The difference between teaching and preaching
By Randy Bloom, US East Regional Director
When was the last time you heard an inspirational sermon? When was the last time you preached one? (I used the word, “preach.” You’ll see why later.) These may be difficult questions to ask and answer. I’ve heard some inspirational sermons. I hope I’ve given a few. Knowing if a sermon is inspirational is often a subjective matter. It depends on a number of factors. But when we’ve heard an inspirational sermon, we know it.
We all want to give sermons that are inspirational, but how can we? The source of inspiration is the Holy Spirit. We know this. How can we do our part in participating in the Holy Spirit’s work of inspiring people through the preaching of the Scriptures? I’ll share a few things I’ve learned and experienced.
Earlier I used the word “preach” in reference to sermons. Many years ago, one of my graduate degree mentors told me, “Most pastors don’t know the difference between ‘preaching’ and ‘teaching.’ That’s why so many sermons are flat, and people aren’t being discipled.” I was clueless to what he was talking about, but I dared not let on. Stealthily (I thought), I pried out of him the difference between “preaching” and “teaching.” To sum it up:
- Preaching is primarily to appeal to the heart
- Teaching appeals to the mind
- Preaching is for transformation
- Teaching is for information
The differences are profound. Do you see them? In GCI, as in most churches in our (US) culture, an emphasis developed over the decades of preparing sermons that were highly rational (this developed out of The Age of Reason), logical and filled with information. Sermons became theological discourses and educational presentations.
Do not misunderstand. Sermons need to be logical. They need to contain (correct) information. But information alone does not transform. Information alone does not normally reach the heart, which is where transformation takes place. Good sermons will include teaching, but sermons that are basically doctrinal, historical or educational lectures will not transform hearts.
The primary objective of preaching is to facilitate the work of the Spirit to transform the hearts and lives of people. We are told that the gospel (not theological books, history books or inspirational Christian books) has the power for salvation (Romans 1:16). This is the gospel of and about Jesus, as revealed in Scripture. With this foundation, we have a better chance of preaching inspirational sermons.
Preach the Word, using the word
We start with a deep realization that we are called, and given the blessed privilege, of ministering the Word of God (Jesus) through the word of God (the Bible.) We do not have the right to preach or teach anything else. We aren’t called to preach from books. We aren’t called to preach our own ideas. Our primary source of sermons should be the Bible. We can use other sources for auxiliary information, illustrations or ideas. But we can’t be confident that our sermons will be inspirational if we rely on non-biblical sources for most of our sermon content.
It is not necessary to have a highly extroverted personality or dramatic flair to preach inspirational sermons. This can help, as I’ll explain in a separate article, but you can give inspirational sermons when they are based on the sound foundation of Jesus, as taught to us through Scripture. But what else can help us?
Preaching the Word through the word should be a humbling experience. So, we need to shed our ego. Preaching is not about us. It’s not trying to get our pet ideas across to people. It’s not about making sure people know how much we know (Lord, save us from the proud!). It’s not about our desire to try to change people. Our work is to preach the Word from the word. The Holy Spirit changes people. We can trust him to do his work with or without us – and we’ve all experienced this. So, please, don’t preach trying to “get people” to do things. Even that guy (or that lady)!
Preach with sincerity
Now a word about our personal presentation. As I mentioned, you don’t have to be an extrovert or have a “dramatic” personality to preach inspirational sermons. However, if we can’t preach with some enthusiasm and passion, it will be challenging to get and keep people’s attention in order to effectively preach (not teach). But enthusiasm and passion can be expressed in various ways. Very early on in my preaching/teaching life I learned that the most important trait a speaker needed was sincerity. People need to know we are sincere about what we are preaching. They need to know we care about God, the Bible and people. They need to know we care about and believe deeply about what we are preaching. When we do, our unique expression of enthusiasm and passion will be evident.
Our enthusiasm and passion come from our life being rooted passionately in Jesus. They flow from our relationship with him and our daily rhythm of time we spend with him and in the Scriptures. When we prepare sermons, we need to first ask him to speak to us – inspire us, teach us and transform us. Then when we stand before people, we are speaking from a wellspring of our life in Christ, a personal encounter with Jesus in the Scriptures and the transformation we have personally experienced.
Let’s humbly prepare messages with a full realization that we are completely reliant on the Spirit to help us participate in his process of transforming people. Let’s pray for inspiration; inspiration to hear his voice on a regular basis as he speaks to us out of Scripture and inspiration to deliver what we hear with love, grace and power.