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Why You Should Preach Without a Pulpit

Dr. Steve Estep
Senior Pastor, Clarksville Grace Church of the Nazarene
NTS Adjunct Professor of Preaching

Oak. Walnut. Plexiglass. Large and imposing. Ornate. Small and simple. They come in all shapes and sizes… pulpits.  While I do believe there are some excellent communicative reasons for getting rid of the pulpit, that is not exactly what this blog is about.

What I am advocating is an intentional foray into what is unfamiliar territory for too many preachers – a preaching context outside the sanctuary. My suspicion is that the majority of us who have been called to proclaim the Word see that call being fulfilled solely in the confines of the church. Oh, we may have an occasional sermon at a funeral home, an obligatory annual visit to a rescue mission, or our turn with a rotation at the nursing home, but that’s about it. Predictable. Familiar audiences. People who understand churchspeak. 

Varying our audiences can sharpen dulled edges, help us to hone our skills at creative communication. It can help us use language and images that connect where people are really living. It can get us out into a much wider world among people who need to hear the Good News we have to share but won’t come to the church to hear it. I’m not talking about obnoxious megaphones and an oversized KJV on a street corner, calling everyone to turn or burn.  But there are opportunities for us preachers to proclaim the Gospel in contexts beyond the sanctuary that are good for us, and good for others - if we will take the initiative to find them.

My friend Kim Smith pastors across town. Several months ago he began an innovative preaching ministry called “Cardio Church.” The Clarksville Athletic Club has a cardio room with 24 machines and a huge screen, about ½ the size of what you’d find in a movie theater.  Twice a month after preaching two services at Clarksville 1st, Kim grabs lunch, changes clothes, and heads to the club not to work out, but to proclaim the Gospel to his 24-member cardio congregation. He preaches – while they are exercising! The context forces Kim to make no assumptions and to speak in every day language and images. It comes as no surprise that he doesn’t use a pulpit.

The last few years I’ve had the privilege of serving as the team chaplain for a local high school football team. Thursday chapels when the game is away, Friday chapels when the game is at home. We meet in the head coach’s classroom and I’m up after they get their final look at game film on the opposing team. Some of the Hawks players go to church. Many of them don’t. Absolutely nothing can be assumed as far as prior Biblical knowledge because for many of these young men it doesn’t exist. (Like it or not, the same is true of many of those who show up in our churches on Sunday.) I find that the discipline of eliminating assumptions makes for clearer communication. Not dumbed-down communication, but an increased level of clarity and earthiness that has to happen if the Word is going to get heard in that context. My claim is that preaching to high school football players helps me preach better on Sunday.  I think Kim would tell you the same thing about preaching at Cardio Church where a pulpit is out of place, but the Message is always fitting. You may not want to eliminate that precious piece of furniture that adorns your platform, but I’d love to see every preacher find a place to proclaim the Good News…without a pulpit.

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