Among all of the providential logic of our present day, perhaps God is prompting us to value afresh the intricate simplicity of stepping into a pulpit and declaring God’s name. Perhaps he has allowed us this famine of live preaching so that we might feast once again with a heightened appetite and taste for truth declared in the local church. Perhaps in all of our affluence and pragmatism, our cool ironic poise towards the plain speech of preaching we are now being brought to hunger for help from those who teach us.
Whether your cup is half empty or half full in the current global crisis, whether you credit or descry online ministry, the fact cannot be avoided that the era of vacant church buildings and silent pulpits is a significant and sad chapter in the history of the church. We are in the midst of a famine of live preaching which is unmatched within living memory, and extremely unusual in church history. One Lord’s Day has lapsed in to another where the pews have remained unfilled, and where if the preacher has mounted the pulpit steps it has been to face a camera, and possibly his own family. Whatever other opportunities Covid 19 is providing, this is a loss which we should take time to lament, a space in which we should think through what our God might be saying to us in the silence.
In this post I want to suggest a few things which our empty pulpits communicate to us, and some lasting applications we can take from them for future days.
Pulpit ministry is irreplaceable
As pastors and preachers, many of us have grasped the nettle of preaching into our phones and broadcasting our sermons. This is not a format that many are comfortable with, but we have quietly rejoiced at the fresh forum that has been provided for us to proclaim the perfections of Jesus. Many of us have also felt to the core of our being that this is not a substitute for preaching in the living context of the gathered church. Aside from the doleful experience of hearing one’s own voice and seeing one’s own mannerisms, there is something absolutely missing from the exercise, something which makes it of a different stripe and order than the act of preaching in a congregation.
This loss is good for us if it persuades us afresh that preaching is irreplaceable. Custom and habit have perhaps inured us to the abstraction and cultural oddity that preaching ministry is culturally. We become preoccupied with preparing sermons, or as a congregation to listening to them, and we quickly take for granted the humanly bizarre thing that it is for a majority of people in a room to listen to a minority of one declare God’s counsel.