“But all things should be done decently and in order.” 1 Corinthians 14:4

In 1 Corinthians 14:40, Paul instructs his readers about proper decorum for exercising spiritual gifts in worship. As an apostle, he encouraged the church at Corinth to ensure that all things that pertain to worship should be conducted decently and in order. The words and actions of those who lead from the pulpit should model godly leadership and reflect excellent pulpit decorum. For this month’s ministry manners blog, I want to suggest three areas a preacher should be mindful of while leading worship from the pulpit—grammar, gestures, and gadgets.

Grammar: The most educated persons in church often sit in the pew and not the pulpit. Therefore, preachers should be mindful to speak clearly, try to eliminate excessive use of pause fillers like, “er, an, uh, and (yes, sometimes) ‘amen.’” And by all means, try to pronounce words correctly! There are numerous online resources that can assist with pronouncing words correctly; so there is really no excuse for the twenty-first century preacher to mispronounce even difficult biblical names such as Mahershalalhashbaz!

Gestures: We all make gestures as we preach whether we are conscious of it or not. Gestures can be a good thing particularly when gestures emphasize what we are trying to say, but be mindful of gestures that might be distracting to others. I have observed preachers who sway constantly as they preach, or bend over the pulpit for support. I have heard others make awkward sounds, or place their hands in their pockets, and even on their hips (you go girl!). One gesture in particular that may be offensive is finger pointing. This gesture often “points to blame or accuse” and might indirectly communicate, “I am better than you!” At the end of the day, gestures are useful. Especially when they come naturally and support what we are trying to say.

Gadgets: I have adopted “iPad preaching, and I love it! However, I have come to learn that preaching from my iPad does involve some risks. When using my iPad, I am always afraid that I forgot to turn off sounds, alerts, or other notifications that might distract me as I preach. An electronic device should be a help not a hindrance in preaching. If using an iPad causes you to lose your place or stumble over words, iPad preaching is not for you! If, however, you are comfortable preaching from your iPad, I HIGHLY recommend that you take some important steps. (1) Bring a hard copy of your sermon with you into the pulpit in case of a technological malfunction. Better to have your manuscript and not need it, than to need it, and not have it! (2) Be sure to turn off all alerts. Perhaps, put the device on airplane mode. It would be poor pulpit etiquette for a device to make a sound during your preaching (3) I believe the Bible should be elevated when reading scripture. Use your iPad for preaching, but allow the congregants to see you hold up a leather-bound Bible as you read the text. I teach a basic Christianity course to young college students who are required to make a church visit as part of the class requirements. One area of feedback I often get from these students is that the preacher failed to read scripture from the Bible. Some even say the preacher never took their Bible into the pulpit (Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!).

Good pulpit etiquette dictates that a preacher will monitor grammar, watch gestures, and secure gadgets. “Let all things  be done decently and in order.”

C. Lynn Brinkley serves as the director of student services and alumni relations at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Lynn is also an adjunct professor at Campbell and an ordained minister at First Baptist Church in Clinton.