Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Preaching vs Teaching: Is There a Difference?

What is difference between preaching and teaching? Or is there even a difference at all? Many insist that the terms are to be understood as two completely separate activities. One often hears this when Christians say things like "Pastor Jim is more of a teacher than a preacher" (or maybe vice-versa).
Sadly, people often distinguish these two terms based on style, i.e. 'the preacher is motivational' whereas the 'teacher is informational'. I've even heard believers insist that preaching aims for the heart and teaching aims for the head.
But are such distinctions biblical? Those that believe this have a real problem. Are they really going to claim that in Acts 4:2, when the apostles were "teaching all the people" about the resurrection of Jesus, they were not concerned about the heart of the hearers? Or how about when Jesus went through Galilee "teaching in their synagogues" about the Kingdom (Matthew 4:23)? Was he only aiming at their intellectual grasp of the Gospel? These kinds of "distinctions" are just silly.

The words are not as distinct as we might think. Sometimes scripture even uses them interchangeably, such as when Mark 1:39 and Luke 4:44 say that Jesus was "preaching in the synagogues", whereas the corollary account in Matthew 4:23 says he was "teaching in the synagogues". What Matthew saw as "teaching" Mark and Luke saw as "preaching". 

Yet there are also times when the Bible seems to imply a subtle distinction between the terms. Jesus traveled around Galilee in order to "teach and preach in their cities" (Matthew 11:1). The work of Paul and Barnabas is described as "teaching and preaching the word of the Lord" (Acts 15:35; cf Acts 5:42) and in Colossians 1:28 Paul says "Him we preach, warning and teaching every man in all wisdom." It is hard to explain the presence of both words if they mean exactly the same thing.
Confused yet? Sometimes the Bible sees a distinction between the words, sometimes it doesn't. Don't fret, because it's not as confusing as it might seem. What this tells us is that while there are subtle differences between the words, there is also a huge amount of overlap.
 In other words, preaching can't really be understood apart from teaching, and vice-versa. Think of it this way:

Preaching is the act of proclaiming or 'heralding' the Gospel especially, but not exclusively, to those who haven't heard it before. This could be through the work of a missionary or evangelist who has only one opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to a group of people. Or it could be in the ongoing work of a pastor of a local church who regularly reminds his congregation of the glorious work of Jesus on the Cross. Of course, such heralding has teaching in it, as people are being taught the basic truth of the Gospel.

Teaching is explaining things about the Gospel that people don't understand and instructing them how to live in light of it. It is the act of coming alongside a person or group of persons for an extended period of time and patiently walking them through the revealed truths of God. It seeks to explain what has been heralded (i.e. preached/proclaimed) and see those truths come to fruition in someone's life. Teaching contains an element of heralding, as the Gospel is being proclaimed as it is being taught.

When the basic message of the Gospel is proclaimed, people are being taught, even if they don't understand all of its implications. When the message is further explained (teaching), it is being re-proclaimed (preaching). So, the difference between preaching and teaching is not based on the style of the preacher, or whether or not he shouts, whispers, pleads, uses PowerPoint, is expository or topical, reveals, informs, gives the Roman's Road, or offers an altar call. The real difference is that one announces the Gospel and the other further explains the Gospel and its many implications.

Both are necessary in a local church, and most likely your pastor is doing both (if your church preaches the Word). Some sermons may lean more towards proclamation (the Gospel) and others more towards explanation (implications of the Gospel for our life). Most likely your pastor leans more heavily towards teaching (which as we demonstrated above, always has an element of proclamation in it). This is appropriate, because his job is to equip the Body for service to the Lord (Eph 4:11-12) and to train them in righteousness with God's Word (2 Tim 3:16). Notice the instruction Paul gives Timothy, permanently tying together the work of preaching & teaching within the local church:
"Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim 4:2)

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