Preaching AND Teaching the Gospel: Evangelizing Unbelievers AND Believers

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I say old chap, did you say, "Evangelize believers AND unbelievers?"
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A first look at the title will immediately raise some eyebrows. "Evangelize believers?" That's what it says. After doing some extensive study about three years or so ago on the difference between preaching and teaching in the book of Acts, it became obvious that the difference between preaching and teaching was more that of content than anything else. But it is not in a way that would seem obvious. Let me explain.

Considering the Ministry of the Word...

The apostles stated with no uncertainty in Acts 6:4 that their tasks were prayer and the ministry of the word. The ministry of the word for an apostle was the ministry given to them by Christ in Mark 16:15, namely to preach the gospel to every creature. And it was also to teach all things Jesus had commanded, according to Matthew 28:19-20. Both texts clearly deal with evangelism. Preaching seems to be that means by which the gospel is first introduced to someone who is yet unconverted. And teaching seems to be the means by which the gospel is applied to someone who is already converted. So both believer and unbeliever are essentially 'evangelized' through the ministry of the word in preaching and teaching. The ministry of the Word can be illustrated as a coin with the two sides of preaching and teaching.

Consider the Ministry of Preaching the Gospel...

The very word “preach” (kerusso) connotes a bold proclamation of the gospel of Christ. The Greek word for ‘preach’ denotes the official activity of an ancient herald who would announce publicly some specific news. Or perhaps it was a public invitation to attend some event or activity. It may also have been the proclamation of a command of a king or ruler. Regardless of what the herald proclaimed, the result was that the message would be spread extensively. The Greek word for ‘teach’ simply means to inform and/or instruct someone about something, whether in a formally or informally."

The apostles understood the word of God to be communicated through bold and extensive proclamation of preaching. We see this in a wider context in Acts 8. The result of Saul’s persecution of the regional churches was a scattering of the believers. Luke then records that, “those who were scattered went about preaching the word." One person in particular who did a great deal of preaching was Philip who proclaimed Christ in the region of Samaria. As a result, “the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God…” (8:14). Samaria had received the word of God by means of preaching. Acts 11:1 contains a similar example of this expression.

In Acts 12:24 we read, “But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied” (see also Acts 13:49; 19:20). When Paul and Barnabas had been commissioned to go out as the first missionaries, it was recorded that, “When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews…”

A member of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, “summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God” obviously through their preaching. A couple of chapters later, Paul and Barnabas are seen “teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:35). They both agreed after some days to “return and visit the brethren in every city in which [they] proclaimed the word of the Lord" (v. 36).

After their split up, Paul went on to Philippi with Silas and there they “they spoke the word of the Lord” to the jailer “together with all who were in his house” (16:32). A little while later, “when Silas and Timothy [Acts 17:15] came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:5).

Considering the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel...

Now there is another facet to the ministry of the word, and that is the ministry of teaching. It is synonymous, but it seems to differ from preaching in one sense. Whereas the very word “preach” connotes a bold proclamation of the gospel of Christ, the word “teach” connotes instruction and dialogue with others.

In preaching, the Word of God, as we saw previously, is the message that is heralded extensively throughout the land. So also with teaching, the Word of God contains the information and instruction which is communicated to another person, whether in a formal or informal setting.

We see this in Acts 18:11, for instance, where we find Paul in Corinth. Luke records that, “he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” This facet of ministry would be nothing different than what Jesus prescribed for the apostles in Matthew 28:19-20 where He commanded them, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” However, the parallel to this passage is Mark 16:15, which we have noted already, and there we read that He commanded them to preach the gospel to every creature. They are very similar then, yet not so similar as to extinguish the particularities of each word.

Some Considerations About Preaching and Teaching the Gospel

Now to be fair with these texts, preaching takes front stage for the obvious reason that the church has just been born and is growing rapidly. And to be honest with these texts, the recipients of the preaching of the Word are lost people. Again preaching seems always associated with the gospel, which is always associated with lost people. Therefore, this ministry of preaching is seen almost exclusively in the environment of what we would today call ‘evangelism.’

The ministry of teaching is seen almost exclusively in the environment of what we would today call ‘church.’ The recipients of the ministry of teaching are almost always believers. We see this first in Acts 2:42 where the believers have devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. In 15:1 false teachers had come from Judea to Antioch and were teaching believers. True, they were false teachers, but their teaching was centered on believers, nonetheless. And finally in Acts 18:11, to which we have already referred, Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half teaching the new believers the Word of God. So in these few references, teaching seems to be associated with believers.

But we must return to honesty with all the texts and note that the ministry of teaching is in truth much like that of preaching. There are times when teaching is centered on lost people, thus associated with the work of evangelism. In Acts 4:2, for example, the Jewish leaders “were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.”

Immediately you will note the presence of both teaching and proclamation. And you’ll note that both were centered on the essence of the gospel message. This occurs again in 5:42 where Luke records that, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” After the apostles were arrested and released we see them Acts 5:25 “standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” Presumably these were lost people who were being taught the message of the gospel. For this they were arrested and imprisoned on the charge that they had “filled Jerusalem with [their] teaching” (v. 28).

A few chapters later, the proconsul, of whom I spoke earlier, “believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord” (13:12). He was lost, heard the teaching about the Lord, and was saved. Again, teaching is associated with evangelism. The same thing can be said of Acts 17 in Paul’s famous sermon to the Aeropagus. In verse 19 we read that he began his speech after “they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?’”

So honesty and fairness with the texts demand that the ministries of preaching and teaching center a majority of the time on the work of evangelism, telling lost people the good news of Jesus Christ. Unless I have missed a text or two, which I have done many times before, preaching is associated with the work of evangelism. The work of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ is the work of preaching.

On the flip side of that coin, however, teaching is also associated with the work of evangelism. And due to the very difference of the word itself, it probably centers more on explaining the demands and instructions that the good news of Christ makes on one’s behavior and lifestyle. This would then explain its usage in an environment where people are already believers. They still stand in need of understanding and obeying the implications that the gospel must have on their lives.

Preaching then, is the proclamation of the good news. And teaching is the explanation and application of the good news. Both primarily center on lost people, but teaching also takes place among believers.

The preaching and teaching of the good news of the gospel of Christ to lost people is the priority of the pastor. The church will grow in God’s good time, but only through His ordained message and means. And teaching the implications of the gospel to those who are already saved is also the priority of the pastor, for it is these who will in turn go out and teach and preach to others and win them to Christ enlarging our churches even more.

I issue a call then for pastors to return to what was normative about the ministry of the word in the early church. I call myself and fellow pastors to fix their eyes on the duties of preaching and teaching as described in the Scriptures, and not as described by modern experts and scholars. If you want to be an expert, be an expert on the gospel. And if you want to be a scholar, be a scholar of the cross and the empty grave. Stay out of the ivory tower and at the foot of the cross or in the empty grave or on the Mt. of Olives where Christ ascended to heaven.

Evangelize unbelievers and believers, alike. They both need the gospel. One needs it to come to Christ, and the other needs it to abide in Him. I close with a few words from Charles McIlvaine's work Preaching Christ: The Heart of Gospel Ministry.

"No inquiry...should seem to you of such importance as that which seeks a full understanding of the work of preaching Jesus our Lord and Saviour, according as is taught in the Scriptures and set before us in the example of the Apostles. It is an inquiry with which the work of a minister of Christ will be more and more identified as he himself shall grow in the mind of his Master, and in a personal experience of the power and preciousness of the grace revealed in him.

"More and more have I learned the need that ministers should keep their teaching close to that one central and living theme [the gospel of Jesus Christ] if they would have it [their teaching] honouredof God as his power unto salvation. And the need also of constant and jealous watchfulness against the many snares and by-ways by which we may be led into such departure therefrom as will have the effect in part, if not entirely, of unevangelizing our work" (pp.1-2).

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