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Preaching versus Teaching

I’ve had experience both in teaching on a collegiate level and preaching regularly in a local church, and I’ve been giving some thought to how they are similar yet different.

Both teaching and preaching involve public speaking on a deadline; both are grueling in that one is constantly either preparing or delivering a bit of oratory. The comparison is not to a writer but to an op-ed journalist, as you are constantly having to be creative on a topic while meeting a deadline. Church, classroom, newspaper – these places wait for no one.

In many ways, preaching is teaching, especially in a time when people are fairly Biblically and religiously illiterate, yet current preaching must also be relevant and with a bit of entertainment as well – otherwise, people will not pay attention to the teaching! Teaching, of course, must also use the tools of entertainment and humor to keep students engaged.

But the character of worship makes preaching quite different from teaching. The music, prayers, and sense of God’s presence garbs preaching differently; now it has gravitas. The classroom is hopefully interactional and even meandering as ideas are explored, challenged, and reformulated, but the sermon is more focused and constructed (although it should be limber as well so not too wooden). Christian preaching is also different in that has an ultimate criterion, which is the Bible, while the classroom does not have a canonical basis (beyond clear readings of any given text). The feel of preaching is also vastly different as it relates to God in an intimate way.

Preaching hopes to tell people what they must do. Giving the practical implications of a text for one’s life is quite different from teaching in the humanities, which doesn’t so much tell people what to think but how to think. Teaching hopes to expose young minds to other possibilities so they can form their own positions and analyses, while preaching hopefully conveying a concrete way we should respond (while also, at times, exploring possibilities as teaching does).

All of that said, I have found that teaching has improved my preaching. Having to prepare for class some 12 times a week has helped me prepare for the pulpit, as well as given me more confidence (practice makes perfect!).

How to Have a Great Class: Kindness and Fairness

Paperback and Kindle Versions of Balthasar and the Question of Tragedy