Preaching for the Heart

Emilie Bouvier, "Fertile Soil." (Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Two Harbors, MN)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

Most pastors do an ardent job of trying to faithfully preach from the Biblical text.

We spend hours in biblical and exegetical study and preparation for each week’s sermon. But when we get in the pulpit, we typically offer our wonderful insights about the text(s) then segue to what these observations may have to do with our lives, our community, and our world. Amen.

The 4-H program promotes faithful stewardship and life skills. The four H’s stand for head, heart, hands, and health. Many preachers are good at preaching for the head, and often, we also preach for the hands. But rarely do we preach for the heart which may well be why we have a certain lack of health in the body of Christ. The thing is that with all of this new information we share, as wonderful as it might be, it rarely creates new hearts.

To preach for the heart means a number of things. First, the preacher needs to imbue trust from the listener. A preacher could be saying all the right things so as to move an entire nation to faith, but if they are not trusted it is all for naught. Trust is your biggest commodity as a pastor. Guard it with your life and do all you can to sincerely cultivate it. Part of building trust is to realize that the office itself no longer holds the kind of trust it once did. Clergy were once among the most trusted figures in society. Sadly, that is no longer true. To build trust one needs to live what they preach. They need to be sincerely “Christian.”

Preaching for the heart is to always preach “from within,” not “from afar.” The congregation must be made to see where it is that the Word of God touches down in their pastor’s life and experiences, even those that may be relatively uncomfortable or unpleasant. If the sermon has not touched the preacher, it will not touch the listener! This is what gives integrity, authenticity, and credibility to the message and helps others to see the incarnational nature of the gospel.

When we are trusted, this allows us to preach with passion and we can demonstrate the liveliness of our faith, as well as the vulnerability of our humanity. It is at this point that the Christian leader becomes more real and approachable and can then serve as a reliable lens through which to see God’s saving work among God’s people.

But we are not the only lens through which the Gospel is magnified. By telling stories of redemption, life-change, and struggles in faith from the lives of our community of faith, we allow our people to see God’s saving work actively demonstrated in our midst.

Paul, in essence, tells the Colossians early in the first chapter of his epistle, “Take a look at yourselves! There is very good reason to put your hope in the Gospel, the word of truth, because it is at work in you and you are not the same people that you used to be!” Paul says to the church at Colossae that a really good reason to believe that the Gospel is worth putting your hope in is to stop and look at the fruit that it bears in your lives. I do not know that we do this often enough.

To the Colossians, Paul says, “Look what the Word is doing in your midst!” Undoubtedly God’s Word is doing wonders in the midst of your people as well.

As a preacher, help your people see how people have come to know God. Tell the stories. Help them to see how struggling people have been given power from God, how defeated people are having prayers answered by God, and how drifting people have been given a calling by God. With proper permission, tell their stories. Let them see the power of God’s Word is active in their midst.

People are wondering where they can put their faith, in what can they place their hope, and to what can they give their lives. By preaching for their hearts, as well as for the head and the hands, lives will be changed with the power of the Gospel, and faith and hope will grow within your community of faith!