Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why Easterfest made me weep for the local church

I want to start by saying that I love the musicians at my church.  As one who has about as much musical ability as that Shane Lee guy who sings 5 octaves of a piano on YouTube, I deeply value the fact that God has gifted people with musical ability.  Furthermore I love to see people using these gifts to glorify God, encourage the church and even draw unbelievers to a place where they can hear the gospel.  So the last thing I want to do is deny the hard working musicians at church one weekend a year to go and perform on a bigger stage, hear other quality Christian musicians and mix with thousands of other like-minded people.  However, for some reason I struggle when Easterfest rolls around each year.

Easterfest is most definitely a magnificent event that draws people from all over the country and attracts artists from all over the world.  It is also a triumph for the churches of Toowoomba – their unity and common heart for the gospel is impressive.  So my struggle is not with the event itself, but with the fallout of the event back in Brisbane.

Anyone in local church ministry will tell you that if random people from the community are going to ever walk through the doors of a church, they are going to come at Easter and/or Christmas.  So as a local church pastor I want the Easter services at my church to be the most welcoming, passionate and vibrant presentation of what the gospel, and the community that it creates, is all about.  However, year after year local churches are forced to do this without a huge percentage of their keen, gospel-loving people and without pretty much all of their musicians.  Just this year I was involved in 3 services across the weekend and the same guy had to worship lead at all 3; we planned a significant outreach event in our local community and could have done with the extra help; and I know of a major combined churches evangelistic event that attracts 12 000 people that was seriously undermanned when it came to volunteers.

Just to be clear I am not blaming Easterfest for this.  In fact if anyone is to blame it is the local churches.  I fear that local churches dropped the ball in terms of local evangelism at Easter many years ago.  This left a huge void in the hearts of people passionate about the gospel and they sought to fill that void with Easter conventions and, over the last decade or so, Easterfest.  The snowball effect is hard to ignore: the church became less active in evangelism at Easter, passionate gospel-lovers looked elsewhere for stimulation, which then made the local church less inclined to think creatively about local evangelism at Easter.  It is now a huge effort to put on something intentionally evangelistic when you know you are going to be struggling to get the critical number of energetic people needed to make the event happen.  In fact it has reached the point where it is almost pointless having a service on Easter Sunday night because so many people are away.

I know Easterfest has an evangelistic edge to it and I am totally supportive of the gospel being proclaimed faithfully at such events.  But I think it is clear from the New Testament that God’s plan A for the gospelisation of the world is the local church.  Planting local churches was at the very core of Paul’s ministry and when the Apostles wanted to pass on something to the general population of Christians they would write to the local churches or at the very least the leadership of local churches.  Even in Revelation Jesus personally addresses local churches to communicate rebuke, encouragement and challenge.   Local churches are supposed to be communities that visibly represent Christ on earth and bear witness to His gospel to all who they come in contact with.

Unfortunately I think the local churches in Brisbane have failed to even captivate the hearts of their own people with intentional gospel ministry at Easter, let alone the hearts of unbelievers.  Why else are thousands of people getting out of Brisbane as early as Thursday night to drive for 2 hours in holiday traffic to go to a concert?  Surely if there was the promise of passionate gospel ministry around their local church they might consider sticking around.  But as it is they are packed and ready to go without even a second thought. So now the local churches feel awkward about asking their people to hang back from Easterfest to partner with them in the gospel.

So here is the point of this post: I would love to see local churches plan creative and intentional evangelism for Good Friday morning.  Good Friday is the day on the Easter weekend that still holds the most traditional significance in Australian society and it is ripe for the picking.  Then I would love to see people delay their trip to Toowoomba so that they can take part in the evangelism on Friday morning.  We had a small group of young ladies do this for our Good Friday outreach this year and it was hugely appreciated!

Maybe I am asking too much.  Maybe the snowball is too big and travelling too fast to stop.  Maybe the local churches in Brisbane have lost our chance for evangelism at Easter.  But one thing I do know is that Jesus is passionate about the local church and the people in whom He dwells are passionate about Him.  So if we are bold enough to call them to contribute to something that proclaims this Christ in their own backyard, then we have a good chance of gradually seeing His passion for the mission of the church become their passion as well.  Especially at Easter!


  1. I had to read this blog a couple of times before I could see any point to it. My apologies because I was reading with a fair mind and not from a hypocritical mindset. What I hear you saying is that while it's ok for you to be paid to go on Pastors Retreats, holidays, take a day off during the week, sick leave, etc, you begrudge the volunteers at church the opportunity to take a four day weekend break. Not only is taking time for ourselves good for us (mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally) but these musicians who you are complaining about actually paid to attend Easterfest and will return to church all the better for having shared time with likeminded people. For many Easterfest is a time for enrichment, recovery, healing, and learning new skills/songs etc. What is your problem dude? If the local churches are struggling at Easter or any other time of the year it's time to look at yourself and stop blaming others. YOU are the pastor. How could YOU change your approach to following Jesus? It's time to drop the hypocritical judgement of others and get on with following Jesus the best YOU can. Sounds like your church, under your leadership is one where Jesus would turn the tables over.

    1. ouch! I got a totally different message from this post: that of a hard-working minister who wants his local community to have a great Easter service to attend, even if they aren't church regulars. For me, this is also a message that its time for those who often hide in the wings (not out of slackness, but perhaps shyness or being unable to get a foot in) to step up, have a go and contribute in a new way. We should ALL be looking for new ways to follow Jesus, especially at Easter, when 'new life' is on everyone's minds. Perhaps Easter can be a time when the 'mice' play while the 'cats' are at Easterfest (please don't read any kind of predator/prey metaphor into cats and mice here). Start thinking of next Easter as an opportunity to use the hidden talents of church members to create something special and out of the ordinary: who says we even need MUSIC? Use visual media, plays/skits, heck, even interpretive dance as worship if that's what people can do! Never know who'll be impressed and want to come back next week...

    2. Hi Cruz, I am sorry you felt that way... it was certainly not the intent of the post. I thought I explained how much I like and value Easterfest and I have no problem with the event at all... I agree with your sentiment that it is incredibly positive for people to attend and thought I had made that clear in the post.
      My problem was not with Easterfest but with the local churches in Brisbane. The whole post was designed to do exactly what you demanded I do... ("If the local churches are struggling at Easter or any other time of the year it's time to look at yourself and stop blaming others.") The post was a critique of local churches and how we need to do more to encourage local churches to get involved in local evangelism. I was not trying to blame Easterfest or anyone else. It is the kind of creative thinking you see in @sues reply above that I hoped my post would bring about.

    3. Joe your blog was about Easterfest taking musicians away from their local churches. Your problem is that you have to show your support for Easterfest but at the same time complain that the group of people you depend on went to it and left you on your own as it were.

      This is the first time I've seen your blog so I read the "about me" section. It says how much you love your job and how much you suck up to your wife but it makes no mention of your faith in Jesus Christ of your walk with Him. You love Gospel centered teaching and talking about Jesus. Well the bad news is that athiests love all that too. From what I can gather from this blog you are an athiest employed by the church to build up numbers. Your failure to achieve this is demonstrated by this blog complaining about how you got left alone over easter. All because people went to Easterfest.

      You talk about evangelism yet fail to demonstrate Jesus Christ in your own life. Get with the program dude! If you want change to happen it has to start with YOU. Not the church or the people around you. It must start with you. And a great starting point is to place Jesus FIRST in your life.

    4. Joe you mentioned or referred to Easterfest 10 times including in the title. Don't pretend that this was a blog for the local church.

    5. Wow! Cruz Control. Talk about flying off the handle with very little information. Why are you so angry at Joe? You gather that Jesus isn't first in his life from a simple one paragraph bio which leads off with "I am passionate about seeing people confronted with the reality of Christ and His awesome gospel of grace." Perhaps he hasn't spelt out the gospel in his bio... but it's only a paragraph bio!
      I know this guy - briefly had him as a pastor at my church (briefly because he left shortly after I started coming) and I think you are making a huge leap to say that he is not putting Christ first in his life based on the contents of his bio.

      I myself went to Easterfest this year. The first time in over 10 years. As the newly appointed (volunteer) music director at church, who is already struggling to fill the roster for the "regular" weeks, I can see both sides. I had already volunteered for Easterfest and purchased tickets before taking on the role at church - and felt rather guilty trying to solve issues for Good Friday over the phone... on the other hand I have been somewhat revitalised and have picked up some tips to bring back to my team... Joe has some good points. Easter really should be the pinnacle of our church year - if not our outreach. An Easterfest is primarily not outreach... however you could say that it is by christians for the churched = no doubt God used the weekend to speak powerfully to many who though churched had not accepted Christ as there own (I was impressed that Lecrae spoke the gospel clearly after I was underwelmed with some others efforts)....

      Can we do Easterfest on another weekend n the year?

    6. Peter Davis. Who said I was angry at Joe?

      I speak it as I see it. My apologies if you're offended by my bluntness. I've attended and been involved in churches all my life and seen it all. There are many pastors who aren't saved and Joe has the perfect opportunity on this his public blog profile to speak up about his faith. After all he wants others to be "evangelistic" so why can,t he as pastor set the example.

      I'm glad Joe's had an impact on your life but that doesn't mean he's saved either. I don't know Joe at all other than what I've read from his own hand on this page. Peter when a person writes they are "passionate about seeing people confronted about the reality and His awesome Gospel of Grace" it draws the reader into making assumptions that the author is saved by the Grace Of Jesus. It's like the news reader who starts a news story with "recent studies have shown..." It doesn't hold any weight but it gives the allusion of truth.

      Todays christian church or should I say religion, has veiled the eyes of those attending. The widely held view of christian is that of the USA that holds a gun in one hand, a Bible in the other, and spreads terror and control on it's subjects and enemies.

      A Christian is actually a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's this that seperates Christians from religions. As a follower of Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit this should be evedent on this page of Pastor Joe's. Unfortunatly it reminds me of a newsletter of any secular company CEO.

      As I said earlier I'm only going on what I see on this page and it's in that strength that I write my comments.

  2. I hear ya Joe, and feel some sentiment to your point. But think about the churches that don't have the musos to begin with. We have to find a way to do it week in week out. These musicians are the people who minister weekly and work really hard all year. I understand your main point is that this is the Easter weekend, but maybe grab the point of view that it is an opportunity for others to step up. I know there are many in the church who can play music, but don't - content to sit back and let others get up early for practice and such. Maybe in the weeks leading up to Easter you need to work on making people aware that the 'usuals' will be away and others need to step up. Who knows that may encourage them to serve and play more often, and eventually yes they may become such musicians that they end up hooked into the Easterfest vibe - but that just gives you the opportunity to find more people. I just know that the situation I am in gives me the perspective of looking at that one person you had do your services over the weekend and just wish for someone with half that skill and servant attitude to help me every week.

    1. Thanks Deano. I agree and it is actually churches like yours that I feel for the most (my new work has helped me to feel exactly the same feeling you expressed). And I am not just talking about musos... I am talking about the sentiment that I think has developed in Brisbane at Easter time... the "no point doing anything because Easterfest is on" kind of attitude. Again I hope my post inspires some of the "hidden talent" or "upcoming talent" that you mentioned, or the "out of the box" thinking that is so badly needed for local evangelism.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Joe. I think you make some good points and show some willingness to put yourself in the firing line a bit for the sake of your convictions, considering what a well-loved event Easterfest is here in South-East Queensland.

    I think you touch on a broader issue that is of even greater concern to me--that is--that the liturgical season which should be the highpoint of the worship lives of our churches often passes so quietly. I don’t want to assume this is true for every church around the place; I am sure it’s not. I also wouldn’t want to blame Easterfest, as I suspect just as many people go away somewhere else on Easter weekend (or perhaps more concerningly, couldn’t be bothered getting out of bed on a Friday morning), but the fact that so many Christians don’t seem to prioritise spending Easter weekend with their community of faith troubles me.

    I wonder if this phenomenon isn’t symptomatic of the way in which many of our Churches have prioritised numerical growth over the development of true community? I suspect part of the problem is the way that Churches have increasingly become providers of appealing events and programs (and of course many much-needed services), rather than the sacramental focal points of the life a communion of believers.

    I would imagine that most pastoral staff would find themselves in their own churches on Easter weekend and so I think lay-people, such as myself, need to take responsibility here. I think lay-people in particular should take up encouraging their fellow parishioners and congregants to find themselves in their own places of worship at this special time of the year.

    For me the choice is not hard. As great as it might be to be camped at one of our beautiful beaches, or even to be a part of a crowd being led in worship by an anointed band from somewhere far away, I know where I would rather be. I would rather be in a certain innocuous building here on the north side of Brisbane; the building where my wife and I (and many of our friends) got married, the building in which my children will be dedicated, where I break bread with the people I share my life with, and where I worship the resurrected Christ every other Sunday. That’s where I was this Easter weekend, and that’s where I’ll be for the next one, hopefully with less empty chairs rather than more.

  4. Hey Joe

    As I promoter of Easterfest I certainly hear these concerns from Pastors and leaders from churches across Australia and want you to know we are not trying to take away from what any 'one' church is doing in our nation. Our prayer for Easterfest is that people will encounter Jesus through the weekend... whether they know Christ or not and also that it will compliment what local churches are doing. I hear testimony after testimony from groups of people who come from Brisbane and beyond of how they 'use' Easterfest to introduce friends to Christ. They might not make decisions on the weekend... but often the festival is a catalyst for thinking about their spiritual destiny.

    I appreciate your sentiment that church is a place where more people attend on Easter and Christmas... but do you really think this is the case anymore? It seems like our nation has become so secularised and that Easter is more and more about a long weekend for camping and chocolate eggs.

    We certainly aren't trying to take the place of a local church but I personally am encouraged when groups of people from a certain church or similar geographic location come together in community and do life together for the weekend. Ultimately this isn't actually expanding the local 'Toowoomba Church' it's blessing and nurturing the local church they are coming to the festival from. I'm traditionally from a small Baptist church and can see how loosing a bunch of people can impact the 'feel' of church on that weekend... but I think its worth looking into where people need to be for the sake of their long term walk not necessarily for the 'appearances' on the Easter weekend. If people are choosing to go to Easterfest maybe encourage them to think about why they are going? And if they should be pouring into some young people they should be dragging along... or taking some neighbours.... again we aren't the local church nor are we trying to be. Or within your local church talking to your people about who they engage with and are trying to reach out to and see how the 'church' can compliment reaching them. Maybe its less and less about who's leading worship or preaching... I dunno.... My prayer personally is that Easterfest compliments what God is doing through his church around the nation.

    Anyways... these are just my personal opinions......