Tag Archives: sacraments

Advise to young pastors: Baptism

Coming from a low church background I had very little pastoral training for conducting baptisms.  Also, in spite of my denomination’s acceptance of infant baptism, it was never practiced in the portions of the country where I grew up or ministered – everywhere I served people wanted to get wet all over and that’s what happened.  Because of that, I’ll focus in on baptism services for youth and adults – and, for the sake of this article, I’m more thinking of in-church baptisms rather than I am those that take place at a lake or river (although most of my suggestions work either way).

  • Be sure people are prepared for baptism.  Pastor, that’s your job.  Don’t leave it to the youth pastor or Sunday School teacher or a parent.  Be ready to sit down with a candidate and, in an age appropriate way, work through what it means to be a Christian and why we baptize.  Of course, that means you have to understand it.  In our tradition we baptize as a means of grace.  That means, to us, it’s more than an outward witness.  It’s a sacrament – can you explain what that means to a 12 year old?  That’s exactly what you have to do if you are going to officiate at their baptism.
  • Write your own version of the baptism ritual.  I don’t mean that you have the freedom to make it say something it doesn’t already say, but if your candidates’ (and your congregations’) eyes glaze over as you read the ritual you are just saying meaningless words.  Say it in such a way that they will understand what you are saying to them.
  • Have the candidates write out (or video) their testimony and have it read by a spiritual mentor just prior to their baptism.
  • Have everyone say the Apostle’s Creed together.  Don’t read the creed to the candidates – have them and the congregation say it and affirm it together.  After all, you are, by baptizing the candidates, uniting them with the congregation at a whole new level.  By the way, you and your congregation ought to be familiar with the Creed…maybe not memorized, but used to saying it.  This is who we are and what we believe.  Work it into Communion services or just include it in a service once a month.
  • If you are using some kind of hybrid baptistery where people sit down, etc.  then practice!  Let them get into the baptistery when it is dry and see what you expect of them (and yourself).  This is a big deal!  We rehearse weddings, why shouldn’t we rehearse baptisms?
  • Be prepared to help people in and out of the baptistery – they are nervous and distracted, and then wet!  Have someone ready to lend them a hand and hand them a towel.
  • Depending on how your baptistery is set up, invite family and guests to come to the platform to serve as witnesses (and take photos).  Beyond that, if you can, have the children and teens of the congregation to come up front to see it all.
  • Have everyone ready to cheer after each one – this is a big deal and a time of celebration.  Don’t let people just sit there watching the candidates get wet.
  • Once in a while, maybe once a year, prior to the baptismal service, preach on baptism.  Tell the congregation why it is a means of grace – have some of the senior saints ready to share the story of their baptism.  Then, with everyone freshly reminded of how wonderful it is, bring the candidates up!  Wow – what a great time you will have!
  • Once you are finished with the baptisms, and depending on your setup, take a bowl of the water from the baptismal and walk through the congregation inviting people to touch the water and “remember your baptism.”  If your sanctuary is set up to allow it, you might even have all who will to come forward and touch the water in the baptismal.
  • Even as you conclude the service, announce that you are ready to meet with others who would like to prepare for baptism.  You might just end up keeping the water for use next Sunday!

These are my thoughts…what are yours?

After Communion

thimblesIn my early ministry I remember seeing a grandmother allowing her grandkids to gather around the communion ware and drink all the left over grape juice from the tiny cups.  I think that was the first time I ever thought about the remnants of the communion sacrament.  At the time, I hadn’t thought much about it but there was something about that approach that was disturbing to me.

Coming from a non-liturgical background as I had I’d given little thought to what to do with left over bread and wine (grape juice for us) after the service.  Our Roman Catholic friends, meanwhile, have it down to a fine art but, then, they believe in transubstantiation too – that is that the elements become the actual body and blood of our Lord.  After the mass they are left with consecrated elements that must be handled with utmost reverence.  For Protestants and especially for non-liturgical groups the status of left over elements is something less.   As we celebrate the sacrament concerning the bread and wine we pray: “Make them by the power of your Spirit to be for us the body and blood of Christ.”  Having just prayed that prayer a short time earlier, just tossing these things into the trash or down the drain is something akin to handling the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way.  So what to do?

Fortunately, there are godly people who have thought about this.  After some reading I directed those in our church who prepare the sacrament to this approach; maybe it will help you too.

If we are using the little squares of unleavened bread we return it to the container and put it back in the freezer to be used again.  If we are using baked bread, the portion left over from the actual communion is taken outside to a little used area (like a flower garden) and left for the birds, etc. to consume.  The person taking it out offers a short prayer, thanking the Lord for his sacrifice for us.

Grape juice that has been offered is similarly returned to the earth.  That which was never offered in the service can be drunk as a beverage.

While we don’t accept the concept of transubstantiation we do want to be aware that these elements (that we said are symbols of our Lord’s broken body and shed blood) should be handled in a respectful, reverent way.  You might say that this is a fitting conclusion to a sacrament that emphasizes how common place things can take on uncommon meaning.

Communion

communionI grew up in a very “low church” worship environment.  Our Nazarene Manual directed us to receive the Lord’s Supper at least once a quarter and, apparently, we saw that as a maximum rather than minimum frequency.   As a young pastor I followed that same schedule but over time I moved to a monthly observance, trying to find a middle way between seeing the sacrament as the featured act of worship at one extreme, and as a mandated add-on at the other extreme.

While I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach in how most churches observe the sacrament I do think that the freedom to vary the emphasis and approach and even mechanics of observing it can be an advantage for less liturgical churches.   Whether or not you agree with me here, I hope you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful.

Communion is more of a celebration than anything else.  We don’t believe Jesus dies again each time we receive communion and it isn’t only about shed blood and broken body.   Mainly, we’re celebrating the amazing love the Lord has for us.   Jesus willingly went to the cross because “God so loved the world.”  There, on that old rugged cross, he conquered sin and death.  His victory has become mine.  We don’t celebrate the brokenness and bleeding but we do celebrate the reason for it and what it has accomplished in and for us.  “We come today to celebrate the greatest act of love, the most beneficial sacrifice ever accomplished….”

Communion is the perfect platform for inviting people to come to Jesus.  As a young person I somehow had the idea that the Lord’s Supper could be hazardous to one’s health.  We were to examine ourselves and if we had experienced any spiritual failure we might be wise to skip communion that quarter.  Over time I began to understand that, while it was possible to receive communion in an unworthy manner (that is, without showing proper reverence) that, honestly, no one is worthy of receiving these emblems of the Lord’s body and blood.  Had we been worthy, he would have never had to go to the cross in the first place.  With that in mind, I began to see the sacrament as an invitation to Christ.  As I examine my heart and realize that there are spiritual failures I’m not disqualified from the bread and wine.  Rather, I’m being given an opportunity to avail myself of the mercy and grace of the Lord in a fresh way.  If I come, viewing my receiving communion as a substitute for repentance and faith I’m moving into the “unworthy” territory.  If I come seeking forgiveness and restoration, though, I find life in that sacrament.  “The Bible says we’re to examine ourselves before receiving communion.  So let’s do that.  If, as you consider your relationship with the Lord and find that things aren’t what they ought to be, that doesn’t mean you can’t receive communion today.  Instead, this is an opportunity to make things right with the Lord.  As you receive the bread and wine, receive Jesus into your life all over again.”

Communion is a great way to introduce your child to Jesus.  Honestly, I think our liturgical friends with their emphasis on “first communion” have a great approach.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages to a less structured, low church approach.  As a pastor I allowed parents to bring their children forward to receive communion provided the parent agreed to have a discussion with that child about allowing Jesus to be their Lord and Savior before the day was over.  Symbols are powerful and children can grasp spiritual realities earlier than we might think.  I let parents decide if their children are “there” yet.  “Parents, I’ll let you decide when your children are ready to receive communion.  If you do allow your child to come today, I ask this of you: let’s agree that before this day is over you will sit down with your child and talk about the meaning of communion and how it is that a person places their faith in Jesus.”

Communion ought to be the focus of at least one service a year.  Baptism has been called the “entry sacrament” to our life in Christ.  Communion is the “continuing sacrament.”  One Sunday a year the church service should be all about the Lord’s Supper (World Communion Sunday is the first Sunday of October).   Sing songs about it, read the appropriate scriptures, and preach a sermon that reminds us why we celebrate communion.  Talk about our unity with believers across the ages and in the various traditions of Christianity.  Talk about God’s love for us and Christ’s willingness to die for us.  Remind people of its connection to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Tell them why the Lord’s Supper is called a “means of grace.”  Then, invite people to the table of the Lord.  Pastor, on this Sunday, you do all the serving, taking the role of Jesus, himself.  “Today is World Communion Sunday and we’re going to join Christians of many traditions around the world in receiving communion.  Before we do that though, let’s think about the meaning and purpose of this sacrament of the Church.”