Gooool!!! A Brazilian Results-based Process for Selecting, Educating and Coaching Effective Church-planting Pastors

By: Dr. Alexander Zell


Alex served with the C&MA in Brazil for 12 years and earned his Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Trinity International University (TEDS) in Deerfield, Illinois. This paper was presented on September 17, 2017, at the Evangelical Missiological Society National Conference in Dallas, TX.


In true Latin-American flavor, this paper proposes a parallel between the process of recruiting professional soccer players and discovering effective church-planting pastors.  The Brazilian leaders of four evangelical denominations suggested 24 church planters who were known for their successful church start-ups.  Grounded theory was used to develop a Brazilian approach to recruiting, educating, and coaching effective church-planting pastors.  Almost 700 pages of ethnographic interviews were analyzed with the Ethnograph computer program to draw out new theories.  Starting with a large pool of members and, through the process of observation and promotion, the candidates proved their abilities and hard work.  The more productive leaders were promoted to the next level of responsibility.  This results-based Brazilian process has produced thousands of new churches throughout the country for the glory of God.


Theological educators in the U.S. have studied how to discover church-planting pastors using various methods.  The first method has been to put their candidates through a battery of personality tests.  According to those authors, there is a certain kind of person that can successfully plant churches.  A traditional approach would be to discover this type of person and then finance him and his work.  Along with this fully-funded approach is a mother-daughter method of hiving off a group from the mother church to launch a sufficient group for critical mass.  A second method goes a little farther to evaluate proven success in other areas of secular experiences.  And, a third method has been to mentor students to provide “real ministry experiences” for them through apprenticeships, residencies, and internships.  This third method is closest to the Brazilian method; however, all of these practical skills are built into the process and focused on church success.  Brazilians approach this discovery differently and tend to be more successful than those who follow more traditional methods.


First, Brazilian churches are discipling all their members.  Second, they are teaching and coaching those interested in leading a home Bible study to start as an apprentice.  Those who demonstrate talent and productivity are coached to have their own home Bible study.  Third, those who can gather groups to a certain size are encouraged to go to night school seminary.  Fourth, those who grow their churches to plant other churches gain more responsibility and authority with the denomination.  They become coaches and multipliers.  With this system, there are no rewards for knowledge without practical application.  And, no one just self-proclaims that they are going to seminary or that they are “called.”   Just like the progression of soccer players to play professionally, potential pastors must prove themselves at increasing levels of difficulty.  What they are proving is that God’s hand of blessing is evident in their lives and ministries.  So, the big question is:  What is the secret to preparing effective church-planting pastors?  



Although church planting literature tends to emphasize a church planter’s personality as of utmost importance (Ridley 1988, Agreste 2007, Payne 2009, Stetzer & Im 2016, Stadia 2017), these church planters and their leaders emphasized a passion and zeal for the ministry as more important than chemistry.  All four denominations in this sample value theological education for their church planters, regardless of whether they are bi-vocational or full-time.  Although education can inhibit creativity, Barrett (2001) showed that one’s theological education positively impacts the rate of growth of one’s church.  Dorr’s (1988, 108) observation that bi-vocational ministers have varied educational options was proven to be true in this Brazilian sample.  Van der Graaf (1980) claimed that support from one’s authority figure or district superintendent could improve a minister’s well-being. Douglass (1995, 156) discovered a “highly significant relationship between mentoring and successful church planting.”  



While living in São Paulo, Brazil, I studied four denominations that are serious about theological education for their pastors, believe in personal salvation, and value the authority of the Bible.  During the course of the 28 semi-structured interviews, brief field notes were taken for triangulation of the transcriptions and to record extensive non-verbal communication, which is so important in Brazilian communication (Harrison 1983; Novinger 2003).  São Paulo is the principal “manufacturing and financial center” of Brazil (Gonçalves et al. 2011, 113-114).  This Latin-American metropolitan area was representative of the other urban centers of Brazil.  



Just because a person is familiar with the rules of the game of soccer does not mean that they would be qualified to play against professionals.  In the same sense, attending seminary does not necessarily qualify someone to lead a church.  In these systems, there is a natural progression for scouting, educating, and coaching effective pastors.  The soccer model will be discussed first, and then the counterparts in Brazilian church-planting training will follow.  See the chart below to visualize how these elements compare to the process of becoming a professional soccer player.


Cradle Phase – Almost every Brazilian father gives a soccer ball to his son to play in his crib (berço).  Brazilian fathers want their sons to love the game as much as they do.  They want them to get a head start on their soccer skills.  This infancy stage develops an interest and familiarity with the ball.  As their bodies develop, many Brazilian boys’ feet angle outward from training.


Street Phase – In Brazilian culture, everyone who wants to play street soccer (futebol da rua) is welcome to participate.  The majority of Brazilian school-age boys play pick-up games with any sort of ball which could include socks rolled up to resemble a ball.  Vacation spots in the country usually consist of three components:  A swimming pool, a brick barbeque, and a soccer field. 


Club Phase – Within the Brazilian athletic system, scouts from local gyms recruit and coach soccer players to join their clubs.  Affluent people pay large sums to join these clubs for swimming, tennis, and leisure; however, teens with soccer skills and no money are given memberships to play for them.  These clubs play a vital role in soccer players’ skill development.  


Stadium Phase – A typical Brazilian male’s dream is to play professional soccer.  There are three main levels of professional teams Series A, B, and C of 20 teams each.  Since 2016, there are also 68 more teams in Series D that contend to get promoted to the Series C rank and up.  Each year, the two best teams get promoted to the upper ranking series.  


Soccer Analogy Church Function
Cradle Phase Church Discipleship
Street Phase Bible Study Participant
Club Phase Bible Study Leader
Stadium Phase Church-planting Pastor


The soccer analogy will be explained in the following section according to the preceding chart.  In Brazilian soccer and the evangelical ministry, results are rewarded.  This process is like a funnel that starts with almost every male in the church, and with each following level of training, fewer and fewer candidates are proven qualified to move up to the next level.  


Church Discipleship – In the Brazilian ministerial education system, pastors teach all of their church members the basics of Christian doctrine in their churches.  There are no exceptions.  Even if a new church attendee was a pastor of another church, he or she still has to go through the church’s discipleship course.  Some church leaders confided that every time they succumbed to the temptation to bypass this step for a promising leader, the results were negative, and the church suffered.  Many of these churches have a one-year Christian doctrine course which includes teaching about their own church history and DNA.


Bible Study Participant – Most church attenders in these denominations would not only attend the main worship celebration but also a Bible study group in someone’s home.  Participation is expected, and group situations are celebrated.  This is an opportunity to minister to other believers and use one’s gifts.  There are fewer spectators in Brazilian churches compared to churches in the United States when the expectation is that every member should find their place of ministry.  This is part of the sample churches’ DNA.


Bible Study Leader – In a parallel world of pastoral development, apprenticeships in home Bible studies are rewarded by being assigned as a small group Bible study leader along with the accompanying title of deacon (diácono) or elder (presbítero).  Those who demonstrate that they have the talents and skills necessary to grow a home Bible study are encouraged to attend an evening theological seminary to gain further education with the potential of becoming a pastor.


Church-planting Pastor –A pastor who “has arrived” is a district pastor of a mother church with several daughter or satellite churches around his church.  He is a player/ coach who trains other church planters to open new works around him.



All four of these denominations use similar recruitment pools to discover effective pastoral talent.  Church leaders do not wait for new workers to stumble into their churches.  They look within their churches at their church attenders in all different stages of development.  They always have their eyes open for potential ministry talent and the raw skills necessary to serve as a church leader, deacon, elder, or pastor that need to be developed.  They have unofficial scouts in all four of the following phases of church ministry.  What are they looking for?


Divine Call

The first area that talent scouts are looking for in future pastors is a sense of strong calling to the task.  If this quality is not apparent in the candidate, no leader would approve him or her for ministry.  One church leader described his motivation, “When you are certain that God sent you to do something, nothing, nothing, nothing can take away your desire and discourage you. I have that certainty!” (#24 )  The candidates and their denominational leaders believe that a sense of divine duty or calling is essential for successful church planting. 


Supportive Spouse

Second, along with the candidates’ calling, their leaders evaluated how supportive the candidates’ spouses were to the task. Candidate #7 confided his dependence on his spouse, “I face everything with my wife [by my side] because without her, I don’t think that I would have any ministry.”  “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (I Tim. 3:4)


Settled Location 

Third, the church planters’ motivation appears to be a specific calling to a geographical area or to a people.  Although some church planters were assigned to an area by their superiors and others planted churches without moving from their homes, the church planters were convinced by God that He wanted them to plant a church through a personal, subjective feeling that was confirmed by objective circumstances and or dreams.  


Passion and Zeal

Fourth, boldness is an essential quality in the life of a successful church planter.  One candidate adds that a “spirit of adventure” is essential as well has a strong work-ethic “to do whatever it takes to get the job done” (#23).  Their leaders claim that personality is of secondary importance for success in bi-vocational church planting.  One denominational leader mentioned that church planters should be extroverted and creative, but the other three district leaders were willing to encourage anyone who felt called to church leadership and were willing to do the work, knowing that some might be more productive than others based on their abilities.  The quality that goes with passion and zeal is to be a “self-starter” (#4).  



After the candidate has been selected by his or her pastor for proven ministry, the next area to prove is theological education.  All of the sample denominations concerned themselves with doctrinal orthodoxy according to their own theological camps.  The progression that seems to be followed using this approach is for a church member to work for two years in his or her church while studying for a basic theology credentials as a worker (obreiro). Then, after those two years, they could start their own churches as they continued studying for another two years for their pastor-status training.  After that, most of these denominations also require a two-year study period for a pastor to earn his ordination. Summing up all the requirements, most of these church planters received a total of six years of theological training.


Pastoral Reference

Almost opposite of traditional approaches where a candidate approaches his pastor for a reference, pastors are looking over their workers to invest in those who are becoming increasingly productive in their ministries.  The pastor recommends the worker.  The worker does not approach the pastor for a reference.  The pastoral reference is the first step in a future pastor’s education, not an afterthought or a pressurized, obligatory document.  When district presidents discover proven workers, they invest in them where they are located so they do not hinder the current ministry environment.  These bi-vocational ministers work full-time in secular employment to provide for their families, ministering and studying in the evenings.  


Ministry Experience

District presidents are always evaluating a potential pastor’s ministry experience.  Only one candidate did not have previous church planting experience.  One future pastor considered hands-on practical experience as more important than formal training:   

From my conversion at 28 years until I was 30 years old, I attended the [mother] Church. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity. I worked in various ministries: From teaching children to a class on deliverance. I tried everything! Even when I was practicing law, I was involved in the church, dedicating myself to the fullest, trying to grow as much as I could (#22).

Every candidate showed him or herself faithful in many church ministries before attempting to plant a church.  This seems to produce confident and appropriately skilled workers.


Secular Skills Development

The third area that these denominations evaluate is the candidate’s secular experience.  One denomination requires all candidates for church leadership to have secular experience in some area of business.  One pastor addressed this need through a series of questions:

Does he want to assume a church?  Then he needs to have some preparation. Does he have professional experience?  He needs to have professional experience because there inside a business, he will learn to be responsible, to be disciplined.  If he is under orders, he will learn obedience, to be punctual. People learn in real-life situations.  Many times a young person will go and earn a bachelor’s degree in theology and say, “Now I will go work as a pastor.”  I think that is very risky.  Secular preparation is preparation for life. Many of my experiences in life have helped me today in pastoral ministry.

One other denomination prefers that their candidates come to them with secular experience

and the remaining denominations see bivocationalism as a necessary, but not an ideal situation.



All four of these denominations provide on-site coaching support for their church planters. One church planter explained the need for on-the-job training, “You have to have some formation not to be inexperienced in a congregation.  That’s what they require, understand? For you to pass the exams, you have to have at least led a congregation. You need to have touched the people” (#6).  Church leadership coaches aid the ministers to correct those errors and plan regular visits with their church planters.  


Life Mentoring

The church planter’s coach counsels him or her in a holistic manner.  One candidate shared about his mentor, “Whenever I need to, I call Pastor.  Whenever I need something from him, I say, ‘Pastor, I need to talk.  I have this problem here. It is serious.’  He will come running, ‘Let’s schedule a meeting!’  He is very supportive” (#6).  The three areas that the candidates cited as valid reasons for personal coaching were:  To motivate the worker, to celebrate with the worker, and to mediate conflicts between the worker and others.  Coaches stay in contact with their workers through visits, phone calls and text messages.


Ministry Advice

The candidate’s coach guides the bi-vocational church planter in his or her church planting project as well.  Some denominational leaders serve as scouts for finding new locations to plant churches. Director #2 described how he does this through city adoptions:

Every once in a while we motivate like this …. We send out lists of cities that do not have a church. Our pastors are encouraged to adopt a city that does not have a church .… We work in the area of incentive. We have 18 sub-districts in the interior of the state of São Paulo that are church regions. We are always visiting these regions … speaking about opening new churches.

These directors use several factors to find the best location.  One director says that they search

for a visible property on a main thoroughfare and prefer a corner property (#1).  Two candidates added that they look for a contact person from their church in the area and test the spiritual sensitivity of the area (#1 & #24).  Director #4 tries to line up the church planters’ abilities with their location.  He says, “It depends on the capacity of each one.  Each person is unique.  One person might be great for a determined area and not do well in another.”


Resource Partnerships

Denominational leaders serve as social capital brokers to encourage cooperation between the church planter, the church plant itself, and their network of churches. A few denominations hold central meeting on Wednesday nights or Sunday school for their daughter churches.  Some adopt church planters as one would partner with a missionary to support.  Human resources are also loaned to help new churches get started.  An unexpected benefit to investing in new church plants is that it “awakens new talents and new workers” in the mother church (#1).  For example, one pastor sent evangelism teams to canvas the areas around his new church plants.  Many district leaders send ministry teams to fill-in for the bi-vocational church planter to take vacation (#15).  Just like self-sacrificing parents, mother churches often donate skilled labor, land, and money for the daughter church to get started on their building.  



The short answer is yes!  The biblical presuppositions underlying this winnowing process are many.  First, according to the Bible, new ministers should be chosen based on past performances, not merely on subjective feelings.  Before God appointed Paul and Barnabus for a short-term mission trip to the Gentiles, they had already been working together with some degree of success in Acts 9:28-31 and 12:24-25.  God’s word teaches the principle that people should prove their faithfulness in small things before being trusted with greater responsibilities (Matt. 25:21 & 23; Luke 12:48).  Second, God called His ministers before they decided that this was what they wanted to do (Acts 13:2).  They were not looking for self-actualization or the gratification of humanitarian service.  It is interesting that Paul and Barnabus did not volunteer but the Holy Spirit drafted them and informed the leaders who He was appointing.  The text does not say if God told Paul and Barnabus directly or if they found out by their church authorities.  The church leaders then put their hands of confirmation on them (Acts 13:3).   Third, God sent the best of the church leaders from among them (Acts 13:1).  These servants were not hired from an outside employment agency but they had been working alongside other spiritual leaders.  Paul and Barnabus were members of the group which “fasted and prayed.”  They were some of their best workers.  The church could have said, “No, we need them here.  There is too much work to do in our own church.”  The four Brazilian denominations in this study lived by these principles.



The analogy of recruiting, educating, and coaching for soccer is perfect for the Brazilian style of preparing pastors for effective service in the Kingdom of God.  The categories of development were named by the author and indicate parallel skill development levels for soccer players and ministers of the Gospel.  Other theorists may create alternative divisions but the purpose is to show a logical progression in skill mastery and productivity according to one’s talents.  It was found that the secular abilities these candidates acquired enabled them to perform better within their ministries.  These Brazilian practices may not be transferable in all social and cultural contexts; however, there are principles that can challenge one’s thinking about the partnership of theological education and local churches.  

Dr. Alexander Zell is the Director of Online Christian Ministries Programs at Crown College in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota.




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Zell, Alexander K. 2012. Bi-vocational Church Planting in Urban Brazil: A Study of Strategic, Financial and Temporal Factors. Ph.D., Trinity International University.