This post was originally posted in August of 2016.
Since about 2007, I've been noticing an interesting trend in communion meditations in the churches I've attended. I'm sure the trend dates back well before that year, but it was in 2006 when I began attending a church where this was the case, and I didn't become sensitive to the trend until about one year later.
In 2006, my wife and I moved Lubbock, Tx and we began attending a church where the lay leaders gave the communion meditation. It was an admittedly refreshing change and for the first time in my life I started to wonder what it would be like to write a communion meditation, should I ever be asked.
I began paying a little more attention to the communion devotionals regardless whether it was a lay leader, the associate pastor, the worship leader, an elder, or the senior pastor. I wanted to learn how to craft the types of stories being told in order to engage me and my fellow believers in the moment. Some of these guys could really draw me in. Some of them could even craft a story from recent events... even as recent as the day before. I'd be so taken in by their recollections of building cribs without instruction manuals only to leave out three critical bolts, or the great post game interview of the M.V.P. and the inspiring words spoken about the fresh victory that I'd almost forget we were there to observe communion. And then BOOM they'd broadside me with a turn of phrase like, “and it made me think about how the Bible is our instruction manual and the table and cross are the structural bolts,” or “and I began to wonder what Jesus would have said in His post game interview.” At times, I didn’t really know how we got there, but we’d somehow get to communion. Pop culture, hot topics, current events, all eventually made their way to the cross or the table.
Then, somehow, it hit me. As I payed more attention, a pattern began to emerge. I realized there are two types of communion meditation presenters. There are those who prepare all week, or well beyond a week. And there are those who put it together last minute. Additionally, there are two subcategories for each type. There are those who use pop culture, hot topics, and current events (often family or work stuff) as their source material. And there are those who use a Bible, daily devotional time, and prayer as their source material.
The question we need to ask is this, “Who or what should drive communion, pop culture and current events or God’s Word and the Holy Spirit?” I think the answer is obvious. So let’s take some time to address the opportunities that are being lost in this lay leader/pop culture/current events/last minute panic driven process. I want to address three things, but before I do, let me be clear, I’m all for lay leaders presenting the meditation.
1. The congregation isn’t being engaged in Scripture: I’m sure you’re familiar with the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” When you've been broadsided a number of times, you reach a point when you can predict when it’s going to happen. You simply refuse to get caught off guard any longer. You begin to realize that some of these presenters showed up to church and grabbed a program only to be surprised by their name being listed next to the communion meditation, thus making communion a mere afterthought. Worst of all, you (a member of the congregation) stop engaging in the moment entirely, because, if it wasn't important enough for them to prepare, it probably isn't important enough for you to listen. You simply begin to block out what is being spoken and patiently wait for someone to pass you some stale crackers and slightly twangy grape juice. After all, if the person presenting the communion thoughts isn’t trumpeting what the Holy Spirit revealed in their study, then he/she is probably just filling time. That said, shutting down entirely is on the individual member, not the presenter.
Admittedly, there are times when I still hear truths being spoken during these meditations. There are also times when I just turn off the presenter and my Bible gets opened up and I just read.
2. The Word of God isn’t ministering to the presenter: There is a common thread of truth being used in the church to the point of abuse. We talk about God using us to deliver His Word in those moments when all the attention has been placed on us. We talk about surrendering to the Holy Spirit and that we’re just a mere conduit through which the Holy Spirit will speak truth. These are powerful statements and they are true. In fact, when you have legitimately been caught off guard, or when someone doesn’t show up and the responsibility lands on you to offer the meditation, you can be confident that the Holy Spirit is willing and able. God isn’t going to allow others who are seeking Him to be hindered by your lack of preparation.
Sadly though, if a poll were taken, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the first time a presenter legitimately forgot to prepare and the Holy Spirit took over, that was to be the turning point in their preparation for future meditations. These are often the times when fellow members walk up to you afterward and tell you how powerful the meditation was. The accolades make you realize how powerful the Spirit truly is, because none of that came from you.
And then the problem begins. The presenter begins to rely solely on the Holy Spirit to deliver every time. They accept that they can do nothing. It is God doing all the work, so why bother? Well, “why bother" is a most important question indeed. By not preparing, by not spending time in Scripture, by not setting yourself down before the Master for training in His Word, you are missing out on your own communion with your Creator. The communion meditation is ultimately a reflection of your communion with God. With Him you struggle, you wrestle, you surrender, you confess, you worship, you adore, and you rejoice! That is why you bother. If God can show up when you’re in the spotlight, He is fully capable to show up when you seek Him in the quiet place.
3. Senior and associate pastors are missing out on a discipleship opportunity: Ministers more often than not have Bible college training and even seminary degrees, which have prepared them to write communion meditations. So, why should lay leaders present communion meditations? Is it an opportunity to give the pastor a little respite? Is it just one less thing on the pastor’s plate? NO. In fact, it actually places more responsibility on them. This is a great excuse for pastors to disciple lay leadership. Better yet, it’s a great excuse to walk with elders, who in turn walk with lay leaders, who in turn walk with their families and those in their sphere of influence, thus revealing what Robert Coleman called “the Master plan of evangelism.” They can use this as an opportunity for training elders and lay leaders in God’s Word and how to study it, struggle with it, wrestle with it, surrender to it, rejoice in it, worship through it, and trumpet the revealed truths they have received through the Holy Spirit.
We have to be careful with pop culture and current events driving the words spoken from our pulpits and in the Church. Yes, we desire to be relatable and relevant, but by solely seeking pop culture and current events to do so is to operate under the assumption that God’s Word isn’t relatable and it isn’t relevant. Soon, the Church simply looks like any other social gathering but with a few rituals thrown in for good measure. God’s Word becomes the afterthought and the Holy Spirit sits in the backseat wondering when He’s going to be allowed behind the wheel again.