Worship at church this past Sunday found me in a bit of a crisis. I do not know why it took this long for it to hit me, but it did.
Countless times since I set foot on the dark continent, I have had those moments that stretch me, where life seems to no longer fit into its nice little boxes. This past Sunday it happened again.
Here is why:
It is a widely known fact that a church’s style can be identified by simply looking at its pulpit. The entire summation of the evangelical movement as it sprang out of the Reformation has been distilled, with very few exceptions, into five distinct pulpit types.
They are as follows:
The ginormous wooden pulpit
Being Baptist, this is the one with which I am, admittedly, most familiar. This monstrous structure crowns the furthest outreaches of the stage, almost in enemy territory. However, it provides the pastor with an excellent vantage point from which to deliver his sermon. Able to withstand an ample beating, a fact proven by the preacher’s insistence on pounding it with his fist, this pulpit provides sufficient protection.
Deluxe models are outfitted with wings on both sides which effectively triple the holding capacity and allow the pastor to lean forward with arms on either side for sermon impact. These are often accompanied by organ pipes that resemble some form of artillery.
Tag-team, offset pulpits
With the rise of the neo-liturgical movement, this pulpit configuration has found a new life. Simply put, this church is older than yours. And while these pulpits may not be as big as the Baptist bulwark mentioned above, they make up for it in number. These two pulpits stand amongst the rainbow tints of stained glass as silent sentinels, reminding us that “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Elegantly carved from floor to ceiling, yet not iconoclastic mind you, these churches may say, “sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria.” But never, “sola unus pulpit.”
If you do actually go to one of these churches, chances are, its founder shook John Calvin’s hand at some point. And you may want to consider adding an “s” to TULIP for “stylish.”
The one-handed, movable pulpit
This is the same church where the pastor does not wear a tie. As the worship band is tearing down after their power praise, this podium floats out to the center in the hands of the pastor. Band equipment and overgrown floral arrangements are no match for this man. In one fluid motion, he has managed to carry his podium, flip on his wireless mic, and begin to roll up his sleeves. He is ready for business.
Chosen to be inconspicuous, this pulpit does not distract from the themed stage scenery or this week’s video clip for the ongoing sermon series. (Podcasts available on the website.)
A glass podium
I have a hard time calling this one a pulpit. In my mind, this thing belongs on a stage at the convention center, not in a church. Then again, I grew up in a church with the mega-pulpit. But I digress.
In theory, this one is similar to the micro pulpit mentioned above, but it has a certain pizzaz that its predecessor lacks. These come in all shapes and sizes and the temptation to engrave them with some frosted Christian emblem (such as a cross, dove, or the Church’s new logo) is too much for many. Subtle and see-through, these pulpits say classy, but they do it in a whisper.
The only thing on stage that is prettier than the podium is the man behind it. And he has to be… he has nowhere to hide. This pastor is Mr. Confident and his pulpit says, “Don’t look at me… look at him.”
No pulpit at all
Rather avant-garde, many churches have chosen to go sans pulpit. Imagine with me if you will. As the Hands for Jesus drama group finishes their rendition of “I Can Only Imagine,” the stage lighting is brought low. After the brief dramatic pause, this pastor appears from backstage at a half walk/jog to denote his enthusiasm and excitement for the proclamation of God’s Word. Let us hope he has his Bible memorized, because he certainly has no place to set it.
Dressed to the nines, this guy is the only decoration the stage needs. The next 23 minutes are full of catchy lines (feel free to twitter them) and great smiles.
Now, my crisis came when I realized our church was nowhere near any of these categories. Instead of a stage, we have a tiny concrete building, and instead of a pulpit, we have a prayer mat. The only instruments in our church are our hands, and the service is as much about the prayers of the congregation as it is the sermon provided by the speaker. Yet, every Sunday, we meet with God in that little building, sitting on our mats. God is worshipped by the clapping of our hands and the songs from our hearts, despite the lack of a sound system. God’s Word is proclaimed and His name is exalted.
I guess you simply can not judge a church by its pulpit…
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