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The last few days, I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between the guy standing behind the pulpit preaching on Sunday mornings and the people sitting in the pews. As a part of the reformed tradition, I understand the primacy that we place on the preaching of the Word. After all, bad preaching will eventual produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). However, in this post I want to offer three reasons why the pew might be more important than the pulpit.

  1. The Church is Every Believer, Not Just the Preacher. Sometimes it feels like Christians define the church much like they do a business. The church consists of a building or other physical location where one can go to participate in worship. The church has “employees” who are responsible for organizing and engaging attendees in a worshipful experience. It should be noted that these “employees” are the people hired to conduct ministry. The problem with this mindset is that it fails to appreciate that the church is made of people rather than a physical structure.Furthermore, we down play the importance of the people in the pews, when identify a church based on its pastor or preacher. The preacher exists for the good of the people in the pews, but the people in the pews have a responsibility to hold the preacher accountable to the Word of God.
  2. How People Respond to Preaching Matters. While the fundamental goal of the preacher should be to faithful declare the Word of God, it should also include a desire to see that Word bear fruit. Jesus was pretty clear about the dangers of hearing his words and not obeying them (Matthew 7:24-27). If a pastor preaches and no one actually applies that preaching to their lives, then has it really accomplished its purpose? I guess it all depends on what the preacher really wants. Are they satisfied with hardened hearts bound for eternal judgment or do they long for broken hearts stirred for love of God and love for one another?Now some one might say that a preacher can only be faithful, the fruitfulness of their preaching is out of his hands. It depends on God. They are right. However, the preacher (and the church) that are not satisfied with the fruitfulness of the preaching can do something. They can pray! We do not have because we do not ask!
  3. The People in the Pew Determine the Future of the Pulpit. Regardless of what form of polity a church has or how they go about hiring a pastor/preacher, the people in the pew will eventual determine who is in the pulpit. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). Let us not separate this point from the previous one. If the Word of God is not effecting and transforming the people in the pew, they eventually will either go find a different preacher or seek to replace the current one with one more suitable.The reality is that the longevity of a church’s existence depends on the impact that the preaching has on the people in the pews. The future of a local church depends on both the faithful preaching of the Word of God and its fruitfulness in the lives of those in the pews. And both of those depend on the Spirit of God working in the lives of both the person in the pulpit and the people in the pews.