Renewing Our Worship: The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper has always been important to the Churches of Christ. We take communion weekly. It’s so important to us that we often offer communion on Sunday nights for those unable to take it that morning, and we often take communion to our shut in members so they can share in it despite being unable to come to church.

Weekly communion was unquestionably the practice of the early church. Quarterly communion did not begin until the Reformation. I think it’s the proper practice, as well. But weekly communion makes it difficult to keep the ceremony fresh and vital.

As a result, although the Churches of Christ have a very high view of communion, we often do it very badly.

Our services are in fact pointed toward the invitation, which serves as the climax of the service. This makes the communion an interruption in the flow of the service, rather than the point of the service, regardless of what our theology tells us is most important.

Also, we hire a professional to preach the sermon and perhaps to lead the singing, but we let the amateurs — like me — handle the Lord’s Supper. The quality suffers as a result.

Services are always pressed for time. Preachers tend to go long. If things go well, there are responses to the invitation. Announcements tend to be lengthy. Prayers can often be downright longwinded, as though we could pray ourselves into heaven. As a result, we cut the time for the communion. After all, it’s the least important part of the service — at least we treat it that way.

Therefore, we bitterly complain when the communion leader goes long — “goes long” means speaks for more than 30 seconds. The preacher can do 10 minutes of stand up comedy, and it’s just fine, but dare to actually focus on the communion and people get angry.

The result is that the communion has become dead time in many of our services. We don’t quite know how to make it work. It’s competition for what the staff thinks is important — the part they get to do — and it’s pretty much the same thing every week. No matter how well you do it, it’s awfully hard to turn a communion service into something memorable.

Despite the lack of respect we give the Lord’s Supper compared to the rest of the service, we tend to think of the communion as the most critical part of the service. Members will come late and leave early, but they’ll be sure to be there for communion. Members who have to work Sunday morning will go to great lengths to take communion in the evening. When I was in college at David Lipscomb, many of the students would sleep through Sunday morning worship, but they’d dutifully show up for Sunday night service somewhere to take their crackers and grape juice.

Hence, while we place precious little emphasis on doing it well, we place great emphasis on doing it. I think the discrepancy is due to our having an under-developed theology of the communion. We don’t really understand it. We know that it’s plainly commanded. The commands on the Lord’s Supper are plain enough — unlike many other commands and inferences we are taught. But we don’t really appreciate what it’s about. There seems to be something missing — something ineffable. It’s a duty, not a privilege; a task, not a joy.

When people talk about their favorite services or favorite congregations, they rarely mention the communion services. And yet the Bible seems to point us in the direction that the Lord’s Supper is a very, very important thing. It seems to be nearly central to the Christian experience.

The Lord’s Supper seems somehow parallel to baptism, which is an ever bigger deal to those in the Churches of Christ. We truly enjoy and celebrate baptisms. We are a very baptism-focused community. But the other sacrament seems left out in the cold. It’s time to give it back some of the respect it deserves.

I don’t know the answer, but I have some preliminary thoughts.

  • Let’s at least match the Baptists and Presbyterians and have a high-quality communion service no less often that quarterly. Maybe even monthly.
  • Try a few services that focus on communion. Put the sermon near the beginning and talk about the communion — or what the communion teaches, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Put the communion at the end. Build up to it.
  • We need to get away from the communion-as-meditation mindset. There’s no reason to suppose that Jesus meant for us to passively and pensively sit through the communion service. After all, we were called to gather to commune — to be in fellowship — not to take the communion alone. Meditation is essentially a private act. You can do it at home. Church is for doing things together.
  • There’s no reason at all to have the giving part of the service adjacent to the communion. Passing the plate is a dramatic change of subject and is often handled poorly. Sometimes let’s do what we say — do the giving “separate and apart” from the Lord’s Supper. I mean, it’s just hard to truly celebrate the resurrection of our Savior while reaching for a checkbook. (It shouldn’t be that way, of course. But we have to meet our members where they are in their spiritual walk.)
  • Get the men out from the front of the auditorium! We shouldn’t be looking at uncomfortable men trying to do a ritual. Our minds need to be on the service. Serve from the back. My church switched to this approach over a decade ago, and we’ll never go back to the traditional approach. The men handling the elements can pass trays and give directions from the back without distracting the congregation. No one worries about whether they have nice suits or matching ties. There’s no time lost watching men march from the back. And they can sit with their families throughout the service. Only the speaker stands in the front. The men passing the elements leave one or two songs before communion, get organized, and pass the trays from the back. This way, the men are just servants of the church, not performers.
  • Make some clear rules for the speaker, the communion meditation leader:
    • Any meditation that begins with “When John called me Friday night and asked me to lead the communion service, I didn’t know what to say, but then while I was driving I saw …” is grounds for stoning on the spot. God will exact unspeakable punishment for such talks! Nobody cares what your thought process was to get your lesson up. Nobody cares what day you got called. Just give your lesson and shut up.
    • It’s not necessary to talk before each element. It’s not necessary to talk at all. Silence can work very well. More than once, when the song service or a prayer set the perfect mood, I’ve left my notes in my Bible and just led a short prayer. I’ll get another chance to show off my rhetorical skills. If your goal is to set a mood, when the mood is right already, shut up.
    • Clichés are strictly forbidden. Never say “separate and apart” before the contribution. I never have understood the point, anyway.
    • Speaking of clichés, don’t talk about transubstantiation or consubstantiation. Don’t say it’s just a symbol. There are very likely no Lutherans or Catholics in the audience, and showing off your vocabulary is unattractive. Don’t tell us what it isn’t — tell us what it’s about. Talk about Jesus. This is not a good time to sound negative — or to insult our audience if they just happen to be Lutherans or Catholics.
    • Short prayers are better than long prayers. Jesus specifically criticized long prayers in the Sermon on the Mount. Many of your listeners have short attention spans. Some are children. Some are mothers wrestling with children. Keep it short.
    • Short meditations are generally much better than long meditations, unless it’s a service pointed to the communion. Even so, I think the song service is often a better lead in for communion than a talk. It may be better to have a song or two between the meditation and the communion. Now, although I think we unduly de-emphasize the communion service, until we radically rethink our services, there’s just no point in competing with the sermon. The preacher’s a better talker, and he’s got more time. Nobody drove across town to hear you.
    • Your audience won’t listen to you for long. So every word needs to count. One off-subject sentence, and you’ve lost them. Be brief to the point of abruptness. No one will mind a two-sentence meditation. Go five minutes, and you won’t be asked to speak again.
    • Don’t put frustrated preachers up there. Guys who are desperate for a chance to talk will talk too long and say too little. This is not a sop for the member looking for an audience. It’s about the sacrifice of Jesus. Pick someone who sees that as more important than a chance to be on stage.
    • But then again, do find a speaker who is capable of doing a decent job. If you just toss any willing volunteer up there, you fail to treat the service with the respect it deserves. Let the preacher or the youth minister speak some of the time. Be sure everyone else occasionally sees how to do a 60-second talk very well.
    • Sing. Some people just freak over singing during communion, but singing is one of the most appropriate things we can do. It’s a corporate activity — we do it together. Harmony and beautiful melodies suit the service well. But don’t sing every time.
    • In the right congregation, it’s a great idea to have the praise team or even a soloist or duet sing during while the elements are being taken. It’s a great chance to meditate on the meaning of it all while sharing an experience that can only be gained in an assembly.

In short, take the time to think about the communion service. Don’t just call a guy the night before and slot him in just like you did that last 300 Saturday nights. Make it important. Add some variety. Get out of the rut. Be creative. Find a way to let the talents God has given your church be used in God’s service.

Some people will complain, and so you should take the time to teach them better. Deal patiently with those who hate change just because. God made some of us that way. Give the communion the careful planning and attention it deserves.

And don’t let anyone ever begin, “When John called me Friday night …”

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to Renewing Our Worship: The Lord’s Supper

  1. Weldon says:

    Amazingly enough we do almost all of what you suggest in your thoughts for the day. Some of our men that do the Communion scriputures are most insistent that they say "seperate and apart" before the contriburtion. Moving it to a different time in the service would solve that problem. When we moved the communion table to the back we met some resistence but to the Elderships credit the resistance only stiffened their resolve to keep the table in the back. The thinking was that we needed to focus on Christ and not "symbol" of the table. Men are contacted the Monday before the service. Very rarely does someone not fulfill that role. Lots of thought usually goes into the scriptures and thoughts that are shared. It almost always short and to the point. We are still working to cionvince some that you can sing and have communion at the same time. One young mother when told you couldn't do that because you couldn't two things at once replied that "you obviously have never been a mother." Good thoughts.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    Well let me simply put it this way. Communion as a sacrament or religious act/ritual was destined to become a failure. The "outward form" or the "unworthy manner" was lens through which we looked at it. The weekly repetition did little to cure the ensuing emptiness. In a survey did at ACU 73% of the people who took communion weekly said that it was the part of the week where they felt the most unworthy, always trying to think if they had done enough good to make up for the bad that week to be worthy to take communion. The unworthy manner was taken completely out of context in my opinion. The unworthy manner Paul spoke was the rich people who did not wit on the poor and got drink and full and let no bread and wine for the servants coming later, not some unattainable level of morality or method of passing plate to saying prayer first that qualified you to take communion.
    The best communion devotional thought is simply, honestly, and very specifically what Jesus has done, is doing and will do personally in your life. A story of ongoing personal transformation no matter how big or small is the best communion thought we will ever hear. This next Sunday ask everyone to turn to the next person and share what Jesus is doing in your life right now. The truth is many regular church goers can’t answer this question even with 10 minutes to think about it. So a little heads up by announcement or bulletin is good. If the meaning, fullness and oneness of the Lord Supper are to return we must become interactive rather than simply solemnly mediating. We must be able to answer this question on an ongoing basis “simply, honestly, and very specifically what Jesus has done, is doing and will do personally in your life?” If we can’t answer that questions very readily then I would question who and what it is that we truly believe. In the last church we were at people gave testimony as before taking communion then the church turned to each other in pews and “voluntarily” shared what Jesus was doing in their life while taking the bread and the wine. I have never looked forward to communion so much nor has it ever held so much meaning. It is a great way to examine one’s self not in the way of “How many bad things have I done but rather specifically:” where do I need Jesus and what wonderful things has he done in my life already?” It started slow in fact the drug and alcohol addicts got it gong for us because the rest of us were too scared or didn’t really have anything to say. Then as it went on we had little old ladies testify about how Jesus had helped them overcome gossiping and greed and then it opened up to one day when a very old man told us of how Jesus had finally helped him find joy in the twilight of his life. Every week it was something different and it truly was the focal point of the assembly as you suggest Jay.

  3. Chr1sch says:

    Wow…from where do you take all the time to blog?? I've been reading for a coupla days now, very interesting!

  4. Matthew Robert says:

    Good thoughts Jay. Communion, and the communion meditation is what I enjoy more than anything. I have the luxury of leading a worship service on Sunday nights on a college campus, where we have freedom to do much of what you've said. In fact, just last night, we had a completely communion-centered service, with a short talk, and a lot of singing. And it was a great time of fellowship and encouragement.

    We aren't to the point of abandoning silent meditation all the time though. I know of a church that rarely has the silent meditation communion, and I'd love to participate in it….we aren't there yet though.

    Now I must admit, that I've used "separate and apart" before…but I was trying to give meaning to the cliché by pointing out that the contribution was indeed "separate and apart" because Jesus paid the price for us. But I agree, in context, the clichés have got to go. I never realized how prevalent they were until I started listening, and they are everywhere!

  5. Jay Guin says:


    Wilkommen. You need to tell me how someone so fluent in English winds up in Deutschland.

    In answer to your question, it's one of the blessings of being in poor health (arthritis). Can't golf or play tennis or do much in the yard. I'd may as well type.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Thanks, Joe. Those are some really helpful thoughts.

    I've been trying to figure a practical way for a large church to do communion as a part of table fellowship — which is really much of the idea. Maybe someone has a thought on how we can pull it off. But the kind of sharing you describe seems like the sort of thing that might make it work.

  7. Jay Guin says:

    From an email I received (slightly reformatted for the blog) —


    You make some excellent points on our attempts to interpret the Lord’s Supper into our 21st century context. I’m assuming you have made a pretty good summary of some of “our” recent thinking on the Lord’s Supper.

    We recently tried the “serving from the back”, but our elders said there were too many complaints and went back to “the old ways.” It seems “church change” is hard on everyone.

    Basically, I believe, it is lack of education. A lack of providing instruction for those who volunteer to lead the Lord’s Supper and anything else we laymen do in front of our family (including announcements). For instance, you could easily turn your blog on this subject into a list of guidelines that could be copied and given to untrained men who are asked to stand before the family and provide some of their most intimate spiritual thoughts on their Lord’s sacrifice.

    Bet you could make one on announcements too.

    Jay, it is frustrating at times to listen to “when John asked me last night” or as “As I was driving here” or even at times to read out of a book. However, some of my most touching and meaningful moments during Lord’s Suppers have come through men using these very terms. The terms disappear when a man shares his innermost heart about his Lord. Yes, some instruction may improve the performance, but only knowing the Lord better and better will improve the heart.

    Not only the man, but also the family must be prepared for the change. I think this may have been our problem. Sometimes it is the small even insignificant changes that hurt some of our family members.

    Now, I understand as Charles Hodge used to say “you can’t let the billy goats run the church.” However, we can and should be sensitive to their thoughts and needs.

    The family also needs instruction on what is about to happen. Not just that it is going to happen, but why and any Biblical background necessary. Once the decision is made, explanations given and all prepared, make the change and don’t give in to a few complaints.

    Elders should backup and apologize when they are wrong, but not when they are right and have done everything they could to prepare for the change. Courage must also be a trait of a good elder.

    Lynn Anderson wrote a book several years ago titled: Navigating the Winds of Change. You have probably read it, but if not and the topic interests you, he provides some excellent suggestions on change. Also, if you are still interested in Biblical interpretation – Mark E. Moore’s: Seeing God in HD, which will help in the education process. It’s small, but large.

    Jay, as I said the points you made are good ones, but to me you came across as angry. I know you aren’t, but it came across that way. “Stoning” and “shut up” just do not seem proper terms in this discussion. They do make the point that you are serious about this subject.

    I sometimes have the problem of trying to be clever or cute when trying to make a point and find I have not communicated or worse communicated the wrong thing.

    It’s just me, but the points would have been better made without those terms. Everybody loves criticism, but hope you will take this as loving “feedback”, whatever that means, but not criticism.

    Thanks much for all your work,

  8. Jay Guin says:

    The previous writer wrote,

    Jay, as I said the points you made are good ones, but to me you came across as angry. I know you aren’t, but it came across that way. “Stoning” and “shut up” just do not seem proper terms in this discussion.

    I was trying more for "curmudgeonly." I'm not angry. Well, I'm not angry about communion services. Legalism is another matter altogether.

    Actually, some of these points come from a handout a former preacher at our church used to give out to communion speakers: keep it short, don't tell us when you were called or how you came up with your thoughts, etc.

    No handout will cure all our ills, but they help. Thanks for bringing the idea up. I'd highly recommend that churches do exactly that.

  9. Jay, I rarely disagree with you – but I will this time, and only on the subject of how often to commune.

    (Perhaps if I were part of a church family where it was done as badly as you describe each and every week, I just might go all curmudgeonly and agree with quarterly or monthly!)

    But I find I have a genuine spiritual hunger for the Feast each and every week, and I frankly don't care whether it's led badly or not. Jesus is there. He's in the bread. He's in the wine. He presides. I can see him in the faces of the family around me … even when they are meditating and enculturated to never look up or to either side at those with whom they're also communing.

    It can't come too often for me. I need the reminder of God in the flesh, consumed and made part of me; my body lent to become His and my blood flowing to do His work in this world.

    No matter how good the preaching or the singing or the reading of scripture or even the brief post-bulletin announcements that I write for the worship leader to read before closing … the Eucharist is the centerpiece of my worship with the saints.

    Because Jesus is there.

    And all of a sudden, the reality of that is in my fingers and on my tongue and deep inside me, physically and spiritually.

    Jay, if you ever become pope of the Churches of Christ, please don't take that away from me! 🙂

  10. Jay Guin says:


    What I'm arguing for is one high quality communion service per month — that is, of the four communion services we do each month, let's take one in four and center the service on the communion rather than the sermon.

    In the three sermon-centered services, we'd still do communion, do it well, but we can't do it very well — because so long as the sermon is the centerpiece, the communion is not.

    I could argue for more communion-centered services, but I'm not sure we could handle such a radical change. Better to suggest something that we might actually do.

    Start with one in four. Then after a year or so, the church can change the rhythm of services as best suits their situation.

    So I'm not arguing against weekly communion. I'm arguing for a mix of sermon-centered and communion-centered services — all of which have communion.

  11. Chr1sch says:


    Thanks for the compliment. I'm studying English and Spanish to become a teacher. But besides that, every high school graduate in Germany has 9-11 years of formal education in English, so most Germans speak it rather well. Also, there are still many American missionaries around that you can practice with or at least listen to…

  12. Alan says:

    In the right congregation, it’s a great idea to have the praise team or even a soloist or duet sing during while the elements are being taken.

    I cannot recall a more moving communion than a particular time when one of our deacons' wives sang a solo, Via de la Rosa during communion. That was a religious experience! (in the best sense of the term).

  13. Keith Brenton says:

    Jay, I misread your second paragraph and I apologize. Thought you meant quarterly was the preferable frequency.

    Sent from my iPhone

  14. Jay Guin says:

    I'm impressed. You'll obviously be an excellent teacher.

  15. Jay Guin says:

    No apology necessary. I wasn't as clear as I should have been, and so it's good that you gave me the opportunity to clarify my thinking.

  16. Joe Baggett says:

    No amount of repetition can resolve problems of perspective. In fact repeat a process that fundamentally flawed only make things worse. Until the perspective changes it doesn’t matter if it is done weekly or monthly. In fact I wish we did it less often…….gasp! If we got as excited about improving the perspective and meaning of the Lord supper as we do that we “do it every Sunday only on Sunday” then we might realize more of the essence and function beyond the “Unworthy Manner” and “Remember all your sins this week”, and “ Think of how Jesus died for you”. That is great what does that mean for us right now? The Lord supper is less of a call to just remember but rather a call to become.

  17. coreydavis says:

    This article seems contradictory to me. You seem to be saying that more focus needs to be put upon communion, and with that I agree.

    Your suggestions on how to make it better are keep your comments short, keep your prayers brief…in essence it appears you're saying "HURRY UP!" I think that rushing through communion is one of the big problems. I think our hearts are wrong if we want the one speaking to just get his spiel out and we want the prayers to be short.

    The whole bit about people wanting to hear "professional" preachers and not wanting to hear "amateurs" is also a symptom of a greater problem.

    Lastly, I have a huge problem of saying "let's have one really good communion service per month". That is essentially saying, "Lord, once a month we'll give our best and really try to focus on the price paid for our sins. The rest of the month, well, we're just going to phone it in".

  18. Jay Guin says:


    I readily admit to the inconsistency. I'm not trying to be theoretically pure here. I'm just trying to make very practical suggestions as to how we can improve things.

    Our communion services tend to be of low quality. There are two ways to make them better. We can follow essentially our present pattern of worship and do the best we can within that structure (which would be a whole lot better than what we typically do), or we can radically revamp the pattern.

    I don't think I'll have much success persuading churches to entirely give up their sermon-centered services, nor do I think the Bible requires that result, Church of Christ theology notwithstanding. On the other hand, I think we have a nearly desperate need to add some variety to our services, to be more creative, and to elevate the Lord's Supper above it's current second-thought status.

    And so, the practical solution I recommend is to (1) always do communion better and (2) sometimes do communion a whole lot better.

    Ironically enough, I believe a short, simple, passionate communion talk is much more effective than what we are often subjected to. And it's more likely to be within the competence of our members. I've posted several communion meditations here, and they're pretty short — generally three minutes or less to read. /index-under-construction/c

    And I don't think the length of the talk is the point. We could do an excellent communion-centered service and have no talk at all — leading up to the communion through songs, prayer, and scripture readings. It's not the duration of the talk or even the quality of the talk so much as sometimes focusing entirely on the communion that will make for the whole-lot-better communion service.

    I have to add that most 5-minute or longer communion talks I've heard have been pretty awful — or if not bad, would have been better if shortened. I'm sure there are exceptions, but as a rule, shorter is more effective. And you can pack a lot of theology in three minutes, as I've tried to show through the meditations I've written.

    In short, the goal is just to get better. And in our typical sermon-centered services, shorter is better. But I'd very much like to have periodic services where we spend the entire service focused on the communion. I like variety. I think I'm pretty typical.

  19. coreydavis says:

    I don’t think I’ll have much success persuading churches to entirely give up their sermon-centered services, nor do I think the Bible requires that result,

    Let me say that I totally agree with you on that. I think that is, like you indicated, borrowed from the denominational "pastor" system.

    I think you have some good suggestions (although they are a bit inconsistent), but I think we should also be careful to think that what we think would make it "better" would make it so for everyone. Perhaps some people run long in their "talk" because they've been thinking about that moment all week. That isn't a bad thing – they've been focused on making sure the congregation knows the special nature of what they're about to partake of.

    I think that part of your "keep it brief" argument has some serious weight when we consider the attention spans of most people. To neglect that is to be inconsiderate to your audience, IMO. That said, the responsibility falls to us to make sure our hearts and minds are in the right place. If we're spending our time critiquing the speaker we can be sure that our hearts are NOT in the right place.

  20. Alan says:

    We've been conditioned to value consistency in everything. It is deeply embedded in our consciences. But not all consistency is divinely required.

    So we wonder, when the Bible has not explicitly defined what should be done, or exactly how something should be done, are we still expected to come up with way to do it that is rigidly followed, universally, forever? If not, then how much variance is permissible? Even those questions are seeped in the traditional notion that everything we do must be authorized.

    I think God knows how to deliver a command. He's certainly done it before. He wants us to be saved, and He knows we are easily confused. So I'm confident that He has not made his commands hard to understand. And where he has not explicitly told us how to do something, we are at liberty to experiment to find ways of doing it that meet the expressed intent effectively.

    So, a (properly licensed) video excerpt from the Passion of the Christ would be a fine way to introduce communion. Or a soloist singing about the cross. Or a short sermon, or a long one. etc. Variety is permissible, as long as the various methods support the remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus being given for us.

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