Like any youth minister I want every kid in my group to understand and love Jesus’ cross. I want them to know that through the cross alone their sins are forgiven and the kingdom of heaven is open. According to the Scriptures, a God-given way of achieving this is through the Lord’s Supper.
I’m constantly on the lookout for helpful illustrations to help me explain the gospel to our youth. In the Lord’s Supper I have one! It’s a readily available, visible and physical symbol of Christ’s sin-bearing death. As it comes to us from the Scriptures, let’s call it a “divinely inspired illustration” (a term I heard from a dear brother and fellow youth minister.)
Nevertheless, I’ve had two concerns that meant I’ve not celebrated the Lord’s Supper at my youth group until now. Here they are, and here’s how my thinking on them has changed.
The typical youth group is open to… youth! But Christ’s broken body won salvation for people from every tribe, nation, language and age. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 encourages the whole church to celebrate the supper together, without divisions. Doesn’t celebrating it as a sub-section of our local, visible church work against this principle? After all, not everyone at church is invited to youth group, yet all should be welcome to the Lord’s table.
But gatherings of the visible church are always exclusive to some degree. My church is English-speaking and located in the south-west of Sydney. These factors prohibit many Christians from being able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with us. Nevertheless, within these ‘natural’ limitations, we make it clear that the table is open to all who profess faith in Christ. This leads me to believe that, provided a good explanation is given, the principle of ‘all welcome’ and the expression “we are the one body of Christ” could be upheld within the imposed limitations of a youth group.
More importantly though, I’m convinced that church gatherings are gatherings for Christians, where we also give a warm welcome to onlookers (who we long to see saved). Youth groups are a sub-section of church, and presumably Christians who go are in the regular habit of gathering with the wider church. This means we can speak about celebrating the Lord’s Supper as part of ‘our church’.
Some argue that you need to be officially committed to a church or denomination to celebrate the Lord’s Supper there. Historically this idea has merit, especially when church attendance occurs regardless of actual faith. Asking young adults to take baptismal promises when they were of age helped encourage genuine rather than nominal Christian faith. There’s also a rightness about solemnizing the Lord’s Supper: it symbolizes something profoundly important, and the Scriptures urge us not to take the supper lightly but to examine ourselves first (1 Cor 11:27-29).
Theologically though, I can’t see why we should prohibit a Christian from partaking in the Lord’s Supper, even if they haven’t become a church member. In the Lord’s Supper service we publically repent of sin, accept Jesus’ forgiveness, and pledge to live under his Lordship. These declarations certainly proclaim that the professor is part of the body of Christ, which is what the church ultimately is.
The symbolism of the Lord’s Supper can be grasped by a young child, as can the basic appreciation of the need for divine forgiveness. What more ought we require when our whole ethos is to be shaped by grace? Jesus displayed this grace when he brought the little children to himself precisely because their age prevented them from having anything to offer, including a sophisticated understanding.
In light of this thinking, I plan to do the Lord’s Supper with my youth once a year. I’ll notify both the youth and their parents, and give public (and if required, private) explanations so as to help people prepare. My hope is that celebrating the Lord’s Supper will comfort and strengthen these youth in their faith. It may well be the very thing that drives home their commitment to Christ and their understanding of how graciously he has forgiven us our sins at incredible cost to himself. The Lord’s Supper is a gift to help us understand God’s greatest gift. I look forward to sharing it with our youth.