Pastor or preacher?

Of the dozens of blogs that I read regularly, there only a few that I actually spend time digesting. Most of the others are quick reads or the title shows I don’t need or want to read it at all.

Bill Mounce has one of those blogs that is worth reading. Although many of his posts have to do with the Greek New Testament (his Basics of Biblical Greek is one of the most widely used teaching tools right now), he has a lot of good thoughts about other things as well.

A couple of days ago, Mounce shared an essay he wrote in For the Fame of God’s Namea book in honor of John Piper’s long, faithful ministry. As part of his essay, Mounce tackles the argument that a “pastor” (who spends more time with his people) loves his church more than a “preacher” (who spends more time in his study).

I found this especially appropriate, since I struggle trying to balance these, even when it goes against my personality and preference.

You can read the whole post on his blog, but here is the quote from his essay. I emphasized one part that I agree with very strongly.

We often characterize a person as being a “pastor” (warm, friendly, relational, available), a “rancher” (a successful pastor who now has too many people to spend time with), or a “preacher” (speaker, powerful, teacher, removed). How many times have you asked somebody about their pastor; their response is something like, “He’s a great guy, we love him, but he’s not much of a speaker.” Or, “He’s a dynamic speaker, challenging, but removed from most people.” As the stereotypes often go, the “pastor” is viewed as a friendly person and the “preacher” as not friendly.

After seven years in pulpit ministry I understand how this happens. There is so much to do, staff to manage and encourage, elders to train, people to visit, parking lots to plow, and lawns to mow. The pastor spends his energies loving people one-on-one, and come Saturday night he takes long hot baths trying to think of something to speak on the next day (true story I heard).

The “preacher” on the other hand is committed to his craft, spends time in his study, rehearsing Greek paradigms, reading generally, staying up on culture, pushing his way through exegesis, crafting the sermon, and trying to determine how he is going to be misunderstood so he can massage the message and avoid foreseen pitfalls. But then the assault on his time comes. He’s not available as much for counseling. He is focused on his sermon between services, and so he is criticized for not being friendly. He wouldn’t sit by the bedside of a person nursing the latest hangnail. And he doesn’t have time to argue about the color selection for the bathroom. And when he suggests that a person go to his or her small-group leader for support and encouragement, the preacher is labeled uncaring and the gossip starts.

But I would like to suggest that the preacher is as loving as the pastor, and my hope is that this will encourage you to study. What is the most important thing you can do? What are the most significant obstacles that need to be overcome in people’s lives? I submit that regardless of the size of a church, the mission of the pastor-preacher is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Nothing is as important as that. Not the territorial thinking in the missions committee, not the latest disagreements among parishioners, and not the latest board controversy.

Some of these may be (or may not be) important, but when the music has led people to take their eyes off themselves and train on God, when the responsive reading has drawn people into dialogue, when the announcements have reminded people that they are family, and when you stand before your people to preach, there is nothing more important than what you did in the quiet of your study. All of the preparation, from the first day in Greek class to your rehearsing the sermon to an empty room Saturday morning, all your hard work comes to the forefront, and with confidence and humility you stand before the expectant people and proclaim the glory of God. At that moment, you aren’t the church’s plumber. You aren’t the person who has to go to the store to buy more paper for the copier. You are the herald of the king, proclaiming clearly and truthfully the wonders of God. If you have done your work, and if God’s Spirit is so inclined to move, your words will encourage the downtrodden and chasten the sinners. If you are faithful to your king’s decree, you will love your people the most important way, because there is nothing more important than the clear, powerful, rooted-in-truth, Spirit-inspired proclamation of a vision of the glory of God. Nothing. Preachers love their people every bit as much as do pastors. Their love is just shown differently, but it is just as real and just as powerful.

Have you thought about this before? Do you prefer one type over the other? Or would you like both to be available in your church?

7 thoughts on “Pastor or preacher?”

  1. I totally see how it happens, being in the back end of the church. However, I think as you grow you have to utilize the gifts that your people have, some have a shepherding gift and some have a teaching gift..some -many- have both. I think when we have folks working outside their true gifts, it can be frustrating for all. so I do feel the church needs both, but it doesn’t have to be the same person, depending on the size of the church, there may be a need for many pastors and teachers, I think that when folks are in a postion that fits them, everyone wins, and I don’t think it has anything to do with how much one loves the church or not, both do, both have to love the people and have a heart to see them grow in their faith, and in their relationships with God and people.
    i agree that both work very hard for those accomplishments and goals the Lord has given them.

    1. Daniel Goepfrich

      The pastoring and teaching gifts are certainly distinct, even though they’re closely connected. The fact is that it’s very difficult to do both extremely well. You’re right, when each part does it’s job, the whole thing works much better.

  2. I really don’t see this as a legitimate choice. A pastor is required to preach the Word. I think it is a false distinction, personally.

    1. Daniel Goepfrich


      I’m not convinced this is true as a blanket statement. Certainly, all elders are to be able to present sound doctrine and refute false doctrine (Titus 1:9), but does that necessarily demand that they all be involved in public preaching?

      Secondly, people often use 2 Timothy 4:2 to show that all pastors are to be preachers (I don’t know if you do or not), but I don’t see that as a valid use of that verse. Timothy was an apostle (especially in Paul’s absence), not a local church pastor. He was also shirking his responsibilities in that role (see my post “Run Hard, Finish Strong” for why I think this is so), so Paul was reminding him to do that.

      I don’t think that’s a prescriptive statement that all local church pastors are to have as their a main role public preaching or teaching. (Otherwise, 1 Timothy 5:17-18 is just an encouragement to work harder.)

      I think this actually helps open the Scriptural door for multiple elders in the church. In my experience, it’s nearly impossible for one man to effectively do all of the pastoring and teaching. Something will suffer (usually his family first!). With multiple elders, the pastoring can be done very well without stealing teaching prep time. It’s a win-win scenario for the people and the pastors.

      1. I’m not sure you can differentiate between public preaching and the presenting sound doctrine and refuting false doctrine that all pastors would do. Teaching is teaching in the Scriptures. Some are better at it than others, and some work at it harder than others (1 Tim 5:17-18), but all shepherds shepherd, and all leaders lead by teaching.

        I believe that elders = pastors = overseers. That doesn’t mean that some are not better at what you call pastoring, and others are better at communicating the Word.

        I would see Timothy as a pastor that was directed by an apostle, so anything in 1 & 2 Timothy are for pastors, not for apostles.

        I fully embrace the Scriptural basis for multiple elders, and I would agree that having more than 1 elder does make it easier. Men differ in gifts, in levels of ability, in personality, in experience, in realms of expertise (OT, NT, counseling, etc.). Some are better at doing raw study (from scratch). Others are best suited to teach established curriculum (basic core topics and classes).

        1. Daniel Goepfrich

          Part of the problem is probably the false dichotomy between pastors and preachers.

          Honestly, I don’t like the word “preacher.” NT preaching seems to be most evangelistic, while teaching is for believers. And that would fit Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.”

          I would see 1 Timothy and Titus as more “pastoral” and 2 Timothy as more “personal,” given Timothy’s issues at the time.

          And I agree with your last assessment of different levels of ability in teaching, but that all elders are to be teachers at some level.

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