I was chatting with a friend the other day. She is about to preach her first message at church. While preaching is a new thing for her, she is a gifted teacher who has been teaching in the church for years. I have to admit I was taken aback a little when she asked me, “What is the difference between preaching and teaching?” I wasn’t taken aback because the question was weird. I was taken aback because after all these years of preaching and teaching, I really didn’t have an answer.
I always saw them as synonymous. My pastor is an awesome teacher and most of my favorite preachers are the ones from whom I learn a lot. The Bible seems to link them together. For example, in Ephesians 4, in the passage about the five fold gifts pastor and teacher seem to be linked. James also seems to link teaching with ministry leadership when he writes, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” So to some degree maybe they are one in the same and yet there are some differences.
The first thing I thought of in my chat with my friend is that teaching seems to desire interaction. When I go to teach in a workshop, class or seminar, I don’t want to lecture for an hour. I want to ask questions and I want to get answers. While I still have an end point to get to, a truth to be shared, I want to help people arrive there through dialogue and discussion. In preaching it’s different. Preaching, at least to me, is a monologue. The questions are rhetorical, something to be thought through rather than discussed. I’ve prayed, I have a message, I have worked hard to make it clear and concise and it is to be delivered without interruption. It’s less about discussion and more about “Thus sayeth the Lord.” I’ve experienced times where someone has tried to turn a sermon into a discussion, into a conversation, and it fell apart quickly. So perhaps that is the difference.
But then I had another thought, and this one is admittedly flawed. Teaching feels like it is more about information, while preaching is about inspiration. Now again, I know this is flawed. Some of the best teaching inspires and some of the best preaching gives great information, but I have also sat under teaching that had very little information and preaching that had very little inspiration. Both were highly disappointing. At its core, for me at least, when I teach, I want you to learn something and when I preach, I want you to do something. If my teaching makes you go beyond learning and do something, great! If, in my preaching, you learn something new, also great!
Ultimately though up to this point in this post, I have taken a human approach to it. What I HOPE happens based on MY efforts. The reality is, that is a really small part of it. The largest part is what the Holy Spirit does in the hearts and minds of the congregation. It’s truly Him that inspires both the learning and the doing. My job is faithfulness, to pray and the really listen and then to deliver what I have been given. After that, it’s all up to Him and to God be the glory!
At the end of the day, we never know what is going to touch hearts and minds. We never know what word or phrase, or action or creation is going to resonate. Our best bet is to trust Him, listen, create and deliver, whatever the format.