Recently I’ve been thinking about what deepens the gospel truth into our minds and hearts. What are the differences and similarities between the roles of a Bible teacher and a preacher; are they the same and if they aren’t what is their roles in the church? Growing up in Romania I had the privilege of attending regular Bible studies in my church. That is what we call “Adult Sunday School” in the West. The Bible study was only part of a Sunday morning service which would be followed by the worship service. That included the preaching of the Word or the sermon. Later when I realised that this was a rare practice in England, I began to see the importance of having both Bible study and preaching. They are not the same, yet they do share one thing in common—the rightful handling of the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). You can’t do Bible study without handling or dividing the Scripture. Similarly, you can’t preach the Word of God outside the Bible. I once heard of a preacher saying: “I almost finished preparing a great sermon. All I need now is a Bible text to hang it on.” When I first heard that statement, I immediately bursted out laughing but I soon realised that it’s so easy to fall into that trap. We may be eager to say something or even teach the congregation good life principles out of our good intention and based on our own ideas. Too many tend to use the Bible as a helping tool rather than the foundation for their ministry.
So, why do we need to both study the Bible and to hear it being preached? What is the difference between Bible study and preaching? As I was reading on the subject I came across this simple and neat way to sum it up:
“… a Bible study is aimed at the head while a sermon is aimed at the heart; a Bible study is meant to increase knowledge while a sermon is meant to increase holiness; a Bible study is helping people to know what a passage says while preaching is appealing to people to live what a passage says.”
Tim Challies’ clearly makes the distinction between the two while highlighting the necessity for both. The Scripture says that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 ESV) According to Tim the hearing comes through the word of Christ by studying the Word. The Lord speaks through the prophet Hosea saying: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (Hosea 4:6 ESV). The work of the teacher is to establish that foundation of knowledge, to dissect the Word and to make it accessible and understandable to the hearers. Preaching a sermon is driving that knowledge that is already gained through study, from head to the heart, from information to application. Having that foundation of knowledge, the preacher can then build upon it the urgency of the application. There is only one correct meaning to a passage, but an endless variety of applications. Going back to my experience, I now realise how pivotal that journey from head to heart is and how the combination of both Bible study and preaching is made essential for the teacher and preacher working together. R.C. Sproul wrote in one his articles on the topic:
“Preaching involves such things as exhortation, exposition, admonition, encouragement, and comfort, while teaching is the transfer of information and instruction in various areas of content. In practice, however, there is much overlap between the two. Preaching must communicate content and include teaching, and teaching people the things of God cannot be done in a neutral manner but must exhort them to heed and obey the Word of Christ.”
The Scripture purposefully makes the distinction between the one who teaches and the one who exhorts in Romans 12:7-8. That is precisely why both are needed in the church. In his approach to the topic, Josh Buice identifies a list of 11 tools of a preacher which are distinct from the work of a teacher: proclamation, explanation, confrontation, exhortation, correction, persuasion, motivation, edification, illustration, application, and conclusion. Josh continues to stress the importance of both preaching and teaching by saying:
“Without preaching and teaching overlap and giftedness in the church, the people would starve spiritually. Both preaching and teaching serve the church by equipping the saints for the work of ministry, leading the people to exult in God, revealing the glory of God that leads to doxology, and breaking the hearts of the church for the unbelieving masses among the nations. Preaching reinforces teaching and teaching reinforces preaching. The church that minimizes preaching or teaching (or both) will suffer a long list of perils.”
One of my favourite passages of Scripture that depicts what we could describe today as a great Lord’s Day is in Nehemiah chapter 8. There we read about what happened when Ezra proceeds to read the Law in front of the congregation of Israel. The outcome is a great revival expressed in people’s godly grief which produces repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Note in verses 7 and 9 that Ezra did not work alone. The effort of Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people (v. 9) was blessed by God as they worked together for the purpose and glory of God. May we have that zeal to learn and to know the Word of God so we can apply it better in our lives and in our congregation, all for the glory of God.
 Challies, T., 2017. One Way To Make Sure You’re Preaching a Sermon, Not Leading a Bible Study | Tim Challies. [online] Tim Challies. Available at: <https://www.challies.com/articles/one-way-to-make-sure-youre-preaching-a-sermon-not-leading-a-bible-study/> [Accessed 28 July 2021].  Ibid.  Ibid.  Sproul, R., 2015. Preaching and Teaching by R.C. Sproul. [online] Ligonier Ministries. Available at: <https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/preaching-and-teaching/> [Accessed 28 July 2021].  Buice, J., 2016. Preaching and Teaching Are Not the Same. [online] G3 Ministries. Available at: <https://g3min.org/preaching-and-teaching-are-not-the-same/> [Accessed 28 July 2021].  Ibid.