Friday, September 19, 2008

Pulpit Talk

As I stand in front of the church I find myself reminiscing about all that has transpired in this building in the last 150 years. I remember every sermon. I remember the people that have attended here, and those who still do. I remember every baptism and I remember every funeral. I remember times of incredible joy and I remember times of immense sorrow. I remember every minute of the last 150 years.
I know you're wondering how that's possible. For someone to experience a century and a half of this congregation's history. It's quite simple really. I'm not a someone, I'm a something. I've been a vital part of this church since the beginning, but not so much anymore. Preachers great and not so great have stood behind me, while many a saint has sat at my feet.
I am the old wooden pulpit that was built when the church was founded. My wood is worn, my finish faded and scratched. I don't stand as straight as I used to, maybe that's why I've been replaced by a brand new chrome and Plexiglas whippersnapper who's still wet behind the hinges.
My new job is to be off in the corner to serve as a reminder of who we are and how we got here. It's a lonely job and it goes mostly unnoticed and unappreciated. I still get dusted off once in a while and on special occasions someone puts some flowers on me. It's not much of a life, but I do appreciate the respect they have shown me by keeping me around. The alternatives aren't very pleasant. I could end up in the storage room with all the folding chairs and Christmas decorations, or worse yet, on the back of the janitor's pick-up going to a landfill or a bonfire. I shudder to think of that.
So, I am content to stand (or lean, to be more accurate) in the corner and observe what is going on in the church that I have grown to love so much. I do love this place and the people who worship here and maybe that's why it hurts so much to see what has become of it. It's just not the house of worship that it used to be and that saddens me.
Back when this church began, just like the building, I was new and simply built. My wood was freshly varnished, my joints straight and true, and the preacher could lean or pound on me with all his fire and brimstone in full force and I wouldn't squeak or wobble at all. I stood straight and proud because I knew the importance of the message that was being delivered. I knew people needed Jesus and I was being used as a tool to bring the gospel. Every time the preacher would pound on me or grab my edges in a white-knuckled grip, I took the abuse gladly because I knew I was a part of something great.
After I had been in the church for several years the deacons decided I needed to be spruced up a bit. They sanded me down ( I can't tell you how uncomfortable that was), applied a new finish and then ….nailed a cross to my front panel. The pain was excruciating but I was unable to yell out to stop them. It didn't take very long but the effects have been permanent. Even now, every time I am used or moved, the nails still hurt. Even standing here in the corner, they ache. The whole ordeal has given me a much deeper appreciation for what Christ went through on the cross.
As the years went by I began to notice that the preachers who stood behind me seemed to lose their fervor and their focus. Their sermons were less about Jesus and more about numbers. The number of people attending the church and the number of dollars in the collection plates. It was so sad because the answer to everything was nailed to my front panel. They were not looking to Jesus but beyond Jesus to what they wanted to be and the reputation they wanted to have.

Soon church services became showcases for whatever the latest trend happened to be. I saw all the phases. The "What Would Jesus Do? phase, The "Purpose Driven" phase, and many others. Like shepherds fighting over sheep the churches fought over people. Thousands of dollars that used to go to helping the poor now went into huge projection screens and state of the art sound systems. Youth groups were asking for money to go overseas when the people across the street from the church didn't know where their next meal was coming from. Groups putting on breakfasts and soup suppers to solicit money from the community when they themselves were only throwing pocket change in the collection plates on Sunday. Preachers "tickling the ears" of their congregation because they seek political correctness instead of the truth. I have seen all this from where I stand. All this and more.
Forgive me if I sound angry and jaded but it is only because I have seen church the way it is supposed to be. Simply a group of Christ followers who have no other agenda other than serving Him. I miss those days. I wouldn't doubt that God misses them too.
I may be worn and forgotten but I have a rich history and my methods are true and tested by time. And I have seen great good come from the new way of doing things as well. I just wish that sometimes I could stand beside the new kid and we could work together to bring people to Christ. I'm going to pray for that as I quietly man my position in the corner.
One more thing if you don't mind. You might be asking yourself: "Why is spreading the gospel so important to an inanimate object that isn't going to get to heaven anyway?" The answer is very simple for me. I've seen what God can do for His children. The problem is that most of you don't realize how special you are. That you were created especially for a specific place in God's kingdom. Find your place.
And lastly, I care because being made of wood, I have a special affinity for carpenters.

The next time you go to church take a look around you and I bet you will find things just like me that have been retired but are kept around to remind us of our past. Maybe it will be an old pulpit like me, or an oversized bible, or some other object rich in history. Take the time to be thankful for what it was and how it helped to shape the way things are now.

Author's note
I know, I know, pulpits can't talk. But this idea was given to me one morning and I wanted to do something with it that would express my frustrations with the church as well as my hopes for it. I know that being old doesn't make you less useful and being new doesn't make you more right. But somewhere in between there has to be a place where the two can come together. Where the Acts 2 church can come together with the culturally aware church.
I'm not talking about hymns versus praise music. I'm not talking about the suit and tie crowd blending with those who dance barefoot in the aisles. Nor am I talking about King James version versus The Message.
I'm talking about a sense of community and family between believers that is enhanced by the opportunities our modern society affords us. I know this can happen because I've seen it. It's not easy and it's not popular, but I'm convinced it is the kind of church God wants us to be.
And whether you are a bright and shiny new follower of Christ, or a time-worn old pulpit like myself, we can work together to find our place in the kingdom and bring people to Christ.

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