It goes without saying that Easter is a big deal in church. Along with Christmas, Easter is the Super Bowl of the church year. We expend the most energy on what we do and often have the most people at our buildings and campuses. Easter is a big deal. But there is an inherent problem for us as pastors. At Easter, we have a singular message: the finished work of Jesus Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus is center stage and needs to be. But often as preachers, we struggle because we are so used to sharing the same message every Easter. They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Of course we wouldn't say that about Easter—we are preachers. But we can be so used to the message that it loses its sense of urgency. So, like you, I am always seeking to make the finished work of Jesus come alive in the hearts and minds of the family of Crossroads Community Church where I pastor in Vancouver, Washington. So I want to use the word "Easter" to give you six simple encouragements to help Easter come alive for your congregation.
We need to get excited
I don't know about you, but I have been preaching on Easter for about 15 years now. I believe the gospel and the message of the finished work of Jesus. I, like you, seek to preach it week in and week out. But I, like you, am also my biggest liability in the work of ministry. So we need to find ourselves excited, again, about the simple message of salvation in Christ.
When the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is told in a way that is rigorously biblical and radically honest, it is as captivating as any story ever told.
Think back to your first Easter message. It was intense, right? You knew it was Easter, and it was a big deal. But how about now? Unfortunately, probably not so intense. We've been there, done that. Just another Easter.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his famous book, Preachers and Preaching, reminds us to prepare the pastor before we prepare the message. We need to hear the Easter message with virgin ears. We need to find ourselves intensely excited, again, about the Cross and the empty tomb. So excited that we need to tell the world about it. And we need to find ourselves in our pulpits, totally on fire, needing to share God's hope for humanity in the finished work of Jesus.
We need to accept those who are there
Let's be honest. Many of us get frustrated with the Christmas and Easter church crowd. We study, pray, and prepare to deliver God's word each week. For folks to only come two times a year is pretty off-putting. So many of us take a subtle (or worse, a not-so-subtle) swipe at the many Easter visitors. We do it to the detriment of the gospel, and we squander a God-given golden opportunity.
Instead of showing visitors their errors, let us welcome them with open arms. We need to accept those who are there and not judge them! It's been said that we need to preach to those who are there and not worry about those who are not there. Sometimes we forget that! Instead of preaching to those who are there, we chastise them for not being there next week. What a folly! So we need to accept those who are there and serve them self-sacrificially by preparing a meal in God's Word for them. And don't forget that Jesus knew, before the foundation of the world, that they would be with you on that exact day!
We need to tell the story
The Good News of Jesus is not a series of bullet points. It is not some sort of wisdom proverb. The gospel is not principles. The Good News of Jesus Christ is not a three-point sermon. The gospel of Jesus is a story. It's the story about the life of one man, the God-man, the Savior and Lord of all the earth. And everyone loves a great story.
Oftentimes we can be so focused on making points and teaching principles that we neglect to share the story with people. Telling the people in the congregation the Jesus story and helping them find themselves in that story is powerful and often neglected in contemporary preaching. So let's not neglect the story in favor of take-away points.
Let's put the Jesus story center stage. Let's tell the story in a way that grabs the hearts of listeners by the power of the Spirit. When the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is told in a way that is rigorously biblical and radically honest, it is as captivating as any story ever told. Whether the focus is on the many attributes of Jesus, the fears of the apostles, Mary's broken heart, the ruthless character of the religious leaders, or the amazement of everyone at the resurrection of Jesus, the story is absolutely riveting. So we need to tell the story!
We need to teach the gospel
In the 21st century western context, we live in an information and education saturated environment. With technology galore, people have instantaneous access to information. Yet, biblical literacy might be at an all-time low. So as we tell the Jesus story and focus people down on the finished work of Jesus, let us teach the people the Word of God.
And remember, the people there are not like you and me. Most of them have not devoted their lives to studying God's Word, so they are not our peers or colleagues in biblical studies. They are our brothers and sisters who are seeking (whether they know it or not) to grow in their knowledge of the biblical God. So let's put the cookies on the bottom shelf for them. Let's teach them the deep things of God in ways that they can actually understand. Help them to make connections within the Bible. Explain to them the things that they wouldn't otherwise know unless they did some research. Let's meet people right where they are, just like Jesus does, in a way that is personal, meaningful, and important. And don't forget to sprinkle in some apologetics on Easter. Some of those visitors will be skeptics who are not angry at God. They just don't understand. So lovingly address some of their questions and help them to take the next steps with Jesus.
We need to evangelize the lost
Easter is prime evangelism time. I realize that, in some circles, pulpit evangelism is looked down upon. But listen, it might be maligned in our tribes and circles, but not by Jesus. Last time I checked, the Great Commission tells us to "make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching." No one becomes a disciple of Jesus without, at some point, making a decision to follow Jesus. Why shouldn't that decision come on Easter Sunday in the church you pastor?
Here at Crossroads, we do old-school evangelism—from the pulpit, altar call and all, each and every weekend. And I'm a younger pastor. Every week, people come and commit their lives to Jesus. There is nothing worse than doing a great job explaining the gospel and then not giving people an opportunity to respond.
Few things make the resurrection of Jesus more real than seeing Jesus make a spiritually dead person alive right before their eyes! And don't forget to then disciple the people who have decided to follow Jesus. There is an art and craft to following Jesus. We need to make sure that we are sharing those insights with our little brothers and sisters in the faith. Let this Easter be a bountiful harvest of souls for God's family!
We need to reflect the light of Christ
Easter is a great time to be a reflection of the light of Christ in our community and our world. Not only from our pulpits (and we need to reflect the light of God's love and truth in our speech, demeanor, and message), but also in the whole of the church. It's been said that "everything messages." And that is true. Everything preaches, not just the sermon. And for most of us, we are responsible, not just for the pulpit, but for the entire preached message of the congregation.
So how can you involve the whole congregation in living out the resurrection of Jesus? And not only them, but also all the visitors? I encourage you to simply respond to Jesus and find ways to engage everyone in the Easter message. Here at Crossroads, we pull out all the stops for Easter. We do a "One Invite Can Change A Life Campaign" and utilize media to invite people to join us for our Easter gatherings. We do a huge "Jesus at Street Level" service project for Easter where we involve the entire congregation in serving self-sacrificially in our community and our world. For our visitors, if they fill out our connect card, we make a small donation in their honor to any number of world-changing organizations that we partner with. And we also make sure we seek to engage our visitors to join us again the following week as we begin a new series. We want to be a living epistle of the resurrected life of Jesus. We make sure that someone's experience at Crossroads will be powerful enough to represent, in some small way, the power of Jesus' death and resurrection. Everything preaches. So don't neglect the global sermon of your congregation and reflect the light of Jesus to the world this Easter!
Daniel Fusco is the Lead Pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, WA.