Published: 18 July 2022

Your Pastor Probably Isn’t A Preacher

Preacher

The New Testament uses several words to describe the role of those who have the spiritual oversight of a local church. They are elder (or presbyter), shepherd (or pastor), overseer (or bishop), and steward. The word preacher is perhaps the term most frequently used by Christians to refer to a pastor. It is quite remarkable, therefore, that the New Testament never refers to a congregation’s leader as a preacher!

Most Christians use the words preacher and pastor interchangeably, but the Bible does not. The New Testament makes a distinction between the two roles. It is understandable why this difference is overlooked; most of us were never taught to notice the difference. Even well educated teachers and scholars typically fail to point out the differences in the two roles. 

The roles of pastor and preacher are not the same

What is the difference in the two roles and where does the New Testament make the distinction? Let’s first understand what the word preach means.

What does preach mean?

Most people I’ve spoken with are under the impression that preaching is a style of public speaking. They consider preaching to be dynamic, loud, and animated. They associate preaching with a fire and brimstone type of message aimed at repentance. It’s the “getting your toes stepped on” style of public speaking. On the other hand, teaching is typically contrasted with preaching. People tend to consider teaching to be more of a calm, intellectual, knowledge transfer. While such a distinction is a popular opinion, it is not biblical.

How the New Testament defines preach

The Greek words most often translated into English as preach are kerusso and euaggelizo. The definition of kerusso is to make an official announcement, announce, make known, by an official herald or one who functions as such.1 The word euaggelizo means to bring good news, to announce glad tidings.2 As you can see, they are similar in meaning.

A preacher, therefore, is someone who proclaims good news. In the ancient world, it could have referred to any good news, but was usually something of national importance. Examples would be winning an important military victory or the inauguration of a new king.3 In the New Testament, the gospel – the good news – is about King Jesus.

In the New Testament, who did preachers preach to?

The word “preach” (or preached, preaching, etc.) occurs 138 times in the King James Version of the New Testament. In 98 of those instances, the text specifically says it was the gospel that was being proclaimed. In every case, the context reveals that those who heard the preaching were those who were not followers of Jesus! I encourage you to look up the references and see for yourself that followers of Jesus were not the target audience of the basic gospel message. Be sure to notice the context of each of the verses that I’ve linked to.

This makes sense if you think about it. Why would you proclaim the good news about Jesus to those who are already Christians? They’ve already heard and believed. Once a person believed the good news and became a follower of Jesus it was time to move to the next phase of their discipling.

A preacher and an evangelist are the same thing

An evangelist is one who proclaims the gospel to the lost. The word proclaim is a synonym for preach as you can see from comparing two different Bible translations:

And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matt. 10:7 ESV)

And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matt. 10:7 NKJV)

The work of an evangelist is to share the gospel with those who have never heard it or who have not obeyed it. Note how the work of the preacher takes place before the work of a pastor:

“The evangelist’s work precedes that of the pastor and teacher. The evangelist has no fixed place of residence, but moves about in different localities, preaching the gospel to those previously ignorant of it. As these are converted and united to Jesus Christ by faith, the work of the pastor and teacher begins, to instruct them further in the way of Christ and build them up in the faith.”4

New Testament scholar C.H. Dodd notes that preaching and teaching are different and are aimed at different audiences:

“Dodd’s first thesis was that “the NT writers draw a distinction between preaching and teaching…. Teaching (didaskein) is in a large majority of cases ethical instruction…. Preaching, on the other hand, is the public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world.” Accordingly, Dodd distinguished preaching from teaching both by its content and by its audience, with the latter distinction (“preaching” being aimed at non-Christians) posing the sharpest possible contrast with modern day preaching — at least as perceived from the pew!”5

Didn’t Paul preach to Christians?

Out of the dozens of verses mentioning preaching there are a few which, on the surface, appear to suggest a Christian audience. They are Acts 20:7, Rom 1:15, and 1 Th 2:9. I have already unpacked what these three verses really mean in another blog post. Please follow the link to see why these three verses aren’t really about preaching to those who already believe.

In short, a preacher is one who shares the good news about Jesus with unbelievers. 

What is the job of a pastor?

A pastor is one who has been given the oversight of a group of people who are already Christians (Acts 20:28). The word pastor is an archaic term for a shepherd. Shepherds (aka elders, overseers, or stewards) are those who tend a flock of God’s people. They are responsible for their spiritual feeding, care, and protection. 

When a pastor stands before a group of Christians and teaches them, he is not preaching. By the Bible’s definition, when he delivers a sermon to the church, he is not preaching because he is speaking to the saved. Preaching is sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost

Can one person fill both roles?

Yes, it is possible, but it is probably impractical in most situations. Pastors serve local congregations where their responsibilities are to teach, care for the spiritually weak or sick, and to protect against threats to the church that may arise from inside or outside. This is a full time job! 

Likewise, being an evangelist/preacher implies someone who is not necessarily tied to a single congregation. They are typically mobile which prevents them from shepherding. Besides this, those who serve as preachers may not meet the biblical qualifications to be a pastor. 

There are exceptions to this. For example, 1 Tim 5:17 tells us that some people do fill both roles. However, it would seem that even in the New Testament this was a special case rather than the norm. 

If your church leader(s) mainly work with and serve those who are already saved, they aren’t doing the job of an evangelist (preacher). If a person works nearly exclusively sharing the gospel with the lost, they do not meet the scriptural description of a pastor. In most situations, a person does primarily one work, or the other. Therefore, your pastor is probably not a preacher. 

References

  1. Bauer, W., F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, eds. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. BDAG, s.v. “κηρύσσω,” 543.
  2. Ibid., BDAG, s.v. “εὐαγγελίζω,” 402.
  3. https://youtu.be/HT41M013X3A
  4. J. M. GRAY, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Revised), s.v. “E,” 2:204.
  5. G. P. HUGENBERGER, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Revised), s.v. “P,” 3:941.