Pews, Pulpits, Pastors, Preaching and other things that can get in the way…

I have just come off the end of an incredibly busy time in my schedule and, as a result, have not been able to write much during that time. Having said that, I am about to begin work on an article that covers a subject which I believe is close to God’s heart at this time. To kind of "set you up" for that, please read the following article written by Dan Kimball. It is insightful yet plays right into the very thing God is beginning to make clear to those of us who are exploring what He is truly saying about His church.

Pews, Pulpits, Pastors, Preaching and other things that can get in the way…

A theme has been developing in my mind and heart as I look and think about what we have created as "church" through time. Not the theological definition of the "church" being the people, but what we have structurally done and practice in most of our churches and the fruit of what it all produces.

What "fruit" do our churches produce?

My growing theory of most churches is that when churches become so inwardly focused, we can produce the fruit of knowledgeable but usually negative and critical people always pointing out the wrongs in everything. Or when we become so outwardly focused, we can become shallow theologically and produce Christians who barely know the Bible. Or when we become so felt-needs and methodology focused , we can produce consumer Christians who end up depending on which church best meets their needs which produces a bigger and better cycle for the church leaders to deal with. All of these things can produce a people who aren’t seeing themselves as missional Christians being the church throughout the week – but people who have faulty (in my opinion) definitions of church and then they "go to church" for meeting the faulty expectations we have set up for them to define "church" by.

I fully know it is the Spirit of God who transforms people, but I believe ultimately what we in leadership do in our churches set the "greenhouse" so to speak for what types of people the church grows and becomes. Do we see Galatians 5 fruit in people? Do we see missional people with hearts broken for those who don’t know Jesus? Do we see people caring about their neighbor, the poor and sick?

What we do as leaders produces different types of church cultures which produces different kinds of people and expectations

My theory is that several factors are key in what we produce that I would like to develop in future postings and ask for feedback if you agree or not. Again, I know it is the Spirit who transforms and that sin may block growth in people. But there are things we do and don’t even question because we have been doing them a long time – which I believe can hinder "church" from really being "church" biblically and we produce people who "go to church" rather than "be the church". These things include (in Rick Warren fashion using all "P’s"):

PewsPews – how seating subtly shapes the definition of "community" and worship. How we sit when we gather as a church does change the way we function. I have done some research already on the history of pews and some of my thoughts on them here and here. But I have found more research on church architecture throughout history which convinces me all the more how pews and seating do chang how we worship weekly as churches which in turn shapes how people view and think of "worship". The seating does reflect and change what we can do in a worship meeting. I will share more, but I read a quote in the Oxford History of Christian Worship which shared how worship drastically changed when pews were brought in. One quote said:

"For a thousand years and more, they had been on their feet; now their attention was fixed in a single direction. The nave [the main place where seats and pews now are] which had been entirely movement space, now was mostly seating with movement limited to the aisles. Such acts of prostration [praying laying or bowing down] were no longer feasible".

We moved from the intimacy of a home, to standing and still seeing each other and relating to one another and able to bow down and pray or even lay flat and pray prostrate, to sitting in seats all looking at the front. Most of our church architecture today was either adapted from the Roman Basilica (the law court) which is the way most long rectangular church buildings with pews and raised stage and pulpit are – or the 17th Century Theater as churches adopted seating and layout like contemporary theaters.

Pulpits – There were no such things as "pulpits" in the early church or first in the 300 years of the church. They were primarily adapted from Greek and Roman forms of communicating and at first people sat to speak and standing to "preach" developed later. Pulpits became a focal point and raised high primarily after the Reformation. They create a definite distinction between the people in the seats and the person who gets behind the pulpit.

Pastors – I am a "pastor", so I am not suggesting we don’t use that word – but the biblical defintion was a gift of "shepherding" – not a title tagged limited mainly to a paid person who went to seminary. In the early church it was all small house churches and there were the "shepherds" (pastors) who were leading and caring for the people. So there is leadership needed, but not as a formal title given only to paid professionals, which was a spiritual gift. When someone in any church over 75 or so people call the person who gets up front "pastor", it becomes different than the "shepherds" who knew all their "sheep" by name etc., which was possible to do in smaller house church settings. But as we use the now use the title "pastor" for the person who gets up and teaches – it is not the way it was in the New Testament. Again, I am a "pastor", but I am wondering if how we title ourselves like this can be detrimental to people not understanding there are also many of them who are "pastors" , who have that gift. We seem to only use it for the paid professionals (we only do that in our church currently, because of the current cultural defining of the word). But as we look at the separation of "clergy" and the people, we can force more and more barriers between them. Even robes and how pastors may dress differently sets up a culture of having people feel more and more less likely to understand biblically they can be "pastoring" people themselves. Reading the history of why clergy wears robes or suits is fascinating and it all stemmed from cultural issues we aren’t facing today. But many never have changed the dress that was once developed for reasons of specific time period and made sense then, but today may even be counter-productive to the reason they were word originally. I am not against robes or suits, depending on the context and tradition. But I wonder when what we wear causes people to think less of themselves and what they could grow into and their roles in a church.

Preaching –  when you do a word study on "preaching" and how it was used in the New Testament, it really ends up being more evangelistic for what "preaching" was defined at then. We absolutely need "teaching" which seems to be different than "preaching" in the Bible. But even having people see someone do all the homework and study and then present in a format that was developed more by Aristotle, Plato, the Greek and Roman orators along with John Calvin and the Reformers rather than what we know of what they did in the early church. I believe in teaching every Sunday and in our church we teach for 30-40 minutes each week. But if we see "preaching" as the way people are primarily "fed" each week, are we then limiting the growth that can occur in their lives instead of focusing on "teaching them to feed themselves" as well.

Do we create an unhealthy dependence on the "preacher", when today the Bible is available to every person (unlike at the time of the Reformation and earlier), plenty of study helps, Bible language programs to do word studies, commentaries etc. I believe strongly we need to be "teaching" in our churches by those gifted in teaching. But are we more concerned about our production of a weekly sermon than whether people learn how to feed themslves and is the system we created only fuel this? How do we teach people to feed themslves, rather than depend on the "preacher"? There is an intriguing article about this here  that I don’t agree with all the conclusions he makes (as I still believe in teaching formally in worship gatherings and there is good that comes from it), but he raises some excellent points that resonate true with me.

How we "teach" also is a major thing to consider, with various learning styles and all we do in worship usually taking on very limited forms and expressions of worship and teaching.


Dan Kimball is the author of two books, The Emerging Church and Emerging Worship; he is also the pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California.

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