3 ways pastors can prepare their people for Easter

Here is an article I wrote recently for Converge:

“I never knew you, depart from me” (Matt. 7:23).
Jesus said that. He didn’t mince words. What if he spoke those condemning words to your flock? I can’t think of anything more gut-wrenching as a pastor and father than that. How can we, as leaders, avoid Jesus’ condemnation? Here are three ways to prepare your people for eternity, as well as Easter.

Work

First, work to inspire and equip evangelism and discipleship in your flock.
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Jesus loved people. He loved his small band of men, whom he discipled to spread the good news about himself. The good news was that he came to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
The context of Jesus’ condemnation was a story of people who mistook religion for justification. We are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ, and that is radically different from all competing justifications before God. The love of Christ, as seen in his death on our behalf, compels and fuels obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 5:14).
More and more people are leaving the church. So finding opportunities to communicate this gospel of grace is more challenging than ever. There are a few times in a calendar year that people are traditionally more open to considering faith. When are those days? Traditionally we think of Christmas and Easter as the two key times of annual attendance in church. I would add Mother’s Day, the beginning of a school year and New Year’s. We serve our people by capitalizing on those days.
How? Pray for the lost and spiritual growth in your community. Train your people on how to share their faith. Think of creative ways to invite people to your church. Consider your teaching in light of your changing audience. Easter will be here faster than we think. Let’s work to share the gospel. 
You are not alone in this. Converge can help. Check out this five-minute video by Lee Stephenson, Converge’s executive director of Church Planting, on Creating a Culture of Evangelism.

Worship

Second, worship God. If you want to help prepare your people for eternity, you must pay attention to worship. Converge pastor John Piper wrote, in his book Let the Nations be Glad, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Inviting people to church and sharing our faith is great, but it is not ultimate. The worship of God is.
God is jealous of our adoration. He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). God’s greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to love God from which all adherence to ethical and moral imperatives result (Matt. 22:37). A tyrannical mandate from a weak God does not issue this call, but a loving shepherd, knowing what is best for his sheep. He is categorically good and pleasant in all ways before we were ever created (Ps. 16:11). Our joy is most when we center it on worshiping him. We are worshipers. Too often, our worship is misplaced.
Worship begins with the heart. If we want to help our people know, love and share God, then we must do that ourselves. We can’t share what we don’t have.
How? Throughout the centuries, the church universal embraced a calendar to help. Many of us Baptists have thrown off empty traditions or are not aware of the value of ancient rhythms. Consider reinstating an old path of praise as an opportunity for a fresh experience of prayer and worship. For example, Ash Wednesday, February 26 this year, kicks off the Lenten season. Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to remember mortality. Ash placed in the form of the cross on the forehead, pointing to the dust we came from and will return. Lent invites an opportunity to remember and repent of sin, necessitating a savior. Other worship opportunities in these coming months include Palm Sunday, the Stations of the Cross, Maundy Thursday, a Seder service and Good Friday.
Be intentional. Prepare your flock for Easter and eternity with the worship calendar. Help them with the songs you sing and the services you schedule. Try something new. Be intentional.
Converge can help. Check out Converge president Scott Ridout’s Whiteboard Leadership training video Designing a Worship Service.

Word

Third, teach God's word. More and more, our society sees the Bible as archaic and irrelevant. It is not. As a movement of churches, we affirm that “the Bible is the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.” Culture would have the church skip the Scripture. A recent survey showed that 47% of Americans believe the Bible is not literally true. Bring your flock back to the Bible. Help them understand it and meditate on it and believe it. Mull over a verse or passage or book in your sermons, teaching and communications. Dig for meaning and relevance. Study and find the sweet lasting treasure in the word, and help your people do the same.
Psalm 19:10 describes God’s word this way:
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Do you believe that? As pastors, we must help our people know this.
Converge has excellent resources that can help. One is my recently released devotional book Last Words: Seven Sayings from the Heart of Christ on the Cross. Jesus’ words on the cross capture who he was and what he was about and offer gospel hope for your spiritual journey. Without the cross, faith is pointless. Equip your people to digest the word.
Although Jesus said, “Depart from me I never knew you,” he also said, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). Imagine him commending our flock like that this year. How do we help our people prepare for eternity and Easter? We can work to equip them to share Jesus, worship Jesus and know Jesus in his word.
Will you join me? We are better together.

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