Teaching Before Preaching

While I won’t always work as a full-time preacher, I’ll always do the work of an evangelist. This is what I’ve been telling myself for the past few months as I’ve processed how traditionalist views of locally supported preachers often run contrary to biblically supported views of the work an evangelist does. And I’m convinced that one of the biggest and most ironic obstacles preachers face is the overemphasis of preaching.

Preaching, or perhaps more accurately “pulpit lecturing,” has as its aim to persuade people by the truth of Scripture to act in accordance with a common faith in the risen king Jesus. There’s just one problem: preaching often assumes that the audience has a common understanding of the faith as taught through Scripture. Such an understanding comes from reading and studying and researching the historical narrative, poetic wisdom, prophetic satire, and theological argument contained within the anthology of biblical literature that is Scripture itself. Such an understanding, in other words, comes from a much more complex and involved process than what a preacher can accomplish in a sermon. Such an understanding, then, is often lacking in churches where the sermons of preachers to their audiences are appealing to that which, for many, isn’t there.

To be clear, I don’t think the answer to this problem is to change preaching to resemble teaching. Preaching has as its aim to exhort through careful exposition and crafted argument. There’s a time and a place for preaching; that time just isn’t all the time and that place isn’t everywhere. In fact, if preachers want audiences that can better engage sermons both thoughtfully and critically, then it isn’t more preaching that churches need; it’s better teaching. Churches need skilled teachers who labor day by day and week by week to lay a firm foundation for every disciple. Churches need skilled teachers who prioritize intellectually challenging engagement, not indoctrination. Churches need teachers who equip Christians to understand truth for themselves, not a preacher’s opinion of it.

Evangelists need the time and space to devote themselves not only to preaching but to teaching. They need understanding from church leadership as they set aside time in their schedules to prepare to teach and engage with disciples throughout the week regarding what was taught. Perhaps if we stopped overemphasizing the weekly public lecturing and started emphasizing the daily public and private teaching, we’d begin to encourage disciples to see the Christian’s commitment to learning as much more than listening to a Sunday service sermon.

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