My senior pastor came into my office yesterday and started me thinking about how our church does communion. Here at Westgate Alliance we are in the midst of pushing out two different services. One is a contemporary service (which admittedly is still not quite as contemporary as we would like but its getting there) and the other is what we call traditional, but is really just traditional to our church. We have done the occasional stations where people go and participate maybe on their own or in groups and given directions for the bread and cup. We mostly do the pass it down the row, like we have for the past 30 years in our church (not that I've been around even for 30 years). But it is lost in our service.
We've played around with where it goes in the service and how to make the service flow with the days we participate in communion, but it doesn't make a difference. People just go through the motion. Even when we preach about it that Sunday. I read an article on worshipcentral.org about contemporary worship killing communion and I totally agree! After my senior pastor left my office I started looking around for ideas and articles when I read this article, it really made me think. As a worship arts pastor, am I trying to brush over communion, squeeze it into the Sunday Set List, maybe just tack it on at the end or rush through it at the beginning, or am I actually facilitating the Eucharist. Are we in our contemporary worship, destroying the reverence of one of the few evangelical ordinances we have?
So here's really what I'm after:
How does your church participate in the Eucharist?
How well thought out is it or do you just do it and get it over with?
How often does your church participate in this ordinance?
What do you feel should change in the way your church approaches the Eucharist?
I don't get this at all. Why would contemporary worship kill communion? If one takes The Lord's Supper as an important element/sacrament, the the style of worship should have no bearing. The fault lies not with contemporary worship, but with those planning the service.
We celebrate communion usually once a month. We dedicate a fair amount of time for the pastor to talk about the sacrament, for prayer, reading of scripture, and The serving of the elements. There is nothing inherently contemporary or traditional in it, except our music is usually contemporary.
I had been to one church that showed a cartoon video of the gospel during communion, I thought it was pretty tacky, is that the kind of thing you're talking about?
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I think you've got the idea. Really for us in our church its actually traditionalism that is killing communion. People go through the actions but do not process it mentally or spiritually. I think that contemporary worship focuses so much on the "movement of the Holy Spirit" that they feel it is interrupted by communion that they try to mask communion in their services. There is one church in my city that just has it off to the side and you can take it when you want on the Sunday that is a communion Sunday. No direction, no explanation, just go when you want. I think there is a lack of reverence that is presented through that. What do you think?
I think the worship wars have conditioned us to be so conscious of being different, being "contemporary" that we sometimes throw out the baby with the bath water. To be honest, I hate the fact that our service is called Contemporary. Every service is contemporary, unless it's pre-recorded. Down with labels, man!!!
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I just got back from coffee with my senior and we also discussed this issue in great depth. I also have been great a theology book by Stanley J. Grenz on the issue of communion and it has been enlightening to say the least. I agree that no teaching and no thought is wrong. Some key points that we agreed on in our theology is that there needs to be community. You cannot have communion without the idea of community being provoked. Christ says that he "will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when i drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." Matthew 26:29 and that is speaking to the disciples, who were in a group or community, also speaking the Church (notice the capital "c") and therefore speaking that we will together as a community of believers take together. I think that the church and culture around us has created a thinking of individualism and consumerism causing us to think that we can take communion individually where if you do, you're missing half of it, the other believers. So we must participate as a community of believers while taking communion that is an absolute. Also to provoke thinking of what does this actually mean. That was another absolute. Taking and not understanding is wrong. We need to cause participation. We're looking at actually getting them up out of their seat so that they have to go to take communion not have it served to them literally on a platter. So these are some of our starting points that we're working off of as we look at transforming our time of communion. And I agree that the labels restrict us, however, our church would not allow us to go forward calling it the 9:30am and 11:00am services they needed to attach something to it, but really I always call them the 9:30 and 11:00 services. Much easier for me.
In some ways, our church has done communion nearly the exact same for the past 20+ years I've been here. We read (and usually explain) from I Cor. 11, invite those who are followers of Christ to participate, those who are not to observe, give everyone an opportunity to spend some time alone with God (or to go to another brother and confess and ask for forgiveness), etc.
We also try to do it differently every time. We have five pastors, and they each rotate in leading our communion, so they each bring their own personalities to it. They are also asked to relate communion to whatever is happening spiritually in our church that day/season. We observe communion on the first Wed. evening of each month, several Sunday mornings/year, and a few other special dates. We encourage our connections groups to observe communion if they want to, etc.
Our pastors always emphasize the importance of communion when it is approaching, teaching that it is one of the most important things we can do together as the body of Christ. We believe the church cannot be the church, nor can a Christian be "healthy" if we do not regularly observe communion.
All of the above has remained true for the past 20+ years, even as our church has transitioned from an SBC "traditional" worship style to the style we use today. So, at least in our case, "contemporary" and "traditional" have had little to no effect on how we observe communion.
So do they pass it out in the trays while everyone stays seated? or do they have to get up and go to a "station" or the front or something and get it?
I think so much of it is intentionality. It's all so familiar for anyone who's been in the church for more than 10 minutes. We try to change things up in by having the come forward/stations every so often. (Mark Batterson talks about "embracing the awkard" in Soul Print. I think that can fit here)
Another way we try to be intentional and avoid familiarity is using different elements to surround and respond to it each month (or whenever it's practiced): music/reading/scripture/drama, etc. this month we're going to using Aaron Keyes' "Not Guilty Anymore" to prepare. I'm excited about that. Powerful song for people to listen to before they partake.
This may not be to the point, but a comment I would like to offer:
The church I am at now has always been "contemporary" (established in 2003) and they way the did Communion at first was to have the Eucharist set up on a table (station?) and if people wanted to take it, they did.
Our current pastor put a stop to that, saying that communion should be served. I have to agree with that - though at the time I didn't see anything wrong with the station.
We don't have an established schedule for Communion, but when we do it, it's made to feel like we are doing something special, which I believe gets us away from the bit of "okay, now it's time to do Communion".
As of now, our music is not a part of the ceremony, but it's something I would like to begin doing.