Monday, January 22, 2007

Preaching, Teaching, and Cooking

A distinction is often made between preaching and teaching from the pulpit. Some would go as far as to say that people are one or the other and go wrong when they try to move into the other function. I don’t find that gifts and talents in the Body of Christ are that rigid – that seems more our idea to want to make the various abilities squeeze into neat categories. But I have known some who excel at one and are less effective when drifting over into the others. Pastor Harter’s wife used to sigh deeply and say “I keep telling him: Hal, teach, don’t preach.” He seemed to like preaching better, or feel it was more of what he was supposed to do. With Lutherans, who seem to need to be jump-started every Sunday, one could see why he would fall into that.

The distinction I am drawing is between exhortation and instruction. Preachers get you fired up. Get you to gird up your loins, enter the fray, return to life’s challenges with renewed vigor. They are much more fun and interesting to listen to. Some churches, I fear, get no more than this, a weekly rallying of the troops, a pat on the hand or a kick in the butt, depending.

Teachers aren’t always so interesting, and require more from the hearers. The scriptures show an obvious preference for the work of teachers.

Saint Paul makes a similar distinction between taking milk or meat for sustenance (Bethany and any other vegans reading, just make the necessary adjustment in your head about protein from beans and nuts, okay?). I think we can combine those concepts without doing violence to the meaning of either. Milk you can get straight from the cow or goat (or the mom). No preparation, no work; quick energy, can keep you going for quite some time if you absolutely have to. Meat requires preparation, and lots of it. You don’t just go out into the field to break off a leg of mutton and eat it. Whether fish, fowl, or beast of the field, you have to take the skin off the meat, which is invariably a messy and unpleasant task. It’s like learning Greek or Hebrew verb-tenses, which is another messy and unpleasant task.

Meat has to be butchered, preserved, stored, and prepared for the table. Those being served don’t always like to be bothered about the work that went into it. There are cooks who are chefs and artists, able to prepare food in exciting and tasty ways; there are teachers able to to the same, able to take the simple elements of the scriptures and arrange them in attractive ways, as if the hearers were eating out at a restaurant.

You can extend the analogy where you will: fast food, with adequate nourishment but too much fat – there are teachers like that; elegant restaurants with small portions exquisitely prepared versus all-you-can-eat buffets – there are teachers like both of those as well. Foreign foods, comfort foods, desserts – they’re all in there in the teaching metaphor. I would like to zoom in on two entensions of the analogy in particular. We become spoiled and expect to dine out all the time, but pastors who provide plain, sustaining food week in, week out perform the greater service. Just because our jaded tongues desire heavy spices and novelty doesn’t mean that’s what we need.

Secondly, people usually learn to cook a little for themselves, don't they? Even if it's just reheating someone else's preparation or making something instant, you should be doing some of this for yourself.


terri said...

I must admit that I have more of a preference for teaching in a pastor, as long as his speaking style isn't exceedingly dry. Preachers are great, but if they are just hootin' and hollering without much substance, their messages will matter little to you in the long run. I have only come across a few ministers that have been equally gifted in both areas. They are a rare breed.

Jerub-Baal said...

Kudos AVI, this is some of the best explanation of the role of teaching that I have read.

I especially like your ending. We certainly need to learn to teach ourselves. It is too easy to think that faith can be handed to us, but if that were even possible to do, it would not be our faith anyway.

stavr0s said...

Actually Greek verb-tenses are quite easy since they're mostly regular and once you figure out just one, you've pretty much figured out them all. Course I'm talking about Demotiki here and not the horrid written formal Greek. Even Greeks can't grok that.