Is the Lord’s Supper A Waste of Service Time?

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communionRelegating the Lord’s Supper to the end of the service as an inconvenient add-on or observing it only when it fits into the congregations’ cultural calendar is sacrilegious.  You would probably gain more spiritual value by preaching a little longer or singing another song if these are limitations your congregation places on this sacred ordinance.

The tradition of observing the Lord’s Supper quarterly, when it will fit into the sermon schedule, in response to the local church calendar, or just because a congregation hasn’t observed it recently has contributed to the minimization of this meaningful ordinance.  Additionally, a limited understanding of the Lord’s Supper only as a penitential replay of the Last Supper has diminished its meaning and value for worshipers.  This traditional approach to the Lord’s Supper is not inaccurate, just incomplete.

Expanding our consideration to the Eucharistic understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a meal of thanksgiving can encourage us to experience this ordinance beyond a memorial meal.  An attitude of thanksgiving allows us to move beyond wallowing in our sorrow to the realization that hope is found in the resurrection.

Additionally, congregations have attempted to create community by developing relationships, planning activities, or encouraging fellowship by affinity.  What these congregations are missing is the realization that the foundation of healthy community is already available and waiting at the Communion Table in their vertical relationship with Christ and horizontal relationship with each other.

Understanding that the Lord’s Supper is much more than a memorial does not minimize its observance at times as a memorial as well.  This visual, tactile, and symbolic Word should cause us to grieve that His body was broken for us.  The purpose, however, of remembering is not just to live in the past through our sorrow, but to remember in order to influence our present and future.

If we are going to get better we must continually reassess what we are now doing and why we are doing it.  An intentional Lord’s Supper evaluation process could offer a constructive way for a congregation to identify, prioritize, and address some of their embedded misunderstandings.

Since most congregations do not have an instrument to regularly evaluate their Lord’s Supper services, I have developed the following questionnaire to encourage your congregation to consider worship renewal that is available at the Table.  You are welcome to freely adapt and use this questionnaire to meet the evaluative needs of your congregation.

 

CONGREGATIONAL LORD’S SUPPER QUESTIONNAIRE

To assist in understanding the value of the Lord’s Supper to worship in our congregation, please answer the following questions based on your perspective as a worship planner/leader/or congregational participant.  Please answer the questions thoroughly with regard to current understanding and practice, not future aspirations.

Name (optional):

  1. How healthy is our congregation in the area of worship?  What factors contribute to or detract from its health?
  1. Are the members of our congregation active participants in our worship services?  In what ways do they participate?
  1. Are there any worship practices you have observed or are aware of that would not be acceptable for our congregation?
  1. Are there any events in the life and/or history of our congregation that have significantly impacted its worship?
  1. How important is the Lord’s Supper to our congregation?
  1. How often is the Lord’s Supper included as a part of our worship services?  How is this determined or scheduled?
  1. What is the attitude of our congregation during the Lord’s Supper and what determines that attitude?
  1. What does the Lord’s Supper signify to you personally?  What factors contribute to this significance?
  1. Do you believe the Lord’s Supper has worship value for you individually?  If yes, in what ways?  If no, why?
  1. Do you believe the Lord’s Supper has worship value for our entire congregation?  If yes, in what ways?  If no, why?
  1. Have you observed or participated in a Lord’s Supper service in a congregation or denomination outside of ours?  If yes, give a brief explanation.
  1. Were any of those experiences particularly meaningful for you?  If yes, please list examples and reasons why.
  1. Were any of those experiences uncomfortable for you or confusing to you?  If yes, please list examples and reasons why.
  1. Are there any Lord’s Supper observances listed in question 11 that could enhance the worship of our congregation?  If yes, please give examples of how.
  1. Is the Lord’s Supper central to the worship theme of our services?  If yes, how?  If no, why?
  1. Does our Lord’s Supper theme vary from observance to observance?  Examples:  remembrance, communion, thanksgiving.
  1. If no, why?  If yes, what elements contribute to those various observances?
  1. Does the observance of the Lord’s Supper in our church strengthen your relationship with God?  If yes, what elements contribute to that?  If no, what elements distract from that?
  1. What could/should be done differently that would enhance the Lord’s Supper services in our church?
  1. Any additional comments?
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14 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mark on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    What a hair-raising question! How what became the center of Christian Worship over the course of its first millennium possibly be a waste of anyone’s time? Well, I have shrinking deep desire to be monk after sitting through about a hundred masses last year and realizing what a Southern Baptist I am. I would rather watch my mother load the dishwasher or clean them myself than watch another man in a white robe clean the Jesus out of one of those chalices.

    Having the Lord’s Supper in the intimate context of a small group in someone’s home may be much more conducive to worship than playing “how-long-can-I-hold-this-wafer?” with a couple of thousand of my nearest and dearest brothers and sisters.

    I think the Lord’s supper should be done more often than is convenient and perhaps less frequently than expected. I really don’t think when, where, and how we do it, is as important as that we do it. We need to obey. We need to remember. We need to intimately interact with the body and blood of the one who made us, and the one who shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

  2. Posted by Mark on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    Perhaps I should scratch the first exclamation, and just post the question: How could what became the center of Christian Worship over the course of its first millennium possibly be a waste of any mere mortal’s time?

  3. Posted by Dennis Allen on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    David, another wonderful, thought-provoking post…and I think your best statement is “we must continually reassess what we are now doing and why we are doing it.” As a Baptist, but on a journey into the practices into other denominational practices, I see much more clearly these days the “liturgy of our own making” that we Baptists often create. We stress the critical importance of baptism, yet have traditionally tended to overlook communion’s significance. Our stress on “free worship” can slip into “under-planned” and “disorganized” worship. That’s why Nan and I have become so interested in the church year…it gives organization and intentional thought to the elements of worship planning. Rather than simply a weekly focus on chart prep, songs in the same key, or smooth transitions, I think the best service to our congregations would be to ask the Lord for a fresh “word” on content, and its meaning. We trust that our preaching pastors do this weekly before they stand in the pulpit…nothing less should be expected of us.

  4. Posted by Chris Antill on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    Very thought-provoking David and Dennis. As a doctoral student at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, this subject has been profoundly life-changing for me in regards to worship planning.

    My name is Chris and I serve a Southern Baptist Church as Music Minister.

    1. Our worship, I would say is fairly healthy. The two areas where we are lacking is in the proclamation of God’s Word (it is relegated to sermon-specific passages during the message), and the priority of the observances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. For our congregation, the biggest distraction in worship is the fact that we have 3 services back to back. Always having to fight the clock, to cut music to fit the time frame, and to lessen the emphasis on the ordinances is a major issue for us. Our worship is frantic, rushed, hurried, and because of that, quite disjointed.

    2. In our “free church” tradition, the ways the congregation may respond are basically three-fold: singing, affirming the pastor through “amens” during the sermon, and a response to the sermon in an invitation/altar call. The response of our people in all three areas is vastly different between our 3 services, but overall, our people are fairly responsive.

    3. I would love to incorporate more of the ancient practices (responsive Psalms, spoken calls to worship, the inclusion of a sung Doxology, Sanctus, and Lord’s Prayer, and the affirmation of a creed). Observing the Christian Year (the class I just completed at IWS) is also a vital element I would like to incorporate in our church. We are introducing Advent this year and will have a Holy Week service in the Spring – both firsts for our congregation. The problem with these elements is that we are in a community that is 90% Roman Catholic and our staff is cautious about us not being “too Catholic.”

    4. 11 years ago when I began my ministry here, we added a contemporary service in addition to our traditional service. At the time, we were the only non-charismatic/Pentecostal Protestant church in our region to do so, and worship attendance increased literally 4-fold. We are now offering 3 blended service which I am not sure is meeting the needs of our congregation.

    5. Sadly, I would say that the Lord’s Supper is not very important to our church. It is basically a 7-minute addition to a standard worship service four times each year. For “logistical” reasons, we have moved to an all-in-one pre-packaged wafer/juice cup. That has also greatly reduced the impact that the meal at the Lord’s Table has had for our church. All our people are able to focus on is getting the juice open without spilling it. As a school project in the Spring I began what will be an annual event – a Living Lord’s Supper and staging of the Da Vinci fresco where the disciples serve the congregation with real bread and juice. On that Sunday, the entire service was centered around the Lord’s Table and I provided a description of the New Testament words used for this meal: Communion, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Breaking of Bread, Fellowship Meal.

    6. The Lord’s Supper is observed quarterly – the second Sunday of the second month of each quarter.

    7. Sadly, the attitude of many of our members is that the Lord’s Supper is just something we HAVE TO, rather than something that we have the INCREDIBLE PRIVILEGE OF DOING. Our worship team spends time focusing on the spiritual preparation that is biblically necessary prior to partaking. The attitude of the congregation is directly related to the demeanor of the ministerial staff. Sadly, our attitudes, collectively, are not much different from the congregation’s.

    8. The Lord’s Supper is one of two things Christ specifically commanded us to do. As David said so well, it is more than just a memorial, but a time of Thanksgiving and fellowship as the Body of Christ gathered globally. Christ’s words “Do this in remembrance of me” mean far more than mere remembrance, like remembering a trip or a date, but putting yourself into the narrative and personally re-living the experience of the Upper Room and the atoning events which followed.

    10. The Lord’s Supper, for free-church Protestants, is one of the very few tangible and physical acts of worship that we have. It has huge value as a worship experience if it is given its proper place of reverence and solemnity. Christ invites us to His table, and through the vast love of the Father, through the life-giving act of the Son, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit it can be the most meaningful act of worship a church can offer its people.

    11. The most meaningful communion experience I have had are the services of communion and healing at IWS (which is hosted in an Episcopal church). While singing beautiful songs like, “Before the Throne of God Above,” or “How Deep the Father’s Love for us,” the act of walking down the aisle in a beautiful church, kneeling in humility and respect, having someone offer me the elements and call me by name (Just like my Father does, by the way), walking back to my pew, and spending a few moments where it is just my Lord and I, has profoundly changed my life. I weep like a baby in utter awe for what my Savior CHOSE to do for me, a miserable, undeserving sinner. I have never experienced that anywhere else and look forward to it twice each year.

    12. (see above)

    13. If your heart is prepared for worship, and you are spiritually prepared to feast at the table of the Lord, how could worshiping in a different environment POSSIBLY be uncomfortable or confusing. I will admit that the first time I observed communion at IWS, I was not sure of the procedure (what do I do? What will they say to me? What do I say in response?) but that was quickly overshadowed by desperate need for the spiritual meal.

    14. I think that the ACT of walking down an aisle (instead of being served like in a restaurant), of singing during communion, and of creating a reverent, unhurried, environment where our people are encouraged to spend time with their Father are all wonderful enhancements.

    15. The Lord’s Supper is merely an add-on here, sadly.

    16. There is never a theme except “remember” in our communion services.

    17. This is due to a lack of planning and emphasis on the importance of the ordinance.

    18. The Lord’s Supper strengthens my relationship with Christ, and I know it does for others too. But having to focus so much energy on opening the plastic cup to get to the wafer and the juice is extremely distracting. And, even worse, the juice is bitter, sour, and filled with dregs. It creates the opposite attitude of what should be present at the Lord’s Table.

    19. (see 14)

    20. This is a great discussion. Churches that never evaluate their worship practices risk short-changing their congregations. Before Protestants existed, there was 1500 years of Christian worship. There is a rich heritage present going back to the early church fathers that we miss out on. When a staff member says that “Our congregation does not like change,” more times than not what they REALLY mean is, “I don’t like change.” We are never hesitant to make changes that result in positive outcomes for US, but when it involves extra work and planning, and thus positive outcomes to those who choose to worship with us weekly, we are a lot slower to consider change.

  5. Posted by David Manner on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    Dennis,

    Thanks for the response. I agree completely with your commentary on our free worship or free church culture. In our efforts not to be a connectional church we have lost our connection with the Universal Church and consequently missed some of the rich historical, biblical, and theological tenets. Our desire for worship creativity has caused us to look other places out of concern that annual celebrations promote monotony. In his book, “Transforming Worship,” Timothy Carson wrote, “Exactly the opposite may be true. Because it has stood the test of time, it may be sufficiently deep to allow me to swim more deeply in it. Because it is repeated, I have another chance, today, to go where I could not go yesterday.”

  6. Posted by Patty Felker on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    I was shocked by this question, also. I have been in churches where we celebrated the Lord’s supper every week, and some that rarely do. I would rather celebrate it every week. There is no better was to center your mind and thoughts on the sacrifice of Jesus than to take communion. It gives me fresh insight into the love of God, the cost He was willing to pay for my sins and those of the whole world, and the power of Jesus’ resurrection. As Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Phil 3:10-11 I have even thought we should have communion MORE than once per week. Why not? We are to carry our cross and become like Jesus in this life. What better place to focus than at the foot of the cross?

  7. Posted by Brian Sulllivan on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    As a graduate of SWBTS and a former Baptist, now back in the Catholic Church, I never understood why the Lord’s Supper was not a sacrament, at least to some. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is the very body and blood of the risen Christ. Every week? We celebrate it every day! I can’t believe I once thought it was anything less or deserved anything less.

  8. Posted by Rex Clayton on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    Jesus Himself calls for the new Passover to be a “Remembrance.” If you have not been born again as described to Nicodemus then there can be no such memory. Since this is a remembrance it is vitally important for those who truly know Him. Also, since Jesus is the only “Way, truth and life” nothing we practice in our religion can ever replace the atoning redemptive work done by Him when He gave His life for all who will believe in Him. There is no sacrament except what God provided in Jesus Christ. If you do not have Jesus, then you do not have God. Nothing can earn ore Grace than is found in Jesus. Being a Baptist only means that I will stick to the Bible. Show me only the Bible and I will look at it. Bring me traditions and practices that are not based in the Bible and I must call them man made. The Lord’s Supper is truly to be remembered for who Jesus was prophesied, who He was before time, who He was upon the earth, and who is going to be when He comes again. You may observe the Lord’s Supper every hour of every day but if He is not your redeemer you get nothing from the act. If you do know ahem and have confessed Him with you mouth and believed in Him in your heart, God has provided all the sacrament you are ever going to get or need.

  9. Posted by Mickey Ellison on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    Men of our congregation met on retreat to reconsider worsship. After reflecting on thee Word and inspired by the Spirit through Francis ChanKs videos,we concluded: every meal we share is an opportunity to remember our Lord. As spiritual lsaders we should encourage that remembrance in communion with our family and friends around every table.

  10. Posted by David Manner on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    Chris,

    Dennis and Nan Allen have a website offering ecumenical resources for the Church Year that might be helpful to you and your congregation as you move through this journey of worship renewal. Their legacy is also SBC so their embedded understanding would be similar to yours. Here is a link to their website: http://www.songsforthechurchyear.com/

    Blessings as you continue your doctoral work at IWS. It changed the focus of my worship understanding and consequently helped me rethink how I do ministry. Thanks for your response.

  11. Posted by Milt Buckelew on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    Great article, I love being challenged to grow in how we “do church.”

    I’m pretty sure, 99% sure (I need that 1% wiggle-room so that I can change my mind if necessary:-), that Mickey is correct in his conclusion that communion is something that is much less “program” and much more “community,” even though he didn’t say it exactly that way. When I read the accounts of this event in all four gospels, it is written within the context of a meal. When the Apostle Paul refers to it in 1 Corinthians 11, it is, again, in the context of a shared meal. To reduce communion to something that is usually and primarily done on Sunday morning between the hours of 9:00AM-12:00PM may be missing a huge part of the meaning of it.

    Food for thought (pun intended:-),
    Milt

  12. Posted by Starla Harrison on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    Totally agree with, you Patty Felker. I long for The Lord’s Supper experience more frequently. And I long for more fous on the RICH meaning of it. Would really be for it at least one time per week. Also, encouraging communion in venues other than “the designated worship hour in the sancuary,” I think, would add much deeper meaning and deeper communion between believers as well as w/ God. Maybe in Sunday School class sometimes ? Or, definately a part of small home groups at times. Appreciate all the ablove thot’s ! : )
    Star**

  13. Posted by Clark Dunlap on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    1. Healthy worship? Not usre I know what you’re asking. We sing hymns and people seem pretty engaged in the meaning of the hymns. We have people who attend our church because we sing hymns and thats getting rarer and rarer in Baptist circles.

    2. Most member participation is in singing, helping receive and offering, praying for the offering. And I am working to get a member to read scripture during the service. But they serve in many other ways outside of the Sunday Morning event.

    3. Unacceptable practices would be someone blurting out in tongues or prophesying a “Thus saith the Lord” message. Also, snake handling, disrobing, dancing or any combination of those.

    4. We had a music/worship minister who taught about the significance of hymns and also incorporated the church calendar into our worship. He also taught about reverence in our worship. He had a good impact. We also made a decision several years ago tyo become less blended and more traditional, but that does not rule out singing some contemporary hymns.

    5. I think it is a meaningful observance to many people. I have had a few comments on the blessing of a particular service but no one has ever said, “we do this too much.”

    6. I schedule it to occur about every 5 weeks or so. And am thinking of going with 6 times a year. I always have one of them close to Thanksgiving to include the eucharistic aspect.

    7. I think I detect a sense of somber reverence and I occasionally try to help people rejoice more in the observance. But I believe a somber approach is appropriate, at least initially.

    8. IT displays the Lord’s death till He comes. It reminds us of His substitutionary sacrifice,and of our promised hope in celebrating it with the Lord someday.

    9. The worship value for me includes remembering His admonition to remember Him and the Work of Christ.

    10. I believe it is a worshipful occasion for the church for the reasons stated above.

    11. In have observed the sacrament in independent charismatic churches and they were reverential and the whole service was built around the observance.

    12. I don’t remember any of them individually but was thankful for them all.

    13. None were uncomfortable.

    14. No

    15. I try to make the Lord’s Supper the central theme each time it is observed.

    16. There is some variance. It may be more nuanced at times and at others more obvious.

    17. -
    18. I believe the act of obedience in observing and remembering the sacrifice of Christ, the remebrance of grace and mercy, and the consideration of our brothers and sisters, and the examining of ourselves makes for a meaningful service.

    19. I don’t know

    20. This has been a healthy exercise and I will borrow it and adapt it. The very first question is very subjective and the word “healthy” is a bit obtuse. I would change that.

  14. Posted by Gail on 18.11.12 at 3:22 pm

    Since the Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, de facto it delivers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Why would I NOT want that as often as possible?!!!?! We have the Lord’s Supper at at least one of our 3 weekend worship services; on festival Sundays (such as Pentecost), non-Sunday festivals (such as Christmas Day), and 5th Sundays of a month (4x/year), we have it at all 3 services.

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