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Borrowing Brains: How Can We Make the Lord’s Supper a Spiritual Feast?

Christ gave the Lord’s Supper to the church as a great gift—a perpetual reminder of Himself, the greatest gift. It’s inclusion in Acts 2:42 as one of the four basic practices of the Jerusalem church (along with apostolic teaching, fellowship, and prayer) indicates that it was considered precious by the New Testament church. The attitude of the modern church toward this ordinance is striking in its contrast. I fear that the breaking of bread is a fairly insignificant part of the life of the average believer. While there are many reasons for this, I think part of the reason why many Christians have a “ho hum” attitude toward the Table is because many churches have a “ho hum” attitude toward the Table. It’s an afterthought—literally. Too often pastors tack it on to the end of a service and rush through it as though it were merely something to check off of the church’s monthly to-do list. The result? Christ is not honored, nor are His people edified as He intended.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way, and for many church’s it’s not. By God’s grace, our gathering to break bread together has become a delight at TCBC (though I confess it was not always so). As with every other part of our ministry, we endeavor to partake of the Lord’s Table intentionally, giving serious thought to what we do and why. I’d like to share some of the things we’ve found to be helpful, and I’d like to consider others’ ideas, as well. So let’s help each other out: What are some practical ways in which you emphasize the importance of the Lord’s Supper (a) personally and (b) corporately?

Whether you’re a pastor or not, please chime in, and please consider adopting some ideas that might help make this Christian meal a spiritual feast!

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26 Responses

  1. Something I learned from Jesse Boyd was to make the communion service distinctive. The singing and preaching are all about redemption in some way.

    I have done many different communion series. (We celebrate communion monthly.) One was on looking at the cross from the viewpoint of the various witnesses, including the Centurion, the thieves, the pharisees, Judas, John, etc.

    Right now I am doing Leviticus. It is a very rich mine, but I am afraid I am not much of a hard rock miner and am only scratching the surface.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. My church does pretty much the same as Don mentioned he does in his. One thing we also do is to take I Cor. 11: 27-32 very seriously. This requires a time of personal preparation and of soul searching. Most of today’s churches would find it inconceivalbe that a man get up in the middle of a quiet time and go sit next to his brother to ask his forgiveness for a trespass, or to not partake of the Lord’s Supper because of someone outside of the church that you need to be reconciled with. While this should not be the focus of the Lord’s Supper it should play a definite part because it reminds us right then and there of how much we are in need of Christ and His sacrifice.

  3. Chris, I agree with you about tacking the elements to the end of a service. Five minutes is hardly sufficient time to remember our Saviour, especially when people are thinking about which restaurant will be their choice after the service or which game they will watch on television. Can you imagine a five minute funeral which would truly honor the deceased?

    We make the partaking of the elements the center of our Lord’s Table service. When I say center, I do mean that it is at the middle of the service time as well as the center of importance. Each service is carefully planned so that each is unique and distinct. No two services are alike for one primary reason: the differences teach the people in a tangible way to anticipate eagerly the visible symbol of their fellowship with Christ. A brief devotional is given, no more than fifteen minutes, on topics relating to the Cross or to the elements or types of salvation in the Bible. We have a small congregation, so once a year we set up tables in a “U” shape in the fellowship hall; we call this service the Upper Room. By candlelight we partake in a simple service reading the Scriptures and singing familiar hymns. Again, the elements are the center of this service as well. The goal of all our communion services is substance rather than novelty (the only sense in which we use novelty is to point to the enthusiasm each believer ought to have in Christ rather than in the service itself).

    We observe our communion service in the evening because committed believers will be at that service. Some in my church have argued that I am excluding godly people, but I simply reply that those people are welcome to attend the evening service; I am doing nothing to prevent their obedience to Christ in this matter; as a matter of fact, their presence is desired greatly because it is COMMUNION, FELLOWSHIP in the Cross of Christ.

  4. Good thoughts, men. I especially appreciate the common practice of dedicating the entire service to the remembrance of the Lord’s death on our behalf, from hymns to Scripture reading to testimonies to message. And Don, I too remember enjoying the services at Mt. Calvary (with Pastor Minnick in my time) when the whole evening service was focused on Christ’s work.

    Here are a few other things we do:

    * We generally have a quiet time of prayer before distributing the elements—and I mean quiet: no music, no public prayer, etc.

    * When we do have music during the distribution, we ask our pianist to be intentionally simple—to get out of the way. There’s nothing worse than a pianist “doodling” and attracting attention toward her cleverness or “stuckness” (e.g. “How will she get out of this one?”) when we’re supposed to be thinking about Christ.

    * We have recently begun to have a time of Scripture reading rather than music during the distribution time on occasion. That’s been a profitable thing. (Joe Tyrpak’s suggestion.)

    * Whereas I was very consistent with my wording when I first began (e.g. saying “This is my body…in remembrance of me”) just prior to our partaking together, it’s often a blessing to recite another appropriate Scripture instead (e.g. “Thank you Lord for the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sins”). Like Matt mentioned, we’re not just trying to be novel (and thus distracting), but I think we’re more prone to thoughtless ritual during this time than any other. We try to avoid that.

    * We’ve recently been doing the sort of series that Don mentioned. This year, we’re taking a chapter of Hebrews in each of our PM Communion services. (Also Joe Tyrpak’s good suggestion.) Obviously, the chapters exalt Christ and are immediately germane to the Communion service. But in addition to preparing us for the breaking of bread, the series also allows us to give a brief treatment of an entire book of Scripture—something we’re always eager to do.

    * Those messages are short on purpose (say 20-25 minutes), and we often have different men in the church teaching at those times. More about that later.

    Again, as Matt said, we’re after intentionality, not novelty. Good stuff.

  5. […] Chris Anderson begins a discussion about how to make the Lord’s Supper intentional. […]

  6. I appreciate the thoughtfulness that is in each of these entries. As I said in an earlier thread, I have been preaching through Isaiah 53 for our Communion services. It has been a blessing for me. One thing that has already been mentioned is the absence of music during the distribution and partaking of the elements. I put this in practice and it was shocking for some of our folks to not have noise during the elements. I make it clear that it shoudl be a time of reflection, confession and thanksgiving to the Lord for His work of salvation. We have done it that way for several months, and I think our folks are finally getting used to it.

  7. Probably the most meaningful communion service I have ever been a part of incorporated the seder meal. Now, I must admit I was initially skeptical, and frankly thought it was a bit weird. However, the pictures of Christ that the seder meal presents are beautiful. It is amazing to think that Jewish people regularly celebrate this meal without comprehending the fulfillment in Christ. It is likely that the last supper Christ had with his disciples was some type of a seder meal given the time in the Jewish calendar. Every time I participate in a communion service now, I remember the things I learned at the seder meal.

  8. This is a reflection on the “decentralized ministry” philosophy of our church, but it’s been a blessing to us to have other elders besides me lead in the Lord’s Table observance, be it Joe (another full-time elder) or one of our two non-staff elders. It highlights the fact that the difference between our “pastors” and “elders” (pardon the imprecise terminology; I know they are virtually synonymous) is one of full vs. part-time ministry, not responsibility, godliness or even necessarily giftedness. But more importantly, it removes any doubt that *I* somehow “authenticate” the Supper. It’s a powerful toppling of any sacerdotalism hangover people may have.

  9. A few brief articles on the Lord’s Table may be helpful:

    This article by Dr. Kevin Bauder (President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary) is excellent. With permission, I’ve actually printed and distributed it to our body in the past, encouraging them to meditate on it during the afternoon to prepare for our participation in the Supper that evening.

    This is a column I wrote a while back for the OBF Visitor. It focuses on the significance of the word “worthily” in 1 Cor 11, essentially arguing that it’s less about our obedience and more about our humble and reverent meditation on the fact that while unworthy in ourselves, we are faultless in our justified position in Christ. In other words, it encourages remembrance of Christ, not ourselves (though I obviously am not arguing against the self-examination which Paul commands in the passage.)

  10. I’ve got to run some errands here on my day off. One more thought before I do…

    Part of the problem, I think, is that we minimize the Lord’s Supper by failing to recognize (and teach) how comprehensive it is. It’s a memorial, to be sure, but it’s much more than that, as well. We put it this way: when observing the Lord’s Table we are compelled…

    1. To look upward to Chirst — “in remembrance of Him” (I Cor. 11:24-25).
    2. To look backward to Christ’s death — “showing the Lord’s death” (I Cor. 11:26a).
    3. To look forward to Christ’s return — “till He come” (I Cor. 11:26b; Mark 14:25).
    4. To look inward in self-examination — “judging ourselves” (I Cor. 11:27-31).
    5. To look outward to Christ’s body, the church — “coming together,” “tarrying for each other,” singing a hymn together (I Cor. 11:33; Acts 20:7; Mark 14:26).

    (Sorry for the triple post.)

  11. How about 4 in a row? :)

    We like to make this as “shared” a meeting as possible, and we especially accomplish this through testimonies. We ask people to share a testimony or passage that points us Christ-ward. It’s a great blessing, and it seems to be consistent with the “communion” aspect of the Table (in which we think of one another, wait for one another, express unity with one another, etc.).

    And we close by forming a circle around the room, holding hands, and singing a gospel-themed hymn from memory. It’s a tradition that nods to the disciples’ singing before leaving the upper room, and it’s been a very tangible reminder of the spiritual unity which we desire to have as a body—a unity built on our common share in the very Gospel we just remembered together.

    Hope some of this is helpful. Merely implementing the ideas of others can be a bad idea, but the process of making each other think (and perhaps come up with our own applications for our own settings) is a good thing. Thanks for the feedback. I’d be glad to see more!

    (Mark, I’d like to hear more about the seder meal. I’ve heard of incorporating such a thing or heard of a pastor referring to it, but I’d be curious to know how it was done in your setting and what specific ways it’s been helpful to you.)

  12. Chris,
    My husband has conducted a seder meal a few times. If you are interested, I can get a list of resources for you. It is so rich in the imagery of Christ (one of my favorite significances is the ‘afikomen’) it is thrilling to the believer and at the same time heart rending to think that those of the Jewish faith can tragically miss so much. Thanks for the post on my site, btw. It was brave of you to “wade into” (to borrow a phrase) predominantly female territory. =)

  13. One more thing… we have followed a practice of singing one verse of a redemption hymn between each portion of the communion service since the beginning. That was something we used to do at our other church in G’ville and I always felt quite helpful. A different hymn each time gives some variety, but it does focus our minds each time on the work the Lord did for us. (Nothing wrong with the no music options others have mentioned!)

    And the “till he come” is what I EXCLAIM after we have partaken of the last element, the grape juice. Then one of our ladies faithfully responds, “even so, come, Lord Jesus”. It just finishes it off for us… then we sing the last verse(s) of the hymn and depart.

    BTW, when I began in the ministry I stumbled around a few times conducting communion. I had been a participant so much, I just assumed I knew what to do. My wife got me to write out each step and carry it with me until I got the ‘hang’ of it. Her advice was quite helpful and I pass it along to the younger guys who haven’t yet done it much. Nothing wrong with a little reminder to keep you on track the first few times.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  14. Something I picked up from my visit to CHBC last year is partaking of the bread together as a congregation, but encouraging each person to drink from the cup as they receive it. I mention this specifically to remind the people that we are united in Christ corporately, but also have a responsibility to follow Him individually.

    I have singled out services more specially focusing on the service itself, but I have not found it as much of a challenge “tacking it on at the end,” either, which usually will add 15 minutes or so to the service. On days where we are going to observe the ordinance, I find it natural to remind us in my message of the need for confession, reminding us of the importance of coming to the table in a worthy manner, or of the necessity of Christ’s death for our transgressions, or of the union we share together in Christ that we celebrate in a tangible way through the ordinance…

  15. “It was brave of you to “wade into” (to borrow a phrase) predominantly female territory.” ——

    What was I thinking??? You are surrounded by five beautiful women on a daily basis! =)

    Btw, here’s a link to that hymn:
    http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/l/olovediv.htm

  16. A quick response to the following comment from Matt:

    We observe our communion service in the evening because committed believers will be at that service. Some in my church have argued that I am excluding godly people, but I simply reply that those people are welcome to attend the evening service; I am doing nothing to prevent their obedience to Christ in this matter; as a matter of fact, their presence is desired greatly because it is COMMUNION, FELLOWSHIP in the Cross of Christ.

    Matt, we typically observe the Lord’s Supper in the evening as well—basically because it allows us to have a service dedicated to that purpose, to have a high level of congregational participation, to not feel rushed, etc. Also, we’re less apt to have unsaved guests on Sunday night.

    That said, we’ve been criticized before (somewhat justly) for restricting those who only come in the morning from the Table or (just as bad) implying that only those who return in the evening are worthy of participating. That can be a dangerous assumption, leading the church to a potentially shallow measurement of spirituality. Also, some people genuinely cannot return—in our setting, because of age, or duties at the farm, etc. I wish all would return, of course, and I encourage that, but I’m not comfortable saying that the Lord’s Table is only for that portion of the body who returns on Sunday night. Not at all.

    To address this issue, we’ve tried to have the Lord’s Table in the morning on occasion (though not as regularly as we don in the evening). I think one way to determine a good time to do so is when the text you’re preaching is particularly appropriate as a preparation for the Lord’s Table—again, allowing the whole service to lean into the Communion time.

    Just a thought.

  17. Re the evening: we have communion in our afternoon service, there are still a few who leave. No real good reasons for them to do so.

    Mount Calvary has theirs on Wednesday pms, I think.

    BTW, I highly recommend the afternoon instead of evening for your services all the time. That’s another post though… maybe I’ll do one on it at oxgoad for you.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  18. Don,

    In the church plant I am a part of, from the beginning we started our Sundays with an afternoon service. We do the “normal” Sunday morning then we have a shorter afternoon service about 15 minutes after the morning serivice is concluded. After the afternoon service, we have a pot luck dinner. We do this every Sunday. It has really helped everyone in the church to really get to know one another. I actually prefer this over the traditional American Sunday schedule. Not only am I around my fellow church members for a longer period of time, but it also makes Sunday’s evenings much more restful.

  19. I’d be glad to hear about your afternoon services, Don. I can think of a lot of benefits off the top of my head.

    Here’s a general principle that I find to be true regarding worship in general and the Lord’s Supper in particular: lack of thought is the enemy, and mere habits (be it in the service order, hymns played, words spoken, etc.) are the enemies of thought.

    Don’t be afraid to break away from the almost Romish slavery some feel to certain methods or “magical phrases” (e.g. saying “This do in remembrance of me” every time you eat the bread, etc.). Vary things enough to keep them meaningful and intentional (without ever crossing the line to distracting novelty).

  20. Many good thoughts have been shared here. Thanks for that.

    Most have focused on what can be done corporately to maximize the benefits of the Lord’s Supper. That’s great, and I’m glad to hear more.

    I’d also love to hear what people do personally to prepare themselves for the Table, whether at home ahead of time or during the service itself. What can the individual believer do to make this time more spiritually profitable?

  21. Chris,

    I have come to desire a weekly celebration of the Lord’s table. I don’t know of many churches that do this, but I think the reason Christ instituted the practice was to remember Him, and as a result, remember the Gospel. The focus on the work of Christ always revives my faith. The argument I always get from people when I suggest this is (1) it would make for too long of a service and (2) it would encourage vain repetition. I don’t think this necessarily has to be the case. I, personally, would prefer to have one worship service on Sunday and then do small groups, training, etc., other times during the week. So, if that service was a bit longer, it wouldn’t bother me. I don’t think that all of us preachers need to preach 45 – 60+ minutes each week either. As far as repetition goes, we sing every week; we pray every week; we preach every week. Why should we assume that the Lord’s Supper will be vain repetition unless we are also assuming that our other aspects of corporate worship are also vain repetition?

    Every once in a while at Red Rocks, we used to do an “early church” communion service. It was basically a schedule I put together from reading accounts of church worship the first 100-300 years after Christ. We would do many of the same things we did in normal services; however, we did a few things differently that caught people’s attention and hopefully encouraged them to meditate more deeply on the ordinance. First, we used unleavened BREAD, not crackers. We also gave people a larger amount of grape juice than they normally got with the little plastic cups. Second, we had deacons distribute the elements but had the people come to the table as families, instead of taking it to them. As they would come to the table, we would sing songs about Christ’s death and resurrection as well as songs like “Just As I Am.” When the deacon gave the bread/cup to a person, he would say something like “[Joe], the body/blood of Christ broken/shed for you. Eat/Drink in remembrance.” Third, after a person had received the elements, they had the opportunity to go to the side of the room where they could be anointed with oil and prayer over by the pastors of the church if they had a physical need. There were other things too, like reciting the Apostle’s Creed and lifting our hands in prayer that were different from the norm.

    Again, the idea was always not just to be creative but to be intentional in making people think about the significance of the ordinance.

    We’ve done lots of other things too to focus on communion but the “early church” service is the one our people really looked forward to and appreciated the most.

    One other side comment: I do very much like the idea of a quiet period of time before services to focus the minds of people off the affairs of this life and onto the heavenly. Most of our people come into a time of corporate worship talking about football and finances instead of the holiness and love of the Lord. That quiet time can be intentionally directed as well through Scripture readings, thematic music, etc…

  22. May I jump in? It seems that most of you know one another – I am Pastor of Music and Worship at Immanuel Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. We celebrate The Lord’s Supper monthly.

    Several years ago we made the change from “always in the morning” to alternating between AM/PM services. On the first and third months of each quarter (January/March; April/June…) it is in the PM Service, in the second month (February, May…) it is in the AM service.

    Periodically, because of special events (Missions Conference, etc.) we’ll have a five month period when we can schedule The Service only in the PM. When that happens, our Elder Board will intentionally designate The Service in the month before of after the “misplaced” month in the AM.

    Our Pastor, Sparky Pritchard, has sometimes divided his sermon into sections. After the first, we serve The Bread, etc.. Sometimes we’ve divided the entire service into sections with music (congregational and “special”) and message in each part, concluding each section of the service with one of the elements, or the Benevolent offering.

    I’ve appreciated all the ideas. Thanks for “sharing your brains.”

  23. Jim, your input is very welcome here. Thanks for chiming in. FWIW, most of those commenting here are people I’ve not met. Also, I think I’ve been to your church. Pastor Bennett’s daughter married a friend of mine several years ago.

    I love the idea of partaking of different elements at appropriate times throughout the service or during the message, as opposed to all at the end. Thanks for that!

    ____

    Brian, we partake monthly, but it’s an issue that Scripture doesn’t prescribe as far as I’ve been able to tell. It just gives a general “as often as you do it.” That said, the more precious the Supper becomes to me, the more I can see how a more consistent observance could be a blessing to the body.

  24. […] Over on Chris Anderson’s blog, we were discussing various ways in which we try to elevate the tone for our communion service. […]

  25. Chris,
    Allow me to make a word of clarification regarding the restrictive nature of our Lord’s Table service.

    Several years ago, I had the “brilliant” idea that we would observe communion on Easter Sunday morning. I had never participated in communion on that particular day, and I thought it was a good idea, until I evaluated the service later.

    What Sunday are our churches most full? Easter Sunday morning is one such Sunday. There were people in our audience who I know by their own profession were not believers, yet they partook in communion that morning. I realize that most would argue that, even though the explanation about the purpose and nature of communion was given, their participation was between them and the Lord, but I facilitated an act which was not glorifying to Christ. What those people thought communion to be was nothing close to what we know it to be. I want no part of such confusion.

    We moved our communion to the evening service because those who are not truly the body of Christ are less likely to attend the evening service. It is in this sense that I meant those that are not committed. I should have phrased that a little better in my previous post. How careful we must be to be clear yet concise!

  26. The writings that I have read are interesting. My understanding of the Lord’s supper or communion is that it is certainly a part of our worship upon the first day of the week; to remember our Lord’s death till He come. Where I worship, we serve and leave it up to those in attendance to examine themselves as far as their being able to partake. We serve again on Sunday evening for those who were not able to partake or attend in the morning worship. We try to serve those not able to attend for health reasons. In our particular congreation, members, not only serve,but partake in preparing our congregation with scriptures concerning our taking of the bread and wine (fruit of the vine) and remembering Christ’s sacrifice for those who follow Him. Thank you.

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