I grew up in a context where the preacher was expected to “step on toes.” If you didn’t step on toes, you weren’t really preaching. However, I started to understand that stepping on toes was nothing more than behavior modification. I found that it was easy, sometimes sinful, to step on toes. It allowed the preacher to get away with bitterness and anger towards his people because, after all, they needed their toes stepped on. So, preaching became more of a weekly scolding instead of a time of worship.
The results were devastating. Instead of the preacher addressing sin at the heart level and seeing true Spirit-empowered transformation, the outcome was a works-based view of Christianity that resulted in people saying “I will try harder” or “I need to do better.” I think we need to stop stepping on toes and start addressing hearts. If I step on your toes when I preach, I have aimed too low.
What can be done to address this low view of preaching and sanctification?
Preach to the heart, not the toes.
God looks past external behaviors and sees the internal condition of our hearts. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). When the heart finds Christ as its greatest treasure, the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors will soon be captured. We want our people to worship. We should want to preach in such a manner that people’s affections are stirred by the gospel. Yes, many of us are guilty of aiming for the toes just to see certain behaviors change, but many preachers are guilty of aiming at the head. Sermons should be filled with proper exegesis, doctrine, and truth. Yet, to have one’s head filled with facts does not equate to a love for Christ. And to have our people adhere to a few moral standards does not either. Only when the heart is addressed do people find Christ more glorious, satisfying, and beautiful than whatever else they are grasping onto. Preachers should preach to the heart.
So, how can we preach to the heart?
Exposit the text.
The only way to address the heart is to preach Christ, and to exposit a text faithfully and fully is to preach Christ from it. Exposition helps prevent moralistic pep talks, dry academic lectures, and protects against emotionalism. We must give excellent expositions to our people. Christ-centered expositions help the preacher from remaining in the abstract and to address the hearts of the people with the reality of Jesus Christ. Christ-centered exposition best addresses the heart.
Glory in Christ
We should preach sermons that glory in Christ. Therefore, the preacher himself needs to glory in Christ. We should not draw from a well from which we have not drank. We preach for heart change because our hearts have been changed. We have been gripped by the gospel and glory in Christ. Preach with passion, preach with joy, preach with love, preach as one who has been gripped. Your heart must first be moved by the gospel. Don’t forget that your preaching is an act of worship and a response to what God has done on your behalf through Jesus Christ. Glory in him and preach from the heart to other hearts.
Preacher, let’s stop stepping on toes, and start preaching to hearts.