Sermon: Staying is the New Going
Preacher: Josh Cooper is the North Campus pastor for Grace Point Church in Topeka, Kansas. Grace Point “leads people into growing relationships with Jesus Christ by creating environments where life-change can happen.” In this sermon, Josh demonstrates the following preaching principles:
Be the Guide: “I get to share with you as a learner—not as an expert or a pastor who has this somehow figured out.”
Josh isn’t trying to be the congregation’s hero; he serves as a guide. Humility breaks down psychological barriers between pastor and congregation, offering parishioners an opportunity to hear the message without obstruction.
Great preachers stay away from becoming the hero of their story; instead, they focus on guiding their people to fulfill God’s calling.
Describe the Problem: “For me, the city in Topeka is like a diamond in the rough, because there is incredible beauty in the heart of this city. But it’s masked on the outside by the more obvious harsh realities that surround us us: things like homelessness and poverty, drug and human trafficking, empty commercial buildings and abandoned homes… We are not alone. This list that plagues our community isn’t just for us, it’s for cities all across the United States.”
Pastor Josh begins his sermon by discussing the problems the congregation faces. Optimism glances over harsh realities; hope acknowledges a way through the harsh realities. Cooper’s sermon isn’t optimistic—he acknowledges the struggles of Topeka—but it is hopeful. Josh artfully anticipates the difficulties of the congregation and gives them an opportunity to ponder these difficulties at the beginning of his sermon.
Great preachers preach sermons that acknowledge difficult circumstances without always resolving them. Then the listener feels the need to resolve the tension with changed living, not just a sermon conclusion.
Disclose the Resolution: “The solution to our city’s biggest problems has been right under our noses for the last 2,000 years. When Jesus was asked to reduce the entirety of the Scriptures into a simple command, he said to love God with everything you have and to love your neighbor as yourself. We get the loving God—we know how to love God. But who is our neighbor?”
The Gospel doesn’t excuse us from difficult problems (nor does it release us to answer complex issues with simple answers). Josh’s message recognizes this, asking difficult questions and guiding the congregation in a search for answers. In doing so, Cooper allows his sermon’s hope to match the hopelessness of his community.
Great preachers tackle difficult problems without giving simple, shallow answers. In order for the Gospel to be “good news,” it must match the emotional complexity of the problems it addresses.
Offer Credit: “What I’m sharing with you is in conjunction with what Alan shares in his book here.”
Though it would have been easy for Josh to plagiarize Alan’s content, he instead chooses to offer credit. In doing so, he also exposes the congregation to his own mentoring practices, and offers them a resource to benefit from. It doesn’t take much to offer credit. For a refresher on preaching and plagiarism click here. For a panel discussion of how to maintain your preaching integrity click here.
Great preachers maintain integrity in their use of others’ content, and are quick to offer praise for resources the congregation might find helpful.
Ask Great Questions: “Would anyone in your neighborhood care if you moved tomorrow?”
Josh asks excellent questions throughout his sermon, helping the congregation consider the Gospel’s impact on their lives. Rather than closing the gap between the Gospel’s demands and the people’s effort, Josh asks questions that help them do so.
Great preachers ask excellent questions; they also help their congregations hopefully carry these questions toward resolution after the service.
- Be Quiet:The next time someone seems like they need advice, don’t offer a solution. Instead, build trust by offering empathy, and craft excellent questions (not “yes” or “no” questions) that help them grapple with their own solutions. Preachers are known for talking. Pastors should be known for listening. The best preachers get their insights from years of being great pastors. Listening leads to talking not the other way around.
- Give Credit: As you prepare your next sermon, utilize a resource that you can credit in your sermon. Once you’ve selected the source and written the sermon, practice your “citation speech.” Use Josh Cooper’s as a template or see the links above for additional ideas for citing seamlessly in a sermon.
- Build Tension:Discern your congregation’s needs, and consider how the Gospel could meet them. Analyze the gap between congregational need and the scripture’s demands. Try to connect them using a wide understanding of the “good news” in your next sermon. How does the good news in all of its ramifications make the demands of scripture not only possible, but also likely, once we believe it fully?