What Brazilian Soccer Players Can Teach Us About Building Effective Church-Planters

March 24, 2021

Time spent in silence preparing for the event hasn’t calmed his mind. Each step down the long corridor connected at the rate of his overactive pulse. No amount of training could ward off the nerves that washed over him. 

The moment of truth — he steps on the stage, putting all the years of training, education, and skill to the test. But like the professional soccer players of his country, this church-planting pastor isn’t just thrown in unprepared; he’s been nurtured by some of the best ministry leaders in the community.


In an article published by Crown College’s Dr. Alexander Zell, he draws the line between the process of selecting, educating, and coaching professional Brazilian soccer players and influential church-planting pastors. 


Dr. Zell invested 12 years teaching pastors, missionaries, and lay leaders in the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Brazil. Alex and his wife, Julie, participated in three church-planting teams and coached leaders in all ministry areas. During their final term, Alex trained a Brazilian graduate school director to replace him and witnessed FATELA Brazil’s first seminary professors receive their diplomas.  


Historically, the process of discovering and selecting church-planting leaders starts with a personality test. A variety of tests produce a matrix that signals if the candidate contains the natural talent or traits that exemplify a church-planting pastor. Some go further by taking the candidate’s successes in projects — inside and outside the church — into account as part of the process. Others take it to yet another level that almost mirrors the Brazilian method. (Almost.) The candidates are brought through various apprenticeships, residencies, and internships to train them with the necessary knowledge. This level of training is the closest to the Brazilian method.

“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.”

Let’s jump into some cultural education. To become a professional soccer or futebol player in Brazil, you must prepare from a young age. They’re forged into excellent athletes through a process of tiered training.


From the cradle

If you were to walk into the nursery of a newborn baby boy in São Paulo, nine times out of ten, you would find the child with a soccer ball in their crib — or berço. These families understand the importance of development in infancy. They want their sons to be comfortable with the form and shape of the ball. As they grow in age and size, their interest grows with them.


To the streets

These boys’ interest grows until it becomes an uncontrollable urge to play. Anything that resembles a spherical shape is used to score goals in the pickup games of futebol da rua or street soccer. 


Into the clubs

A vast network of gyms scout and recruit young athletes to play for their club. Teens who have the skills receive scholarships to play for some of the larger clubs. There they have access to coaches who work with them to develop their skills even further.


Ending at the stadiums

According to Zell, if you ask a young Brazilian male what his dream is and the answer isn’t “to play professional soccer,” then there is a good chance they are lying. The goal of thousands of Brazilian males is to get to the Série C level of professional soccer or higher. These athletes get to take all of the years of training, nurturing, and passion to the ultimate stages.


Crown College

Brazilian culture funnels the best players up to the highest level of competition. Similarly, the Brazilian Church takes all of her capable leaders and, with each following level of training, the responsibilities grow — the skills of some of the candidates rise, too.


Zell connects the dots between Brazilian soccer players’ preparation and equipping ministry leaders in the church, calling American churches to consider alternative methods. Studying the variations in practices of Christ-followers worldwide can help us identify ways to do ministry better.


At this point, this church-planter’s nerves have melted away. He closes his Bible, re-emphasizes the point of his sermon, and steps down from the pulpit to fellowship with his congregation.

Who knows, maybe he will make it home in time to watch the last half of the Santos vs. Palmeiras match.



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

You can read his whole article here