How to Be Rich – Julie Penta

Sermon: How To Be Rich

How To Be Rich | Week Five from The Grove Church on Vimeo.

Sermon Link:

Preacher: Julie Penta is Senior Pastor of The Grove Church in Fort Collins, Colorado: a congregation committed to Love God, Love People, and Live Out. As a result of The Spirit’s work through her leadership and the church’s mission, The Grove Church has been effective at reaching many with the transformational Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We want to highlight for you some of the things that Pastor Julie does in this sermon that are worth replicating in your own preaching.

Julie Shows Us That:

  1. Stories are Pivots: “They said, ‘It’s not actually our car, it’s God’s car.’ And that has been an example in my mind for a long time: what it looks like to say, ‘I have this item and I’d like for you to borrow it.’”

Julie begins her sermon with a story, using the narrative as a pivot: relating neighborly kindness to God’s generosity. Through the story, Penta reveals God’s actions through other people’s participation. Penta also utilizes her words to pivot our definitions (of wealth, for example). After reading the Scripture, she says “When I read these verses in the past, I’d be like, ‘This doesn’t apply to me, this applies to the Bill Gates’s of the world; I’m actually not rich.’ But these verses apply to you and apply to me. We need to learn how to be good rich people.” This quote shares Penta’s own experience of transformation, and relates her self-discovery to the Christian motivation toward generosity. In doing so, she transfers responsibility from the “super-rich” to the rest of us (even if we don’t feel wealthy).

  1. Less (Movement) is More (Focus): Penta’s upper-body movements mirror the story her sermon is telling. As she discusses the tight-fisted approach to money, she tightens her fist; as she discusses being willing to give, her hand uncoils into an open palm (more about this below). During each segment of the sermon, however, Pastor Julie’s feet remain rooted in the stage, helping the congregation retain focus on her storytelling gestures without being distracted by unnecessary movements around the stage. Many preachers pace the stage like caged lions waiting for their next meal. In the preacher’s mind he is connecting with each section of the audience. For the audience, it’s pure distraction. When you move, make it purposeful. If you want to connect with a different section of the sanctuary, move once and stay there for a time. Allow your energy to move up the trunk of your body from your planted feet, and come out through your facial and bodily gestures.
  1. Matter Matters: “It’s ours, we earned it, we don’t want it to go to anyone else. So we have a tight-fisted approach with our money.”

Rather than relying exclusively on technological media, Collins provides an illustration using physical currency. As mentioned above, Pastor Julie compresses her hand around the cash, recoiling her arm from the thought of giving her hard-earned money away to someone else. After embracing God’s value of generosity, she extends the cash in front of her—embodying an open-handed approach to financial blessing. The message is clearer because she used a physical medium to drive her point home. In a digital media-driven world, physical illustrations are a less “noisy” way to make the sermon stick in the congregation’s memory. Anything tangible, actually real, stands out to us as we are used to seeing every “thing” only virtually really.

  1. Heroes are Celebrated: “Rather than facilitating their own self-interest, they were the most giving people I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Pastor Julie allows someone else to wear the cape. Instead of using narratives bolstering her own image to the congregation, Pastor Julie opts to tell stories of people who have exemplified generosity during her own times of need. This provides a helpful example to us: when we tell stories, do we subtly polish our reputations, or allow someone else to be the protagonist in part of God’s story? Towards the end of the sermon, Penta identifies two people in the congregation who took a 90-day tithing challenge. During their walk to the stage, Pastor Julie extols their service to the church while discussing the journey their journey towards sacrificial generosity. (People are usually only seen virtually too…bringing them up front plants them in the memory almost as strongly as the pastor.) In doing so, she subtly communicates to the congregation: I admire you; you can be the hero.

  1. Response Doesn’t End at the Altar: “When you hear about raising money for Ebola, or getting the children’s ministry started, or helping with flooding in Estes Park, are you living open-handed?”

Altar calls are tremendously useful; but they can sometimes become the end of a journey rather than a new beginning. Knowing this, Pastor Julie invites the congregation to respond after the service. The congregation won’t have fulfilled their responsibility before they leave; they must fulfill it after they leave—maybe even at lunch: “We are the worst tippers; nobody in the service industry wants to work Sunday afternoons, because all the cheap church people go in there. How sad is that? We need to be the people that change that around; we need to be people that are open-handed with our money.”

In our service planning, we must be mindful of our motive in an altar call: are we providing this opportunity for the congregation’s benefit, or including an altar call because it’s an easy way to gratify our desire for an easy conclusion and “results”? This message reminds us: sometimes the best response elements come after the service has concluded. God’s work is planted in the pew, but it may bear fruit in a restaurant. If the congregation can shake off the sermon and say “check” or “done!” when the service is over we might want to revisit our call to action.

Application Exercises:

  1. Identify Heroes: Jim Dunn once said, “If one month of the year is pastor’s appreciation month, then eleven months of the year are congregation appreciation months.” We think he’s right. As you think of your sermon illustrations, consider how you can use your examples to let someone else wear the cape. In doing so, you’ll help your congregation see your attentiveness to God’s work in their lives (rather than just your own). If preaching doesn’t elevate communal-esteem it might be worth asking what it is elevating? After all, this is Christ’s bride we are preparing.
  1. Use a Physical Illustration: As you prepare this Sunday’s sermon, think how you might physically represent the change you want to see in people’s lives. Doing so might help your congregation remember God’s demands on their lives as seen in your sermon.
  1. Put the Altar in the Week: What if your sermon ended outside the church? As you prepare your next series, aim to have at least one sermon during which there is no altar call in service. During this sermon, the altar call should be an “assignment” that’ll help your congregation fulfill God’s vision for their lives during the week. Make this a simple, singular, concrete action that helps them inculcate godly principles.