The Pastor-Driven Church

Last month I wrote a blog called, Why is There a Pulpit? In it, I shared this tweet that appeared in my Twitter feed:

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going.”

In addition to asking why there is a pulpit, we need to explore the pastor centrality so prevalent in most institutional religious settings. The pulpit isn’t neutral for several reasons, one being because it presents one more level of separation between the assembly and the “professional” up front. In almost every institutional religious setting, everything inside the room and everything outside the room points to the pulpit. The pulpit is the focal point.

Outside the room, everything from our signage to our advertising points to the pulpit. In the neighborhoods where we live, the sandwich board signs go up on sidewalk corners every Friday, pointing to a meeting room and ultimately, a pulpit. Church websites echo the same themes. Come be with us on Sunday and hear a message from behind the pulpit that is sure to inspire and bring you back for more.

Inside the room, everything points to the pulpit. The pulpit is the nucleus of the Sunday event. All the seating points to the pulpit. Instructions emanate from the pulpit as we’re told when to stand, when to sit, when to sing, when to pray, when to say hi to people we don’t know, and when to give. It’s like a well-oiled machine, reaching its climax when the pastor takes his or her position behind the pulpit to lecture us for 30-60 minutes. This is the pinnacle of the religious institution’s week and it’s what all the previous week’s preparation and hype was all about. Once the lecture is complete and the Sunday event comes to a close, preparation for next Sunday’s event begins with no one asking why. Is it any wonder so many are leaving that setting and seeking to find a more authentic reality outside those four walls?

Institutional religion is a pastor-driven system. As the person behind the pulpit, the pastor(s) gets to (and is expected to) set the agenda, goals, and direction of the church. As central as the pulpit is, the pastor is even more so because he or she is the living, breathing, speaking embodiment of the pulpit and the one supplying the pulpit with its personality and life. Is it any wonder that someone would tweet,

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going.”

I think not. At least they’re being honest and they see things as they really are. We’ve taken a word (pastor) that appears one time in the New Testament (Ephesians 4) and institutionalized it. We’ve turned that person into a religious celebrity and handed them power and control inside an environment where power and control over others should not exist. Jesus wasn’t joking when he said, “It shall not be so among you.”

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going”  isn’t a banner to proudly wave or an expression of some great accomplishment. It’s a symptom of something gone terribly wrong in the assembly that needs to be talked about honestly and openly. For those with their finger on the pulse of the church, it’s one more obstacle to living out the one another’s of the New Testament and it has a choke hold on every believer functioning as a priest because it brings with it, an unbiblical us and them, clergy/laity separation that creates and sustains an illusion and facade of top-down authority where no top-down authority really exists. The pastor-driven model is not neutral and is a poor substitute for genuine community.

If this topic tweaks you, you may be interested in reading my Rethinking Religion series.


Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “The Pastor-Driven Church

  1. Maybe all of this is because we normally do not think for ourselves. The church system is all we have known and we just take it week after week thinking this is the way it is supposed to be. Once I allowed some of the thoughts and questions I had buried over the years to come into the open, things began to change and bible verses came to be so clear yet so different from what the institution had taught. Thanks for your articles which help us see things from a different angle.


  2. It has been ten years that I was part of a congregation and I was assigned to be the principal of the Bible institute. After serving as teacher and administrator for three years, I resigned from my post not telling anyone else that I was leaving the congregation due to the cult of personality that was running the congregation and the most fervent followers afterwards would tell me that I’m going to hell for not going to church. Even the pastors and church leaders would make me lose as if I have made a suicide pact with the world and the devil because of my decision. Well ten years later I am alive and well and more closer to my Lord than ever before. My service to Him is more towards those who are in need of a few bags of food, common courtesy and respect towards my neighbor and when they ask me how do I get to know the Lord, I’d tell them the story of the sheep and goats. The rest is God touching their hearts because He is the one who does the saving. I can truly relate about this story because I am totally sick of this way of doing “church” for it has evolved into this since not too long ago (about 150 years).


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