I love how words have meaning. A funny thing happens when in certain circles the meaning of words gets confused and awkward things take place. I have many friends from other countries who talk about this (my friend Neil can tell you some hilarious examples). A word or phrase we use in America can take on an entirely different meaning (even sometimes awkwardly inappropriate) to a group of people who grew up in a different culture (and vice versa).
This kind of thing happens often in the church. As Christians we run into all sorts of words (in the Bible and other places) that have actual meaning, but whose meanings shift, change, or just plain get distorted, as we use them in our communities.
I have run into this many times with the terms “teaching” and “preaching.”
What’s the difference?
We could answer that question definitively from Scripture, because both of these terms are employed there. But we often answer that question from a practical standpoint for ourselves, even if we fall prey to confusion. As someone who teaches and preaches often, I usually run into these “practical” assumptions from people in regard to these two things:
1) Teaching has content (knowledge that you learn).
2) Preaching makes you “feel” something.
Practically speaking, these two definitions aren’t that far off, but they need some further explanation. I have often said that it seems to most people that preaching is simply teaching, only louder and sweatier. In regard to my personal convictions and practice on preaching and teaching, people who employ the above definitions often describe what I do on a Sunday mornings at my church more as “teaching” than “preaching,” primarily because my messages have a fair share of content in them.
How would I personally describe what I do on Sundays? I preach on Sundays. Does that preaching involve teaching? Yes it does. I think all biblical preaching includes a good deal of teaching, yet it also encompasses another factor. Let me define what I mean.
The New Testament uses the term “teaching” or “teach” or “taught” several times. The Greek word “didasko” is the primary word used. To teach basically means “to communicate doctrine.” I think we could safely say “to download knowledge from one person to another” is an accurate assessment of what the Bible means in terms of teaching. In this sense, any sermon that reveals and explains the Bible could definitely fall under “teaching.”
There are many more Greek words used in the New Testament to refer to preaching. There are at least 5 that we translate into “preaching” or “preached” in English. The two primary words used basically mean to “declare or proclaim the good news as a herald.” The main distinction with preaching is that preaching calls one to a response. Preaching is not simply downloading knowledge, it is also declaring application, calling to action, and declaring the gospel.
What I participate in on Sundays at the local church I pastor is known as “expositional preaching.” This means the Bible is “exposited” or “exposed” in every sermon, not as a “part” of the sermon, but as the sermon. This means that the content of the Bible is being taught, but it is being taught through preaching. The message is a call to action, a call to respond to the truth of the Bible being taught, a call to transform, a call to repent, a call to live differently.
What I pray every week as I prepare and deliver my sermons is that the response of my hearers would not be momentary, shallow, or fleeting. I preach week to week to the church God has called me to shepherd with the goal of true, lasting, full, real, and dynamic life-change.
The humbling thing about biblical preaching is that for it to come “through” you, it must first come “to” you. That’s a reality I live with day after day as I seek to be formed by God’s word so that I can rightly divide it for my people.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.