Preaching and Teaching Are Not the Same

Josh Buice

When I sit with my family around the table for a meal on the Lord’s day, I will typically ask, “What did I preach about today?”  I love hearing my children answer the question with correct answers, although occasionally I have to step in and assist them with the answer.  I don’t typically ask “What did I teach about today?”  I could ask about my teaching, but I typically ask about my preaching.  In the sermon, both elements of preaching and teaching are present.  Exactly where is the overlap and how can you discern between the two?  Does the church need both teaching and preaching?

The Differences Between Preaching and Teaching

Preaching and teaching have a certain amount of similarities, but we must be clear – preaching is not teaching and teaching is not preaching.  J. I. Packer once wrote, “Preaching appears in the Bible as a relaying of what God has said about Himself and His doings, and about men in relation to Him, plus a pressing of His commands, promises, warnings, and assurances, with a view to winning the hearer or hearers…to a positive response.” [1]

Paul spoke of these two acts and apparently noticed differences and similarities at the same time (1 Tim. 5:17; ).  Preaching is the act of proclamation.  In the life of the church, the preacher preaches the Bible.  Taken from specific terms found in the Bible, preaching has the goal of heralding the truth of God’s Word.  The Greek word, κηρύσσω, used by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:2 means, “to act as a herald and make an official announcement, to proclaim aloud, to make public declarations.”  The picture here is one of the town herald who would enter a village, gain everyone’s attention by blowing a horn or signaling to everyone to gather around, and then immediately after the hush of the people, he would make a public declaration on behalf of the king and with the authority of the king himself.  Haddon Robinson writes, “Ideally each sermon is the explanation, interpretation, or application of a single dominant idea supported by other ideas, all drawn from one passage or several passages of Scripture.” [2] Preachers make public declarations with the authority of the King of kings.  That is what preaching consists of – proclaiming the truth of God’s Word.  Preaching involves: 

  • Proclamation
  • Explanation
  • Confrontation
  • Exhortation
  • Correction
  • Persuasion
  • Motivation
  • Edification
  • Illustration
  • Application
  • Conclusion

The act of preaching involves passion, compassion, and a desire to impart truth at the same time.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones defined preaching by writing:

What is preaching? Logic on fire! Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. I say again that a man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one. [3]

Precision is necessary in preaching, and it should have a healthy balance between the head and the heart.  Divorce the head from the heart, and you will have a train wreck of emotion in the pulpit.  Disconnect the heart from the head in the pulpit and you will have a running commentary of cold theology that does not lead the congregation to proper doxology.  Tears of joy, conviction, and eyes that dazzle in the glory of God is the goal – not yawns of boredom.  Preaching is best accomplished through careful, expository, and passionate theological statements that are heralded from the sacred desk of God.  Save your gadgets, laser pointers, video clips, and other teaching tools for the classroom.  Preach the Word.

Although teaching is similar to preaching, there are differences that must be noted.  Teaching imparts truth to people, but the act and the context will look and feel differently.  The Greek word, διδάσκω, used in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, means, “to tell someone what to do, to instruct, to provide instruction in a formal setting.”  The work of teaching is less heralding and more discipleship oriented.  Teaching is mainly the classroom style of imparting knowledge and seeking to apply it while making sure the student understands the truth.  When teachers teach the truth, there is often a lecturing element to the event.  Often times there will be a discussion element involved in teaching that provides immediate and on-the-spot feedback that’s missing from the context of the sermon.  In the teaching setting, other outside tools such as laser pointers, media devices, audio or video clips, and various other tools are employed to drive home the truth.  These elements are often missing from the preaching event.  John Piper does not encourage preachers to employ visual media in the pulpit while preaching, but suggests that these tools should be reserved for other teaching settings.

The Overlap of Preaching and Teaching

All pastors are called to be teachers (Eph. 4:11).  What I mean in that short pithy statement is that I believe Paul to be labeling the office of pastor as pastor-teacher in Ephesians 4:11.  Therefore, in every sermon there must be teaching.  There is a natural and healthy overlap between preaching and teaching.  Not everyone who teaches will make a good preacher.  Not everyone who is skilled in the pulpit will make a good teacher.  It’s often true that people find their calling and giftedness leading them to spend their primary attention on one of the two as opposed to both preaching and teaching.  Some elders are certainly gifted teachers, but they’re not equally as gifted in the pulpit.  Those individuals typically are not called to be the primary preachers in the life of the church.  Many preachers who are obviously skilled in the pulpit are not as skilled in areas of formal classroom instruction or written communication, but there is always a natural and necessary overlap at some level.

The preacher who never teaches will likely fill his sermons with clichés, jokes, and shocking statements that often cause people to remember the effect as opposed to the truth.  Teachers who never preach are often boring, commentary style, dry, dull, and lifeless communicators.  It’s one thing to know the truth, but quite a different thing to communicate the truth effectively.  There must be an overlap between the preaching and teaching worlds in the hearts and minds of those given to this calling in the church.  Apparently Paul and Barnabas were engaged in both teaching and preachingministry (Acts 5:42; 15:35).

The Need for Preaching and Teaching

The church must have both preaching and teaching.  Without preaching and teaching overlap and giftedness in the church, the people would starve spiritually.  Both preaching and teaching serve the church by equipping the saints for the work of ministry, leading the people to exult in God, revealing the glory of God that leads to doxology, and breaking the hearts of the church for the unbelieving masses among the nations.  Preaching reinforces teaching and teaching reinforces preaching.  The church that minimizes preaching or teaching (or both) will suffer a long list of perils.  Walt Kaiser, in his book, Toward an Exegetical Theology writes:

It is no secret that Christ’s Church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, “junk food”; all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result, theological and Biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using foods or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their physical bodies. Simultaneously a worldwide spiritual famine resulting from the absence of any genuine publication of the Word of God (Amos 8:11) continues to run wild and almost unabated in most quarters of the Church. [4]

The need of the hour is for faithful and passionate expository preaching to be reinforced by precise and careful teaching that exalts God, convicts sinners, and fuels healthy growth.  God desires for the church to grow by proclamation and explanation – preaching and teaching of the gospel (Matt. 28:18-20).  Preachers must not be afraid of going deep and teachers must not be afraid of passionate proclamation.  God’s truth is not reserved for the seminary classroom, so God desires for preachers to teach.  Paul instructed Timothy to do both preaching and teaching.

2 Timothy 4:1-2 – I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

  1. J. I. Packer, Preaching a Biblical Interpretation in Inerrancy and Common Sense, ed. Roger Nicole and J. Ramsey Michaels, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 189.
  2. Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 33.
  3. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 97.
  4. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward An Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 7-8.
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Author Preaching and Teaching Are Not the Same

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.