In a previous article I explained that, when it comes to the affirmation of either an elder or a missionary, we should be hopefully and respectfully asking, “Where is your Timothy?” In other words, where is the fruit of your ministry? If a man cannot show himself both fruitful as a well as faithful then he should not be an elder. Neither should he be a missionary.
In that article, I made the statement that, although an elder and/or missionary must be skilled in teaching (1 Timothy 3:2), this does not necessarily mean that he must be a gifted “preacher.” I want to explain that statement.
The words “preach” and “teach” are both used in Scripture with reference to the proclamation of God’s Word. Interpreters have debated whether there is a difference between the two. Some say that a “teacher” aims to inform while the “preacher” aims to transform. But clearly the “teacher” of God’s Word should aim at transformation just as the “preacher” should seek transformation through information. In fact, without sufficient biblical information, I question whether true transformation is even possible.
Some have made the distinction that one refers to evangelism (preaching) and the other to discipleship (teaching). But again, Scripture speaks of teaching both in the context of discipleship and evangelism. Finally, some argue that “teaching” refers to a small group or one-on-one settings, while “preaching” refers to larger and more public settings. But the textual evidence does not consistently sustain these neat categories. The following examples reveal the artificial nature of such distinctions.
We read in Acts 8:35 where Philip “preached (euaggelizo) Jesus” to his audience of one: the Ethiopian eunuch. Acts 11:20 describes some of those who were scattered by Saul’s persecution who went to Antioch and they “spoke (laleo) to the Hellenists, preaching (euaggelizo) the Lord Jesus.” The church there was only founded after this “preaching,” so clearly the “preaching” was equivalent to evangelism; and much of that was one-on-one or in small groups.
Turning to “teaching,” the apostles “taught (didasko) the people” publicly in the temple (Acts 4:2) in what might be likened to “preaching” today. Again, “they entered the temple early in the morning and taught (didasko)” (Acts 5:21). This was clearly public proclamation (preaching) because someone reported to the religious leaders, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching (didasko) the people” (Acts 5:25). Once again, “they did not cease teaching (didasko)” the Word “in the temple, and in every house” (Acts 5:42). This teaching was both private and public.
When Paul was under house arrest, he was found “preaching (karysso) the kingdom of God and teaching (didasko) the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). Being under house arrest, this evidently was not preaching in a church setting; rather, it was teaching in a more informal setting.
In conclusion, it certainly seems that the terms are used interchangeably, at least in Acts. So why do I make the distinction that an elder/missionary must be able to “teach” but not necessarily to “preach”? I do so because of the cultural ideas that colour our ideas of “preaching.”
When we think of a “preacher” and of “preaching,” we tend to think of someone standing in a pulpit and delivering a sermon. For whatever reason, we tend to equate “preaching” with a particular style of delivery and with a particular way a sermon is outlined. We tend to think of what many call “homiletical” or “oratorical” skill.
But we need to remember that the main issue behind teaching/preaching is the clear conveyance of the content of Scripture. We can say that conviction, content and clarity are the primary issues when it comes to “preaching.” And so, while many of the finest elders and missionaries are not remarkable in the pulpit, they nevertheless do have the ability to articulate truth in an understandable way to those they are called to shepherd.
In light of this, I think it is unfair to judge an elder by his pulpit skills. And I hold the same uneasiness when it comes to missionaries. A missionary is called to make disciples with a view to the planting of a local church. This requires teaching the Word as well as heralding the Word as God’s “ambassador” (see 2 Corinthians 5:18–21). The “herald” speaks with authority, not necessarily with eloquence. In light of this, we are on solid biblical ground to conclude that neither the elder nor the missionary is required to have remarkable skill in the pulpit. In fact, this is not where most of their work will take place.
For example, consider a missionary sent to an unreached people group. In such circumstances it is doubtful that there will be many occasions where the missionary will be speaking in a pulpit-like setting. Rather, smaller groups and one-and-one settings will characterise his ministry. To expect him to “pulpiteer” is not justified. The issue is, can he credibly communicate the doctrinal content of the Word of God?
Likewise, most elders will carry out their ministry in one-on-one and small group settings. And so what has been said about missionaries applies equally here as well.
No doubt those who preach regularly in a pulpit ministry need to develop and to improve their preaching skills. But is a “polished pulpit delivery” a biblical requirement for an elder/missionary? No, it is not. The elder/missionary is not necessarily going to “wow” with the Word. And not every elder and/or missionary will necessarily spend a lot of time in the pulpit. What we should expect is that he will know God’s truth and be able to help those to whom he ministers with that truth. Again, we must be careful not to judge an elder/and or missionary by our culturally-conditioned definition of “preaching.”
Let me summarise: A man who is called by God to serve as a missionary is one tasked with the mission to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ with a view to the planting of a local church, which he will eventually leave in the hands of his “Timothy.” This will require that he speak with the authority of a herald (“preacher”) as he proclaims (“teaches”) the whole counsel of God—whether behind a pulpit to a group, or in a hut on a dirt floor with one or two others. In other words, he will be a teacher who preaches, but not necessarily like the preachers of his own culture.
Elders are called to a similar task. The elder of the local church proclaims (“teaches”) God’s Word with authority (“preaches”) to those in his flock. The flock grows healthy and reproduces. And so does the shepherd. His “Timothys” will go and do likewise. The elder may feel very out of place in the pulpit, but he will always be at home with an open Bible. And those to whom he ministers will learn, will be fed, and will grow to the good of their souls to the glory of God. Such is the fruit of biblical preaching and teaching.