The Pastor-Driven Church

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Last month I wrote a blog called, Why is There a Pulpit? In it, I shared this tweet that appeared in my Twitter feed:

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going.”

In addition to asking why there is a pulpit, we need to explore the pastor centrality so prevalent in most institutional church settings. The pulpit isn’t neutral for several reasons, one being because it presents one more level of separation between the assembly and the “professional” up front. In almost every institutional church setting, everything inside the room and everything outside the room point to the pulpit. The pulpit is the focal point.

Outside the room, everything from our signage to our advertising points to the pulpit. In the neighborhoods where we live, the sandwich board signs go up on sidewalk corners every Friday, pointing to a meeting room and ultimately, a pulpit. Church websites echo the same themes. Come be with us on Sunday and hear a message from behind the pulpit that is sure to inspire and bring you back for more.

Inside the room, everything points to the pulpit. The pulpit is the nucleus of the Sunday event. All the seating points to the pulpit. Instructions emanate from the pulpit as we’re told when to stand, when to sit, when to sing, when to pray, when to say hi to people we don’t know, and when to give. It’s like a well-oiled machine, reaching its climax when the pastor takes his or her position behind the pulpit to lecture us for 30-60 minutes. This is the pinnacle of the institution’s week and it’s what all the previous week’s preparation and hype was all about. Once the lecture is complete and the Sunday event comes to a close, preparation for next Sunday’s event begins with no one asking why. Is it any wonder so many are leaving that setting and seeking to find a more authentic reality outside those four walls?

The institutional church is a pastor-driven system. As the person behind the pulpit, the pastor(s) gets to (and is expected to) set the agenda, goals, and direction of the church. As central as the pulpit is, the pastor is even more so because he or she is the living, breathing, speaking embodiment of the pulpit and the one supplying the pulpit with its personality and life. Is it any wonder that someone would tweet,

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going.”

I think not. At least they’re being honest and they see things as they really are. We’ve taken a word (pastor) that appears one time in the New Testament (Ephesians 4) and institutionalized it. We’ve turned that person into a religious celebrity and handed them power and control inside an environment where power and control over others should not exist. Jesus wasn’t joking when he said, “It shall not be so among you.”

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going”  isn’t a banner to proudly wave or an expression of some great accomplishment. It’s a symptom of something gone terribly wrong in the assembly that needs to be talked about honestly and openly. For those with their finger on the pulse of the ekklesia, it’s one more obstacle to living out the one another’s of the New Testament and it has a choke hold on every believer functioning as a priest because it brings with it, an unbiblical us and them, clergy/laity separation that creates and sustains an illusion and facade of top-down authority where no top-down authority really exists. The pastor-driven model is not neutral and is a poor substitute for genuine community.

At the time of this writing, my Ekklesia website is still in its infancy, but there is already plenty of material here to interact with. You may be interested in reading my Rethinking Church series. At the time of this writing, parts 1-3 are finished and parts 4-5 are pending.



Why Is There a Pulpit?

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going.”

That’s a tweet that recently appeared in my twitter feed. I cringed when I saw it. But then I thought, it’s true. Sad, but oh so true. Needless to say, it got my mind going about pulpits and power, honorific titles and top-down authority, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. It doesn’t take much to get me going, does it? I hear endless debates about whether women should be allowed behind the pulpit but in each conversation I hear, the most obvious question is missing: Why is anyone scrambling to get behind the pulpit and why is there a pulpit in the first place?

Nothing kills the original intent of the gathered assembly quicker than a pulpit. Nothing separates the assembly into us and them quicker or more effectively than a pulpit. Nothing says “keep your distance, I’m the trained professional Christian and you need to hear what I have to say” more effectively than the pulpit. Add to that, the raised platform and the priesthood of all believers vanishes and is replaced by the priesthood of one or a select few. Add the pulpit into the mix and active participation of the entire assembly turns into a lecture given to passive spectators by one who is assumed to be in control. This model has come to us via church history by those in supposed positions of power or control who perpetuate power and control by perpetuating power and control. It’s foreign to the New Testament and harmful to the ekklesia. The pulpit is not passive.

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going” is an unfortunate reality in modern institutional church settings. In a community where Jesus said that kind of power and control wasn’t to exist, we encourage and perpetuate it. Whatever happened to the Holy Spirit leading the assembly? Whatever happened to Jesus being Lord of his ekklesia? Whatever happened to the priesthood of all believers instead of a select few? Tell me again, why is there a pulpit?

“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie–just as it has taught you, abide in him.” 1 John 2:27


Photo Credit: Alex Gorham

Preach the Word?

Paul instructed Timothy to “Preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2). In the institutional church model, this is usually assumed to mean expository, verse-by-verse teaching through the Bible, or some variant of expository preaching. But is that what Paul meant? Let’s back up the cart for a minute and take a second look.

Was Timothy a Pastor?

This is an important question to ask as we begin to broach this subject for a couple of reasons. 1) Pastors have become central in most modern church settings. They are the “preachers” in the institutional church and as such, they carry the burden of “preaching the word.” It continues to amaze me how we’ve taken a word (pastor) that appears once in the New Testament (apart from obvious references to Jesus) and institutionalized it. We’ve made Pastors the central figure of our institutional churches without questioning why. We’re told the pastor preaches and our job is to hear and obey. It’s almost like we don’t need Jesus because the pastor is center now. 2) Because it’s assumed Timothy was one of those Pastors, we call the letters bearing his name, along with the letter to Titus “pastoral epistles.” We view them as pastoring handbooks and manuals for doing church.

But there is nothing in the New Testament that would lead us to conclude Timothy was a pastor. Nothing. Tradition has given us that idea, not scripture. Top-heavy church tradition steeped in man-made top-down authority perpetuates that idea. It’s not in scripture. Think about it. If those with supposed authority want to keep that authority (and most do), what better way than to put poor Timothy in the same category as they view themselves and then insist verse-by-verse preaching of the Bible from the pastor is “biblical” because Paul told Timothy “preach the word,” meaning preach the Bible from a podium and tell the lowly laity what they need to be doing and believing, especially as it relates to the perpetuity of the institution and the preachers tight grip on their top-down authority. That’s what I did and what I thought was right, because I was trained to think it was right. I acknowledge there are exceptions but I’m being candid to make my point.

Preach The Word?

What did Paul mean when he told Timothy, one of his co-workers in the gospel, to preach the word? It couldn’t have meant Continue reading