A couple of years ago, a missionary on the field sent me two questions: (1) What is preaching? (2) How does preaching differ from teaching? He didn’t ask because he didn’t know the answers. He was preparing lecture notes for an upcoming homiletics class and wanted outside input. In this article, I’d like to share my brief answers to his questions.
What is preaching? Preaching is the bold declaration of God’s truth.
How does preaching differ from teaching? Preaching differs from teaching in style and intent. Regarding style, preaching is primarily declarative. It is the work of a herald, lifting up his voice; it is wielding a hammer. Teaching is primarily instructive and more methodical. It is the work of a scribe, giving the sense and being thorough; it is using a scalpel. Regarding intent, preaching targets a changed mind and definite decisions. Teaching targets discipleship and a firm foundation of understanding, word by word and thought by thought.
As an aside, I believe that good preaching teaches, without compromising the distinctive qualities of preaching. And as a teacher myself, I am compelled to say that good teaching preaches, especially when application emerges during the course of instruction. In 1 Timothy (1 Tim. 4:11), Paul emphasized Timothy’s obligation to teach his people. In 2 Timothy (2 Tim. 4:2), Paul emphasized his obligation to preach. Both ministry functions equip the people of God, and both preserve the truth. Both are necessary to the health of the church today.
Thomas Overmiller serves as a Bible professor at Baptist College of Ministry in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.