In Nehemiah 8:4, we witness the likely birth of the preaching pulpit when Ezra the scribe reads the Scriptures “on a high wooden platform built for the occasion.” Since then, pulpits have continued to be an integral part of church history for thousands of years—unless, of course, you’re a church planter.
Don’t get me wrong: I love pulpits. Nothing says “we take church seriously” like a hand-crafted piece of wood that retails for $2,500 (I have suddenly realized I’m in the wrong business). But as a pastoral resident working in a small church plant that meets in a 100-year-old high school, I’ve seen that having a pulpit is just not practical for us. It would have to be unloaded from our storage trailer, set up, and reloaded week-in and week-out—and as church planters know, adding a heavy, large, cumbersome hunk of wood and nails to an already-full trailer is basically asking for volunteers to conveniently “forget” their set-up volunteer coordination e-mail on Sunday morning.
If there is anything we church planters are known for, though, it’s innovation. We make do. We get by. We improvise. And when we’re short on pulpits, we find alternatives. With that in mind, here is a list of options for church plants and planters seeking a substitute for a typical pulpit:
1. The Music Stand
Pros: A stand-ard (get it?) for church planting; doubles as the worship leader’s stand; folds up nicely in storage.
Cons: If all screws and knobs are not tightened on the stand, it will sink when you or your Bible press down on it during your sermon. Some music stands just weren’t built to hold the ESV Study Bible.
2. The Oddly-Shaped Rusty Stool Backstage
Pros: Free, thanks to the theater teacher leaving it out by accident.
Cons: Susceptible to high-school graffiti jobs. It would be wise to check for the latest relationship gossip or “I hate this teacher” scrawl before putting it in front of the congregation.
3. The Overhead Projector
Pros: Everyone can see what you see; plenty of light for you to see your sermon notes; also relieves the person running your typo-ridden PowerPoint from the back computer.
Cons: Also not conducive for setting a Bible on; could burn you if it overheats; bulb could explode; ridiculously short cord; may bring back haunting memories of sixth-grade English class to your congregation. (Okay, maybe this isn’t a good option at all.)
4. “The Armbar”
Pros: Doesn’t require storage; provides incentive to work out more (see “Cons”).
Cons: Arm may go numb after holding same position for 20 minutes; also not suitable for holding a Bible, notes, a clock, glasses, and every edition of Strong’s Concordance you own all at once.
5. The Simulcasted Pulpit
Pros: Pick whichever pulpit you want without paying for it; also doesn’t require storage.
Cons: High likelihood of losing your “audience” to the other guy preaching on the screen. Even if you want to use a static image, you’re out of luck; there are exactly zero good stock images of pulpits online.
6. The Fold-Up Table
Pros: Could double as the Communion table; plenty of room for all of your materials (maybe not those concordances, though).
Cons: Creaks and squeaks if pressed on; will probably be lost to another ministry area within weeks.
7. The Youth Intern
Pros: Great demonstration of the importance of serving the church.
Cons: Will not work well if they are taller, or wider, than you; will cause John Calvin to turn over in his grave.*
* May also be considered a Pro, depending on your theological persuasion.