Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Pulpit, the Podium, or the High-top Table?

The Evolution of the Preacher's Pulpit

As the pulpit has evolved, the preacher has been brought closer to the congregation; made to seem more informal; and made to seem more transparent. The old-school pulpit is almost laughable, with the preacher hoisted up in a cockpit 5-10 feet above the ground. This is how we always picture the great preachers of old laying the smack down on their congregation with sermons titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

The second generation pulpit is reminiscent of the typical traditional baptist church. These pulpits are more business-like, but are still usually festooned with Bible verses, flowers and religious symbols like fish, crosses, and doves. These wood pulpits are usually covered in semi-ornate carvings of vines and a catchy quotation of Jesus claiming to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This pulpit usually matches a nearby table used for communion that also has matching carvings with verses pertaining to the Last Supper: "Do this in remembrance of me."

The third generation of the pulpit attempts to make a name change as well as a change in appearance. On 60 Minutes recently, Joel Osteen gave a tour of Lakewood Church. The reporter asked him, almost rhetorically, if this was his pulpit sitting at the center of the stage. Osteen replied, "Well, we prefer to call it a podium." Right, because that is less religious and more business-like. You could almost see the news anchor's eyes rolling out of his head. Of particular mention is the transparent, completely clear plastic podium, which Osteen didn't have. This "podium" conveys the idea of the preacher being transparent to his congregation; he has nothing to hide. Even transparent, they are usually still festooned with floral arrangements around the base.

The fourth generation of the pulpit throws out the podium altogether and replaces it with a high-top table and one chair. In many churches, this table still serves the exact same purpose of the transparent podium: the preacher can't hide behind it and he still has a place to put his stuff. This "stuff" usually includes a Bible, coffee, a water bottle, a small clock, notes, and any items that might come in handy for visual sermon illustrations. The irony of this fourth generation pulpit - the high-top table - is that some preachers are visibly uncomfortable using it for it's intended purpose. It is a table and it is meant to be sat at. This act of sitting while preaching further conveys the concept of informality between the preacher and the congregation. But, from my experience, there are quite a few preachers who are just not comfortable with it. Some of them will sit at it for a brief moment, but it is obvious that they are not comfortable sitting. And some of them will not use it as a table at all, but rather as a glorified podium, sometimes even placing the "traditional" floral arrangement around the base. There is one added bonus of the high-top table pulpit. If the pastor wants to team teach with his wife on the topic of marriage, sex, women's roles, or marital submission, all they have to do is drag out the matching chair.

The fifth generation of the pulpit throws out the table and chair and replaces them with a single, small high-top side table. Something just big enough to hold a bottle of water and a Bible. This final version of the pulpit has finally removed any possible barrier between the preacher and the congregation, leaving just enough space for the bare essentials. And the preacher doesn't have to worry over whether or not to sit, especially if they are uncomfortable sitting.

What's Next? I really have no idea. Anybody have any ideas?


david rudd said...

what's next?

lazy boy i hope...

The Dan Ward said...

That's a really interesting list / history lessons - thanks for it!

I've seen the bar stool approach, with no table at all (a water bottle on the floor next to the stool, and the bible in the preachers hand, I guess).

Maybe the next approach will be to preach using a big King Arthur round table, where the whole congregation is seated equally... but that'll probably only work with a small group (or a really big table).

Didn't Jesus sit at a table with a bunch of his followers once or twice? I seem to recall he said something about doing it in remembrance of him...

Ben said...

What's next?

I'm thinking Speedos.

Chris said...

That was really funny. Interesting post Lew. I prefer the cockpit, although I think I would have to have my spine adjusted from looking up te whole time.

What's next??? My guess is that they will just do away with the pulpit altogether... and the Bible too.

Richard said...

Teleprompters are next!

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