While it’s easy for you to teach your church new theological nuggets, and it’s easy to give a few practical applications, it’s not so easy to impact your congregation’s hearts in your sermons. Ultimately changing the heart is a result of the work of the Spirit. But that doesn’t excuse us from quenching him with how we preach. We need to preach in a way that provides the Spirit an opportunity to change the hearts of those who hear our sermon.
Remember in little league when you swung as hard as you could at a pitch, but totally whiffed. When you finally stopped spinning, your coach – in all his patronizing positive reinforcement – yelled “Good cut!”
“Good cut” means you tried as hard as you could, but you still missed.
In preaching, the “good cut” is the sermon where you nailed the exegesis, gave some practical application, but still missed your congregation’s hearts. If there tends to be a weakness in expository preaching, this is it. We expose the text without exposing – and then meeting – the needs of our people’s souls.
Because of this, Bryan Chapell, distinguishes a sermon from a lecture with one simple feature: what he calls the Fallen Condition Focus (or FCF). The FCF aims the exposition at something that exists in our experience due to the effects of sin.
If you start including an FCF into your sermon, you’ll start turning those whiffs into solid contact – contact, that is, with the heart of your people.
It should be noted that Chapell doesn’t call it a Sinful Condition Focus. There are times when, by virtue of the passage we are preaching or the needs of our people, the fallen condition we focus on will not be a sin as such, but merely a result of it.
That said, I think there are five ways to aim an FCF at our people’s hearts (I got them from my friend and colleague, Todd Augustine). These aren’t mutually exclusive – there is actually a lot of overlap.
1. Sin – Although this isn’t the only category for an FCF, it is the primary one. Sin is our main problem in life. It’s what separates us from God.
2. Schemes – Here I have in mind Ephesians 6:11, “the schemes of the devil.” This refers to the temptations we face and the false teaching of the day.
3. Suffering – In this case, the FCF might aim at how to honor Jesus in our trials and hurts. This could refer to persecution, cancer, or world hunger.
4. Sorrow – Paul addressed this FCF in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” It could be death, as in Paul’s case, or any other aspect of our fallen world that makes us sad.
5. Slip-Ups – Forgive the stretch to maintain alliteration. By slip-up I mean our tendency to make mistakes. Sometimes we do things on accident that cause ourselves or others pain.
Imagine the difference an FCF would make as you step up to the pulpit. Before you swing with all your exegetical might, take a look for these five gaps in the field of your congregation’s hearts.
You won’t just give a good cut. You’ll preach a good sermon.