The preacher had to stand on a box so he could see over the pulpit.
There Jakobe “Kobe” Cooper stood, sharply dressed in a white shirt, black bow tie, black pinstripe suit and black-and-white wing-tip shoes. And he was ready to spread the word of God, even though he can’t yet read.
But that doesn’t stop this 5-year-old dynamo.
The kindergartner memorizes verses from his illustrated children’s Bible and preaches in a practiced call-and-response delivery like a minister with decades under his belt.
“He’s directed by God. We don’t try to tell him nothing,” said the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Chambers, longtime pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church and Jakobe’s great-grandfather. “The Holy Spirit is giving him what the Holy Spirit wants him to preach about.”
On this Sunday morning, the congregation of about 120 was thoroughly inspired by the young preacher, enthusiastically responding with hearty “uh-huhh” and “yes” and “well” to his statements.
“For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son who should ever believe on Him should not perish,” Jakobe loosely quoted John 3:16 to open his sermon. Skipping through his illustrated Bible, he told a bit of the story of Joseph’s brothers coming to Egypt, “when Joseph told them, ‘I am your brother,’ they all got afraid.”
Jakobe skipped to the story of Moses, where his mother puts him in the river and the princess finds him, and “he grew up and left Egypt because Pharaoh started being mean.”
As he warmed to the words, so did the audience.
“Then he became a shepherd with sheep, and he saw a bush on fire,” Jakobe preached. “And God told Moses to get my people out of Egypt.
“Moses told Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go or God will punish you,’ but Pharaoh said ‘I don’t know your God,’ ” Jakobe said, his voice rising, his cadence quickening. “And God got so mad, He turned the river to blood.”
The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness where they ate quail, Jakobe continued, before jumping to the New Testament. His delivery got even more musical and rhythmic. He grabbed the microphone, hopped off the wooden box and stepped in front of the pulpit.
“Jesus, the one who came down to save us, the onnnne who saaved us,” Jakobe called. “Jeeesus, the oooone who died for us. Jeeesus, the one who was in the grave for three days and three nights.”
By then the congregation members were on their feet and the keyboard player was riffing along with him.
“I’m all right now, I’mmmm all right now. Gonna feeeel allll right now,” Jakobe declared to the rolling beat of the drummer.
He closed with a dramatic rendition of Bishop Paul S. Morton’s classic, “Lord whatever you doing in this season, don’t do it without me, please don’t do it without me. If you’re blessing in this season, don’t do it without me!”
As the shouting, clapping audience calmed down and put away the smartphones and tablets they’d used to record Jakobe, he returned to a seat next to Chambers, and the service continued with more music, an invitation and announcements.
“He’s been preaching ever since he could talk,” his grandmother, Denise Cooper, Chamber’s daughter, said afterward.
The young preacher’s father, Leroy Cooper, 37, is a journeyman electrician, and his mother, Lajuan Fernandez Cooper, is a medical assistant. They have an older son, Tyriq, 9, and because both parents work, the boys spend a lot of time with their grandfather, Michael Cooper.
“He’s just an average 5-year-old like any 5-year-old,” Leroy Cooper said. “He’s just different.”
“He’s an active 5-year-old,” his mother added. “He went to his grandfather and told him he was ready to preach, and it’s gone from there.”
“He’s a preacher, and he’s very good at it,” added brother Tyriq. “At home, when he’s doing his sermon, he always goes with Papa and learns his sermon.”
Michael Cooper is “Papa,” and he said the boy’s preaching started when he was about 4 years old.
“He likes to come and get on the computer and YouTube a lot of gospel music and see different kinds of religious things going on,” he said. “All at once, all I know is he comes back and says God sent him to preach to his people.”
“I told him to talk to the pastor and let him know what God sent you to do,” Michael Cooper said. “He’s been preaching the word of God from then on. This is probably the fourth time.
“At night, he’ll come in and say ‘Papa, come go over my sermon with me,’ and he and I sit down and we go over his sermon, and he says, ‘God told me to preach this.’ And I’ll read the story to him and he elaborates on what we read. I think he’s going to stick to it ’cause he said that’s what God wants him to do. He’s in our little male chorus. He sings, he preaches, he’s all in about the word of God.”
Arlene C. Smith Sanders, a longtime St. Luke Baptist member, said she thought the sermon was awesome.
“Out of the mouth of babes, as they say, it was what we heard, and it all comes together in truth if we just worship and believe in God,” Sanders said. “Something coming from a child 5 years old telling us about God and what God did for Moses and what God can do for us. It was awesome.”