Hidden messages in pulpits and pews.

Microphone in Fist

The way we do things communicates more than we realise. As Marshall MacLuhan famously said; “The medium is the message.” The methods we choose become the actual message, more than the words we say.

When we place people in rows and preach from a pulpit, we accidentally communicate these hidden messages;

  • You are consumers, not participants.
  • You are an audience, not a community.
  • You learn best by passively listening, not actively engaging.
  • You are here to take, not to give.
  • The pastor is the performer; you are the audience.
  • We encourage superficial socialising, not deep connection and honest sharing.
  • The pastor’s knowledge and training outweigh your opinions and life experience.
  • You are not qualified to direct your own learning, or to teach others.
  • The best way for you to teach others about God is to lecture at them and perform for them.

Even though these messages are unintentional, they have a crippling impact on the church and its potential in our society. The church in the Western world is struggling with apathy, rapidly declining numbers and a crisis of faith for many people living in a culture hostile to Christianity. The harvest may be plentiful, but the workers are disempowered, unengaged, and uninspired.

13 thoughts on “Hidden messages in pulpits and pews.

  1. I was Churchwarden for 5 years, and discovered that one of my roles was to be a kind of intermediary between the incumbent and laity. I often used to wonder why this should have been necessary and what kinds of signals this setup was sending. Why should a vicar need a go between between him/herself and the laity?

    • You’re right Jonathan, the whole thing is a bit weird. The system sets up an “us” and “them” division, a disconnect between the “professionals” and the “consumers”. I don’t think that was the original plan.

    • Hi Eric! 😉

      Truth can be a bit of a double edged sword, can’t it? I’ve been reading Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:8-12, which cast doubt on the whole clergy/laity system. That’s a big ouch!

      • I believe there are many aspects of modern western evangelical christianity that are questioned by words of Jesus! We say Jesus is Lord, but much of belief and practice is cultural, based mainly on the reformers and our wish to maintain our 21st century comforts. Untangling it all without dropping any stitches is a real challenge.

  2. It’s call nonverbal communication, like body language. In fact, when we speak from Scripture in the pew/pulpit manner, we’re often saying one thing with our words, but saying something completely different by our actions and context. And, studies have shown over and over again that our actions speak much louder than our words – regardless of how loud we shout or pound the pulpit.


    • Great point, Alan. We can ‘misquote’ Scripture even when we quote it verbatim.

      Nice to hear from you – blessings to you and yours!

      – Kathleen

  3. So true. Though many churches compensate by adding groups but often the damage is done. People don’t experience being the church. And our language doesn’t help either. We speak of “going to church” etc. We are the church people. We are supposed to love God, love people and live our lives based on those realities. It’s what I say in my book, The Story Lives, you can only live your version of the story demonstrating Jesus’ love in action. That doesn’t happen if you believe you’re supposed to receive, consume and attend rather than give, serve and go.

    • “That doesn’t happen if you believe you’re supposed to receive, consume and attend rather than give, serve and go.” – beautifully expressed, Henriet. I must get a copy of your book.


      – Kathleen

  4. But, but, but, the priesthood of all believers! We believe it! We just don’t practice it.

    Our posture defies our words and nothing will change until we honestly reduce the importance of Sunday service.

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