“It’s a good thing.” Martha Stewart is famous for this phrase, but apparently it doesn’t apply to preaching. At least according to a curious interview in today’s Globe and Mail where, reflecting on her brand’s global impact, she stated:
I was raised by two schoolteachers so we were always being taught. We were taught to respect education and our teachers. And I loved my teachers. I remember all their names and used to have them over for lunch at my house. Teaching is very important. But I’m not a preacher. I want to make that very clear: We don’t preach. We teach.
As a preacher, I always find it interesting how quickly people associate preaching with a pejorative meaning. I also find it curious how people assume that teaching and preaching are set in opposition to one another. Curious, since in the Reformed tradition we call our Ordained Ministers “Teaching Elders.” As a Teaching Elder in The Presbyterian Church in Canada, for example, I understand my role as a preacher in terms of Ephesians 4: 12, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” This equipping is teaching, it is training God’s people to be witnesses to the resurrection in the world. Preaching the Word of God declares that sinful, broken human beings are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ for a purpose – we are saved to serve. As a Professor, a Pastor and a Preacher, I take seriously the role given to me as a “Teaching Elder.”
I have a hunch that the pejorative association with the word “preaching” has to do with stereotypes of wild eyed preachers in cheap suits hurling “hellfire and brimstone” from the pulpit. I get it. And yet, there is always a cutting edge to the Word of God preached, a reality of spiritual warfare and the need for a prophetic voice. As John Calvin once said in his commentaries:
“The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep, and another for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both, for he who is deeply skilled in it will be able both to govern those who are teachable, and to refute the enemies of the truth.”
In a post Christendom North America preaching may no longer have the privileged place it once held in broader society. In our evangelical, Reformed witness, we continue to preach and teach the Word of God while participating in the redeeming and reconciling ministry of Christ in this world. So yes, “It’s a good thing.”
Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver. He teaches at Regent College and The Vancouver School of Theology.