“Come on, little Johnny,” you hear the disgruntled and overwhelmed mom in the row above you during the worship service say, “It’s time to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood. Go ahead now so we can go home!”
Mom said what, now!? Jesus said what!? After all, isn’t that exactly what Jesus said for his disciples to do in John 6:52-59?
Okay, maybe you have never heard something that extreme or thought to say something that extreme when trying to explain communion to you kids. But how do you talk to your kids about communion? What is the meaning of this supper of the Lord and how do you make it make sense to your kids so that it’s meaningful, understandable, biblical, and formative.
First Things First
Let’s start by celebrating some wins before we try to tackle the mystery of why Mom and Dad sometimes have snack time during church! First off, your kids are in corporate worship with you which is huge! There are so many aspects of family discipleship and passing on the truth of the gospel that only come about from establishing this rhythm. The fact that you’re in this dilemma of making sure your kids know that you’re not actually drinking blood is a major win (prepackaged communion cups never sounded so good, did they!?) The second thing is that if you’re in a place of wrestling with how to help your child understand and partake in the Lord’s Supper implies that, or it at least should (more on this later), that your child has taken steps towards following Jesus and being obedient to His commands!
Caution For Kids Who Are Not Ready
One of the beautiful things about the ordinances that Jesus gave the church to practice, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is that they are the gospel made visible. They are tangible and physical realities that make this invisible gospel message visible. This is another advantage and benefit of having your kids in big church with you! It allows them to see and gives you recurring object lessons to teach and literally show the gospel to your kids in hopes of helping them to believe. Yes, this means it is a bad idea to allow your kids to consume the elements just for fun if they have not confessed their sins and proclaimed Jesus as Lord and committed to following Him. Allowing them to do something that is meaningless, which is supposed to have meaning, will only reap negative repercussions down the road.
Baptism pictures the believer identifying with Christ’s death in being immersed in the water and the resurrection power of being raised to walk in the newness of life just as Jesus rose up out of the grave (Romans 6:1-4). The Lord’s Supper gives us an opportunity as a covenant community of believers, just like the Israelites with the Passover Supper, to remember Christ’s body which was broken for us and to remember Christ’s blood which was shed and poured out to cover our sins. This memorial meal is a marker that we’re saved not just from our sin and for a future inheritance, but that we’re saved into a family.
I remember as a kid that during the special Lord’s Supper services that my church would pass these huge loaves of bread down the pew and I would tear off as big a hunk of bread as I could (and sneak back to the fellowship hall after service and snag some of the leftovers). A boy was hungry, right? Thankfully we don’t have to be faced with that dilemma and potential error anymore due to post-covid communion elements. You see, what I failed to understand then is that the bread wasn’t meant to satisfy or fill our stomachs. The bread was simply a picture of a Savior whose sacrifice filled and satisfied our souls. This is important to teach our kids: that communion isn’t a snack we get to eat. The elements don’t satisfy us or sustain us, but it is what they represent that does satisfy and sustain.
So if your child hasn’t professed faith yet, use communion to explain these realities. The Lord’s Supper is a built-in gospel conversation to have monthly with your kids in the rhythm of us gathering for worship and scattering for the mission. And part of that mission is for you, moms and dads, to share the gospel with your kids in the home. Communion is a softball we’re throwing for you to do just that! Confess your sins to your kids and practice repentance right there with them as you take the elements. Tell them that there’s nothing special about this stale wafer that we eat, but there’s extraordinary power in what it represents.
Coaching For Kids Who Are Ready
Just because your child has made a profession of faith in Jesus, that doesn’t mean they have to take communion. Just as with baptism, make sure they understand the symbolic nature and significance of the meal. A lot of times we place so much emphasis on making sure they get baptism correct that our kids are not prepared to understand the meaning and value of the Lord’s Supper. And while baptism is extremely important to get right, communion is something they will continue to practice and participate in for the rest of their believing life. So building a strong foundation of the value and importance of rightly understanding the Lord’s table is pivotal to their growth as a follower of Jesus.
We participate in communion because we are called to listen to God’s word and God says to do it in order to proclaim his death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Part of that instruction is that there ought to be a period of self-examination. How have I sinned lately? Where have I fallen short? Asking these types of questions is essential and fundamental to practicing communion correctly. So there is wisdom in potentially delaying communion, even if your child is a professed believer, if they are not at that point where they can do these things.
If you determine that they are at a point where self-examination is possible and there is evidence of genuine conversion, teach them what it is. It’s not some magical thing. The bread and cup don’t have special power, much like the baptismal waters don’t have special power. The power isn’t in the symbol, but in what the symbol represents. Teach them how it depicts the Passover meal (Exodus 12), how Jesus modeled it for his disciples (Matthew 26:17-29), and how the church, and not individual believers, are called to practice it (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
A key element of walking with Jesus is remembering. We are forgetful people. Communion is a means of grace that allows followers of Jesus to remember the price that was paid for their redemption. This is why we take it. It’s a way to tangibly help professing believers remember and celebrate the good news. You don’t take it as a means for obtaining grace, but as a reminder of being given grace.
The biggest thing to keep in mind as a parent is that you want this to be a meaningful and purposeful experience when the time is right, so be cautious about introducing it too early and making it just seem mundane and magical. You know your child better than anyone else and the decision is ultimately up to you, but parent with the end in mind in all decisions, especially in ones involving the ordinances. You want your kids to be gospel believing, Jesus following, church attending, and Lord’s Supper taking people 20 years from now. So what is the best decision and best practice now in order to ensure that those realities are true then?