Every Sunday, 52 each year, somewhere in the country there is a challenge occurring between two sports team; auto racing teams, golf matches, track and field teams, etc. Crowds fill stands to witness these events, paying large sums of money to attend. Many of these are televised and broadcast on the radio; sponsors spend millions to support these events were challenges are occurring and winners are idolized. Americans love challenges!
I believe, after participating in it for over 50 years, there is a challenge occurring in the local congregations across the nation. It is the challenge between the pulpit and pew There is an ongoing dynamic week after week which is rarely, if ever, recognized by those participating in the challenge: the preacher in the pulpit and Christians in the pews.
WHAT THE PULPIT IS TRYING TO DO
Speaking on behalf of the pulpit I believe the preacher is trying to do one or more of the following things in his sermon, which may create a clash with those in the pews:
- The pulpit is trying to prayerfully, honestly, and in love handle the word of God properly—“Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:1-6; Ephesians 4:15).
- The pulpit is trying to instruct and educate those in the pews.
- The pulpit is trying to gain acceptance of God’s word by those in the pews (James 1:22-26).
- The pulpit is trying to change minds—repentance—by those who need to do so in the pews (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 17:26).
- The pulpit is trying to convince the pews to obey God’s will (Hebrews 5:8, 9).
- The pulpit is trying to plant the word in good and honest hearts (Luke 8:11-15).
- The pulpit is trying to help the pew think about personal needs (Lamentations 3:40).
- The pulpit is trying to provoke the pews to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).
- The pulpit is trying to convey to the pew how much God loves everyone (John 3:16).
- The pulpit is trying to encourage the pew to do one intentional thing with the message.
- The pulpit is trying to “raise the dead” in 20 to 30 minutes.
- The pulpit is handicapped by a monologue instead of a dialogue.
WHAT THE PEW IS TRYING TO DO
Turning our attention to the pew, where, I, too, have spent considerable time over the years listening to the pulpit, here are some of the positive and negative things the pew is trying to do:
- The pew should be trying to not only hear but to really LISTEN to God’s word (Psalm 119:11; Romans 10:17). But in reality, many do not really listen
- The pew should be trying to exercise preventive measures to keep Satan from stealing the world out of their hearts (Luke 8:12). But in reality, many aren’t proactive in preventing the theft of God’s word.
- The pew should be listening with an open mind to what God’s word is saying, but many do not have open minds (2 Corinthians 3:13-15).
- The pew should be trying to get and stay on, the same page the pulpit is on. This refers to agreement, acceptance, and action.
- The pew, in many cases, doesn’t want to hear a specific truth which is being presented n in the pulpit. Why? Because of personal guilt
- Many in the pews have their personal agendas, traditions, and opinions which they are not willing to explore, adjust, or change.
- There are those in the pews which are thinking that some other member in the congregations needs to do what the preacher is saying; not them.
- The pew is bored with the subject and turns the pulpit off. This is an avenue Satan uses to steal the word.
- The pew hasn’t developed a thirst or hunger for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).
- The pew doesn’t realize God is trying to “prick their hearts” with the word (Acts 2:37).
When we place these ten attitudes and practices of the pew beside what the pulpit is trying to accomplish, it’s easy to see why and how there is a challenge every Sunday. But there is another facet related to the clash between pulpit and pew.
THE PHYSICAL ISSUES
The pulpit and pew both occupy a place in a physical structure. It is in this building both have agreed to share in the preaching event. Time has been allotted for the coming together to study God’s word in what is traditionally called “a sermon.”
The challenges faced by the pulpit and pew are influenced by factors in the physical structure. Here are some of those issues:
- The temperature may be too hot or too cold. The body responds to both; thus, taking attention away from the message. The cooling and heating system may make an excessive noise which distracts.
- The PA system may not be adjusted properly for the message to be heard in every area of the assembly. A buzzing may distract hearers.
- The pews (seating) may be very uncomfortable, thus causing the attention span to be diverted for the message to bodily discomfort.
- The lighting may be distracting. The light over the pulpit may be too bright, or too dim as to cast a shadow over the preacher.
- A touchy distraction is the playing with children by members in the audience; not so much by parents as by those close to the child, i.e. waving, smiling, words, etc.
- The of power point may distract for the message “pricking the heart.” The event becomes a “reading exercise” by both the pulpit and pew.
- Clock watching, both on the back wall, wrist, and electronic devices.
- And oh yes, the checking emails, voicemails, texting, etc. during the preaching event.
- There are those who are listening for the signal in the message that the conclusion and end are near and they leave the assembly. Why? Guess!
- Physically there is no opening of the Bible or taking notes. Thus, major tools for learning aren’t used.
PREPARING TO FACE AND OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES
The Sunday challenge between pulpit and pew must not be taken lightly. We must keep in mind that Satan, “as a roaring lion,” (1 Peter 5:8) is seeking to devour and steal the word out of hearts (Luke 8:12), by attending every preaching event and creating clashes between the pulpit and pew.
Now that we are in the aware zone relative to the challenge between the pulpit and pew, we can do something intentionally about reducing it as much as possible. Here are a few suggestions:
- Study this lesson until you are aware and convinced that a conflict/challenge exists.
- Depending on which side of the conflict you are on—pulpit or pew—evaluate your role, plus or minus, and how you will intentionally correct it.
- As you sit in the pew remember these commands by Jesus:
- “Take heed HOW you hear”
- “Take heed WHAT you hear”
- As you stand in the pulpit remember these words by Paul:
- “Speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
- “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1, 4).
- Both the pulpit and pew need to remember the goal is to obey and do God’s will:
- “But be doers of God’s word and not just hearers only” (James 1:22, 23).
- “He’s the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:8, 9).
- A positive way to eliminate the challenge which may exist between the pulpit and pew is to have a class or study group where you study, discuss, and apply the message.
- Both pulpit and pew need to prepare their minds with prayer, attitude adjustment, and commitment to eliminate the challenge (Cf. Ezra 7:10).
Let’s think about how wonderful and powerful it is when both pulpit and pew are both on the same page. Borrowing from David, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).How beautiful it is when both pulpit and pew are on the same pages during the Sunday assemblies.