Preaching vs. Teaching

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.

About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
This entry was posted in 2theSource, For Pastors, Preaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Preaching vs. Teaching

  1. Bob Metcalf says:

    Very good points.

  2. pastor adenusi folarin says:

    You explanation on the difference btw teaching & preaching is simple and direct to point, God bless you richly amen.

  3. Nick Lockyear says:

    You state that the terms preach and teach are found in the bible, but you don’t offer any scriptures dealing with them. Every example of preaching I read of is a short pithy statement to advertise Christ, His kingdom, and the command of repentance. It was done on the roof tops, in the streets of the marketplace, in the wilderness, etc.

    Matthew 4:17
    From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

    Matthew 10:27
    “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.

    The example of Jonas shows us exactly what a preacher is.

    Matthew 12:41
    The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.

    John the Baptist did a lot of preaching.

    Mark 1:4
    John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

    The modern definition of preaching has narrowed the practice down to behind the walls of the church building, primarily for the saved. From what we see in the bible, the purpose of preaching is to let the lost know about God’s plan of salvation through Christ and make disciples. We are to preach the gospel ( the good news).

    Acts 14:21
    And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.

    Rom 10:14-15
    How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”

    • I was just thinking about this subject again the other day Nick. The more I study it the more I am convinced that preaching always includes a call to response, whereas teaching is more geared toward the “downloading” of content…. thanks for the references-

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