We are invited on Ash Wednesday to practice, during the season of Lent, self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. All good things. Hopefully, you are engaging in these disciplines and growing in personal holiness since developing holiness is an essential purpose of Lent. In the Ash Wednesday liturgy during the “Confession and Litany of Penitence,” there are plenty of opportunities for self-examination and repentance and plenty of areas that highlight our need for inner spiritual transformation with God’s help. Some of the ones that might tweak your conscience like they do mine are:
- For our self-pity and impatience, and our envy of those we think more fortunate than ourselves.
- For our unrighteous anger, bitterness, and resentment; for all lies, gossip, and slander against our neighbors.
- For our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our intemperate pursuit of worldly goods and comforts.
When our culture was much more Christian, using Lent to focus on our need for personal holiness made good sense. As our culture has been speeding more quickly away from a biblical worldview with more people believing it “foolish to acknowledge God,” “their lives [have become] full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too” (Romans 1:28-32 NLT). I wonder if now, more than ever, we should also use the season of Lent to focus on our need for self-examination considering the Great Commission and our failure to fulfill it in our times.
As we continue through Lent and approach Easter, would you consider adding to your Lenten disciplines a commitment to grow in reaching the lost and bringing them into God’s Kingdom? Notice also in the “Confession and Litany of Penitence,” these confessions:
- For our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty.
- For our failure to commend the faith that is in us.
If you think about it, meeting others’ needs and sharing Jesus with them is an act of self-denial and reflects real holiness. We must lay down our own self-interests and comforts for the salvation of others. Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:19 (NIV): “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”
As you get ready for Easter, here are four simple suggestions for thinking about and engaging evangelism in the coming weeks:
Fish for unchurched people
Jesus calls us to be “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). One aspect of fishing for people is to invite them to church. Personal invitation is the number one reason people visit and then join a church. Prayerfully identify one or two people that you already know who are unchurched and whom you can invite to Easter Sunday worship. You can ask God to bring someone to mind and then look for opportunities to invite them to come and see Jesus.
First impressions matter
When you do invite a first-time guest to your church, what will be their first impressions? What will their impressions be of the building and children’s spaces, the way they were welcomed, or how easily they could follow the liturgy? Will they say, “This place is alive, welcoming, and a place I could belong!” Or, will they say, “This place is not thriving and didn’t care if I stayed or left.” Between now and Easter, think through every aspect of your Sunday morning experience with “fresh eyes.” What will visitors see that you may now overlook? Be sure that every aspect of your community communicates to visitors that your church is alive and that you want them to join you in your mission in the world.
Finalize the message
This point is specifically for the person preaching. If most Easter sermons revolve around Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is important to finalize that Gospel message for the sake of being clear, especially to visitors. I was taught that every sermon should end with this kind of question: “Will you?” For example, “Will you repent and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life?” Invite people to pray for the forgiveness of their sins, to join you in asking him to save them, and committing to follow him as Lord. What if there is even one guest on Easter who is unsaved, and that’s the only Sunday they’ll ever be in church?
Follow-up with guests
What is your church’s plan to follow-up with those who visit on Easter Sunday? Do you have a means for them to give you their contact information? If you do and they provide it to you, what is your plan to contact them? What is the next step you’d like them to take to help them continue to follow Jesus and move toward joining your church? Have a clear and easy plan to follow-up with them.
May we all be like King David and practice repentance and the spiritual disciplines for both our personal holiness and for the holiness of others as he prayed in Psalm 51:12-13: “O give me the comfort of your help again and sustain me with your willing Spirit. Then shall I teach your ways unto the wicked, and sinners shall return unto you.”