Atlantic Caribbean Union

Part II - The Pulpit

Part II - The Pulpit

This is a follow up to last week’s Ministerial Weekly. Please note that this article by Merle L. Mills, was printed in a November, 1955 edition of the Ministry Magazine. Though many years old, I believe, like I did, you will find the article interesting and relevant in some respect. Part I relates to the Platform and part II to the Pulpit.
The pulpit is the most sacred and exalted place in the church. He who occupies this position stands as the representative of Christ. This is the minister's first line of offense. From this honored and dedicated place he boldly denounces sin and courageously challenges the devil. From the sacred desk are heard the truths of God, which cut as a two-edged sword, bringing both conviction and contrition to the worshiper. Words of life and death flow from this fount. To this vantage point the penitent looks for the heavenly balm of Gilead. Is it not important then that one's comportment in the desk give no cause for needless offense and bring no reproach against the name of Christ?
Here are a few suggestions that should be followed as we stand in the pulpit:
The occupant of the desk should have good posture. He must not stand in a slouched position, leaning over or on the desk. He should stand erect, with both feet on the floor. To stand first on one foot, then the other, and to lean on the desk does not impress the congregation that the speaker has any fire and enthusiasm or that his message is of any great import. Nor should we be guilty of pounding the desk or the Bible in order to be emphatic. There are other ways of expressing emphasis.
It is both repugnant and a violation of pulpit etiquette to introduce one who is to occupy the desk in a protracted and flattering manner The pulpit is not to be desecrated by indulging in superlatives and hyperboles. To introduce someone as the "world's greatest preacher," a "nationally" or "internationally known figure," et cetera, is to exaggerate as well as to flatter and ought not to be—of all places—in the pulpit. A true minister of God does not appreciate such remarks and becomes embarrassed. If a speaker of some repute is introduced, a few modest statements concerning his position and work are sufficient.
The pulpit is not a place to boast of or to praise the members of the speaker's family. There may be occasions when it would be fitting to refer to the family in the pulpit, but to exalt them and talk frequently of their merits meets with the disapprobation of the congregation. To say publicly that your wife is the best and most beautiful woman in the world is not the subject or language to be heard from the desk. Tell your wife in private as often as you wish how beautiful and wonderful she is.
Jesting, joking, and telling gruesome stories are out of order in the pulpit. It is not the place to display one's humor and make people laugh. There is a time and place for wit and genuine humor, but seldom should it be used in the pulpit. If done at all, it should be with moderation and restraint. To tell funny stories, paint word pictures, and describe repulsive scenes is to degrade the pulpit and weaken its influence.
Announcements that are made from the desk should be in keeping with the spirit of the service. Those who make the announcements should do so briefly and concisely. The worship service is robbed of its dignity when an announcement is made and someone speaks up from the congregation to make a correction, or when the pastor or local elder who makes the announcement speaks directly to someone in the congregation, requesting a clarification or additional information.
Prayer offered in the pulpit is formal in style. To use the personal pronoun—you, your, et cetera—in addressing God certainly sounds disrespectful. Our prayers need not be stereotyped or flowery, nor should they be informal or crude. They should be simple and uttered in true prayer form, addressing God in the solemn style as Thee, Thou, Thine, et cetera.
Public prayer need not be long. The invocation prayer should consist of but a few sentences. This is also true of the offertory prayer and the benediction. The main prayer is longer, but even that should not be protracted. There are few occasions when the main prayer should exceed two or three minutes in length. Long public prayers are an abomination unto the Lord, are unacceptable to the children, and do little good for the adults. "The prayers offered in public should be short and to the point. God does not require us to make the season of worship tedious by lengthy petitions. . .. A few minutes is long enough for any ordinary public petition."—Ibid., p. 175. "Long prayers are tiring to those who hear, and do not prepare the people to listen to the instruction that is to follow."—Ibid., p. 176. "Prosy, sermonizing prayers are uncalled for and out of place in public. A short prayer, offered in fervor and faith, will soften the hearts of the hearers; but during long prayers they wait impatiently, as if wishing that every word might end it."—Ibid., p. 179. Most of our ministers pray too long. This should be corrected.
Our church elders should also be cautioned in regard to this matter. Not only should prayers be brief, formal, and simple, but they should also be reverent, free of vain repetition and any profanation of the name of God. "Our Father," "Jesus Christ," "God," and "Lord" should not be repeated too frequently in prayer, and when used, should be spoken in reverent tones. "Some think it a mark of humility to pray to God in a common manner, as if talking with a human being. They profane His name by needlessly and irreverently mingling with their prayers the words 'God Almighty,'—awful, sacred words, which should never pass the lips except in subdued tones and with a feeling of awe."—Ibid., p. 176. Let us also eliminate the organ music during prayer.
An error of which some ministers as well as local elders are guilty is to begin the offertory prayer before the pianist or organist has been given the courtesy of completing the offertory number.
            The offertory is a part of the worship service, and should not be considered unnecessary or an unimportant part even though the deacons have received the offering before it has been completed. In all probability the musician has spent considerable time practicing and preparing for the number, and the pastor or local elder should not feel it his prerogative to stand up as soon as the offering has been received and cut off the music for the offertory prayer or begin praying as the offertory number is continued. This is a discourtesy to the musician and an insult to God.
            The offertory number should not be long, and the musician may be so instructed, but it should be played in its entirety before the offertory prayer is given, provided it is the practice to have this prayer after the offering, which would seem the most logical place for it. The call for the offering from the desk can be done with dignity. To resort to lightness and humor in calling for the offering is sacrilegious. We stand in dire need of solemnizing, beautifying, and embellishing this part of our church service. A few appropriate remarks are in order, stating clearly what the offering is for that day and quoting a brief statement from the Spirit of prophecy or the Bible that would encourage and inspire the people to participate in this phase of the service. The deacons are then asked to wait upon the congregation as they worship the Lord with their tithes and offerings. The call for and the receiving of the tithes and offerings are as sacred and essential a part of the service as the prayer, and should be done with as much thought and care.
Our denomination does not believe in or follow a liturgical form of church service. This is as it should be. God is to be worshiped in spirit and truth. We are not required to follow a punctilious ceremony in approaching God. The supreme Sovereign of the universe is quick and eager to respond to the faintest cry of the sinner. But we must not go to the other extreme and permit the church service to degenerate into an informal, ill-planned, and undignified service. When we come into God's holy temple and He speaks through His servants in the pulpit to the people, it is an awesome and solemn occasion. We should therefore beautify and exalt the service and conform to an accepted standard of ethics and procedure where His name is wont to be proclaimed and praised.
Our attitude, mood, and demeanor in His house, especially on the platform and in the pulpit, will have its influence on the degree of reverence and inspiration that will prevail in the service. Let us, as ministers and conference workers, be exemplary in our manners and behavior, both on the platform and in the pul­pit, ever remembering that whatever impression we make by our deportment will tend either to elevate or to offend the worshiper in the pew.
God holds His ministers responsible for the influence that the pulpit exerts over the pew. Let us then be conscious of that responsibility and make certain that the ethics, manners, and procedures we follow in our church services will exalt Christ and do credit to His name.