My Top 7 Goals to Accomplish on Easter Sunday/Weekend

Easter.

It’s a time of year when churches have an opportunity shared only with Christmas in attracting visitors. Hopefully all of God’s churches will be packed Easter Sunday. That’s my prayer.

We’ve had months of praying, planning and preparing. We’ve done all we can do, but God is ultimately in charge of all that happens in our church – and yours.

I’m often asked, however, what I hope to accomplish on Easter Sunday – such an important day in the life of any church. It could seem overwhelming if we try to accomplish too much in one day, so what do I, as a pastor, have at the top of my list of goals for Easter Sunday. This year we’ve even added a Saturday night service, so it will be a weekend experience.

I shared a guest post with Lifeway’s pastor blog about 7 ways a church can prepare for Easter. In this post, I want to share what I actually hope we accomplish on Easter weekend. Only 7 things. If we accomplish nothing else, and there are probably many other things we will accomplish Easter weekend, I hope Immanuel Baptist does these 7 well.

Gospel is shared

After we’ve made all the preparations, it would be like inviting people to a turkey dinner with no turkey if we don’t share the Gospel. Once we’ve worked hard to gather people into a room, we must not neglect to share the simple truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again and by Him and through Him alone we can be saved. We must give people an opportunity to hear the Gospel – if for the first time or one of many other times. The Gospel is Good News for all people. All times. After all, that’s what we are celebrating Easter.

People feel welcome

I hope everyone who enters the doors of our church feels welcome. Regardless of what they are wearing, what side of town they came from, what they do for a living, their education status, whichever “side of the tracks” from which they arrived – let them feel the genuine love and kindness of God’s people. There will be those who don’t feel “worthy” to be in a church Easter (because they don’t yet understand than none of us are apart from grace). What better day to “love one another” than Easter Sunday!

Next is highlighted

I want people to leave knowing where the church is going next. For example, we will continue our series on an overview of the Bible after Easter. Then we will be in a relationship series next. People need to know that – in hopes they’ll want to return.

The church is presented well

This is the weekend, even more than others perhaps, where I hope our people are willing to sacrifice for visitors. I hope our leaders are the ones willing to move to the center of an aisle first, to make room on the ends of a row for visitors. I hope Immanuel people help visitors in the parking lot, even if they’ve never before worked in the parking lot. I hope people who seem to be looking for the bathrooms don’t have to look long before someone helps them. I hope the building is cleaner than ever. (That’s why we have had cleanup days scheduled several Saturdays.)

Just as when visitors come to your home for the first time, this is the time to be ready to receive guests warmly. I also want to answer as many questions as people may have about the church, so we are printing a special bulletin designed to give insight to visitors about who we are, what programs we offer, and easy places where they could quickly become a part of Immanuel.

Our people are encouraged

I hope people who call Immanuel their home church – even if they’ve been there over 70 years (and some have been) or just arrived in the last few weeks (and there are lots of those), will leave encouraged by what they experience Easter Sunday. I hope there will be a God-honoring pride that we did all God would expect us to do to present an atmosphere conducive for people to ultimately hear the Gospel. I hope they’ll be challenged for the days ahead and willing to sacrifice and serve even more, directly as a result of what God allows to happen Easter.

Children are safe and have fun

If parents entrust their children to our care they should be assured their children are safe and well-protected. In addition, I hope children leave telling their parents how much they enjoyed being at Immanuel this weekend. Children have a raw honesty about them. They don’t always know the words to say, but parents know whether or not this is a place their kids will be welcomed. Children are often a huge door to the families eventual active involvement in a church. And, this shouldn’t mean children don’t learn. Obviously, they need the Gospel as much as adults, but I believe truth can be shared in an inviting setting.

People leave with hope

Second only from hearing the Gospel, I hope people leave our Easter services with a sense of hope. Actually, that’s my goal every Sunday. The world can be a scary place. There will be lots of brokenness among us at Easter. As followers of Christ, we believe we hold the answer to hope for the world. It’s in the Resurrected Savior – whom we are celebrating – the King of kings and Lord of lords. I hope people don’t leave more confused or feeling guilty about their life, but rather they live knowing their is A Way, there is an answer – there is HOPE – in Jesus Christ!

Easter is coming. I’m praying for my pastor friends, for the church of Christ, and for those who will enter our gathering places this weekend, joining the Church in Easter worship.

7 FAQ’s About Visiting Church Easter Weekend

Visiting a church for the first time can be intimidating. You often don’t know what to expect. You’d love to ask, but you’re not sure who to ask or even if your question sounds silly. It’s not. Probably others have the same question as you.

Recently someone who watches our services on television said they would love to come in person, but they didn’t think they had anything appropriate to wear. It literally broke my heart to think someone wouldn’t attend because they didn’t think they had the right clothes.

But, I get their response. It would almost be easier not to visit than to wear the wrong thing. It would be the less complicated safer choice.

I’m glad, however, I was able to assure this person they didn’t need to dress to impress in our church.

It made me think some other questions people may have about visiting a church the first time. I thought of some of the more common. This post has been tweaked a couple times over the years, but actually originated in one of our lead staff meetings. Someone suggested, “Why don’t you compile a list of of the top questions people may be wondering, but haven’t asked, and write about it?” Okay, here you go.

Keep in mind, this is written for the church where I currently serve as pastor – Immanuel, but I suspect most will be true for many churches you would visit for Easter. And, I’m nearly positive about this – most pastors would prefer you ask rather than wonder and not visit at all.

So, if you don’t know, ask. Please.

Here are 7 frequently asked questions about visiting Easter weekend:

What should I wear?

At Immanuel Baptist Church, you’ll see all styles of dress. Some will wear suit and tie and dresses and hats for women. Some will wear jeans and t-shirts. We may even see shorts if the weather is warm enough. To answer your question, choose an outfit you already own, one you feel comfortable in, and join us. (No speedos please, but that’s just a personal request, otherwise, you’ll be fine. 🙂 )

What will we do? What can I expect?

We will have a fairly typical worship schedule. We will sing some songs, have a short greeting time, I’ll share a message (my intent is always to share truth, grace, and ultimately hope), and we will sing some more. We will attempt to have a blend of songs and music all ages can enjoy. And, yes, in full transparency, and in case you’re wondering, we will receive an offering. Our offerings support the full range of ministries we offer in the church, community, and around the world. You are not required, however, to participate during this time unless you choose to do so.

Will you embarrass me?

I certainly hope not. It will be a primary goal not to do so. I don’t personally like to be embarrassed when I visit somewhere new, even in a church – and I’m a pastor. Our goal is to create an environment which is comfortable for all. You WILL NOT be singled out as a visitor. We don’t make visitors stand, raise their hand, or even fill out a card if you choose not to do so. (You certainly won’t be asked to sing a solo, unless you sing really, really loud – and then you’re on your own. 🙂 )

How long will the service last?

Slightly more than an hour. I’d love to say an hour, but sometimes the service ends up being an hour and 5 or 10 minutes frequently. At the most, you’ll be with us for an hour and 15 minutes. (Walking to and from the car time and all.)

What time should I arrive?

What a great question! I’m really trying to help when I suggest you get here a few minutes early. Maybe even as many as 10 or 15 minutes early. It takes a little while to make your way through our building, especially if you have children to check into our children’s areas or this is your first time. We especially want you to find a seat where you are most comfortable (some want up close – some want in the middle – some like me if I were visiting on the back row), and you’ll feel more acclimated to the room if you have a few minutes to adjust before the service begins. We have a special Easter bulletin you can be reading while you wait for the service to start.

Do you have something for children?

Absolutely. Birth through 5th grade have their own activities designed especially for them. They will enjoy a worship experience which will engage them at their level. Of course, we don’t keep you from bringing children with you in the worship service if this is more comfortable on a first visit, but our experience is they truly do enjoy the service designed for them. Either way, we love when entire families join us Easter Sunday.

Can I only come one time? Really, for what am I signing up when I come Easter Sunday?

There’s no obligation beyond Easter Sunday. It’s a “free look”. Promise. Being honest, we do ask you to fill out a contact card and, if you do, we will follow up with you. And I hope you do. I love seeing who God brought to us as visitors. I love meeting visitors. But, even if you fill out a card, we allow you to tell us how you want to be contacted. Phone, email, social media, or visit – or none – you tell us. We won’t put any unfair pressure on you to ever come again. Being totally transparent, we hope you will. We would love if Easter triggered a desire in you to be a part of our church family, but that’s totally your call – not ours.

I hope this answers some questions of those who think about visiting our church. I’d be honored if you are our guest.

What other questions do you have? Seriously, I’d rather you asked. 

5 Suggestions for Finding More Joy at Christmas

But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. Luke 2:10-11

As I read the Scriptures, the ability to have joy is a gift. We may not always be “happy” with our circumstances, but we can have joy. Joy is a condition of our heart beyond the situations life may bring. It was “good news of great joy” the angels announced at the birth of Christ.

For many, however, living in the reality of joy at Christmas is harder than other times of the year. Memories of loved ones, financial struggles, health issues, and relationship woes often make for a very difficult celebration. And, have you spent much time watching the news recently? It’s enough to depress anyone.

Do you ever wonder why everyone else seems to find it, but you’ve been “left out” when it comes to “good news of great joy”?

How do we find the joy of Chrismas? (You may want to read my previous post 10 Ways to Overcome a Sense of Christmas Loss. This post comes from another angle.

Here are five suggestions to greater joy at Christmas:

Lower expectations of others

We falsely expect others to respond as we want them to respond – or thin we would. We expect them to react to our gift as we felt when we bought it for them. We thought they’d remember us and they didn’t. We sent a card – they didn’t. We tried to be nice – and they weren’t so nice. We shouldn’t hold others to an expectation we set for them. People, even the best of people, will disappoint us. And, people are different from us. We aren’t responsible for the reactions of others. We are only responsible for our actions.

Increase your investment in others 

If we aren’t careful, Christmas can become so commercialized, even within our own families, we unintentionally become selfish towards others. Something supernatural happens when we share with people. Giving has an intrinsic value, which can’t be duplicated in any other way. This includes extending grace, as it was given to us – this includes granting forgiveness to those who disappointed us. Giving frees our heart of selfishness and self-centered tendencies we all have at times.

Examine your life and address sin

You can’t experience complete joy with a holy God if you are living contrary to His desires for your life. Where does your life need a realignment with God’s purposes and plan for you? Chances are good you already know. Is it an unforgiving spirit? Are you holding on to anger? Do you have continued, repetitive sin in your life? Christmas is a great time to make new commitments, and re-dedicate your life to Christ. Then you have a whole year to strive in this area of personal growth. Could a revival of soul be what’s missing for you to have a merrier Christmas?

Change your perspective

Choosing to be joyful is not based on circumstances, but often comes by perspective. Where we stand always determines what we see. Stand in faith and we will see the world from a different and more positive viewpoint. The Apostle Paul wrote one of his most joy-filled letters – Philippians- while chained in a jail cell. (Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8) The fact is – joy is a gift. It’s not based on what we have done or could do, but on His grace towards us. It’s based on the hope of the righteous, not the reality of the moment. We can choose joy. And, then choose it again. And again. And again.

Set your eyes on the prize

If you’re struggling to find joy in life, set your eyes on Jesus – the author and perfecter of your faith. (If indeed He is your Savior – if not choose His grace by faith now.) Set your sight on the glory to be revealed through your trials and circumstances. God will write the final chapter of your story – and He’s not finished yet! You can trust Him. Look again at the manger – Jesus, the One who existed before time began, set the stars in place, lowered Himself in the form of a baby and was placed on a feeding trough, so He may give us access (through the Cross and resurrection) to a Holy God! I can find joy in this fact! Can you?

What suggestions do you have for finding more joy at Christmas?

4 Ways to Keep Your Marriage from being Injured During the Holidays

The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a couple after the holidays because of problems developed – or were exaggerated – between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? Sounds like a good goal, right?

Here are 4 suggestions to keep your marriage from being injured during the Christmas season?

Plan a budget together.

Agree upon how much you are going to spend – and, stick to it. This may require compromise. There will often be one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. A good principle is don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.

Protect your family first.

Even if it means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. Have time together as a family. (For years we did this wrong and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and they could voice that they wanted more time with just us that we started to scale back our schedule.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time before you spend your time anywhere this holiday season. You may have to support each other with the other spouse’s families. (Wives speak to their families. Husbands speak to their families.) This doesn’t mean your decision will be popular or that it won’t be challenged, but your children will only be children for a few short years.

Build traditions which help build the family.

We often get distracted by things which matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter or annually letting Linus from Charlie Brown’s Christmas remind you of the true meaning of Christmas as you watch it together. The baby, who is a Savior, has been born – He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas – the real Christmas – and you’ll enjoy it even more.

When tension is outside don’t let it reign inside.

The Christmas season can be so busy. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. It seems emotions run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. It can lead to tense relations. There’s often tension in the stores and on the streets and in someone’s kitchen. Decide now nothing will distract you from the closeness you have as a couple and as a family. Make this a celebration season which grows your heart stronger as a couple and a home.

Just a few suggestions. Any you have?

3 Common Fears of Every Young Leader

I’m convinced. After years mentoring younger leaders, there is something all of us leaders with more experience need to know.

Every young leader shares some common fears.

Granted, I’ve mostly worked with young male leaders (and I am the parent of boys), but I suspect these fears aren’t gender exclusive.

And, they aren’t talked about much – or even admitted. The pressure to perform often keeps us from admitting fear, but these are real fears.

Here are 3 common fears of every young leader:

Am I good enough?

Do I have what it takes to do this job? Can I perform to expectations? Will people really even follow me?

I have a young pastor friend who actually looks younger than he is. Almost every week a person in his congregation will say something such as, “That was a pretty good message for a 20 year old.” He’s in his 30’s – and super sharp. It causes him to question, however, if these people are actually following his leadership – or even believe in him.

Am I performing to expectations?

Our biggest critic is usually ourselves. We second guess even our best work. Young leaders don’t have a track record to know when they are doing well and when they are not. They only know what they know. I feel many young leaders are always looking over their shoulder wondering if other people approve of them and their leadership.

What happens if I fail?

Seriously, what will I do if mess this up? Will I ever be given another opportunity? Or, is this a one shot deal?

Common and legitimate fears.

Do you want to make a difference in the life of a young leader? Help them answer these questions – in the affirmative. Help them know they’ve got this, you believe in them, and you are in their corner.

Above all, help them believe in themselves. Help them discover their inner strength – their God-given grace – their God-given talent. Give them words of affirmation. Help them know, by God’s grace and His strength working through them, they can weather any storm and overcome any obstacle which may get in the way of being all God has called them to be.

Seasoned leaders, this is a great pursuit for us. It’s a great way to allow your experience to work for Kingdom good. Find a young leaders who needs to hear from you. Something tells me we can help build future leaders – and, in the process, leave a legacy.

12 Leadership Principles of Jesus

These Inspire Me

There are many leaders I admire who have influenced my own leadership. I admire the teachings on leadership by guys like John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, and Patrick Lencioni. There are leaders from my personal life such as a former pastor, a former boss, a high school principal and leaders in my own community who have influenced me as I have watched their leadership. I also love to learn from a great athletic coach. I have been known to choose the teams I support by the coach that leads them. I love leadership. It is so needed these days – especially in our churches.

The principles, however, which I admire most are found in the leadership style of Jesus. Jesus’ leadership is still impacting culture today.

Here are 12 leadership principles of Jesus that inspire me:

Jesus was willing to invest in people others would have dismissed.

Consider the disciples. They were not the “religious” elite, yet Jesus used them to start His church.

Jesus released responsibility and ownership in a ministry.

Consider how Jesus sent the disciples out on their own. No micro-management it appears.

Jesus had a leadership succession plan. 

Jesus consistently reminded the disciples He wouldn’t always be with them. Of course, He was still the “leader”, but He left others to take the ministry forward.

Jesus practiced servant leadership better than anyone.

The King of kings was willing to wash the feet of His followers.

Jesus was laser focused on His vision.

Regardless of the persecutions or distractions, Jesus kept on the mission God had called Him to complete.

Jesus handled distractions with grace.

When the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched His garment, Jesus stopped to heal her, even though headed to a definite purpose.

Jesus was into self-development.

Jesus constantly slipped away to spend time with God.

Jesus was into leadership development and replacement.

He very purposefully prepared the disciples to take over the ministry. He pushed people beyond what they felt they were capable of doing.

Jesus held followers to high expectations.

Jesus was not afraid to make huge requests of people. “Follow Me” meant the disciples had to drop their agenda to do so. He told the disciples they must be willing to lose everything to follow Him.

Jesus cared more about people than about rules and regulations.

He was willing to jeopardize Himself personally by breaking the “rules” to help someone in need.

Jesus celebrated success in ministry.

He rewarded people generously who were faithful to Him and His cause.

Jesus finished well.

Any questions whether His ministry was effective? Still working today.

Any other reasons you admire the leadership of Jesus?

Peace Often Comes Through Obedience

Are you struggling with a “word from God”?

Do you feel there is something you need to do, but you aren’t quite certain about it yet?

Do you wish you had greater “peace” before you struck out to follow a dream – a dream you feel is God-given?

Are you sensing a desire to plant a church, revitalize a church, launch a new ministry effort, or surrender to vocational ministry?

If any of those or a similar scenario is your current story I may have a word of encouragement for you – or perhaps a word of challenge.

In my experience, peace often doesn’t come until obedience begins.

Seldom do I have complete peace prior to beginning to obey what I sense God is calling me to do.

Many times the direction God appears to be leading me doesn’t make sense. I’m restless. I don’t sleep well. I may even question myself and what I’m sensing.

I’ve previously written steps I take to discern God’s will (You can read that HERE and HERE), but after I’ve done those processes, and I’m still sensing God’s leading, the next place for me hasn’t always been an overwhelming sense of peace. The next place for me is one of obedience.

I’ve learned I may have to get my feet wet (Read Joshua 3) before the waters begin to part and peace begins to fill my heart.

When we agreed with God (and the search committee) He was calling us to leave an enormously successful church plant to go to an established 100 plus year old church almost a third of the size – where budgets were stretched and I was expected to preach three times as much and visit far more hospital beds – and to wear a tie on Sunday – it was difficult to get peace about any of those things.

It wasn’t until we agreed, and I showed up to tell the leadership of our church plant we were leaving where God gave me an overwhelming sense of peace. I had to obey first though.

To finish the story, we are a different church in many ways today. I preach once a week and very rarely have on a tie. And, the church has grown beyond our imaginations and the budget is healthy. But, we couldn’t see all this going into the process.

Are you in one of those times of discernment? Do you sense God’s leading? Do you believe God is calling you to a new level of faith and dependence on Him?

The next step may be to get your feet wet.

Improve this post. Share your stories of where peace came in obedience.

Pick Up Your Mat and Walk!

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” John 5:8

In order to appreciate the value of Jesus’ command, you need to consider the culture of the day. Today, although some may feel we don’t do enough, there are limited opportunities for the physically handicapped to work and lead productive lives. In Christ’s time on earth, the handicapped were outcast. They lived off handouts they could obtain from begging.

In the above instance, the man had been crippled for a long time. Probably the only possessions he had were the clothes on his back and the mat on which he lay. The mat was almost a symbol of the only hope in his life. His existence was one to be pitied. There was no known cure for what ailed him (except Jesus), and even if there had been, he certainly couldn’t have afforded it.

Jesus had sympathy for the man, and with the spoken word, the man was healed. Jesus told him to “Get up!” Take his mat and walk. Obviously, this was a gift greater than anything money could have bought.

Whenever I read this verse, this question comes to mind:

What mat am I holding on to today?

This man was holding on to his mat. It had surely become a treasured possession to him. He slept on it, rested on it, and watched the world pass by on it. He couldn’t have imagined facing the day without it. Jesus tells him to pick it up and walk. When Jesus was finished with the man, he didn’t need the mat anymore. It would take faith to trust Jesus and attempt to walk, but the victory was worth it all. Instead of a mat of hope, this man had the hope of Christ!

What would Jesus have you and I pick up today? What are you holding on to tightly as your only hope?

  • Money
  • Health
  • Relationships
  • Hobbies
    • I think Jesus was telling the man to pick up his mat because he wouldn’t need it anymore. He wouldn’t need a place to beg, to worry, to suffer. He needed no more dependence on a mat. He had found the Healer!

      And, I think even today – whatever you are holding on to tighter than your faith, I believe Jesus would say, “Pick up your mat and walk!”

      If we aren’t careful our mats can become our hope rather than our hope being in Christ.

      Our goal should be to trust Him with we trust in most. We are to allow Him to carry our burdens, strengthen our walk and brighten our future.

      Jesus wants to help you – and, the best way He can do this is lead you to trust Him more. Listen for His command to pick up your mat and walk!

Happy Easter! He Is Risen! Take Off The Grave Clothes!

When He had said this Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:43-44

The event in these verses triggered the Pharisees to crucify Jesus. Lazarus had been dead four days. Jewish tradition prompted the family to bury soon after death, but the Jews also believed the spirit hovered over the dead body for up to three days. This time too had passed. Lazarus was a fully dead man! It was a real miracle to bring him back to life, and this was too much for the Pharisees. 

What the Pharisees underestimated was this power would continue to be exhibited in the life of Christians for thousands of years to come. If you are a child of God, you have been brought from death unto life.

Jesus had raised Lazarus from the grave. We should love the story because it shows the power of the Savior. We can know if He can raise the dead to life, we can trust Him to help us make our house payment or whatever struggles our life may hold. We need to remember this in the day in which we live. Since Jesus has power over death is there anything in your life He can’t handle?

Jesus came to give us life! Jesus told Lazarus to take off His grave clothes, to quit “living” like he was dead. Shouldn’t we do the same thing?

Have you received Christ as your Savior? Is your name recorded in Heaven as a child of God?

Well, stop “living” among the dead. Look alive! Don’t let this world define your peace, contentment, or joy.

Jesus saved you by grace, through faith, not unto death, but unto life! Shouldn’t this make a noticeable difference in your life today?

Take off your grave clothes and LIVE!

Happy Easter!