There are a few different philosophies regarding the place of preaching and teaching in the church. Admittedly, I am a little biased. I am a preacher. Different churches have chosen to do things in different ways. There are churches who have much teaching and little of anything else, churches who limit the sermon time to 10 or 20 minutes so that they can have more music, churches in which no application is given with the Scriptures, churches where the text is not explained but application is heavy, and churches in which little Scripture is used. Some preachers teach an idea and use Scripture to support their thoughts and some teach the Scriptures in their context while trying to accomplish the purpose that the writer of that passage was striving to accomplish. Some pastors will utilize different types of media, some are staunchly against power-point or video, and some preach from movies while desperately searching for some correlation so that they can “make the Bible relevant.” There are many different types of sermons. Each teacher will, no doubt, do whatever he can to defend his own approach. I wonder, according to Scripture, is there specific instruction given to us as we preach and teach? What should the content be? How long should a sermon or lesson last? Do we teach conversationally or do we preach? Should we use illustrations, media, or try to make application? What part does Scripture play in the preaching and teaching ministry of a local church body?
In the Scriptures, a specific method is not defined for us. The Bible is very clear about what the content should be. God has some very specific instruction regarding what is to be taught in the church. Paul gave this instruction to his student, Timothy. So, we will look at Paul’s instruction to Timothy. That makes sense, right?
1 Timothy 4:1-2
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of His appearing and His kingdom: Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.
Paul instructs Timothy based on a foundational truth. Jesus Christ will judge both the living and the dead and Paul needed to make this instruction because of Christ’s appearing and His kingdom. Jesus Christ is preeminent and Jesus Christ appeared for the redemption and judgment of the world. It is the kingdom of Jesus Christ that is being built. So, naturally and as a direct result of this truth, the preaching and teaching ministry of the church is primarily about Jesus and not about glorifying people. It is about teaching the words of Christ and not about teaching the words or convictions of people because it is not the kingdom of any pastor or leader or congregant that is being built. Christ’s kingdom is the only kingdom that Jesus Christ is interested in building.
Regarding this truth, Paul instructs Timothy to preach the word (κηρξον τον λογον, literally “preach the word” referring to “the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” 2 Timothy 3:15). So, the content is always to be primarily the word of God as contained in the canon of Scripture.
There is a natural question. As the times change, shouldn’t the content of the church’s teaching also change? Paul’s answer to this is, “no.” He instructed Timothy to persist in the preaching of the word whether convenient or not (in season and out of season). The word as contained in Scripture is the content of the church’s message and the instruction is to persist in the teaching of God’s word as contained in Scripture whether or not it is convenient. There are many things that may change (in fact changes are unavoidable), but the particular content of the teaching is cannot be one of those. So, we rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.
We see Paul exhort Timothy, in his first letter, to instruct people not to teach some things that they were teaching:
1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.
Any doctrine that is different than that given in the Scriptures is not to be the content of the teaching within the local church. The church is not to make up stories or make empty speculations rather than the plan that God has spoken by His word.
This is the New Testament teaching. Is this teaching something new? Did people somehow evolve into this new understanding regarding the content of instruction in the midst of God’s people? Since the New Testament (particularly what Paul wrote) is an exposition of the Old Testament, we might conclude that, no, it is not a new idea. In fact, the only reason Paul can make this instruction in the New Testament is that the Old Testament Scriptures bade him make this specific instruction to Timothy.
They will teach Your ordinances to Jacob
and Your instruction to Israel;
they will set incense before You
and whole burnt offerings on Your altar.
In the Old Testament, the priest had the responsibility of teaching the ordinances, the instruction, of God to the people of God. They were to teach the whole of God’s word as recorded in the Law. Wait, wasn’t the Law a new thing at one point in time? It was, but it revealed the very character of God and the insufficiency of people.
Genesis 3:11, 17
Then He asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?… Because you listened to your wife’s voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’: The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life.”
In the earliest story of the Bible, we see that God desired people to hear His instruction and not to instruction coming from any other source. Just as Paul pointed out to Timothy, it was because God, the creator, had created and is building a kingdom for Himself by His own word. It has always been the content that God has desired. That is why we preach the word of God. Considering this, let’s take the time to answer the questions asked in the introduction of this article.
Is there specific instruction given to us as we preach and teach? Yes.
What should the content be? The content of the preaching and teaching should always be the reading, explanation, and correct application of God’s word as contained in Scripture.
How long should a sermon or lesson last? Scripture does not give specific instruction, but a good sermon or lesson will take the time necessary to read a passage, explain the passage accurately, and make correct application. Depending on the passage, this will usually require between 40 minutes and 1 hour (different preachers will take different amounts of time and many churches around the world will have 2 or 3 hour lesson times). A general rule of thumb is that the more time we invest, the more we will benefit from the beautiful and wonderful words of life (so long as we are preaching and teaching Scripture correctly).
Do we teach conversationally or do we preach? Yes. There is a proper place for both methods.
Should we use illustrations, media, or try to make application? Yes, where appropriate for God’s glory and the good of God’s people.
What part does Scripture play in the preaching and teaching ministry of a local church body? It is where we begin and it is central. We begin with the study of a text. We explain that text in context. Then, and only then, we make proper application. This is what we refer to as expository preaching and teaching. The word is exposed to us and we are exposed by the word for God’s glory and our own good.
A biblical view of the preaching and teaching ministry of a church, then, is this: Be careful to rightly preach the word, it alone is sufficient for all of life and ministry.