Saturday, March 02, 2013

Planning for Easter

Easter is just five weeks away. It is traditionally one of the biggest Sundays of the year for most churches. It holds great potential for the gospel and the church.

So how do we plan our preaching for Easter?

In the beginning of my ministry, I did one of two things in my Easter message. I either concluded a series hitting the capstone on Easter (such as preaching four weeks through Isaiah 53), or I preached a standalone message and returned to a series or started a new one the next week.

In recent years I have changed my approach. Now, I begin a new series on Easter, and the reason is simple.

We have a guests on Easter Sunday.

If I am concluding a series, they will have missed all of it. Chances are, much of what I say will be tied to something I previously said, which they missed. They have no context for the final message. I send a subliminal message that this really isn’t for them. These first-timers, or first-time-in-a-long-timers will probably turn out to be only-timers.

If I preach a standalone message, I miss a great opportunity for a built-in reason to return. I also do something I don’t normally do (which is the downside of Easter programs, cantatas, etc.). My goal on Easter is to make it as normal as possible so that guests know what we are about and what to expect. I don’t want to create false expectations.

By beginning a new series, I give an explicit invitation to come back next week and hear some more. I tell them, “You got in on the ground floor. Now, let’s build it.” The goal is to see them come back to hear more and be confronted multiple times with the claims and the relevance of the gospel. This gives the chance for an extended development of the gospel as it applies to life.

These message series can be part of an expositional series, such as it was for me the year I was preaching in Hebrews. In providence, I saw that I was drawing near to Hebrews 11 around Easter. So on Easter Sunday, I laid a foundation of faith in God as real and a rewarder of those who seek him. Then I built on that foundation through Hebrews 11.

Another year, I began a series entitled “The Story of Life,” in which I took five weeks to preach through the whole Bible. I began with “Creation and Fall,” then “Fall and Effects,” “Redemption and Reconciliation,” “Church and Mission,” and “Return and Restoration.” This is a type of narrative preaching, where the story take center stage, and the goal is to see ourselves in the story. In retrospect, five weeks was too short (or the Bible is too long).

Another year, I began a series entitled “Real Life,” in which I developed various spheres of life from the perspective of the gospel and the resurrection. So I began with “I Don’t Want Your Pity” from 1 Corinthians 15. Then I addressed “Living with Yourself,” “Living with Others,” “Working for a Living,” “How Jesus Meets Us in Real Life,” and “Putting It All Together.” I tried to show each week how the gospel is more than something for Sunday; it changes our real lives, you know, the ones we live between Sunday at noon and the next Sunday at 9:30 a.m. This is a kind of topical preaching, in which I tried to apply the gospel directly to areas of life to show how it changes the way we view things.

This year I am beginning a series entitled “Urban Legends: Is That Really True?” Each week, we will take a commonly believed religious idea and turn it inside out looking for truth. We will address the resurrection, whether or not God helps those who help themselves, if religion really takes all the fun out of life, does Jesus love everyone, and a couple of others. This type of preaching is best categorized as apologetic preaching in which a defense of biblical truth is offered against a challenger.

You will have to decide your own approach and your own series. But I encourage you to give some thought to starting something on Easter.

It gives people a reason to come back, and it maximizes two things that are going to happen anyway: You are going to preach and guests are going to show up.

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