If communion is an important part of our worshipping life (it is, after all, one of the two sacraments recognized across most of the Protestant church, as well as obviously being part of Catholic practice), how do we offer communion in missional communities?
In particular, how does it work when our groups have people at sorts of stages of their faith journey?
I realize that there are all sorts of answers to this, but I thought I’d share with you the answer I gave to a church planter who recently emailed me about this. They wrote:
I am trying to plant a church as a missional community. We meet twice monthly for a worship service in our home. Until now, I was reasonably certain that all in our group had trusted Christ and were endeavoring to follow him. However, God is starting to bring people into our gathering that probably do not know Christ at this time. We are thrilled to be a part of their journey with Jesus!
My problem… I believe communion to be a response of a believer’s faith. To be clear, in the past I would have merely explained that communion was reserved for those who had trusted/followed Christ.
I want to be sensitive to those who have not yet trusted Jesus.
Would you share some ideas as to how our community can celebrate communion while maintaining the integrity of communion in faith without unduly “dividing” the group into the “haves” and “have nots”.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my question.
Communion In Missional Communities
A great question! Here’s my stab at a response:
Thanks so much for your message. Congratulations on your church planting, that is a tremendous thing to be involved with for the Kingdom. Well done!
So, here are a couple of filters that I’d use to process these sorts of issues:
Our great call and commission from Jesus is to go and make disciples. This means that everything we are about is focused on helping people take their next step towards Jesus. With this in mind, I operate with a centered rather than bounded set mentality (i.e. we are all centering on Jesus, moving towards Him – albeit not always in a straight line! – and none of us is fully there in this life. A bounded set view divides the world into two: those are part of our group (in this case, the church), and those who are not. This latter view has been the predominant one in Christendom, but for me feels far less Biblical and certainly not effective in a post-Christian culture.)
Thus with a disciple-making mindset, which calls people to imitate us as we imitate Christ, we build a community that is effectively on mission amongst the specific people group to whom the Lord has called us.
(For more on Bounded, Centered and Fuzzy sets, check out Chapter 2 of my book Discipleship That Fits)Everything we are about is focused on helping people take their next step towards Jesus: Click To Tweet
We are joining God in His great mission to the world, and following where He leads us. With missional communities, this means that these are gatherings that are always open-edged, where all sorts of people can come as they are to a Jesus-centered gathering.
However, this also means that we have to be willing to live with far more messiness around the edges. Bounded set church, with the clear distinctions it enforces, has far less of this – but consequently is generally weaker at reaching the genuinely unchurched.With missional communities we have to be willing to live with far more messiness around the edges: Click To Tweet
Putting This Together
My own view on communion has evolved over time, to a place where I see it as an invitational, centered-set, disciple-making occasion. Specifically, I see the warnings of Paul as being about coming with integrity of spirit to the table, and partaking with as much faith as an individual has at that time, hoping to encounter God’s grace in that act of faith. Thus for me the issue is heart one more than it is a mind one – if someone approaches communion reverently, as a way of deepening their walk with Jesus, then I think that accords with Scripture.
As I look at the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, where there is all sorts of messed-up theology in the hearts of the disciples, I see there an invitational grace that is not pre-eminently about doctrinal correctness before participation is allowed. We must be careful not to allow one passage from Paul to overrule three accounts from the life of Jesus.
So the invitation I’d give would center on a brief explanation about how this is something Christians have done for 2,000 years, as part of their way of encountering Jesus and demonstrating their desire to know Him better and to follow Him more fully. So if that is where you are today, then you are very welcome to participate. And if for you today it shows more integrity to simply pass the plate on, then that’s totally fine as well. Obviously to this sort of explanation you would add appropriate prayers/ scriptures etc.
I hope this helps!
Do you offer Communion in your missional communities? If so, how do you balance being open-edged and invitational, with recognizing that it is not a sacrament to be taken lightly or flippantly?
Use the comment section below to share your thoughts and experiences.
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