In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, the apostle Paul wrote a clear word to the early congregation in a one of the metropolitan centers of the ancient world.
For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures
The church needed to communicate one key message in that day and we should so the same in our day. In preparing for Easter Sunday, church leaders need to do so with precision. There is no other word to speak on Easter other than the gospel. Why? Because it is common need of every human walking about on the planet. In his book The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges wrote, “The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history.”
I have said what many others have regarding how we work in the church: How you win them is how you keep them. Hold a big event and you’ll need to keep outdoing yourself to keep their attention. Point them from the beginning on the greatness of Christ and then keep them focused on His unfailing love. These are choices we make. I hope we will all choose the latter.
Here are 11 principles to use as you prepare for your celebration of the resurrection on Easter.
1. Make a big deal about Jesus. Everyone agrees with this in principle. But then we make 73 announcements about activities that subvert our real message. Easter is a time to communicate everyone’s need for Jesus and connect them to the life of the church. Be disciplined about your communication on that day in everything that is said. Not just the sermon. We need to hold Jesus up higher than our local congregation’s programming.
2. After planning, critique it all. As you intention is the highlight the gospel, you will plan various elements for all of your ministries that day. Once it is all planned, take time to pray (again). After a few days, come back together as leaders and critique it all. Ask: “Does every element of the day clearly communicate the message of Christ?”
3. Mobilize members into service. A church that serves is one that grows. It will grow more deeply in faithfulness to Christ’s mission and will likely then see physical growth as well.
4. Highlight stories of transformation. It is tempting to only place the “professionals” on the platform on Easter. Normal people need to hear that other normal people have been changed by this not-normal message. As a pastor, you can likely state it more professionally but a member can often say it more personally.
5. Be personal rather than professional. Building from the previous point, be more concerned about being a person rather than being a professional, an authority, or an expert. In fact, be all of those things and retain your humanity while you do it.
6. Protect the message in other ministries. Lots will happen on Easter… like every other Sunday. Bible study groups, children’s worship, student ministry, preschool ministry, parking lot greeters, and a mass of other ministries will happen. Lead the leaders toward Jesus and they will know to lead others to Him as well.
7. Commit to gospel-centered creativity. God’s people have always been artists. We have written music, painted, written plays, and made beautiful things under our service to the Lord. As you consider how you will tell the story of Jesus on Easter, focus your cleverness and creativity on how the gospel is the foundation of every story.
8. Don’t be a bully. If you are tempted to welcome all of those who last attended at the Christmas Eve Service, don’t. Be gracious to cynics, unbelievers, and people drug to church by their mother. No one is won to Christ by being bludgeoned about their lack of church attendance. You can confront sin without berating a broken person.
9. Guide their response. Most people do not know how to respond to a service, a sermon, or anything else. Be very clear about how you expect people to respond to Jesus and the life of the church.
10. Speak of eternity. Many people just want a temporary fix to temporary problems. We need to show that the gospel applies to the everyday pains of life and the brutal way the world treats us. But they need to know more. The lost need to hear that eternity hangs in the balance. Salvation and judgment are real and they are forever. Speak clearly about eternity and how we can walk into it with security.
11. Pray expectantly and work faithfully. God is working by His sovereignty through the church. As we are faithfully set apart for Him, we will experience the joy of His salvation. Be exclusively His ambassador proclaiming His great grace and watch the Spirit’s work.