Decorum on the platform and in the pulpit can do much to set the tone and establish the mood for the church service. It is important that the ministry as well as others who participate in such services observe the ethical conduct that should prevail under such circumstances.
Because those who are on the platform are under constant observance, their mannerisms should be such as not to offend the worshiper or to detract from the service. While an ostentatious display is to be deplored, one's conduct before the public should not be considered lightly.
Let us consider some of the essential points of this subject and ascertain whether we are doing all that is expected of us to inspire a reverential atmosphere and to establish a setting that will contribute to the efficacy of the service of worship.
- Those who are to go on the platform should meet in a designated place, usually the pastor's study, in sufficient time to become acquainted with the order of service, the arrangement of seating, and the part each one is to have on the program. Such a practice will avoid confusion, embarrassment, and awkwardness. It should be made certain in advance that there are a sufficient number of platform chairs, that they are properly arranged, and that the right number of church hymnals is available.
- The pastor can plan with the organist or pianist to be given a signal When the prelude is about to be concluded, which, incidentally, should not infringe upon or delay the worship service. If there is no choral introit, the ministers at the close of the prelude should step onto the platform and bow in unison for silent prayer. This genuflection of the ministers on the rostrum should be done in order and with grace. The austere and clumsy way in which some kneel for this part of the service is to be deplored. Each should kneel on both knees and at the same time. It would be well if the one in charge of the service would say Amen just loud enough for the platform group to hear if there is no choral Amen. This is a signal for all to rise together with grace and dignity. If the ministers kneel toward the platform chairs, as in some places they still continue to do, it should have been agreed before that all turn in unison either to the right or to the left in facing the congregation.
- If the congregation has been seated during the silent prayer and it is the plan to rise to sing the doxology, either the choir director or the pastor may make a gesture for them to rise for the song. The one designated to offer the invocation prayer should be in the pulpit by the time the singing is completed and should either gesture with the uplifted hand or say, "Let us pray." Many times one begins to pray without informing the congregation. This encourages irreverence on the part of the stranger or those unfamiliar with the order of service, and they are not properly prepared to enter into the prayer.
- The platform chairs should be so arranged that the speaker's chair will be directly behind the pulpit. The platform chairman is seated next to the speaker. The one who is chosen to speak should occupy the center chair regardless of what responsibilities or positions are occupied by any who might be invited onto the platform for the service.
- Inconspicuous and conservative dress is essential to good platform etiquette. Bright-colored ties, socks, and suits, and sports apparel are definitely out of order. "Carefulness in dress is an important consideration. The minister should be clothed in a manner befitting the dignity of his position."—Gospel Workers, p. 173. A mirror in the pastor's study aids one in making a check of his personal appearance before going onto the platform.
- Proper dress for local church officers who are called upon to participate in the services can be stressed by having a meeting with your elders and deacons at the beginning of the year in which is discussed with them the importance and necessity of dressing on the Sabbath day in an attire that would be in keeping with the dignity of the service. Even then there may be times when an officer will come to church without a coat or tie, or be attired in a suit and loud tie that make him conspicuous and out of order on the platform. In a few cases I have refused to take a person dressed in this manner onto the platform, and have in a kind way explained to him the reason. Another suggestion that has been helpful in solving this problem, especially if there are a number of elders, is to give them advance notice of the time they are to go onto the platform and the part they are to perform. Not only does this alert them as to how they should be dressed, but it enables them to be prepared for what is required of them. This is especially important for the one who is to offer the public prayer. He should be notified beforehand.
- Posture is also an important factor to be considered with platform manners. One should Sit erect with both feet on the floor. To sit in a slouched position with the legs crossed is a gross impropriety. To encourage interest in and attention to the speaker, the eyes of all those on the platform should be kept on the speaker. To allow the eyes to wander about the auditorium, sizing up the beams, scrutinizing the light fixtures, looking out of the windows, et cetera, during the preaching is a breach of good platform manners. The same can be said of closing the eyes and dozing. No matter how soporific the sermon might be, this is inexcusable.
- It is indecorous for anyone on the platform, including the pastor, to whisper. This can no more be condoned there than in the congregation. Whispering and talking on the platform are disrespectful and irreverent.
- The speaker and those who share the platform with him should sing with the congregation. Singing is as much a part of worship as praying and preaching. How strange that people go to church for the ostensible purpose of worshiping the Lord and yet refuse to do so while there, by not singing with the congregation!
- All those on the platform should participate in the offering. This too is a significant part of Our worship to God. It may be true that the pastor or the visiting ministers have contributed earlier that day in another church they have visited. But this cannot be explained to the congregation. Even if it means that one must divide his offering, or sacrifice more, in order to give when he is required to be on the platform several times in one day, he should give willingly.
- Those seated behind the speaker can set a good example of supporting him. As the pastor makes a solid point or enunciates a solemn and pregnant truth, why not express approbation by a hearty Amen! It is to be lamented that in many of our churches this practice has become almost extinct, and the Amen corner of the church has become silent. It is recognized that this could be carried to excess, but a few Amens during the sermon will not give cause for offense and could do much to contribute to the inspiration and fervor of the speaker.
Admittedly, one of the prevailing sins in our churches today is irreverence. What is seen and heard ofttimes in the house of prayer is an insult to God and must cause the angels to hide their faces. We stand indicted, and as conference workers and leaders we ourselves have been guilty of contributing to this laxity by our personal example. Realizing our solemn obligation, could we not improve our platform manners and by example help to develop an atmosphere that will dignify our church services so that they will inspire awe and reverence in all who come to worship God in His sacred presence?
The pulpit is the most sacred and exalted place in the church. He who occupies this position stands as the representative of Christ. This is the minister's first line of offense. From this honored and dedicated place he boldly denounces sin and courageously challenges the devil. From the sacred desk are heard the truths of God, which cut as a two-edged sword, bringing both conviction and contrition to the worshiper. Words of life and death flow from this fount. To this vantage point the penitent looks for the heavenly balm of Gilead. Is it not important then that one's comportment in the desk give no cause for needless offense and bring no reproach against the name of Christ?
Here are a few suggestions that should be followed as we stand in the pulpit:
- The occupant of the desk should have good posture. He must not stand in a slouched position, leaning over or on the desk. He should stand erect, with both feet on the floor. To stand first on one foot, then the other, and to lean on the desk does not impress the congregation that the speaker has any fire and enthusiasm or that his message is of any great import. Nor should we be guilty of pounding the desk or the Bible in order to be emphatic. There are other ways of expressing emphasis.
- It is both repugnant and a violation of pulpit etiquette to introduce one who is to occupy the desk in a protracted and flattering manner The pulpit is not to be desecrated by indulging in superlatives and hyperboles. To introduce someone as the "world's greatest preacher," a "nationally" or "internationally known figure," et cetera, is to exaggerate as well as to flatter and ought not to be—of all places—in the pulpit. A true minister of God does not appreciate such remarks and becomes embarrassed. If a speaker of some repute is introduced, a few modest statements concerning his position and work are sufficient.
- The pulpit is not a place to boast of or to praise the members of the speaker's family. There may be occasions when it would be fitting to refer to the family in the pulpit, but to exalt them and talk frequently of their merits meets with the disapprobation of the congregation. To say publicly that your wife is the best and most beautiful woman in the world is not the subject or language to be heard from the desk. Tell your wife in private as often as you wish how beautiful and wonderful she is.
- Jesting, joking, and telling gruesome stories are out of order in the pulpit. It is not the place to display one's humor and make people laugh. There is a time and place for wit and genuine humor, but seldom should it be used in the pulpit. If done at all, it should be with moderation and restraint. To tell funny stories, paint word pictures, and describe repulsive scenes is to degrade the pulpit and weaken its influence.
- Announcements that are made from the desk should be in keeping with the spirit of the service. Those who make the announcements should do so briefly and concisely. The worship service is robbed of its dignity when an announcement is made and someone speaks up from the congregation to make a correction, or when the pastor or local elder who makes the announcement speaks directly to someone in the congregation, requesting a clarification or additional information.
- Prayer offered in the pulpit is formal in style. To use the personal pronoun—you, your, et cetera—in addressing God certainly sounds disrespectful. Our prayers need not be stereotyped or flowery, nor should they be informal or crude. They should be simple and uttered in true prayer form, addressing God in the solemn style as Thee, Thou, Thine, et cetera.
- Public prayer need not be long. The invocation prayer should consist of but a few sentences. This is also true of the offertory prayer and the benediction. The main prayer is longer, but even that should not be protracted. There are few occasions when the main prayer should exceed two or three minutes in length. Long public prayers are an abomination unto the Lord, are unacceptable to the children, and do little good for the adults. "The prayers offered in public should be short and to the point. God does not require us to make the season of worship tedious by lengthy petitions. . . . A few minutes is long enough for any ordinary public petition."—Ibid., p. 175. "Long prayers are tiring to those who hear, and do not prepare the people to listen to the instruction that is to follow."—Ibid., p. 176. "Prosy, sermonizing prayers are uncalled for and out of place in public. A short prayer, offered in fervor and faith, will soften the hearts of the hearers; but during long prayers they wait impatiently, as if wishing that every word might end it."—Ibid., p. 179. Most of our ministers pray too long. This should be corrected. Our church elders should also be cautioned in regard to this matter. Not only should prayers be brief, formal, and simple, but they should also be reverent, free of vain repetition and any profanation of the name of God. "Our Father," "Jesus Christ," "God," and "Lord" should not be repeated too frequently in prayer, and when used, should be spoken in reverent tones. "Some think it a mark of humility to pray to God in a common manner, as if talking with a human being. They profane His name by needlessly and irreverently mingling with their prayers the words 'God Almighty,'—awful, sacred words, which should never pass the lips except in subdued tones and with a feeling of awe."—Ibid., p. 176. Let us also eliminate the organ music during prayer.
- An error of which some ministers as well as local elders are guilty is to begin the offertory prayer before the pianist or organist has been given the courtesy of completing the offertory number. The offertory is a part of the worship service, and should not be considered unnecessary or an unimportant part even though the deacons have received the offering before it has been completed. In all probability the musician has spent considerable time practicing and preparing for the number, and the pastor or local elder should not feel it his prerogative to stand up as soon as the offering has been received and cut off the music for the offertory prayer or begin praying as the offertory number is continued. This is a discourtesy to the musician and an insult to God. The offertory number should not be long, and the musician may be so instructed, but it should be played in its entirety before the offertory prayer is given, provided it is the practice to have this prayer after the offering, which would seem the most logical place for it.
- The call for the offering from the desk can be done with dignity. To resort to lightness and humor in calling for the offering is sacrilegious. We stand in dire need of solemnizing, beautifying, and embellishing this part of our church service. A few appropriate remarks are in order, stating clearly what the offering is for that day and quoting a brief statement from the Spirit of prophecy or the Bible that would encourage and inspire the people to participate in this phase of the service. The deacons are then asked to wait upon the congregation as they worship the Lord with their tithes and offerings. The call for and the receiving of the tithes and offerings are as sacred and essential a part of the service as the prayer, and should be .done with as much thought and care.
Our denomination does not believe in or follow a liturgical form of church service. This is as it should be. God is to be worshiped in spirit and truth. We are not required to follow a punctilious ceremony in approaching God. The supreme Sovereign of the universe is quick and eager to respond to the faintest cry of the sinner. But we must not go to the other extreme and permit the church service to degenerate into an informal, ill-planned, and undignified service. When we come into God's holy temple and He speaks through His servants in the pulpit to the people, it is an awesome and solemn occasion. We should therefore beautify and exalt the service and conform to an accepted standard of ethics and procedure where His name is wont to be proclaimed and praised.
Our attitude, mood, and demeanor in His house, especially on the platform and in the pulpit, will have its influence on the degree of reverence and inspiration that will prevail in the service. Let us, as ministers and conference workers, be exemplary in our manners and behavior, both on the platform and in the pulpit, ever remembering that whatever impression we make by our deportment will tend either to elevate or to offend the worshiper in the pew.
God holds His ministers responsible for the influence that the pulpit exerts over the pew. Let us then be conscious of that responsibility and make certain that the ethics, manners, and procedures we follow in our church services will exalt Christ and do credit to His name.