There has been a long-standing debate among pastors and churches as to the difference between preaching and teaching. Some people say that teaching is content while preaching is persuasion. Some people say that teaching is boring and preaching is lively. For every ten pastors you ask, you will probably get ten different answers as to the difference between these two concepts. I have always tried to define them in this way.
- Teaching is the presentation of biblical truth with a view towards life change
- Preaching is the presentation of biblical truth with a view towards life change.
To me, they are the same thing, just with a slightly different emphasis. It is impossible to teach the Bible without calling someone to change their life. And it is impossible to preach the Bible without presenting biblical truth as the foundation of life change.
This past week, I started reading The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash (full review coming soon). There was one section of his book that addressed this issue. He emphasized that in the pulpit, the pastor needs to both teach and preach. One without the other leaves the audience lacking. Here is how he put it.
"Let us not just teach, but also preach. If teaching is like the signpost which explains clearly to us where we ought to go and how to go there, preaching is like the friendly but firm shove from behind to get us started on actually going there and to keep us moving. We must teach: exhortation without teaching is like someone giving me a shove without explaining why. It is an act of verbal aggression, an invasion of my personal space, a ranting and raving without explaining to me why I need to do what the soap box warrior shouts to me that I must do. We must teach. If we do not teach with patience and clarity, there is no point preaching. But we must not stop with teaching. It is a fine thing patiently to explain to me so that I understand. But if you love me you will press home to me with all the force you can my need to act on what I now understand, and to act on it today." (64-65)
Pastors, maybe the issue is not how we define preaching and teaching. Maybe the issue is to make sure that both of them are part of our presentations in the pulpit. Or maybe, I had it right. There are the same thing and there are times when we emphasize different aspects. There might be times when we are emphasizing the presentation of biblical truth. And there are times when we are emphasizing the life change that should flow from that truth. But either way, we need to make sure we are doing both consistently when we open the Bible to teach (I mean, preach to) others.