Lecturing or Preaching?

I’ve been thinking about the differences between lecturing and preaching. This recent article by Iain H. Murray got my thinking started again.

I must begin with a caveat though. I think the difference shouldn’t be an either/or but perhaps points along a spectrum. Also, I think the differences aren’t hugely important at times as both are valuable and edifying for the people of God. However, I still think some distinctions should be noted. This is especially in our contexts where I feel, for many Bible College graduates in Sydney, many don’t really know the difference between preaching and lecturing/teaching and inadvertently end up much more along the ‘lecturing’ side of the spectrum and hence miss out on giving their flock the full benefit of what preaching does and can do.

Now since I don’t want to draw false dichotomies unnecessarily, I won’t list my points below as ‘preaching’ is x versus ‘lecturing’ is y. Rather, I’ll just jot down off the top of my head some features that I think make preaching ‘preaching’.

1. Preaching aims at transformation

You’ve probably heard it before but the goal of the preacher isn’t ultimately information but transformation. Thus the preacher needs to be above all else prayerful and reliant on the Holy Spirit.

2. Preaching aims at the affections

The Puritans, especially Jonathan Edwards, rightly emphasised the importance of our affections and they preached with the affections in mind. When they refer to the affections they don’t simply mean a purely emotional response. What Edwards meant by affections, especially proper ‘religious affections’, is directly related to our minds and our wills. So for the preacher, it is important to feed the mind with truth and challenge the will. But the preacher recognises that he is shooting for the mind en route to moving the affections. For it’s not enough for me just to ‘know’ what holiness and sin are and be told to act on that; I need to be stirred in my affections to love holiness and hate sin. The mind needs to be fed until the heart perceives and apprehends the truth to such an extent that my very desires are moved in sync with these truths. Then my will can be moved to change my behaviour and then there will be true transformation.

(An aside: this is why Puritan sermons were soooo long – for you can’t get into the affections without spending significant time leading your hearers to meditate on the truth until it warms your heart. There’s my excuse for long sermons! haha)

3. Preaching does a double-exegesis

Preaching doesn’t just exegete the Word, it must exegete the world. Therefore cultural engagement and application to your hearers is so important. This means that great sermons should be on the one hand ‘timeless’ (because of the Word) but on the other hand be very ‘time-bound’ (because of the world), since they were powerful precisely because they were preached to a particular culture at a particular time.

4. Preaching is prophetic

Now I’m careful not to say that preaching equals the gift of prophecy since I think prophecy in the Old and New Testaments is something else (though there might be instances of the prophetic gift in operation during the preaching). However I do think that preaching has a prophetic element to it since the preacher has the enormous responsibility of being a herald for God, of calling his generation to repent of sin, pursue holiness, seek Jesus and love Jesus. The preacher therefore has a particular ‘unction’ (an anointing/burden placed on him) to fulfil the role of a prophet in his generation and must preach with a certain amount of earnestness and passion (see my last post). It’s sad that so few preachers nowadays preach with this sort of ‘unction’. I think preaching at times is so committed to technique that we’ve lost a desire for a prophetic presence that can’t be reduced to methods of communication.

5. Preaching is an act of worship

Now of course all of life, including ‘lecturing’ is worship. However I think that for the preacher, what he does while he preaches is particularly his act of worship in the context of the corporate worship of God’s local gathering of people. In other words, as the preacher I must not think that I am excused from worshipping during the rest of the corporate gathering, or that my sermon is disconnected from the worship of the gathering, nor think that only the congregation is worshipping as they listen to my sermon. Above all else for me, this preaching, this heralding, this moment is my worship – something I pray and hope will be faithful to God and acceptable to him. The preacher ought to pray this before his sermons, if not at the pulpit then at least in his heart: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

I’m sure there’s more. This is just my 30 mins of thought over breakfast. I’d love to hear what you think!

About Pete

I am a child of God, a husband, a father of four children, a pastor, and a church planter. I live in Sydney Australia and live to see Jesus made famous in this city and be the only God people worship.

Posted on May 25, 2010, in Bible, Church, Ministry, Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. All good points, especially point no.2 .

    So that’s why the sermons at church have been getting longer (true story). 😉

    • pastorpeterko

      haha Jess, believe me I realise that my sermons are getting longer and I’m working at trying to reduce them down again. Easier said than done esp. when you get into a habit. Thanks for putting up with me though! 😉

      • Oh, I’m quite used to it & enjoy it though. I sat through long sermons at Unichurch. I love the meaty stuff!

  2. great post Pete.

    agree with u. Especially like your point about unction. It’s one of Stu White’s big beef’s about contemporary preaching

  3. allanatfarcountry

    recently a friend and I talked about preaching, he pointed out an interested point: how different man and women respond to sermons? he said that men in general like being together doing something and women are in general good listeners. Women like long sermons and they respond from their hearts, yet men find meaning in action and they prefer a short sermon. Do you think it is a valid point in terms of the style of teaching and learning?

    Also, should preaching be an one-way communication or a two-way relational responsive discussion? I guess that is probably the reason that Q&A finds a place during the service. Some people do a short sermon (15-20min) and then following with a Q&A. Often this is found in an International / Easy English service context. What do you think?

    • pastorpeterko

      Hi Allan. Interesting observations from your friend. I’m not sure if I agree with him on his analysis of how men and women differ as listeners, as I’m a man and I really love meaty and long sermons that hit me and affect me on all levels. But that in itself might be an anomaly. However, I am heartened by the fact that at Mars Hill Church Seattle, their greatest demographic is single unchurched men and they seem to love hearing Driscoll preach for average 1hr+ (!) so I’m not sure if that theory holds.

      Also, I’ve thought a little bit about the Q&A format. I shy away from doing that regularly (though for an Easy-English I would definitely consider it) for a couple of reasons:

      (i) I think a good sermon isn’t a monologue but a dialogue between the preacher and the listener, though happening internally. A good preacher will also address a listener’s potential objections and questions. This doesn’t preclude having Q&As but may help address the whole ‘one-way’ vs. ‘two-way’ thing.

      (2) I think to have Q&A after some sermons at the end of the service sometimes disrupts the power of the sermon, esp. when the sermon is calling for repentance and meditation. Also, a Q&A sometimes gives the impression that this is something that you can leave or take, and perhaps goes against the ‘prophetic’ vibe of what a good sermon should have (though I am not at all suggesting that the preacher should be seen as infallible and beyond questioning).

      I think however it’s not an either/or. I can think of ways of doing Q&A where perhaps the service has ended officially but ppl can hang around for questions afterwards. That might work better. And as I said, I think for Easy-English ministry it’s almost a must – short sermons and Q&A.

  4. This is exactly something I was thinking about these days. What should the sermons on Sundays be like? More like lecturing or preaching?

    Should it be a matter of personal preferences? On the preacher or the congregation?

    Biblically speaking, in the NT days, were the sermons more like preaching rather than lecturing/teaching??

    • pastorpeterko

      Hi Tet, I definitely think the Sunday sermons ought to fall on the preaching side of things. I reckon there are times for more lecture/seminar style things but the corporate gathering should be given the full ‘unction’ of the preached Word.

      As for the NT times, both teaching and preaching happened, though I reckon the sermons recorded in Acts would fall towards the preaching end of the spectrum rather than the lecture end.

  5. Thanks Pete – very helpful!

    One thought I might add – from my limited experience with preaching I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to default into ‘lecturing’ mode when you’ve done little prep. Because it’s not hard to download some commentary somewhere and get ‘facts’ and information about the text.

    With real preaching, according to your definition, that requires real, passionate, deep reflection and engagement with the text – allowing the Word to read us and to transform and change us. Which has to be an unhurried process!

    So I guess what I’m saying is…it’s not possible or at least very difficult to preach unless you put aside the time – easier to cram a lecture than a true sermon!

    • pastorpeterko

      Hey Adoz, I agree with you totally! The kind of thing required by preaching rather than just lecturing is time- and prayer-consuming as well as people-intensive. The bad news therefore is that no one can really do it as well as they would like. The good news is that God sanctifies our imperfect works and still uses them. The interesting news is that many think that to get a good sermon prepped they need to withdraw from other types of ministry that take time away from the study: e.g. evangelism, pastoral care, visitation, discipling. But actually I would argue that enough time spent doing those kinds of things, while it takes away prep time, will do infinitely more to add depth to your preaching because you’ll better be able to exegete your world and apply the Word to your flock! 😉

  6. Hey Pete,

    Just wanted to say thanks for this post. It’s a really helpful perspective (and reminder!) for thinking through what preaching is all about. 🙂


  7. While I agree with most of your points, having had experience with University lecturing (secular position) and still continuing in that role in a limited way, I disagree with some of your ideas on lecturing.

    The latest educational theory and practice emphasises the importance of education in transforming and changing behaviour and personal and professional qualities, rather than just transferring information. This is particularly the case for professional degrees.

    In most professional degrees, assessment of graduates have changed or are changing to assess their ‘other’ attributes apart from simply their knowledge or ability to transfer that knowledge to paper. E.g. increasing role of practical exams, and assessments that takes place in the workplace setting around tasks that the graduate will actually be performing, etc. If this principle was applied to Bible colleges, then graduates will be MAINLY assessed on criterias such as their ability to preach, their ability to deal with problems around church, and their ability to show leadership to congregations.

    How we deliver lectures are changing too. Good lectures involve the audience in an interactive way. Good lecturers will make the topic relevant to the audience and their needs. Lecturing about topics that the learners find unrelated to their professional field of practice is bound to fail, so there is a need to tease out the practical implications of what is being taught. Good lectures have no more than 3 or 4 main take home points. (thus they are quite inefficient as a way of transferring factual information, but excellent for communicating difficult concepts and showing the implications of these ideas in practical terms). I think an ideal lecture is closer to a good sermon than the sort of boring lectures that we have all been subject to. This is not to say that lectures are sermons, because they are not – you have provided many other good reasons for this.

    It is sad to see lot of lectures being delivered in ways that are contrary to what I described above. This might be particularly the case for courses and degrees of more generalist nature – e.g. Bachelor of Arts that aims not at producing professionals but simply aims at giving general education for their graduates.

  8. to lessen the length of your sermon you must delete some unnecessary segway

  1. Pingback: Preaching and Leadership with the Messengers - Leadwms

  2. Pingback: Rallying Others with Jon Snow - Leadwms

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: