I’ve been thinking about preaching a fair bit over the past week or so. In particular, I got to wondering, What are the fundamental differences between preaching and lecturing?
I wonder if it would be safe to say that one of the most basic differences lies in the responsibility for understanding. Here’s what I mean.
In a classroom lecture, the hearer (the student) is held responsible for learning and retaining what is being taught. In preaching, the preacher is viewed as responsible for making sure the hearer (the church-goer) learns and retains what is being taught.
From that basic distinction come all kinds of differences. Here’s one example. In a classroom setting, a professor may mention a term like oligarchy or a person like Barth without having to offer any further explanation. If the listener doesn’t understand, it’s up to him to go do some research and figure out what the professor was saying. In a sermon, however, it’s never okay to mention obscure terms or people. You are striving with everything in you to make sure the people who hear understand the truth and its implications, so you would not want to do anything to obscure the truth.
Here’s another example. In a lecture setting, if the teacher is presenting a complicated theory, he needs only to cover it once and then move on. The students have the text book and have been assigned the reading, so the one explanation should be sufficient for them. In a sermon, however, the preacher must understand that most people don’t read the text book and that even when they do, they need help understanding how to put concepts together. The preacher, then, illustrates, the truth in terms, images, similes, and stories that the people will readily be able to identify with.
There are many more examples, but I think I’ll leave it with those two for now. Does it seem fair to suggest that one of the basic differences between preaching and lecturing is the placement of the responsibility for understanding?