World Communion Sunday Ideas and Liturgy

communion

 

World Communion Sunday has become one of my favorite Sundays of the year. On the first Sunday of October Christians all around the world from all kinds of denominations partake in the sacrament and remember other Christians around the world. The practice began at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA in 1933.   Here are a few ideas that I have tried to emphasize this day:

  1. Use a variety of breads for Communion. I like to use bread of different colors, textures, and types of bread. The plate or basket then becomes a neat representation of all of the different kinds of people eating different kinds of bread for communion on that day. My experience is that my church (and others) often eat the white bread first, but the visual is still cool
  2. Wear vestments fitting for the day. Last year I made a special stole out of burlap. Burlap now comes in a roll like ribbon so it is easy to make a stole with it. I also wore a wooden cross from the Holy Land. Think of a way that your appearance can portray both the importance and the global nature of this special Sunday.
  3. Give a special children’s sermon. I give children’s sermons as much for adults as I do children. Talk about what it is like to go to church in other places around the world. Teach the kids about a missionary that your church partners with. Teach them words in another language. Whatever you do, use that as a time to share about that day.
  4. Pray for other Christians around the world. Most pastors shape the theme of the service through the liturgy, the hymns, and the sermon. I have found that the pastoral prayer actually anchors the theme as much or more than any other thing in the service. For World Communion Sunday, pray for Christians around the world. I would suggest you use Voice of the Martyrs to note a couple of very recent instances of persecution. (www.persecution.com)
  5. Try a creative communion liturgy like this one that I wrote last year:

It began last night- as you were going to bed—World communion Sunday.

Asian Christians shared the bread and the wine. Churches in China met in secret so that they would not be arrested. Christians in the Middle East, some of whom were saved only by having dreams of Jesus, met under the watchful eye of the government as they celebrated the Eucharist. In Europe, Christians gathered in churches that used to be much fuller and celebrated the Lord’s Supper. In African the sacrament was celebrated in great numbers by a growing number of Christians, many of whom bare scars of persecution as they Commune together.

Those celebrating today include Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Baptists, thousands of other denominations, and even those without denominations.

Christ followers met both in public and in secret. Some met in freedom while others gathered under threat of persecution and death. Some take the sacrament today with organ music, others with simple singing, and still others in quiet so as not to be arrested.

In wealthy churches and in desperate poverty the sacrament is observed. In churches, homes, huts, and in God’s creation this seal of the covenant was experienced. The bread is given to people that could overeat all day and to people who had no idea what they would eat or where they would get it today.

The one thing in common- We all come to the same table of our Lord.

In many different languages, by ordained clergy and volunteer pastors, something like these words of institution were given.

On the night He was betrayed Jesus took bread. And when he had given thanks and blessed it, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way after supper Jesus took the cup and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Drink you all of it.”

The bread is many different types and colors and from many places. Some created primarily from wheat, others from rice or other kinds of grain. Some will have bread left over. Some with very small pieces that could barely give every Christian there a morsel. Still- it represented the body of Christ broken and sustained the body of Christ around the world today.

(Break Bread)

The juice around the world will be different. For many it will be wine, some will have juice, some will celebrate with water that had to be carried from a dirty well some miles away. Some will use individual cups, others fancy goblets, still others have been passing around whatever cup was in the home where they were meeting Still- it represented the blood of the covenant in their place and in their communities, just as it does in ours.

(Pour Cup)

Let us pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we thank you for this sacrament of communion shared with Christians around the world. Pour out your Holy Spirit on these elements and on those who partake—that we may be your body and the representation of your covenant in our lives and throughout the world. Amen.

Today, as you see the bread come around, you will see many different colors and types of bread. Remember as you see the plate all of those around the world with whom you share the table today.

What other things have you used for World Communion Sunday?

 

Wednesday Recommendations: 5 Helpful Books for Changing a Church

turn aroundThe church today is in a difficult position.  Many churches are at a point of no return where they must change the will die.  Many mainline churches are declining and need a major comeback if they are going to exist 10 years from now.  With that in mind, here are 5 helpful books about turning around a church.  There are many that could be listed, but these are the 5 I would recommend that pastors/leaders start with.

     Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too– Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson did a study of churches that were “comeback churches.”  These were churches that were in serious decline and have turned their numbers around.  I like this approach because so many other book are almost exclusively diagnostic.  In other words, many other books are about what is wrong.  This book finds best practices of churches that are doing what many of us would like to do.  It is a wealth of information about small places to get some leverage in the church.

     Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There– Gary McIntosh has written a number of books that could be on this list, but this book is my favorite.  This books helped me understand why churches decline.  He talks at length about church size and how churches change with their attendance numbers.  He also goes into the church life cycle that churches natural follow and explains how turnaround happen at different points on the bell curve.  The book should be required reading for pastors in seminary because it explains so much.

     Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change– Mark Lau Branson uses appreciative inquiry (AI) to church transformation.  If you are not familiar, appreciative inquiry is an organizational development theory that is based on building on what is working.  AI asks people in an organization to tell stories of best practices and best memories to discover core values and practices.  It then encourages organizations to dream about what they could be and design a process for getting there.  This book is a great resource to lead some leadership team meetings or even congregational meetings.  It is especially helpful if your church is really negative.

     Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture– Aubrey Malphurs has several books that could be on this list.  He book on strategic planning is a major contribution to church leadership.  I recommend Look Before You Lead here because it deals with an area that few other books deal with.  It is one thing to change programming or processes at a church.  What is often needed, however, is a culture change.  The way people think, talk, and act all need upgraded for the church to go anywhere.  This book deals with how to change a culture.

     Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard– This book has nothing to do with the church.  It is a business book about making changes that last for both individuals and groups.  It has profoundly changed how I approach church.  It is based on brain science (though the book never talks about the technical neuroscience).  It talks about the elephant (emotional part of the brain) and the rider (the logical part of the brain).  Most of the time when we try to make a change ourselves or our churches we use one or the other.  The key is to use both and to shape a path that is easy to follow for others.  This also had an impact on how I preach.

5 Reasons Young People Don’t Go to Your Church

 

 

 

I am a Presbyterian minister and, like many churches, my church is trending older on the average age.  Some of my members have watched their children and their grandchildren find church unimportant in their lives.I am asked every once in a while why young people do not go to church anymore.    I think what they are also wondering why young people do not come to their church.  Here are a few thoughts if that is your church:

young people

1. Young people aren’t going to church very much.  I have seen different statistics on this, but for those under 30 it seems to be about 2 in 10 are in church.  That is a lot lower than previous generations.  I lead off with that not to depress you but to help you understand that it is not just your church.  Believe me, you church is pretty messed up.  It is a church so it cannot be perfect.  Just understand that this is a trend bigger than your particular church.

2. Your functional mission is not compelling..  Most churches have a mission statement or a vision statement about worshipping Christ, serving one another, and reaching out into the community.  In other words, most churches have worthless mission statements.  The real mission in most churches (especially mainline) is to stay open.  When we make decisions and talk about our church that is often the heart of the conversation.  Beyond that, we may say we want to grow, but if we were honest we only want to grow as much as needed to stay open.  After all, we want to know every church member by name.  Here is the truth–young people are not compelled in any way, shape, or form by organizational loyalty and survival.  They can get passionate about doing important things and even trying for impossible things.

3. Your 1950’s style worship service is not cutting it.-  Don’t get me wrong.  Young people are not just about contemporary worship.  In fact, a lot of millennials are attracted to high church worship.  What they value is authenticity.  If you are worshipping in a style because you have intentionally decided that is the best way for you to connect with God AND YOU CAN EXPRESS WHY then by all means stick with whatever style works.  Many mainline churches are exercises in nostalgia and young people won’t do that.

4. Your programs are outdated. If your programming was cutting edge in 1930 then there is a pretty good chance it is no longer  cutting edge.  If your church has a ladies association that meets for tea, an early morning men’s breakfast, or a quilting club then I am not sure you are going to get a lot of young people there.  These programs fit the people that are currently in them.  If some people are not there then there is a reason some people don’ t come.  That does not mean you should stop those programs–just understand that they are not geared for young people.  Also, young people tend to like less programmatic, less structures and more relational activities.

5. You are not talking to young people. The church has lots of sayings that it likes to use: God never gives you any more than you can handle, true love waits, you can’t take it with you…  Young people are not satisfied with short statements and sentimentality to life’s complicated and difficult situations.  Here is a rule of thumb: if you can put it on a coffee mug then it is not really valuable to young people.  My experience is that young people long for answers and are willing to talk and study to find the answers.  They will even take coaching from older adults.  But they will not accept short pithy statements that oversimplify both the problems and the answers of life.  They want to go deeper, but Church often wants to stay shallow rather than wade into the deep of real life.

If you want young people, go talk to them. Listen to their questions and struggles.  And, for the future of your church, start to look in the mirror and what can you differently.  If you keep looking at your past, eventually you will not have a future.

 

What Does a Life of Trust Look Like?

Brennan Manning tells a story that I think captures the kind of radical trust and dependence that God desires of us:

Fourteenth-century theologian and mystic John Tauler prayed for eight years that God would send him a person who would teach him the true way of perfection. One day, while at prayer, he heard a voice from within telling him to go outside to the steps of the church, and there he would meet his mentor. He obeyed without hesitation. On the church steps Tauler found a barefoot ragamuffin in rags, wounded and caked in blood.

Tauler greeted the man cordially: “Good morning, dear brother. May God give you a good day and grant you a happy life.”

“Sir,” replied the ragamuffin, “I do not remember ever having had a bad day.”

Stunned, Tauler asked him how that was possible, since sadness and grief are part of the human condition.

The beggar explained, “You wished me a good day, and I replied that I cannot recall every having spent a bad day. You see, whether my stomach is full or I am famished with hunger, I praise God equally; when I am rebuffed and despised, I still thank god. My trust in God’s providence and his plan for my life is absolute, so there is no such thing as a bad day.”

He continued, “Sir, you also wished me a happy life. I must insist that I am always happy for it would be untruthful to state otherwise. My experience of God has taught me that whatever He does must of necessity be god. Thus, everything that I receive from his loving hand or whatever He permits me to receive from the hands of others—be it prosperity or adversity, sweet or bitter—I accept with joy and see it as a sign of his favor. For many, many years now, my first resolution each morning is to attach myse3lf to nothing but the will of God alone. I have learned that the will of God is the love of God. And by the outpouring of His grace, I have so merged my will with His that whatever He wills, I will too. Therefore, I have always been happy.                                                                                                                            (Ruthless Trust, pg 162)

If you read Matthew 6, you find that Jesus emphasizes this kind of radical daily trust in God.  He wants us not to worry about what we will eat, drink our wear.  I think this position of dependence and trust in God is the thing, more than anything else, that God desires of our response to His love and grace.

What Does it Mean to Trust in God?

Brennan Manning tells this story that captures what it really means to trust in God:

Dennis Rainey tells the story of a missionary family home on furlough, staying at the lake house of a friend. On the day in question, Dad was puttering in the boathouse, Mom in the kitchen, and the three children, ages four, seven, and twelve, were on the lawn. Four-year-old Billy escaped his oldest sister’s watchful eye and wandered down to the wooden dock. The shiny aluminum boat caught his eye, but unsteady feet landed him in eight-foot-deep water.

When the twelve-year-old screamed, Dad came running out. Realizing what had happened, he dove into the murky depths. Frantically he felt for his son, but twice, out of breath, he had to return to the surface. Filling his lungs once more, he dove down and found Billy clinging to a wooden pier several feet under. Prying the boy’s fingers loose, he bolted to the surface with Billy in his arms.

Safely ashore, his father asked, “Billy, what were you doing down there?” The little one replied, “Just waitin’ on you, Dad, just waitin’ on you.”

 (Ruthless Trust, Page 94)

 How often in our lives do we try to save ourselves.  We struggle, we worry, and we try to find our way out ourselves.  But the way of the Christian is ultimately a way of trust.  This is what Brennan Manning calls “The Second Conversion.”  The first conversion saves us from the land of sin and death.  The second conversion saves us from the land of worry and self-hatred.  We need to learn simple and child-like faith that lets us cling to Christ in all circumstances at wait for our Loving Father to come to our rescue.