I am always fascinated to see the backside of the pulpits in the United Methodist churches where I am invited to preach. Most pulpits have a shelf or two, and there are always all kinds of interesting things on those shelves -- usually matches or something to light the altar candles, a Bible of course, and a hymnal or chorus book, along with Kleenex, cough drops, and other medical essentials. Some pulpits have extra microphones tucked away on the back shelf, some have telephones or walkie-talkie systems to contact the ushers in the back of the sanctuary, and most have various other pieces of old, left-over equipment. Someone once said, "The reason we are all humble is that we always have a backstage view of our own life." Certainly that is true of pulpits. No preacher can feel too much self-importance when viewing the backstage or backside of the pulpit.
Earlier this summer I saw something on the back of a pulpit which I had never seen before. It was a rear-view mirror! No kidding, it was one of those convex, "objects in mirror may be closer than they appear" type of mirrors. It was the small round kind you might see on a bicycle or even on a motorcycle. There was a rear-view mirror in the pulpit.
I asked the pastor why it was there, and he responded, "I don't know, it was there before I came." I wondered about who put it there, and what was its purpose? Was some previous pastor nervous about the choir behind him?
It seems to me that every church needs a good rear-view mirror. We need to remember our past, our heritage, and the values upon which we were founded. It is important to know about John Wesley. It is even more important to know early church history, dating back to the Apostles. We need to study the Old Testament as well as the New. We need a good rear-view mirror.
But a pulpit is a funny place for a rear-view mirror. I have always thought of a pulpit as a place to look forward, to be prophetic, to see where God is leading us, and to boldly point to the future -- not the past.
Perhaps the Church (all of the churches) spends too much time looking into the rear-view mirror, remembering the "good old days," and even saying, "We never did it that way before." Maybe it is time to stop looking so much into the rear-view mirror, and it is time to look out the front window, gazing upon the future which God has in store for us.
Which direction have you been looking lately? Maybe it is time to put aside the rear-view mirror and to look ahead to where God is leading.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner