When the German Football Association (DFB) won the World Cup in 2014, they reaped the harvest of a seed planted at the turn of the millennium. Fourteen years earlier, an aging squad whimpered out of the first round of the European Championships, and at that point, the Germans made a decision: They’d no longer rely on the mercurial presence of a golden generation. Instead, they’d invest in every generation.
In soccer, a golden generation is the serendipitous convergence of talented players of the same age on one team. Once in a grand while, all 11 starters on a team are world-class and simultaneously in their prime. For a few tournaments in a row, they dominate. Owing to their golden generation, Spain enjoyed unparalleled success in two European finals and a World Cup tournament in 2008–12.
The downside of a golden generation is that it’s short-lived. Professional athletes have a small window of peak performance, so if a side isn’t constantly developing talent, they can rely too much on aging and burned-out stars. I fear we often do the same in the church.
If a side isn’t constantly developing talent, they can rely too much on aging and burned-out stars. I fear we often do the same in the church.
As church leaders, if we find a gifted volunteer to lead in the children’s ministry, for example, we’ll rely heavily on her energy and skill, sometimes with little or no thought about what will happen should she move on or burn out. When this is the strategy we assume, we can make the enduring success of the ministry entirely dependent on the volunteer’s continued presence. When a vacancy unexpectedly arises in a key service role, leaders rush to fill it with whoever is available, and training often takes place on the job, to the detriment of the ministry. In the worst cases, Christian maturity doesn’t factor into the decision to fill a vacancy because leaders feel the need is too urgent.
But what if there’s a better way?
Christ’s Better Way
After their loss in 2000, the Germans began to pursue a talent-without-end strategy for player development. They put strict standards in place for youth leagues throughout the country. DFB’s goal was to grow a perpetual and unlimited pool of talent from which to draw for their national team. No more crossing of fingers before making a squad selection. Instead, the Germans would develop what they needed, and they reaped what they’d sown when they won the 2014 World Cup.
What if we had the same sort of development plans in place in our local churches? What if our most gifted leaders and volunteers were always training their replacements?
Then, even when that gifted director continues in ministry, she’ll have equipped a group of volunteers who are mature enough to serve alongside her and lighten her load.
What if our most gifted leaders and volunteers were always training their replacements?
Our purpose as a church is to make disciples—to shepherd people from unbelief to equipped maturity. This is the standard Paul sets forth in 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV): “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Paul assumes ongoing leadership development. What he taught Timothy, Timothy should hand off to reliable people who will themselves faithfully teach others.
Here we see the principle of multiplication is woven into the fabric of discipleship. The true fruit of the apple tree isn’t just the apple. No, Paul envisions an orchard. He envisions the sort of training structure that produces talent without end. Striker goes down injured? No worries. The side has plenty of guys on the bench who can produce. Small group leader steps down unexpectedly? The church doesn’t suffer because we’ve got plenty of depth at that position.
How Do We Get There?
A talent-without-end discipleship strategy begins with asking some key questions:
1. How does the Bible define what it means to be a mature and equipped disciple? What character qualities will this person have? What skills will he have developed? Does this match up with how your church defines what it means to be a disciple?
2. How does your church move people from unbelief to maturity? Given that programs rarely accomplish this, how can your church create and sustain a culture of relational disciple-making?
3. If you’re actively serving in ministry—especially if you’re in leadership of any sort—whom are you equipping to take your place?
Mature Christians serve as disciple makers, reaching the lost and training the saved. When we’re always developing, ministry multiplies to the glory of God. We short-circuit this process when we depend on a golden generation of volunteers or staff.
As churches, we must reclaim Christ’s equipping emphasis. We should adopt (and redeem) the ethos of the DFB and raise up an unbroken stream of mature and equipped Christ-followers who are serving the church for God’s glory, talent without end.