If we don’t want a team exclusively of rightbacks, we might need to think about training people differently

This week marks the start of Euro 2021. As an England fan, hope springs eternal. Not much hope, it bears saying, but hope nonetheless.

This time, we seem to have a glut of rightbacks. Which I assume is a good problem to have. Though it is hard to imagine a team exclusively full of rightbacks would get very far. It is helpful to have competition for places but if all you have available are fullbacks, your chance creation or conversion in front of goal is going to be severely impeded.

It is much like this in the church. Paul prefers the terminology of the body, but the nature of a football team is a similarly potent image. If all are rightbacks, where would be the goal scorers? Can the attacking midfielder say to the goalkeeper, ‘I have no need of you’? (Admittedly, if you draw San Marino, the answer to that question might be ‘yes’, but under ordinary circumstances I think the answer is obvious enough).

Now, you might think that images of the body or the football team might be a nice place to leave this. The church, much like the England football team, isn’t just full of rightbacks. It takes a whole football team to win a European Championship and it takes every member to make a functioning body. And this is certainly true.

But I am minded to think about this when it comes to our training programmes. Everybody should be taught the Bible and we should want our members to be able to read the Bible helpfully for themselves and to be equipped for works of service. But sometimes, we approach questions of training as though everybody should be heading into pastoral ministry (or mission work, or full time evangelism, or whatever). But, if all are pastors, or evangelists or mission workers, where are the eyes, feet or hands, the rightbacks, defensive midfielders and wingers (if you like)? Should we expect everyone in our church to be preachers, teachers, evangelists and missionaries?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are commands of Christ that apply to all believers. All are to be about the business of sharing the gospel, for example, but essentially you only need to know the gospel and have mouth to do that. Everyone is supposed to be about good works, for another example, but that is a broad thing and is within the grasp of almost everybody. And we should want our people equipped for works of service, but we recognise that not every member will be equipped in the same way for the same kinds of works of service. Not all are called to be teachers, preachers and other such things and that is absolutely okay.

When it comes to training, then, the question surely has to be, who are we training for what? If not everybody is expected to be a teacher, what does training and/or being equipped for works of service look like for them? A lot of our discussions on training centre on pastoral ministry – which is needed and worth discussing – but if we are going to train others for different works of service, might we need to have different conversations given whom we are traning and what they are being trained for?