovation. It isn’t necessary, however, to only look forward to imagine the role these senses might play. Jesus’ Incarnation and God’s working in His created world through the movement of the Holy Spirit provides more than adequate acknowledgment. God’s created world, while highly functional even down the most minute details like the scales on a butterfly’s wings, is also beautiful in design. Why else besides design does the water sparkle in the afternoon sunlight, or the sky glow as the morning sun rises? And as the butterfly’s wings flap in Africa, the world responds in symphony, working together in a connected ecosystem. Jesus taught using stories and demonstrated great empathy for the sick, struggling and sidelined in society. He even used ironic humor at times and eschewed attempts by the Pharisees to maintain “proper” seriousness at all times. And obviously, life’s ultimate meaning – our ultimate meaning – can only be found in response to this creative, whole-brain God.

Mission and outreach can benefit greatly from Pink’s perspective because many “target” populations already value and embody these six senses. Only in the western world has reason been so disproportionately favored and rewarded. A broader understanding of what quality thinking and enterprise can look like would discourage mission work to “convert” their audience to their way of thinking, living and being.

While there is considerable debate amongst church leadership as to whether the church should emulate business models, in the case of embracing Pink’s six senses, I think the church could greatly benefit. While ministry is all about people, emotion, and affective response, sometimes church leadership lags behind, relying on numbers, statistics and trends to guide their planning. Obviously incorporating Pink’s ideas would enhance and enliven the effectiveness of the church.

In order to fully embrace and experience the value of Pink’s whole mind approach, the church must reconsider and redefine its ideas of success. A ministry focused on story and empathy might take more time than a linear, stick-to-the-facts program. A symphonic, meaning-making outreach approach may result in ecumenical endeavors which may ultimately increase attendance numbers for a cooperating partner church, rather than our own. Failing to restructure expectations and criteria of success will doom Pink’s ideas to failure, no matter their potential effectiveness. Additionally, much work must be done to educate the general church membership of the importance and realities of whole mind ministry. Individuals used to traditional reason- and number-based frameworks will naturally balk at play-oriented worship, building programs which focus on design as much as function, and altar calls that share stories instead of the four spiritual laws.

Pink’s ideas about the importance of both right- and left-brain skills are to be applauded and applied. Within a ministry context, I think this is already somewhat evident, as much of what happens both within, and outside, the church walls are creative endeavors which embrace more than just reason. Effort must be made by current church leadership to seek out and invite in individuals for whom these right-brain skills come naturally. Practically speaking, a majority of individuals who pursue seminary and the ministry are left-brain thinkers, and while they may value these more esoteric right-brain approaches, incorporating them may not be inherently easy.


*”The Six Senses of Right-Brain Thinking: A Model for Ministry?” was published in December 2011 by Burnside Writers Collective.