By Faith—Moses | Steve DeNeff

Sermon Title: By Faith—Moses

Preacher: Steve DeNeff is the senior pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. Located adjacent to Indiana Wesleyan University, CWC is a thriving congregation, and is passionate about leadership development, outreach, and discipleship.

Sermon Video:

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Sermon Audio:


Sermon Review: Sermons reveal preachers’ presuppositions. Here at, we feature preachers because they have replication-worthy perspectives and practices. In this article, we’ll feature four of DeNeff’s perspectives and practices that we perceive from the perspective of an engaged listener. Often a preacher’s best gifts aren’t even realized by the preacher. If you interview them, and follow what they would suggest, it may do you as much harm as good. Expert preachers do things automatically, and forget they do them, that other preachers have yet to consider. Whether these concepts are new or familiar to you, think through how they might help drive your preaching forward.

In this sermon, Steve Shows Us That:

  1. Sermons Are Staircases: You may love them, but you won’t be able to keep them, because they’re Canadians. Canadians always go home. They hear the motherland, and they always respond.” Steve’s sermon makes us climb. The first stair step—that Canadians love their homeland—is an easy step to reach. The second—that Moses had an identity crisis—is a harder step. The third step—that we need to determine our own ultimate loyalty—is a cumbersome step. Each stair (easy, harder, hardest) builds on the previous steps. At the end of the sermon, we’ve followed DeNeff up the staircase; our perspective elevates as the sermon progresses. This old model builds on rhetorical principles that have been examined as long ago as Aristotle’s Intuitive preachers recognize the need for going from easy to hard even without reading rhetorical treatises.
  1. Tension is Opportunity: Listen to the tension in Deneff’s words: “Is this a Christian nation or not? No. You’re in Egypt. It’s not bad. You can thrive here, you can raise children here, but there comes a time—there always does—when you have to decide: who are my people?” Sermons are built on productive tension: they analyze discrepancy between where we are and where God is leading us. The best sermons help close the gap between the two. Even when Steve doesn’t mention the audience, we know our part in the story. We’re in between what is and what will be.[1]
  1. Anticipation is Good: Listen to the mental time capsule pastor Steve puts in the mind of the listener: “Some of you are here right now; others of you don’t know what I’m talking about. There will come a time when you find yourself here. When that time comes, remember: we had this conversation.” Sermons are time-sensitive; on certain Sundays, our messages might not resonate with part of the congregation. Steve knows this, and he’s made peace with it. Even though the sermon won’t be immediately applicable for everyone, Steve reminds us to hold onto it: it may prove useful in the future. As we craft our sermons, DeNeff helps us refine our anticipation for the Gospel’s consequences. Rightly preached, the Word never returns void; it might not bring immediate fruit, but seeds are planted. Pods are buried.
  1. Perspective Brings Hope: “It’s better to suffer now in what will ultimately succeed than if I succeed now in something that will ultimately fail. Now is where we need the capacity to see things everyone else will know in 100 years.” If we’re focusing only on now, our situation is discouraging; we need perspective that transcends our time. God’s constant presence (even in times of loss) reminds us of the Church’s ultimate victory. The Spirit provides perspective, reminding us that we’re “Not the experts. We may feel objective with rational minds, but we’ve been raised on Pharaoh’s lap.” We’re far more like Moses than the Israelites. By faith, we can see where we are…and we can also see where we’re going.

Application Points:

  1. Make it Portable: Rather than only measuring success by numbers at the altar or point of decision, we should make our sermons portable. Help people carry the message out of the church’s walls, into their businesses, homes, and social circles. A successful sermon doesn’t always pack the altar (though it’s not bad if they do) but it does bring about life change. As we prepare our next sermons, let’s ask: Is this sermon a gift that keeps giving? If it doesn’t touch people today, does this sermon still offer a valuable perspective for the future?
  2. Use (Productive) Tension: In thinking back to last Sunday’s sermon, ask: Did we display the discrepancy between where we are and where God is taking us? The Gospel always has trajectory; if it doesn’t move us forward, then it’s not Good This week, don’t just preach against sin; preach toward holiness. Otherwise, tension isn’t productive.
  1. Build a Staircase: Some of us have never preached a “staircase sermon” As you plan your next series, think about planning at least one “staircase” sermon model—that starts with an easily-acceptable first “step,” then leads the congregation to a higher perspective. Three point sermons work well with a staircase framework since it helps the point move somewhere, and move together. They also help you design a persuasive framework around the points you want to make (whether it is three or five). One yes leads to another, leads to a greater likelihood of the final, most important yes to God’s ultimate claim on our lives.

Ethan Linder is a staff writer and content curator for A fresh graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Ethan and his wife Sarah currently live in Marion, Indiana–where Ethan is pursuing a Masters’ Degree in Christian Ministries from IWU, and Sarah is a teacher. When he’s not writing, Ethan enjoys reading, listening to music, studying cultures, running, and following the Philadelphia Phillies.

[1] For more on productive tension in preaching read The Homiletical Plot by Eugene Lowry.