Easter weekend is a highlight for any pastor and any church. There are two primary reasons for that:
- It’s one of the Sundays that almost everyone goes to church. Chances are pretty good that this will be your biggest Sunday attendance this year, or pretty close to it. Let’s admit it guys, as much as we’d like to be above that, it’s more fun when the building is full.
- And the Easter message is the greatest story of all. Jesus died for our sins and rose again with life for all who believe. It’s a pretty good story. I’ve often said that if you can’t preach Good Friday and Easter, you probably aren’t cut out for the pastorate. This is the sweet spot! It doesn’t get any better than the story of Easter.
But there can be some challenges that we encounter at Easter and the pressure is pretty high. If I blow it on Good Friday or on Easter when the crowds are high I’m not likely to get those people back on the normal Sundays that follow. There is a good article at Thom Rainer’s site called, “11 Reasons Pastors Struggle on Easter,” written by Chuck Lawless, that spells out some of the issues and pressures pastors face. The blessings of Easter can also become struggles.
I’d like to share a few reflections about ministry on Easter weekend. I may touch on some of the same themes that Lawless deals with in his article, I’ll try not to simply mimic him.
1) Don’t shame the wayward sheep.
You will likely see a lot of people in church Sunday who haven’t been there in months, even perhaps since Christmas or last Easter. Sometimes we make either jokes or pointed comments about their spotty attendance.
“So glad to see those of you we haven’t seen since we took down the Christmas decorations.”
“Nice to have our FBPO members here today – ‘For Burial Purposes Only.'”
Of course, people need to be in church and it isn’t spiritually healthy for them to be attending only at Christmas and Easter. But harassing and shaming them when they do come is not likely your best strategy. If they attend once or twice a year and the preacher sends them on a guilt trip every time they show up, it’s not much of an incentive to come back.
Love them. Welcome them. Tell them how great it is to see them. Invite them to a Sunday School class or a small group, or to some other activity. But there is no profit in sheep-shaming. Even as a joke. They are not more likely to come back next week if you heap guilt on them this week.
2) Can the Cute.
Easter is about the fact that that Jesus died for our sins and rose again victorious over death, over hell and over our sin. I’ve seen ads for the silliest of gimmicks used on Easter Sunday at churches around our land. Nothing must distract from the gravity of the message of the Easter story. When we engage in kitschy nonsense on Resurrection day, we have profaned the holy.
Easter Sunday doesn’t need gimmicks, door-prizes, clowns or bunny costumes. It is the most powerful, life-giving, eternity-altering message ever. Just exalt Christ and tell the story that is at the root of the day.
And that leads directly to point 3…
3) Preach it, Brother.
One of the things that Chuck Lawless mentioned was the pressure to come up with a fresh, innovative or creative way to tell the story. But I would encourage you, my pastor friend, not to get too focused on the vehicle for the message. Just make sure you tell the story.
The story of the Cross and the Empty Tomb is so powerful that all you need to do is get out of the way. It has been changing lives for 2000 years and you don’t need to spice it up, give it punch, restructure it, give it a new setting, or creatively retell it. Just tell the story! Just preach it. Let the words of the hymn be the purpose of your heart.
Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
Just preach Jesus. Preach Jesus clearly. Preach Jesus boldly. Preach him born of a virgin. Preach him sinless. Preach him powerful – working miracles. Preach him setting his face toward Jerusalem to fulfill the Father’s purpose. Preach him riding into Jerusalem with the crowds cheering, cleansing the Temple, cursing the fig tree, confounding the religious leaders, announcing the coming kingdom. Preach Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, serving them the bread and wine, agonizing in Gethsemane, kissing the betrayer. Preach Jesus arrested on false charges, tried and convicted by lies, beaten and bloodied by brutal and cruel men, condemned to die. Preach Jesus carrying his cross, ridiculed and scorned. Preach Jesus nailed to the Cross, lifted in the air, and experiencing the wrath of God for the sins of all mankind. Preach Jesus exhausting the full fury of God’s wrath and proclaiming “It is finished.” Preach Jesus slumping forward as he says, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Preach Jesus buried in the tomb and guarded by soldiers. Preach Jesus, raised by the unstoppable and glorious power of God, bursting forth from the grave in victory. Preach Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, seated there and giving life to all who repent and believe. Preach Jesus whose name is above every name, at whose name every knee will bow and every tongue confess. Preach Jesus who will one day come again as King of kings and Lord of lords to judge the world, the living and the dead, to rule and reign on this earth. Preach Jesus.
Just preach Jesus. You don’t need to get fancy or cute. This story is so awesome it can stand on its own, without your creativity, innovation or rhetorical mastery! This message is all you need. Preach Jesus.
4) Remember who the Star of the Show Is
Sometimes our big services can become like small-time Hollywood productions, and it is all too easy to forget why we do what we do. We are not gathering at Southern Hills on Sunday morning to make the pastor look good (fill in your joke here). We are not even gathering to build up the church. Yes, it’s a big Sunday and there will be visitors and it’s a chance to make some good contacts. But Easter Sunday is a holy time. The star of the story is Jesus and he should be the main character is our services as well. Everything has to be about him.
5) Enjoy the day – for what it is.
Easter Sunday is a great day at most churches, but it is seldom a new reality. Next week, attendance will revert to the norm and things will likely not have changed dramatically. Enjoy the day, but don’t get your hopes up that April 5 will has ushered in a new era in your church. If you do, April 12 might be downer day. Enjoy the day for what it is, an opportunity to minister to people you might not have another chance to serve for quite some time.
6) Bag the Brag.
Okay, I’ll admit it. This is a personal gripe. Pastors love to brag about numbers – it’s almost pathological. Social media has been like an open bar to an alcoholic for us and many find it impossible to resist the temptation to toot that horn, letting the world know how great things are going!
Years ago I was at an associational dinner with the other associate pastor where I served. We were sitting around the table with other pastors and Dan shared something good that had happened at our church. The pastor across the table one-upped him. Dan had an ornery streak, so he shared something else. That got one-upped as well. Two or three more times, with increasing aggravation, Dan shared good things that were happening at our church, and each time the pastor across the table smiled and beat our numbers.
- We baptized 4. We baptized 7.
- We have 3 young men preparing for the ministry. We have 5.
Finally, Dan stopped and looked across the table and said, “Sunday night, we had two lady mud-wrestlers perform in our evening service.” There was a stunned silence around the table while I tried to keep from spitting out my food.
Why do we feel the need to brag about our numerical successes? I know, I know, it’s just a “praise report.” But I think we’d all be better off if we pastors didn’t race to Twitter and Facebook to bluster about our Easter numbers. Let’s focus on the Risen Christ of Easter not the rising counts on Easter.
Take it as one man’s opinion.
Each church is unique as is each pastor. You guys do what floats your boat. But these are some of my ideas. You have a great opportunity this week to preach Christ crucified, risen and exalted to people who may not be there every week. Take this noble challenge, this sacred privilege, and make the most of it.