I’ve been in lots of conversations with young leaders and aspiring preachers who have asked, “What is preaching?” More specifically, I’ve asked and heard the question, “What’s the difference between preaching and teaching?”
To non-preachers, this must seem like a strange conversation. But to young men trying to discern whether preaching is something they are called and gifted to do it’s an intense discussion.
It was during one of these conversations that my friend and fellow Redemption Church pastor, Tim Maughan, gave his definition of preaching: Preaching is the hostile takeover of the heart by the Spirit of God through the Word of God.
He explained something like this:
There’s a difference between teaching and preaching. Teaching assumes that people are ready and eager to learn. But preaching assumes that many people are distracted or apathetic. So preaching grabs them by the throat and says, You have to listen to this! It’s a hostile takeover. And it happens through the mysterious work of the Spirit of God as the preacher depends on him and upholds his Word. There’s a foolishness to preaching. Somehow God takes flawed men and uses them to accomplish his purpose.
This sentence changed my life as a preacher in a few ways.
1. I no longer assume interest in my hearers. I have to work to capture the attention of the congregation. I have to help them see, through the urgency and relevance of my communication, that they need what God’s word says.
2. I’m convinced that there’s no preaching without God’s Word. Listeners love stories, humor, and illustrations — and so do preachers. But if they aren’t helping illuminate and drive home the truth of God’s Word, then it quickly becomes about the preacher. Sermons that highlight my ability as a communicator don’t change lives. But sermons that draw people to the living Word of God — the text and the Son — are often used by God to save and grow his people.
3. God’s Spirit is my only hope to be an effective preacher. It’s been said that a “leader” who has nobody following isn’t a leader, but is just out for a walk. In the same way, a “preacher” who is not filled with, dependent on, and empowered by the Spirit is just having a talk.
There is skill to preaching. There is technique. There are lessons learned for each preacher as he develops his voice. There is much that can be worked on and improved.
But I can’t improve on this definition of preaching. It always brings me back to what my preaching ministry is all about.
Resources to Explore:
- The Supremacy of God in Preaching / Powerful intro to preaching by John Piper
- Preaching: 25 Things You Can’t Learn in School / Practical booklet by James MacDonald
- “Preaching to Believers and Unbelievers” / Terrific lecture by Tim Keller, given at Covenant Seminary
- Helps for Preaching / A resource I put together as an introduction to preaching
(HT: Image Credit)