A member of my church brought to my attention the issue of preaching versus teaching. Some of you may be scratching your heads and wondering if there’s a difference. I believe it’s safe to interchange those terms in most cases, but there is a hair difference between them. In fact, the Bible on several occasions separates them in lists.
And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him. (Acts 28:30-31)
Preach means to “herald” or “proclaim”. In this case, we’re talking about proclaiming the Gospel in a declarative way. Teach means to, well, teach. It’s where the teacher helps the student to learn or know something.
As I said, there is but a hair difference between them. In a way, those heralding the Gospel are teaching and those teaching the Gospel are also heralding it. Though it’s not always easy to distinguish any variation in the Bible, we typically see the apostles preaching when they are addressing those not already disciples of Christ. They make general declarations that Jesus was the Christ and He died for our sins. On the other side of the coin, we see them teaching those already in the church. Look at the New Testament epistles and you see them go well beyond general declarations of the Gospel and into more practical matters of daily living.
To simplify things, preaching is geared more towards people not yet baptized or members of the church–newbies to the Gospel, if you will. Teaching is for those who already have a foundation in the Gospel. It is used to help them grow from there (see Hebrews 6:1-3). Does that make sense?
Sometimes we talk about their differences without understanding the differences as I’ve explained them. Rather, some think of preaching as a minister blindly opening his Bible with no study or preparation, randomly choosing a verse on the page, allowing the Spirit to speak through him without his control or influence, and somehow ending the sermon by talking about salvation by grace regardless of where he started. Of course, to preach in this way requires a loud voice, lots of emotion, and a pounding of the fist on the lectern. It never hurts to insert the phrase “my brothers and sisters” a lot either.
As for teaching, well, I think we all pretty much agree on the definition of that one. However, some frown upon teaching simply because it’s not old school preaching. You know, the type of preaching that was done before the pews were padded and restrooms were brought indoors. (My Primitive Baptist brethren can laugh at that one…I hope.)
With most complaints against “too much preaching” or “too much teaching”, we’re really just complaining about preaching/teaching styles. Every pastor has his own style. Some are quiet. Some are loud. Some make jokes. Some are solemn. Some are articulate. Some are scattered. Some are captivating storytellers. Some are thought-provoking theologians. Some love expository studies. Some prefer topical studies. Shall I go on?
I could even mention the many nuances and quirks of preachers I’ve known through the years such as speaking habits, hand motions, pacing, breathing, favorite Bible references and so on. Every member of every church has his/her likes and dislikes when it comes to ministers. Is one style better than another? I suppose that varies from case to case.
As for me, it’s hard to evaluate my own preaching. I may hear it one way while the church hears it another. Based on the conversation with my brother in Christ earlier this week, I would say I fall more on the teaching side of things than preaching in pretty much all of the aforementioned definitions. I might get loud at times, but I’m not overly emotional. I may declare the Gospel, but I almost always expound on it to show the practical relevance. I may not take a detailed outline with me into the stand, but I never come unprepared either.
The fact is I’m not much of a “preacher” in the way we often think of preaching. I tried it when I first started in the ministry and it didn’t take. In other words, I tried real hard to sound like what I thought a preacher should like and, as it turns out, it wasn’t me. Today, I live by “the bishop’s code” (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7). If I am to be apt to teach then I better be teaching. Furthermore, my church should be learning from me.
In many ways, what my church is learning and the rate of their growth combine to be a measuring stick for my efforts in the ministry. These are not always easy things to discern–especially when the members range widely in age, experience, etc.–but there are relatively clear indicators along the way.
Based on the evidence I see, I am currently having the most success in my ministry I’ve ever had. I don’t mean for that to sound arrogant because I’m certainly not comparing myself to other preachers. I’m examining myself in contrast with myself. I’m evaluating the present versus the past in my never-ending quest to identify my weaknesses.
A call into the ministry is a tremendous one. It’s a great responsibility not to be taken lightly. The preaching/teaching of the Gospel and the guidance of the Lord’s flock is for the glory of God and the edification of the saints. God help me if I fail to give it my best.
I believe each minister has to find the right balance. He has to know where his church is at in their growth. At times, a church may need more preaching or simple declarations of the Gospel than in-depth teaching. At times, it may be the other way around. A pastor has to feed the sheep and the lambs. It’s not always an easy balance to find.