The distinction between preaching and teaching is crucial to spiritual development. Much of the sterility we have in our churches can be reduced-and thus we would have more fruitful churches-if we have a clear knowledge of the distinction between preaching and Christian teaching.
Why is this so? Why do we need to know the distinction?
Because these two activities have different goals and have different ways of attaining those goals. It is like feeding infants and adults. You do not feed them with the same food and in the same way. Infants are usually fed with milk which they suck from their mother's breast or from a bottle. Adults are fed with solid food which they take by their own hands.
But in most of our churches those who are not yet even spiritual infants, because they have not yet actualized their faith given in baptism (as in most Catholic churches), or because they have not yet accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior (as in Evangelical churches), are most of the time given solid food by Christian teaching. What these not-yet-spiritual infants need is preaching, not Christian teaching.
On the other hand we have many churches where the pastor keeps on preaching to a congregation of long time Christians already, spiritual Christians. And he still preaches to these Christians. What these Christians need is not preaching, but Christian teaching. They have already grown as Christians. What they need is spiritual nutrients, not the seed of God so that they can be born again. In some of these churches they have even called their main service as Preaching Service.
The goal of preaching is transformation, while that of Christian teaching is conformation. The purpose of preaching is to transform the listener so that he or she becomes a child of God from being just a human being. He or she is transformed from a life of sin to a life of holiness from God's point of view. He or she becomes a new creature. He or she leaves his or her old life and burns the bridge leading from it in such a way that even if he or she wants, he or she can no longer go back to that old life.
The goal of Christian teaching is conformation to the image of Jesus. The new creature now becomes more and more conformed or configured to the image of God as revealed in Jesus. The listener to Christian teaching is already a child of God. He or she now grows as a child of God and Christian teaching makes him or her more like his or her parent God. This is the purpose of Christian teaching.
And the means to achieve these two different goals also differ although they both use words and images.
In preaching the means is by announcing the good news of Jesus Christ, what Jesus did for the listener, especially in his suffering, death, burial and resurrection. By listening to this announcement the person is convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit of his or her sin and turns to Christ as the only one who can solve his or her problem of sin.
In Christian teaching the means is by showing the person of Jesus to the listener so that he or she gazes upon him and becomes more and more conformed to the image of Jesus. Moralizing is not basic to Christian teaching and yet most of our Christian teaching is a discourse on morality, how the Christian is to behave in himself/herself and in the world.
In preaching we experience the power of God, ushering us to eternal life. In Christian teaching we experience his wisdom, enabling us to think, speak and act like Jesus. And the Apostle Paul tells us that Christ is the power and wisdom of God. It is all the work of Christ. The preacher and the teacher are only ministers of Christ.
Let preaching be done for those who have not actualized their Christian life, those who have not yet really accepted Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their life. But let Christian teaching be done for those who are already actualized or professed Christians. In this way lives are transformed and transformed lives are more and more conformed to the life of God in Jesus, thus turning our world upside down as the Apostles did during their time.
About the Author:
Jose Bulao, a lay Carmelite, wants to help you in your spiritual development. He is a Carmelite formator, helping other Carmelites in their spiritual growth. Prior to this work he taught philosophy, theology or religious studies at Notre Dame University and Ignatian College in Cotabato City, Philippines. To learn about the process of your spiritual development click this site http://developspirit.blogspot.com/