In this post, I continue my series on Zac Veron’ Leadership on the Front Foot. The third section of Zac’ book focuses on six principles that he categorizes as operational for ministry that is typically already happening in a church. We’ll deal with the first three today and the last three in my next post.
1. FOCUS ON CONVERSION GROWTH
The first principles urges pastors to focus on conversion, rather than transfer growth. Obviously ‘operational’ does not mean ‘trivial’! I felt the challenge of this critical pointer, given that the ‘success’ I’ve had since arriving at St Michael’ has largely been via transfer growth. I agree with Zac: what I really want is to see unconverted people come to Christ as Lord and Saviour.
In our case, I believe transfer has occurred, even though I have not sought it. In fact, as Zac suggests, I have tried to discourage it. When I discover visitors are actually from a neighbouring parish, I urge them not to change churches lightly and certainly not without speaking to an elder or a pastor there. But mostly by the time people ‘kick the tyres’ at another church, they’ve already made the decision to leave, and it’ only a question of where they land next. Some are attracted to a strong commitment to expository preaching. (At least, I hope that’ part of the attraction in our case.)
Zac also underplays the fact that not all transfer growth occurs for the same reasons (fault-finding with previous churches or trend-following at the new). People can transfer because of theological convictions or matters of philosophy of ministry. And sometimes transfer growth can actually lead to conversion growth, where the gospel has not been grasped (and sometimes even faithfully taught) in another setting.
Still, I like Zac’ suggestion for keeping the focus on conversion, not transfer. He says regularly preach evangelistic gospel sermons right from week one. Regulars then realize any week is a great week to bring people to church. I take it he means that the gospel should be explained, and people called to repent and believe, appropriately from all the various parts of Scripture as they point to Christ.
Note that this is not quite the same as saying that the primary purpose of a church meeting is evangelism (see previous discussion), just that we should assume unbelievers could and will turn up any week. And anyway, Colossians 2:6-7 says you continue to grow with same gospel that converted you!)
Zac also suggests placing disproportionate effort on reaching young people since statistics say an overwhelming majority of people were converted before age 30 and most before age 20. He argues that God has shaped humans in a way to make them more open to change when they are young, and so the harvest is riper here.
This, of course, is a sociological assertion, rather than a statement with scriptural proof. But in that regard, at least in terms of our own children, I think of Deuteronomy 6:6-9 and Ephesians 6:4, alongside Matthew 19:13-15.
2. MINISTER TO PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE
The second operational principle is to minister to people where they are, rather than imposing your preferred style of ‘worship’ or liturgy.
In regards to congregational styles, this advice means that it is often better to start something new and maintain the old, rather than force unwanted changes on the old. Effectively, Zac is repeating this advice to apply the Homogenous Unit Principle to segmenting congregational life (early morning: traditional; mid-morning: family; evening: youth etc).
Of course, the homogenous unit observation was first applied to evangelism and only secondarily to congregations. But observationally, it holds pretty true there too.
Many object that this approach appears to undercut passages like Colossians 3:11-14, where different cultures are to be united in Christ, humbly bearing with any differences and grievances. Titus 2:3-5 also seems to endorse inter-generational ministry. Clearly, we must ‘target’ our congregations to some extent—at least because of language differences. But when we do, we must work out how to express our oneness in Christ, and we must encourage ministry across the age groups in other ways.
Sometimes the elderly (or the young) don’t want to change what they are used to. But for the sake of others, and for the gospel, perhaps the minister should challenge their selfishness rather than leaving them where they are. On the other hand, I guess Zac’ advice is aimed at avoiding alienating existing congregations over too many minor fights about style—especially when style is simply an expression of your own preferences as a pastor.
3. TEACH ABOUT AND CALL FOR RESOURCES TO PAY FOR THE MINISTRY YOU LEAD
Zac’ third operational principle is teach about money and ask for what you need to pay for the ministry you lead. I strongly agree that for a long time in our circles, pastors failed to teach about money, and often left it up to volunteer church officers to worry about it. This meant that often, the only time you heard about money was when there was a financial crisis—about which everyone was then made to feel guilty.
Zac is completely right in saying that a systematic expository preaching ministry should give rise to many opportunities to preach about money. It is the pastor’ job to lead in this area.
He also bravely grapples with the question of how much a pastor should be paid. Zac is keen to avoid the idea that they should be paid well below the community average. I admit that I had assumed 1 Timothy 5:17′ double honor to hardworking elders referred to provision of an income and to extra protection against accusations. But Zac’ bold claim that this verse means that they are worth a double income forced me to reconsider: [Paul] is not saying you must pay your minister double, but he is saying that good ministers are worth double! (p. 60). Indeed, Zac’ claim about the meaning of double was backed up by references to various New Testament lexicons!
He’ll return to the topic of money later in the book. In the meantime, my next post will continue discussing the principles under operational issues.