Operational issues, part two

Sandy Grant continues his examination of Zac Veron’ book Leadership on the front foot, courtesy of The Sola Panel

Zac Veron’ Leadership on the Front Foot is a book all about church leadership. So far, we’ve worked through personal issues in leadership and the first part of his section on operational issues. Today we look at three more operational issues.


Zac urges pastors to preach to change the lives of your listeners. This chapter is a diatribe against sermons that are lectures or essays. Zac insists that we must have specific application, and not just leave it up to the Holy Spirit. (I think Paul is on him with this, judging from his epistles.)

He tells preachers they must address the common issues people struggle with—like career and work, money and mortgages, marriage and parenting, dating and singleness. When I plan a preaching program for the year, I certainly check to see that these issues will be addressed somewhere by the books of the Bible we cover that year, or (less frequently) by explicitly topical sermons.

He’ right to remind us to speak to the whole person, not just the head (p. 67). And he does mention that we must also include the needs listeners do not realize they have, urging people to take hold of God’ promises, change their beliefs, understand who God is, and so on.

But this was just said in passing, and the focus was on felt needs; I was a little uncomfortable with his preference that the application should still generally include some tips or principles or guides for Christian living (p. 67).

I think Zac is right about the error typical in our circles: we can end up delivering lectures. But I am still concerned that preachers who read his advice without their own theological depth and evangelical commitment could end up inadvertently delivering man-centred moralism via endless pragmatic tips for living good Christian lives.

The application guide adds some depth here by noting that sermons could major on the indicative or the imperative, and that one generally needs both. But there was little here on what I think is one of the strongest ways of ensuring variety and interest in content and application: a commitment to systematic expository preaching that exposes our hearers to the whole counsel of God in all its breadth and depth.


The next operational principle is to intentionally follow up newcomers. Those familiar with Peter Corney’ material in The Welcoming Church will recognize Zac’ tips about the importance of a welcome letter or a phone call, especially if delivered by a lay member rather than a staff member. (The application guide raises other practical suggestions.)

Consistent with earlier principles, Zac once again emphasizes the importance of putting disproportionate effort into outreach: As a rough rule of thumb: Aim at spending 80% of your time, money, effort and preparation into getting new people (p. 74).

I understand what he’ getting at, but I think I would rather suggest that 80 per cent of time spent on people should be divided between reaching newcomers and equipping key leaders. You will actually reach more of the lost and young Christians by multiplying the ministry workforce than trying to do it all yourself. (Zac talks about the importance of this in a later principle.)

However, if you find it easy to spend time with leaders and if it’ hard to get out among the lost, then Zac’ point retains its force. And I am with him when he defends a concern with numbers.

[E]ach number represents a soul rescued from hell. Numbers at church are very important. Each number represents a person who will spend eternity in only one of two places. (p. 75)

Of course, only God can change a person’ heart, and he is the one who gives the growth. But Zac’ words strike the right note of urgency and intentionality that we can draw from Jesus’ example and teaching (Luke 5:32, 19:10, etc) and from Paul (1 Cor 10:31-11:1).


Zac’ last operational principle returns us to money. It’ to show people what generous Christian financial support looks like.

He rightly reminds us that passages like 2 Corinthians 9 and 1 Timothy 6 encourage generous support of gospel work (although I note 2 Corinthians 9 primarily refers to the collection for the Jerusalem poor, and he might better refer to 1 Corinthians 9 in regards to support of ministers.) In fact, matters to do with money come up repeatedly in the Gospels and the Epistles, and so systematic expository preaching should mean repeated attention to this matter, albeit from various angles.

Zac insists that in our materially well-off era, you should normally giving at least 10 per cent of your income to support ministry at your church, not on the basis of law, but on the basis of generosity. He also urges ministers to model generosity by revealing publicly what they give. He knows it’ a powerful example and that it’ controversial, but justifies it by pointing out that Matthew 6:2-4 is about alms for the poor (whereas giving to the temple was very public) and is primarily about attitude, rather than an absolute rule about secrecy in giving (otherwise we would also ban any public prayers and only pray in private). He also appeals to David’ public gift to the temple building in 1 Chronicles 29:1-13.

I refer people to a friendly interchange on this matter between myself and Zac’ colleague and successor at his parish, Phil Colgan, which you can read on The Briefing website. Apart from that, I would add that I am now a little less quick to insist that a minister must never reveal what he gives. I truly believe some leaders are more godly than me in this area. But I was glad when a leading minister who taught and modelled the same approach as Zac was kind enough to agree with my caution that what may not be an area of temptation for him (i.e. pride, self-justification and man-pleasing comparisons) certainly was a big issue for many pastors.