Does It All Boil Down to Pulpit & Pew?


The Pastor, 1982, Published by Searching Together,  Cover image by      Perry Bergman     


My heart is burdened concerning a phenomenon I’ve witnessed over and over again. It goes something like this: I would never pursue anything in my personal life in Christ without seeking the Lord for his will, but when it comes to my life together with others in Christ’s body I pretty much accept church structures as they are in my community, and don’t ask any questions.

Many people exert great diligence about the Lord’s will in how they live Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday they can step into a church building and just assume that what is going on is God’s revealed will. If we have a passion to be led by the revelation of Christ in our personal lives, why don’t we apply that same fervor to our pursuit of Christ in his Body? Why is revelation about our personal lives deemed vital, but revelation concerning Christ’s church viewed as optional?

Some believers are brought to apply the same concern for the Lord’s will in their personal lives to their practice of church. They often come to see experience a “revelation,” if you will that a lot of what goes on is human tradition, not the Lord’s revealed will. Such traditions are not neutral. Jesus said that they nullify God’s Word.

Many who have this revelation, however, end up returning to follow a church bulletin. This happens for any number of reasons. But my concern is this: how can a person who has tasted something of what community is really about go back to feeling comfortable putting money in a plate and listening to a sermon?

On the back cover of my book, The Pastor Has No Clothes, it says:

The pulpit,” suggested Paul Watts in 2000, “stands for the authoritative Word of God, its public reading and preaching. The pew, through long usage, has become a symbol for the hearing and reception of that word.” Is this what church boils down to: pulpit and pew? You would think so by the prevalent ways church is practiced.

If somebody pointed out an area of your life that needed more of Christ, you would be very concerned. But people can go on year after year stuck in a pulpit-and-pew routine and never lift a finger to question the status quo. They know this way of doing things is not in the New Testament, but the religious machine is intimidating. Again, why do people have no hesitation in being watchful in their personal lives, but show no concern for what is missing in their body-life with others?

As I’ve driven the roads across America this question has lodged in my mind: Do we really believe that the tangled mess of competing church organizations, costly buildings, church politics and bureaucracy, inordinate focus on the pastor, and endless church splits are what Jesus had in mind when he announced, “I will build my community”? I don’t think so (Jon Zens, A Church Building Every ½ Mile, p.72).

If a friend told you that your life as a believer seemed to be veering away from Christ, your ears would perk up. If that same friend told you that church as pulpit-and-pew was far from Christ’s heart, you might just shrug your shoulders and drive on to the building for the next service. I appeal to you to consider this: that response is an approach to truth that you would never tolerate or condone in the living of your own daily life before Jesus. I suggest that this is a troubling and deadly double standard.

Pulpit-and-pew have become everything in the Christian religion, yet there is nothing about them in the writings we claim to be a revelation of the Lord’s mind. If anything I have imparted resonates within your heart, will you bring that to Father and ask him what implications there may be for you?

By Jon Zens


  1. amen Jon! “Why is revelation about our personal lives deemed vital, but revelation concerning Christ’s church viewed as optional?” is an amazing question! We are very selfish, we so live by the flesh because that is how we are taught to live. We do what we know, the problem of traditions, the problem of institutionalism.

  2. Sandor Szabo says

    Wow great article Jon! I share your heart, brother, in that we go to Father to see how far we have strayed from the simplicities of Christ, in the body of Christ today, by meeting in buildings with a pulpit and a pew. By doing so, we have removed ourselves from living under the vantage point of the centrality of Christ to being held captives to a deceptive counterfit of the centrality of a man who is pawned off as a christ and holds some title as a pastor or priest.
    The pulpit and the pew comes from pagan cultures where the orator speaks to the crowd in words of persuasion which is the complete opposite of the way Paul preached with power and demonstration of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It (pulpit and pew model) is a total perversion of identity and function of the early church which actually began in Bethany in which Christ spoke to His body of believers and they sat at His feet to hear His words and be transformed by them. The early church was a priesthood of believers ministering to one another, taking turns to share Christ, and among them was no separation of clergy and laity because all were functioning priests — Priests living by the indwelling of the Lord Jesus Christ and living His LIFE together, spontaneously by His Spirit. Like at Bethany, they met under Jesus, who is Head, intently hearing His words, not words to persuade intellectually or philosophically, but the words of ABBA Father, that give LIFE and comfort and encouragement to those who hear them.
    In Gal. 4:6 Paul declares that all believers in Christ are no longer slaves of a religious systems that use elaborate works to attempt to redeem, or save, or clear one’s conscience, but rather are dear sons and daughters of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, our consciences cleansed of dead works, and made alive to God to hear the voice of DADDY, to receive His Ever-loving kindness and affections, and His kiss.
    In my opinion, the pulpit and the pew is the modern day equivalent of the tables of merchandise in the temple in the days of Jesus. The pew and pulpit needs to be driven out just today, as Jesus had done in his, not with the emphasis on a whip or other device to be the driving force of restoration, but with the central focus being restored, that on the Son of His Love, which is the ever present REALITY and PURPOSE of the Father’s house.
    Returning to ABBA Father, and being drawn His ever-loving kindness leads us to repent and return to our identity as sons of God, as a nation of priests, a community of believers of Jesus Christ, so that Christ is magified in the Father’s house, and not a man who claims the title of pastor or priest.
    Sons of God, living together His LIFE and meeting under ONE King and Lord, is our portion and our inheritance, not to be church-goers hearing the gifted orator who persuades us to be better people while still wearing our chains of shame, condemnation and fear of death that his words have no power to break or remove.
    Thanks for sharing this word brother!
    Your brother in Christ,
    and Abba’s child,
    and just one of an ever-growing multitude — more than the grains of sand on all the earth,
    Sandor Szabo

  3. Jayne Otterson says

    The system always keeps ppl hungering for more and does not tell them that all they need is in Christ. The gospel is perverted which is why they can easily keep ppl in bondage…keep ppl under their thumb…and never get around to the real business of the true kingdom of God. Dear Lord, please help us all to rise above this great deception and see you in all your glory. Amen!!!

  4. Michael King says

    Thank you Jon! An insightful connection between individual and body life. The brothers and sisters that are in bondage to the system of “pulpit and pew” value something wonderful that they could receive in abundance outside the system! What an irony and tragedy. I want to encourage these brothers and sisters while pointing them to our true food – Jesus Christ himself and His body.


  5. I think thousands … hundreds of thousands have contemplated that, and left, but don’t know what else is out there … so thank God for your’s and others’ ministries to “lead them home.” A concern from one prophetic voice that I have received from over the years challenges it on this basis … (I think he has only heard described the Organic church/house church from third hand), but he suggests that it is anarchy. He teaches very strongly in many of his messages about the fact that God has established a Kingdom and not a democracy, and that is why western american minds/hearts have so much trouble prospering in His Kingdom concerning authority. I think His messages on authority are right on and speak right into a major blind spot in the body in America, but just don’t accept the application to “non-pastored” house churches as being indicative of that.

  6. I’m not sure I see the problem. Is there something inherently wrong with a pulpit or pew. Paul often taught in synagogues which (baring the lack of A/C and cushions) looked very much like the layout of most churches. While I would agree that Paul did not specifically state his approval of these man made structures – he did use them and did not demonize their use either. He also taught in homes, but he never said this was the correct format. I honestly don’t think God cares where we meet or what they furniture looks like. Typical churches structures (as well as ancient synagogues) are very practical structures which facilitates the purpose of teaching and learning – quite well.

    My comment here is honestly not intended to be antagonistic, I simply wonder if the pulpit/pew is bad for some reason not apparent to me from scripture. And if so , why not explain why and offer what you see to be a biblical model.

    I am a pastor (elder – I can see no scriptural difference between the two) in my church who co-pastors with two others. There is no “senior” – we are all equal in terms of responsibilities and teaching (I Tim. 3/ Titus 1 / I Peter 5:1-5 / Acts 20:17-32).
    Our “church” meets in a home, but I would have no problems meeting in an building or under a bridge for that matter (except in the summer – I live in Florida). The structure used makes no difference to me or to those in the church. I believe the biblical model of elders over a local assembly is not only taught, but is elaborated on more in the New Testament then any other ministry including the Apostles and Prophets.

    We teach the assembly what it means to BE a witness not to DO witnessing – in their everyday lives. To flow in the gifting and ministry God has given them (I Cor. 12:7-11; Rom. 12:5-8; I Peter 4:10,11), and to be good stewards of that grace gift not only outside of the church (house were we meet) but within as well (I Cor. 14). By way of example, let me tell you that I have had several people in our assembly who have come to me with a word of wisdom or gift of healing when I needed it and I openly and willingly received from God through them. They know they are gifted of God by His grace and do not feel a barrier between “the elders” in the church and themselves. There is no “big me little you” and I believe there is much more of this within the churches than you may be aware.

    Thanks for your reply and do not feel that you need to place this on your bog unless you think it will add to your discussion.

    In Him,

    • Thank you, I’ve wondered about this myself. I left a big money hungry church, but by the way you speak and I agree not all “meetings” in buildings are created equally. I still haven’t found our community or many like minded equally yolked believers or elders for that matter, mostly because, I’m God- fearing to try and find that community on my own, that I may become a sheep and blinded to the truths. I don’t want to follow a wolf in sheep clothing and I’m tired of talking about how horrible the big churches are, I just need somewhere to fellowship, love and learn the Truths of the Bible with encouragement to in turn share this with my children.

  7. stravo lukos says

    i’ve tried to start something going here w/ brethren, and all i wound up w/ is disheartening disinterest and some pretty weird comments, new age stuff. sometimes i wonder if God isn’t removing Himself to allow men free reign to their evil designs. i see a lot of interest in organic church online, but in the flesh nada. i’m not alone. america inc. loves its institutional church and will have it at all cost, i’m afraid. so– here’s to good intentions! oops, wrong road.

  8. I just finished reading “The Pastor Has No Clothes.” Personally, I appreciate your explanation that ekklesia, if rendered in today’s English, would be closest to “town meeting.” I had been wondering the answer to that question (and saying something different in my own speaking, and I appreciate correction). I just finished writing a review of it on my blog. As I started out my review, this is the book that I have gotten the most out of with regard to desiring to follow Jesus in spirit and truth among what I’ve read in 2011. Thank you.

  9. I just posted this on my facebook page:
    Have you ever heard of a Sunday morning church meeting where God can speak through anyone present? Where people openly share Scriptures, testimonies, praise reports, insights, and prayer requests?
    Although this is rare, it is taught in the New Testament as how to have a church meeting. (I Corinthians 14:26)
    For 3 1/2 years we have been having meetings like this at Berry Street, and it has truly been amazing to see God work powerfully every Sunday and His people growing spiritually strong.

  10. Wow, Great Article! I wish I could share this with my family and friends, but they would likely get mad at me and yell at me. I had this conversation with some friends in the 1990’s and I did not know that there was anything else out there either. Fortunately I have seen a lot on the internet these days, read lots of books, and have found my way to an organic church.

  11. I wish to ask the $50 Million question: Why did God not prevent this diversion in the 4th century from happening? Why did He let it go on for 17 centuries before making us aware of the diversion? He has been and is stil using Christians (albeit only 10%) within the system to further his kingly rule in the world.

    • Stephanie says

      God never intended for Israel to have a king, either, but when it was demanded, He allowed Israel to have a king. Not only that, but it remained until Israel was exiled into bondage.

      How similar it is that the Christian Church, being made up of imperfect people, strayed away from the original meaning and demanded a ‘king’: in this case, a pastor. They demanded a tabernacle instead of continuing to meet in humble homes. From there, imperfect men added traditions, they added in the practices of those people that converted to Christianity, until what we see now bears little resemblance to what God intended.

      I agree with another poster above. When was the last time you were able to stand up in the middle of a sermon and question one of the pastor’s points? When was the last time you were able to suggest a song to add to the music during the service? When was the last time you were able to get up, hug a hurting person, and pray right there, even though the pastor was still talking? How did you know the person was hurting, if they’re not sharing? These are things that are not done.

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