Okay, this is a bit out of sync with our current series on “Who is God?” but I’ve just picked up an email to a group of pastors and teachers asking about the difference between preaching and Bible studies. Should our main Sunday morning gatherings stick to preaching or can they ever include “Bible study.”
This links a little to our earlier series on “How do I know?” So I thought I’d share some thoughts here.
There used to be a big distinction made (perhaps still is) between preaching/preachers and teaching/teachers.
1. There’s a difference between different styles of communication and interaction. Outside of church you might make a distinction between a talk/lecture/presentation/seminar/workshop. So if it’s helpful to use different labels to define style then that’s useful providing that your clear on what you mean by it.
2. I fear that the preaching/teaching distinction can end up being used arbitrarily and judgementally. “He isn’t really a preacher you know. He’s more of a teacher.” Sadly, in that tone it’s combined with a hierarchical mentality. The preacher is seen as doing something specially anointed by the Holy Spirit whilst the teacher simply uses human skills to understand the text and explain it. So if you think “I’m just leading a Bible study” then similarly you are in danger.
3. I heard someone recently use an old phrase “preaching to the affections.” They meant that God’s Word doesn’t just call for an intellectual response but there will be obedience and there should be an impact on our emotions. I think this really sharpens out thinking about the danger in making false distinctions. On the one hand, we can end up excusing our failings as preachers because this become our “gift” and so who is to challenge us. Similarly we can miss the impact of a Bible Study and assume it will either be just a sharing of opinions or an intellectual exercise to gain knowledge. We can excuse the person who is doing a teaching exposition for being dry because they are “a teacher not a preacher.” But surely, if God’s Word is at work it will call the right response whatever the setting. I will grow in my understanding but I will also apply it to my life. Where God’s Word should provoke joy, gratitude, hope, sorrow, anger, urgency then it will do whether I am in a Sunday morning service, a home group, a Bible college seminar or the Bible Reading at Keswick or Spring Harvest.
4. I personally wouldn’t make the arbitrary distinction about which type of meeting to do what in. Similar to the issues above, you may give the impression that something is a lower priority. I’d look at the passage or topic you are preparing and then think about who is going to be there. The passage or the people may call for a different approach. It may be appropriate at a midweek meeting for you to talk without interruption for 20-25 minutes whilst on a Sunday morning you may want to open up to questions and discussion.
5. Some groups of people will respond well to the open engagement. They will be more likely to understand, remember and apply. In other contexts, you will just end up with dead silence and some may be too scared that they are going to be put on the spot or they’ll associate it with school and so you might think this is less helpful.
6. Each individual preacher/teacher will have their own style. They will be more or less comfortable with different approaches.
7. We should never assume that one or other approach is the easier one. It would be very dangerous to think “I’ve not had time to prepare a sermon so I’ll just jot down some questions and get the congregation to do the work.” Often you need to do even more preparation when you open thing things up to respond to all the potential avenues and cul-de-sacs that could open up.
8. Whatever style/approach you employ, you do not abdicate responsibility for proclaiming God’s Word and teaching his people. There are right answers and right applications.
Any further thoughts? Pitch in below.