Most preachers would rather preach than teach.
Even the names say that, don’t they? We call pastors “preachers,” not “teachers.” And yet … In seminary, we used up an entire class period one day trying to figure out the difference in preaching and teaching. By the end, we had given up.
Each of us has our own understanding of how they differ. Here’s mine:
Think of preaching as exhorting and proclaiming in order to change lives; think of teaching as imparting information and insights in order to inform the mind and change the heart. Teaching can be an important but minor part of preaching, and exhorting may be one component of good teaching. But the major chord of preaching is proclaiming, and the major thrust of teaching is conveying insights and truths.
“Yes, but …”
Right. We could go all day long—as we nearly did in that class—with exceptions and perceptions. But let’s get on with the business at hand: A pastor (“overseer”; see Acts 20:28) must have the ability to teach. This raises several questions, among them: Why should a pastor be able to teach? And how should he teach?
(Note to women pastors: I write as a Southern Baptist. No offense intended by the male references. Thank you.)
Teaching is a major part of a pastor’s job description. In fact, Ephesians 4:11 calls this office “pastor/teacher.”
The pastor is the closest spiritual leader to the people. Or should be. No one knows the sheep better than the shepherd. The visiting evangelist doesn’t. He and the missionary who drops by and the denominational official who stops in on his rounds can proclaim and exhort and even inform, but no one is able to teach the people better than the one who knows them best, loves them dearest and is daily paying the price for the privilege of leading them.
When the man of God who prayed with us in the hospital before my surgery, who performed our wedding, who buried my parents, who baptized my children and who is on call whenever we need him, when this shepherd opens the Word to teach, I’m more than ready to listen. He has my undivided attention.
Oh, pastor, teach your people. If you have been there for them in their crises, they will listen to you as to no one else. In the Jerusalem church, the apostles were teaching pastors. When the church of 120 found itself overwhelmed by 3,000 additions in a single day, a quick conference of leadership determined that the four activities necessary to disciple and assimilate the newcomers would be: “the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer” (Acts 2:42). Priority was given to doctrine, and the apostles were the ones to teach it. After all, these who had walked with the Lord for three years were better able than anyone to say who He was, what they saw and heard and felt, and what it all means.
The apostles were teachers. You be one too, pastor. Teach your people. Why the pastor should teach his people:
1. In a typical Baptist church (again, this is who I am and all I know), the membership knows a lot about the Bible, but it’s mostly jumbled, out of order and not always clear to them. They need to be taught by one who will take the time and do it right.
2. Your members would love to know how the Bible is organized and divided; how to read the Proverbs (not as promises but as principles); how to fall in love with the Psalms but not get hung up over some of its harshness; what to do with the dark prophecies which can seem scary; and how to make the most of a daily quiet time with the Word. Many want to know how to pray, how to share their faith and what to do when they find themselves arrested, beaten, and then thrown in jail (see Acts 16:25). Teach them not to be caught off guard by trouble, tribulations, even persecution. Teach them to tithe when they are broke, to love the unlovely and unwashed, and to forgive when everything inside them cries out for revenge.
Teach them to live by faith. Teach them that living by faith means worshipping and believing and praying and giving and forgiving and everything else by faith, and teach them what that means.
3. If you do not do this, pastor, in most cases it will not get done. How the Pastor Should Teach His People
The shepherd should use every tool in his box, every opportunity that comes his way, every problem that arises in the church, every victory and every failure. Teach the people individually, in private conversations and counseling situations. Teach them from the pulpit, in sermons as well as in the welcoming and announcing times. Teach them in classrooms and in homes.
Teach them by your example.
A good pastor will look for creative ways to teach his people.
Let me tell you a teaching thing one of my pastor mentor does. Pastor Tom has pulled together several “mature” couples in the church and assigned each one a number of younger couples to mentor. Once in a while, the leadership couple invites their assigned couples to meet—sometimes in their home, perhaps in a restaurant, at the church, for a cookout or ball game or study time. They talk about life and marriage, God’s Word and raising children, handling finances and in-laws, and they pray together.
When I heard of this, I thought two things:
First, how blessed these people are to have such a visionary pastor.
And second, how much my wifet and I would have benefited from such a mentorship when we were newlyweds. Instead, one would have thought we were reinventing the home, since we learned everything the hard way. Incidentally, that is precisely what qualifies a couple to teach others later: struggling to learn the lessons and wishing to extend a hand to those coming after them.
Clearly, a pastor is not the only teacher a church has. But he is the best teacher in the church. He is the one who leads the teachers and often teaches the teachers. He is the one who values teaching above almost everything else that goes on in church with the single exception of worship.
“When [the shepherd] puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4).
Teach them, pastor.
I can hear some young preacher saying, “But my people do not want to learn. They are satisfied the way things are.” My suggestions:
Do not tell them, “I am now teaching, and you are now learning.” Just do it. Start with the basics—what the writer of Hebrews called “the elementary principles” (Heb. 5:12). Then go from there.
Pray hard. Pray for your people by name. Single out those who are responding to your teaching. Pray for them specifically, and encourage them personally. Be patient with them. In many cases, the sheep do not trust the shepherd because his predecessor abused them. Give them time and take the long view for yourself. Do not be quick to leave them for another church. Stay with the assignment.
Not everyone grows at the same rate. Some will grow easily and quickly, while others change slowly and almost invisibly. Rejoice in small victories; celebrate big victories.
Keep your eyes on the Lord and not on the members. Look to Him for your encouragement; otherwise you are setting yourself up for great disappointment.
Hang in there. Love them, and show your people what it’s like for them to have a pastor who loves them and wants God’s best for them and is willing to stay with them until they get it!
Photo(s) / Resource(s) Pastor Tom Davis, Dr. Joe McKeever