Pulpit, Podium, Music Stand or Bistro Table

When you enter a church for worship, what piece of furniture do you expect to find on the elevated platform?  What you expect to find often speaks to what you believe about the importance and role of the preaching and teaching ministries in the local church.

When I say platform furniture, I am speaking of the wooden, metal, or Plexiglas structure that the pastor/teacher uses during the message.  I am talking about the pulpit, podium, lectern, or other make shift device that they stand behind.  Some call it the sacred desk; others refer to it as the hunk of wood that will never go away.

These furniture pieces have changed dramatically in the last 20 years.  These days you basically have eight options to choose from.

pulpit potters house

The Potter’s House Pulpit. Dallas, TX

1. The Wooden Pulpit.  The wooden pulpit can be natural, stained or painted wood.  It is usually equipped with a hidden storage space, sometimes a clock, maybe even a lamp.

The wooden pulpit establishes a high view of preaching authority.  Since the Reformation, wooden pulpits have been placed front and center to project the importance of the preaching/teaching moment in the worship service.  In predominately African-American churches, pulpit are becoming larger and more elaborate.

2.  The Plexiglas Pulpit.  plexiglas pulpitFor those who wanted to move away from the behemoth wooden pulpit, the Plexiglas pulpit became the preferred choice.  It was lighter, easier to move, and allowed for the church logo to be etched in the front, creating a branding opportunity.

The Plexiglas pulpit is see-through, breaking down some of the distance between the pew and the pulpit.  For the first time in years, you could see the pastor’s legs while they preached.  It was meant to make the pastor more tangible, more human, more accessible.

3.  The Cellphone Tower.  A new addition to modern pulpit design is what a dear friend of mine calls “The Cellphone Tower.”  This pulpit is portable, modern, and gives the appearance of being industrial.  It basically a podium made of piping or stage rigging.

cellphone towerBoth the Plexiglas Pulpit and the Cellphone Tower communicate something different than the Wooden Pulpit. They communicate innovation and an appeal to close the gap between the preacher and the pew.  Most pastors bemoan the large, wooden pulpit and tend to move out from behind it while they preach.  They believe coming out from behind the pulpit make a closer connection with their hearers.  These newer designed pulpits attempt to do the same thing.

4. The Music Stand.  The thought behind this piece of furniture is ease and utility.  The music stand is already on stage, nearly invisible and projects that the sermon/message is more about the communicator than anything else.

Consider the musician or soloist who uses the music stand for their sheet music – no one notices the stand, they focus on the artist.  The same thought is at work when the pastor preaches with a music stand – focus on the message, not the furniture.

5.  The iPad Pulpit.  ipad pulpitEven newer than the cellphone tower, the iPad Pulpit has entered the church marketplace as more and more pastors toss out the paper notes and go fully digital.  This pulpit looks sleek, modern, and like a control panel on the USS Enterprise.

As with the music stand, the iPad Pulpit places more focus on the communicator than the furniture piece itself.  It can be moved to and from the platform with ease, making transitions seamless, perfect when the stage hand has to place stage props or move band instruments.

For younger generations, the idea of packing a leather-bound Bible to church and scribbling out notes with pen and paper may seem antiquated.  Everything is digital these days.  Open your Bible app, use Notes to keep ideas, Tweet good ideas.  If the hearers in the pew are going digital, maybe the pastor should as well.

bistro table6. The Bistro Table.  In the world of conversation and dialogue, a new pulpit concept has emerged.  Enter the Bistro Table.  The bistro table says to the hearers, “Welcome. Pull up a chair.  Let’s chat.  No judgment.  No tradition.  Just conversation.” 

Bistro tables are present in your local restaurant or sports bar, why not at church.  They are cheap, sleek, and very easy to move. They are high enough to hold your notes and Bible with without problems seeing what you’ve written down.

As with the music stand and iPad pulpit, the view of the preacher/teachers is more casual and laid back.  No suit and tie.  No formal robes and vestments.  We are here to worship God and to be in community together.  There is no better way to communicate community than to preach with a restaurant table.

7.  The High Chair and Monitor.  Tossing aside the podium, lectern, stand or table, the high chair and flat panel monitor are growing in popularity.  Probably made most famous by Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church, this removes the pulpit furniture altogether and embraces a communicator-teacher-presenter effect.

The pastor/teacher interacts with the stage props, the audience, and the monitor all in real time.  There are no notes, no Bible, no manuscript. The message is memorized and rehearsed. The sermon is a talk.  The pastor is the presenter.  This is conference style communication. There probably isn’t much of an invitation or call to publicly repent, but that is not the design of the service.

Andy Stanley

8.  Nothing at all.  Consider the apostles, the disciples, or Jesus himself who preached to thousands with no platform furniture at all.  No pulpit.  No cellphone tower.  No monitor.  The founders of our faith preached on hillsides, from fishing boats, seating in synagogues and in open public squares.  They preached without notes, without furniture, without iPads, yet they preached with passion, vitality, and full of God’s spirit.

All in all, whatever platform furniture piece you use, remember these items are not essential, nor are they sinful.  They are tools to use.

Simply put: don’t let platform furniture become a sacred idol.  We can preach the Gospel with or without them and be perfectly biblical and Spirit-led.

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How to Get More Out of the Preached Word of God

sermon preaching

Christian believers sitting in church hear a lot of sermons.  Sermons preached from the Old and New Testaments.  Sermons preached through exposition and sermons preached on topics.  Special sermons for holidays, weddings, ordinations, and during revival meetings.

My personal conviction is that growing believers in Christ should also be ingesting the Word through personal Bible study, online videos, podcasts, CDs, books, or from radio broadcasts.  All maturing believers want to grow in the Word of God and the teaching/preaching ministry is one of the primary spiritual disciplines where this growth takes place.

Yet many believers view preaching as an observational act.  They take the posture of politely and respectfully listening, but not doing much of anything else.  They would all agree that they are there to learn and be challenged in the Word, but in actuality, they are very inactive in the learning process, very passive in the spiritual discipline, and very unengaged while the preacher is preaching.

They leave saying, “I really didn’t get much out of that message.”  While it might be true, it could be avoided.

So how can maturing Christ-followers get more out of the preached Word of God?  How can those in the pews become more intentionally involved, feasting upon the spoken Word, engaging the message actively rather than passively?

Here are some ideas on what you can do to get more out of the sermon?  (These are not new or highly innovative, however, I promise they will help.)

1. Read the passage ahead of time.  Your pastor may send out a weekly email or post something on social media with the sermon text, look it up and read it.  Or when you arrive, find sermon text in the bulletin and read it.  If you have to email your pastor and ask for a preaching plan with sermon texts for the whole month.

Do whatever it takes to get that passage in your mind before the service starts.  If you do, you will notice the worship songs point to the key themes of the passage, maybe even the whole direction of the service.  Plus when the pastor reads the text in the sermon, it will be at least your second time going through it.  The flow, the words, the context will make much more sense to you when you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

2.  Pray before the preaching time starts.  Our church has an offertory time before the sermon, which is usually just the piano playing.  I spend this time to specifically ask the Holy Spirit of God to speak to my heart during the message.

Try to carve out a moment of spiritual space where you directly, humbly, ask God Almighty to speak to your heart.  We call that the “prayer of illumination.”  To be certain, God always desires to speak to His people, but we must tune our hearts and spiritual ears toward Him to hear as He speaks.

3. Open your own Bible and study along.  This seems like a no-brainer, but I am seeing less and less people bring their Bibles to church.  Even less open them during the sermon and keep them open the whole time – start to finish.

This has to be the most passive, unengaged Christian in the pew (and probably the most spiritually immature).  If you come to hear the preached Word of God and leave your Bible at home, you are telling God His Word is not valuable enough to carry a few steps to the car and into the building.

You can’t drive your car without the keys.  You don’t go to the grocery without your wallet.  You don’t go to preaching without your Bible. God’s Word is what is inspired and authoritative, not the preacher and his sermon.  Open it.  Use it.  Engage with it.  Underline, circle, mark it up.  It makes all the difference in the world.

4. Take notes during the message.  Taking notes during the sermon has been around for years, but now with all the technology and visual support, I am seeing less and less people actually bring a journal with them to worship.  They are leaning on sermon notes, bulletin inserts, and the Scripture being shown on-screen.  As a preacher, I provide all those support tools, but as a hearer, I take notes in a journal.

I journal during the sermon because in writing my own thoughts, my own understandings, my own questions, I hear the voice of God more clearly.  I hear what God is saying directly to me, which might be very different than what the preacher is saying to others.

Journaling has other benefits as well.  Later, I can go back and reflect on what God was saying to me months, maybe even years ago.  Secondly, I stay far more engaged if I am listening, writing, reflecting, and interacting with the message.  The more active I become, the less passive I am.

5. Finally, make an effort to hear the Spirit of God.  Pray before the sermon.  Pray while the sermon is being preached.  Pray when the sermon is finished.  You do your part as a growing believer in Christ to hear, receive, reflect and act upon the message God has sent to you through His Word.

Preaching may seem like a monologue, where one person is speaking and everyone else is listening, but it is not.  Preaching is a dialogue.  God is speaking through a vessel and we, His people, are listening, questioning, answering, and turning over God’s Word in our mind actively and rigorously.  You might not raise your hand and ask a question right in the middle of the sermon, but trust me, it’s a two-way street.

God always speaks.  The real question is: will you be ready to hear what He says?