What Exactly Is A Pulpit?

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MAY, 2017

The pulpit is one of the most recognizable and identifiable pieces of church furniture within a sanctuary. The prominent reason for this association is its long history as the primary focus of the common church service. When most hear the word pulpit, a stand or lectern comes to mind that a pastor or speaker position themselves behind to deliver a message. A piece of furniture that allows a speaker to comfortably and efficiently read from their prepared notes and materials.

At its earliest origins the concept of a pulpit was simply a raised platform that an individual would stand on and speak to a congregation from. Without the ability of vocal amplification, an elevated platform was necessary to speak to large groups of people so everyone in attendance could hear.
Pulpit, lectern, and podium are often used to reference the same thing and can sometimes cause confusion in what they are representing. A podium and a traditional pulpit are nearly the same thing; the primary difference being that a pulpit is specific to the Christian church.

The podium and the original pulpit are what we would consider to be a stage in modern terms. An elevated platform with a step or multiple steps leading up to it for better audio and visual connection with a gathering of people. In earlier forms, and still practiced among certain denominations within Christianity today, the pulpit was reserved for clergy only. While a podium was simply a stage for a speaker, a pulpit was a stage for clergy to speak or read Scripture from. In contrast with the pulpit and podium, the lectern is a stand specifically designed for reading from. The word “lectern” finds its origins in the same Latin root words as “lecture” does, revealing the purpose of the stand. Lecterns are most commonly associated with academia.

The rise in Protestantism marked the evolution of the pulpit into the piece of church furniture we visualize it to be today. Some of the earliest Protestant churches developed pulpit tiers, varying heights of platform that represented the level of importance of the message being delivered from them. The lowest tier might be used for announcements while the highest tier for delivering the sermon or for Scripture reading. The pulpit developed into a furniture piece that not only served a practical purpose in delivering public messages, but also became a representation of the importance of the messages being delivered.

The modern pulpit is a blend of a lectern and a podium; a stand for teaching that sits on a stage for better connection with a congregation. But above that, and what defines it as a pulpit, is what it represents. It represents historically, and for today, the gift of God’s Word that was given to us and the privilege we have to hear it taught and proclaimed in churches across the world on a consistent basis.

Whether it is a traditionally styled wood pulpit or a contemporary acrylic pulpit with a cutting edge church logo, the pulpit should be a reminder to us of the importance of the Scripture and the proclamation of the Gospel to ever increasing congregations.