to preach or not to preach

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I am not questioning whether or not preaching should exist. Nor am I questioning whether or not I should preach, though it was once suggested to me by a Southern Baptist pastor and professor {he was joking, but I say it counts}.

Having pondered the picture of preaching that we see in 21st-century America and that which we see in the Scriptures, my current curiosity might be expressed in this way.

Question: Within the context of the local church,. is it a task of the pastor/elder to preach?

What does “evangelical preaching” look like in our day?
A pastor, elder, or lay leader stands behind a pulpit or podium. He delivers, in a rather lecture-style fashion, a speech or sermon, interpreting and expositing a passage of Scripture. The congregation (whether dozens or thousands) listens, but does not actively participate or interact.

What does preaching look like in Scripture?
There is no easy answer to that question. A word-study of sorts is in order. The results, though intended to be thorough, are not exhaustive. In most cases, only one Scripture reference is given as an example, for sake of simplicity and space. If you would like additional references, just ask.

Some technicalities. Then concluding observations.

This post is lengthy. Sometimes it’s just a bit impossible to condense. I promise I tried.


Step One. Examine the word “preach,” as it appears in our English New Testament.

Kerusso – this word often coorelates with the idea of repentance (Matt 4:17), forgiveness (Acts 10:42), saving (1 Cor 1:21), & believing (1 Cor 15:11), thus carrying an evangelistic tone (Rom 10:14-15)

Euaggelizo – this word is almost always translated “preach the gospel” and seems to be used in an entirely evangelistic context (Acts 5:42)

Kerugma – in a few instances, the word “preach” is the translation of the word “kerugma,” a more general term which carries the idea of proclaiming or declaring a message (Titus 1:3)

Laleo – a few cases of “preach” come from “laleo,” also a more general term which is used simply for “speaking” or “telling” (Acts 8:25)

Step Two. Notice who is doing the preaching.

A quick list.

Apostles – Acts 5:42, 8:25, 14:7
Disciples – Mark 3:14-15, Acts 8:25, 9:6
Jesus – Matt 4:17, 11:1, Mark 1:39, 2:2, Luke 4:43-44, 20:1, Acts 10:36
John the Baptist – Matt 3:1
Paul – Acts 17:18, Rom 1:15, 1 Cor 1:23, 9:16,18,27, 1 Tim 2:7, 2 Tim 1:11
Peter – Acts 10:42
Phillip – Acts 8:5,40

Step Three. Consider their audience.

It would seem that these men never “preach” to a body of believers (Rom 10:14-15). These preachers are on the move, going from town to town, sharing the gospel to those who have never heard.


Some passages of note.

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking [laleo – sometimes translated “preaching”] the word to no one except Jews.

But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching [euaggelizo] the Lord Jesus.

And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

Acts 11:19-22

The believers, empowered through persecution, scattered and spread the gospel to those who needed to hear. And word got back to the believers meeting in Jerusalem. One example of many where preaching was happening outside the gathering of the church. (See also Acts 8:1-4)

And thus I make it my ambition to preach [euaggelizo] the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”

Rom 15:20-21

Paul’s task and passion was to preach to the lost (see also 1 Cor 1:17). I have yet to find an instance where Paul attempted to do so among the body of believers. Makes sense, seeing that it’s a body of believers.

For this I was appointed a preacher [kerux, as in kerusso] and an apostle . . . a teacher [didaskalos] of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 1 Tim 2:7

. . . who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher [kerux, as in kerusso] and apostle and teacher [didaskalos] . . . 2 Tim 1:11

It is curious that Paul separates preaching and teaching. Hold that thought.

I charge you . . . preach [kerusso] the word . . .

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist [euaggelistes, as in euaggelizo], fulfill your ministry.

2 Tim 4:1-5

Paul relays to Timothy the task of preaching, and specifically says, “Do the work of an evangelist.” Phillip is also named an evangelist in Acts 21:8.


Consider, finally, the tasks of a preacher and the elements of a church gathering.

No listing of qualifications for a “preacher” [kerux, as in kerusso] is to be found.

As it seems that “overseer/bishop” [episkopos] is the nearest thing to our idea of a “pastor” (see Acts 20:28, Phil 1:1), we’ll examine those qualifications.

Therefore an overseer [episkopos] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive . . .

He must not be a recent convert . . .

Morever he must be well thought of by outsiders . . .

1 Tim 3:1-7

Nothing about preaching there.

If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.

For an overseer [episkopos], as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Titus 1:6-9

Interesting.

Now for the characteristics of a church [ekklesia] gathering. While many passages contribute aspects of a “church meeting,” perhaps one of the most helpful is 1 Cor 14:26:

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

No mention of a sermon or lecture. And all members of the body are participating. This idea seems to be consistent throughout Scripture.

Also, 1 Cor 12:27-28:

Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers [didaskalos], after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

And Acts 2:42-46:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching [didache] and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

In none of these instances (or any others, as far as I can see) do we find the concept of a pastor or preacher, or the common picture we envision of delivering a sermon to an assembly of believers.


Survived the technical stuff. Now for some concluding observations.

Things we can say with some certainty:
-Evangelists are preachers.
-Preaching is often (if not always) evangelistic.
-Preaching often (if not always) happens outside the gathering of the church.

Things we can ponder:
-Maybe church meetings or gatherings should not include preaching? At least not as a primary or routine function?
-Maybe pastors/elders should not consider “preaching” (lecture behind pulpit to inactive participants) a regular aspect of their role within the gathering of the body of believers?
-Maybe pastors/elders should teach the word to the believers under their care, equipping those believers to disperse and preach the gospel to the lost? And in this way, the church is obedient and effective, and the church grows (Acts 2:46)?

It’s a thought.

[image credit: openclipart.org; journeyoftheword.com]


7 thoughts on “to preach or not to preach

  1. For those aiming to leave Catholic/medieval influences behind, in order to return to first-century Christianity, this brings into question the appropriateness of sermons in the assembly.

    On a somewhat related note, the first gospel sermon, in Acts 2, takes about two minutes to read aloud, slowly, and then is followed up by a Q&A. That’s considerably different than a typical Sunday sermon.

    Excellent post you’ve written; thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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