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Vanishing Pulpits

June 15, 2009

Alistair Begg tells a story about one of his first conference engagements overseas. During the conference, he shared the platform with an older gentlemen who evidently didn’t like pulpits. Whenever this veteran pastor would begin his sermon, the first thing he would do was remove the pulpit from the platform, so that he could ‘engage’  more fully with his audience. But when Alistair followed on in the next session, the young Scot would re-install the pulpit at center stage, emphasizing the primacy of the bible and the preacher’s dependence on it. On and on the dual went.  The older man would remove the pulpit, Begg would reinstall it. Remove, re-install. Remove, reinstall.

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Well, some years on since Begg’s battle, it seems as though the ‘removalists’ are winning the war! The phenomenon of downsizing, or even disposing of the pulpit, is growing in the USA (see “O Pulpit, Where Art Thou?”) , and by my observation, building momentum here too.

Of course, pulpits aren’t necessarily mandated by the bible (though Ezra had a pretty good one!).  Nonetheless, I do have a few questions that evidence ‘uneasy-feeling’ at the pulpit’s swift demise:

  • if the pulpit is disposed of, what will be the new focal point of the church meeting room, and what will it convey about what we now prioritize in terms of worship? (eg. a sizable space for the worship band = music)
  • unless physically holding his bible, how will the preacher preach from one?
  • …and what will it convey to the congregation if, to all appearances, the preacher no longer needs one?
  • will the bible remain central if the pulpit isn’t?
  • and why are some Christians so evidently eager to ‘be rid’ of pulpits anyway?

By the way, the church I’m going to pastor has a pulpit…

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13 comments

  1. My apologies if this comes off as fisking. Such was not the intent. You did pose specific questions.

    what will be the new focal point of the church meeting room

    I dunno, maybe God.

    unless physically holding his bible, how will the preacher preach from one?

    There are other devices that can be used for holding a Bible and/or notes that are not to clergy/laity dividing.

    what will it convey to the congregation if, to all appearances, the preacher no longer needs one?

    Assuming that “one” refers to a Bible, this is a strawman.

    will the bible remain central if the pulpit isn’t?

    This assumes that the Bible is central when the pulpit is. A shaky starting point, at best.

    why are some Christians so evidently eager to ‘be rid’ of pulpits anyway?

    Can’t speak for other Christians, but this one is very sick of the clergy/laity division that happens in many denominations of Christendom (and not just the more liturgical ones). While the pulpit is not, in and of itself, such a divider, it is often regarded/wieled as such.


  2. Colin, very much enjoyed filling that future pulpit of yours yesterday at Ballymoney. Very sweet, welcoming people who are hungry for God’s Word and great encouragers! You have a wonderful flock-to-be.


  3. is this a false dichotomy? my pastor preaches withou a pulpit but always has his bible in hand and frequently turns to it. also not using any notes. actually not having the pulpit has the effect og increasing the centrality of the bible bc the congregation can see it in his hands.


  4. Great read. Very intriguing thoughts to ponder. I think if one EQUATES the pulpit with the centrality of the Bible, then the pulpit must stay. But this isn’t a necessity in my opinion.

    I think it’s more important thtat the Bible is visible than the pulpit. To me, the pulpit makes the statement that “preaching” is central, not necessarily that the Bible is central.

    If we must use the pulpit, let’s make sure that it’s clear that the Bible is central. If we don’t… well… let’s make sure it’s clear that the Bible is central!

    Much love in Christ.
    ~B.


  5. Preachers are like presidents. People are happiest when they think you’re their buddy rather than speaking from a place of authority.

    I want to be friends with my people. Good friends. But I don’t want Sunday morning to feel like a living room chat.


  6. Good post, Colin. I don’t think the ‘what replaces the pulpit’ question is worthy of a quick dismissal, at all. It is all too often the case that pulpits make way for space for worship bands, and lead singers, and so forth. I don’t believe that such things are neccessary, of course, but where they exist, they can be somewhere other than the front.

    The best thing in a big pulpit? A big bible. The bigger, the better. The centrality of the word, and the word preached, is a huge statement in our culture today.


  7. Interesting post. Pulpit to the side, Lord’s table front and center!


  8. [...] Feeling a little uneasy due to the lack of pulpits, Unashamed Workman asks five questions as it discusses vanishing pulpits: [...]


  9. As a boy I knew that when the minister ascended the steps of the pulpit, something important and special was about to happen. I knew I should listen, that this was more than a wee bit of advice for life from a knowledgeable or successful man.

    I never thought my minister was in any way aloof- the thought never crossed my young mind- he didn’t spend his life in the pulpit. He didn’t take it to coffee mornings or Tesco or the five-aside pitch when he played football with us. He only stood in it to open the bible and preach God’s Word. I’m thankful for all that communicated to me.

    I know pulpits are not the be-all and end-all, but I do worry that they are becoming unfashionable primarily because of our culture’s absolute rejection of any authority.


  10. After Mattdabs comment I’m reminded of St. Paul’s in Cheltenham (UK). (Built by Dean Close if I remember.) Anyway the pulpit was originally built on tracks so that it could be wheeled into the centre for the sermon and wheeled back again to the side for Communion – word and sacrament both central. :-)

    Those Anglicans … they always manage to find a via media!

    As for pulpits – what about Charlotte Chapel Colin? What does the architecture say when the Bible is about 10 feet below the pulpit?


  11. I wonder how many pastors/preachers simply couldn’t cope without a pulpit to stand behind?

    As far as I am aware, the only purpose it should serve is for the preacher to place his notes and bible somewhere to save him holding them.

    My personal conclusion – a speaker can do what he likes, whatever he feels best aids communication of the message. But to say that removing the pulpit is tantamount to removing the centrality of the bible in preaching is perhaps going a bit too far.


  12. Interesting discussion brother. I do believe that there are pro’s and con’s to this argument. Our Lord never had a pulpit, Paul probably did and didn’t depending where he was, perhaps the school of Tryannus would have had a lectern, someone can enlighten me.

    I think the issues we are facing in the Reformed Baptist world as well as wider conservative evangelicalism are what is of the essence of our faith and what is circumstanstial and borne out of traditions that whilst not all bad, are not authoritative either.

    Having been in N.Ireland as a pastor for 11.5 years and now having been in California 6 years and aware of what is happening over here in the US circles these are issues that need to be thought through but not divided over in many regards. I love my pulpit and have no intention of parting with it, yet its design and size etc are surely preference and taste. I do sometimes wonder if it is not better for the people to see the whole man in the act of preaching and not merely his head, hands and chest, but as long as Christ is being preached and exalted and the Spirit of God is upon him, whether he is behind a pulpit is surely a secondary issue, although the symbolism is not irrelevant.

    My wife was baptised in Ballymoney Baptist Church in 1991 and we wish you every blessing in your new charge, I like you am a fellow Scot.


    • Well, Robert, fancy meeting you here bro. I agree with what you are saying here. As preachers we are to open up and explain the Word of God. Whether we have a pulpit or not, whether the pulpit is large or small is irrelevant. Once we place an emphasis on ‘the pulpit’ we have lost the plot. In the church where I minister, I use a pulpit simply as a tool to rest my notes and my Bible.

      Perhaps another aspect to this debate should be the position of the pulpit [if you use one] in the church. Some are indeed vanishing pulpits because they are so far away from the congregation!!



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