Freed to live through the death of another.

Preaching vs Lecturing

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?


  1. Brad Watson

    Fascinating question Julian, let me add a few quick thoughts, mostly questions though I guess. I agree wholeheartedly that as preachers we would not want to do anything to obscure the truth and its implications. However, why would a lecturer want to do that either, unless he cared very little about what he was trying to communicate? From my vantage point, your examples made sense as that is typically what we have come to expect from lecturers, but that leaves me with some questions.

    First, in your examples, the lecturer might use words or people’s names that some do not know and he might move on without caring, but why should he? Is it that our preaching is too much like lectures or that our lectures are not enough like preaching? If what is being communicated is important, then there must always be some owness put on the communicator to present the information in the clearest way possible. Perhaps it is time to expect more from lecturers. If listening to a lecture is just about information, then why am I listening and why are you talking? If the lecturer does not care enough about what he is talking about to make sure people understand, why should we bother listening?

    Or reversely, as preachers, have we come to expect too little from those listening to us? Perhaps the lecturer realizes something we do not. Perhaps part of the learning process, the process of finding and discovering truth is doing your own digging. Maybe we pander too much to our listeners by trying to make everything clear and removing all obstacles. Perhaps it is the preachers who could learn from the lecturers, maybe it is time for our listeners to do some work on their own, maybe understanding truth requires a person to grapple with it and work with it, and maybe by trying to make everything clear, we are doing people a disservice?

    One final thought: can we throw teacher into the discussion. What is the difference between the preacher, teacher and lecturer, if any?

  2. Cyril Guerette

    hmmm i’m a preacher, teacher, and lecturer and i enjoy this topic.

    i think another difference is that the lecturers goal is primarily the conveyence of information. the goal of the preacher is motivation to action. however, as brad has pointed out there is substantial overlap in that neither preacher nor lecturer can neglect conveying information or motivation action, it is largely a matter of emphasis.

    i can say that being a lecturer for a few years, i stepped into the pulpit and was really hit with how different they are, although growing in one will inevitably help you in the other.

    anyways, thought-provoking stuff gentlemen.

  3. Paul Stimers

    Julian – thought provoking post!

    I just wanted to agree with Brad’s thought and add a few of my own. I think that too often those who attend church regularly wait to be spoon-fed. This is truly disheartening for me – I think that all Christians should be good students of the Word, which means that we should go home, study, learn, understand, apply, etc. – especially those terms we don’t understand well, the theologians we haven’t read, the mythology we haven’t been taught, and so on.

    All that being said, there are often those who are seeking, or those who are new to the faith, and pastors need to be sensitive to them as well – pastors may discourage some of those people by talking “above them”, so to speak.

    Truly a fine line, I think.

  4. Brad Watson

    Question for you both though. While a lecturer’s goal might be the conveyance of information, the information being conveyed is still coming from the lecturer’s perspective and the goal I would think is more than just conveying information, it is the shaping of a worldview. Whenever someone stands in front of us and speaks information, they are … Read Moretrying to convince of us something, even if they are not aware of it. For instance, a history prof might be only converying the information, but what he is conveying is a particular way of looking at history. I am probably splitting hairs here, but fundamentally I am not so sure the two tasks, preaching and lecturing are all that different…but alas, I am only a preacher. I guess I am wondering if the main difference is really that the lecturer just doesn’t have to make excuses for being boring

  5. Brad Watson

    This is immensely interesting to me, so forgive me for ranting on. I am thinking of my brother who is a prof at UVic, and in my experience, the lecturer is just as much at this pulpit as is the preacher. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if the university today holds the position that the church did a few hundred years ago. The university today … Read Moreis in many ways seen as the institution that holds truth, though I think this also might be changing.

    Now, Julian, I have a feeling you are talking more about the Christian lecturer vs. the Christian preacher. In that case, while I understand the goal of the Christian lecturer is to pass on information, i still can’t help but think that no matter what the context, the one presenting must still in some way hold responsibility for ensuring those listening understand.

  6. Cyril Guerette

    hey yeah i definitely think there is an overlap but there is defintiely something different as well. for example if i as a lecturer tried to get my Martin Luther King Jr. on for 3hrs straight it would lose its effectiveness. we are indeed trying to shape a worldview in either instance but how we go about it is slightly different.

    interestingly this relates to my thesis somewhat in that i am stating that poetry and philosophy are not opposites because they are both grounded in language. this means that any language utterance has both a philosophic and poetic dimension. that being said there is some usefullness in using the categories of poetry and philosohpy when classifying linguistic use.

  7. Mark Hollingsworth

    I enjoyed reading all the posts. I think there is a difference in lecturing and preaching but some of the goals will be the same depending on the subject, for example, secular vs. sacred. I am pastoring right now but have been a professor in the past. My goal was to impart knowledge but also to get action, sometimes, even in the classroom. And I think that good preaching can impart some knowledge and seek results as well.
    Very interesting subject and I enjoyed the posts.

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