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What Is the Hidden Message in the Pulpit and Pews?

The way we do things communicates more than we realize. 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 socializing, 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.  

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Kathleen Ward’s driving passion is welcoming outsiders into community. This involves drinking copious cups of tea and spending time with neighbours and new friends from other cultures and backgrounds. Her secondary interest is encouraging the church to move from performance to empowerment; from audience to community; from passive listening to active learning. She co-writes this blog with her best friend and husband, Kevin-Neil Ward