How Planters Can Learn from Baseball: On Building a Church-Planting Farm System

Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore said in a recent statement that he plans to spend the next two-to-three years restocking the organization’s farm system. For those of you who don’t speak baseball, a farm system is a network of minor-league teams affiliated with a Major League team. Players for the Royals’ minor league teams are under contract with the Royals organization, meaning that they can be “called up” at any point to join the Royals’ forty-man roster.

In other words, a farm system is a system of players with potential–a place where they can spend years developing their skills under the instruction of experienced coaches. The Royals don’t have the expendable capital of the New York Yankees or Chicago Cubs, so a farm system is important because, when well managed, it becomes a wealth of resources upon which the team can draw when in need of developed players in the future.

For example, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer both spent time in the Royals’ farm system before heading to The Show. Dayton Moore’s plan is to spend some time strengthening the system in the hopes that in the next few years it will begin to churn out more World-Series caliber players.

Church planters can take a lesson from the world of baseball here. If you hope to multiply, your plant needs a farm system. That is, you need a structured and organized way of developing future leaders in your plant.

How do you do that?

I sat down with a couple of experienced pastors and planters to find out.

1. Start a residency program.

Identify potential leaders in your plant and invite them to become residents. For some plants, this will be a very structured, organized endeavor involving regular residency meetings with pastors and elders, writing and presenting papers on particular theological and pastoral topics, preparing and delivering sermons for evaluation, and so on.

For other plants, it might be less structured. But the point is a simple one: you need to have some kind of plan in place for how you will develop future leaders.

2. Grant your residents an all-access pass to your ministry.

For many planters, pastoring your plant is a daily grind involving meetings with members, holding office hours, sermon preparation, hospital visits, and the like. Invite your resident to take part in those things. Grant him a peek behind the curtain at the ins and outs of pastoral ministry. Take him to visit a sick church member. Let him sit in on a meeting. Show him how you prepare your sermons.

In other words, grant your resident exposure to the realities of church-planting ministry. A potential player cannot learn how to play baseball in theory alone. Nor can your resident learn how to do ministry in theory alone.

3. Develop the person, not the vision.

One planter shared a story about a resident who aspired to be a pastor of teaching and preaching but had no apparent gifts in those areas. It became clear during this young man’s residency that his gifts involved providing biblical counseling for hurting people. Thus, biblical counseling became the focus of his residency.

Here’s the point: your resident will have personal strengths and weaknesses, natural gifts and deficiencies. It is your job to identify these and develop him accordingly. You cannot make a 6’7″, 230-pound first baseman into a short stop. Nor can you make a resident into something that he is not.

4. Think theologically and practically.

Good theology is vital, but a good theologian will not always make a good pastor. Strive to marry theological and practical considerations for your resident. It is important for him to have strong and consistent views of atonement, original sin, and the like. It is also important for him to know how to write by-laws and conduct business meetings.

5. Utilize NAMB resources.

This is a shameless plug. The NAMB Church Planting Pipeline in particular is a great resource for those looking to discover and develop future planters. It allows for up to three years of thinking and training for future church planters, and covers a total of thirty church-planting competencies. You can learn more about it here.

To summarize…

Take the following steps to develop your plant’s farm system:

  1. Launch a residency program intended to identify and train future planters.
  2. Allow your residents to see the ins and outs of church-planting ministry.
  3. Keep your resident’s strengths and weaknesses in mind.
  4. Utilize the wealth of resources available through the North American Mission Board–particularly the Church Planting Pipeline.



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