I began preaching in my early twenties. Needless to say, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I loved it. It all began when the campus ministry in which I was involved was asked to provide three speakers to speak for about 10 minutes each at a local church one Sunday morning. I don’t know why I was chosen by the leadership committee to be one of the three to speak. Perhaps they didn’t know me very well. Public speaking was the one thing I dreaded most. I had always dreaded giving oral book reports in school. I never wanted to be in a school play. I became nervous at the very mention of a Christmas program at church.
I passed Speech 101 somehow, but I hated it. Why did I accept the opportunity to speak before several hundred people on that Sunday? I don’t know, but I remember that I wasn’t nervous about doing it. In fact, I was excited about it. The only thing different this time was that I had been teaching a small junior high boys Sunday school class, and I enjoyed it. Also, I’m sure that I envisioned a small congregation like the one at my home church. It wasn’t. Yet, I didn’t melt in fear. I confidently walked up on the platform and delivered my part of the message that Sunday morning without experiencing any stage freight. That was an incredible surprise that I didn’t expect. What had happened? What was different? I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but it was the initial evidence of my calling. I had declared that I was going to be a preacher shortly after I was saved as a child, but I had long since forgotten about it. The Holy Spirit who gifted me to be a teacher of the Word had not. Others began to sense that I had a gift. Opportunities to preach soon followed. In time, I too sensed that God was enabling me, but thankfully, I also realized that I needed to learn and grow in my ability to teach and preach God’s Word.
A spiritual gift is best understood as the capacity to function within a certain sphere of ministry. It also involves an inner compulsion or leading of the Holy Spirit to function within the scope of the Holy Spirit’s gift. However, a spiritual gift, being primarily a capacity to serve, needs to be developed. Otherwise, why did Paul need three years of preparation before beginning his public ministry (Gal. 1:15-18). Therefore, like many others before me, I soon embarked on a period of preparation called seminary. In my case, it took 5 years. We will come back to the importance of preparation in the next chapter.
I refer to my gift as the gift of teaching. Some say that there is a gift of teaching and a gift of preaching. Since there is no preaching gift mentioned in the New Testament, preaching is usually equated with the gift of prophecy. However, it is my view that the gift of prophecy was strictly a prophetic gift and was temporary, having passed away with the offices of prophet and apostle (1 Cor. 13:8; Eph. 2:20). On the other hand, the gift of teaching (Rom. 12:7) is clearly a permanent gift. Although teaching and preaching are regularly distinguished from one another, there is no solid biblical reason for such a distinction. Teaching is obviously content-oriented. Preaching is regularly conceived of as motivational in focus. Such distinctions make no sense. Good teaching should not only convey content but should also encourage application. And good preaching has to be both instructional as well as motivational. When I teach informally such as in a small group setting, I include application and a call for change. When I preach to the broader congregation, I explain the content of scripture and use it as the basis for exhortation. Preaching and teaching are simply two iterations of the same thing, but it is before the broader congregation that a preacher is judged. It is a more formal address and one that is connected with the church’s formal worship. It is in preaching that a man of God has his greatest influence. Do it well, get it right, and a congregation will overlook a thousand other faults. As it says in Proverbs 18:16, “A man’s gift makes room for him.” What we have to give needs to be the best we can offer. The best I know how to give involves the discipline of expository preaching. It has served me well. It will do the same for you if you commit yourself to the discipline.