Developing a church farm system


The Minnesota Twins fooled me until about the second week of May. I thought they might surprise me this season by being good—but no. They are terrible after all, but as I wrote about before the season started, there are perks. I have been able to follow some of the up-and-coming players in the minor leagues. It hasn’t been this way for the past several years for the Twins—that’s a significant reason why they have been so bad in recent seasons. They simply haven’t developed young talent.

One of the things that has lodged in my mind as I’ve followed the careers of these minor leaguers is the parallel between training church leaders and developing baseball talent. It might sound like a stretch, but let me explain. One of the main reasons baseball teams go from good to bad is because they put too much trust in current stars without developing anyone to replace them when the time comes. So when a player changes teams, retires, or is lost to injury, there is a gaping void. Churches fall into this same trap with leadership whether it is the senior pastor, worship pastor, elders, or even Sunday school teachers. Rather than having a ready stable of trained and gifted replacements, churches suffer when a leadership position is vacated.

The most important aspect in this scenario is consistency. No one can predict when new talent will be needed, either in baseball or church. If there is not a system in place constantly developing, training, and challenging younger talent, it can lead to extended periods of failure. This system must be multi-level too, like baseball’s minor league system, in order to offer opportunities to those who are nearly ready for the big leagues (to lead) and those who need more training and experience. In the church this means providing opportunities to young people and creating structure to develop their gifts and souls alike, so that when the time comes they are ready to step in.

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Like baseball teams, churches cannot expect to replace leaders who go missing just by signing another one. Baseball’s free agent system is hit-or-miss and can be very expensive for teams. Often the player signed doesn’t live up to expectations or is a poor fit with teammates and team culture, and it ends up being money wasted. It is not so different in churches. Expecting to fill all leadership roles from the outside is a crapshoot, and it can often be a painful one, especially when the new leader doesn’t understand the ethos and culture of the church.

Ultimately, both wise churches and wise baseball teams will give as much attention to raising up new “talent” as they do with the current team. It is the key to sustained success. If the “farm system” is neglected, the future is uncertain and unlikely to be very pleasant.  

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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