I have a friend who, back in the day, was in the orchestra. He was very good at what he did. It was a joy to watch and hear him play. I often sat in awe. There was simply no way on earth I could have played what he did or the way he did. Not in a million years.
Orchestra and me? Not a mix. Not that I didn’t care for orchestral music, you understand. It’s just that I was in jazz band (stage band). If you had put me in the orchestra I would have been like a fish out of water; I would have shriveled up and died. And hey, I’m even bold enough to think my friend might have struggled had he been thrust into stage band.
See, in orchestral music, there’s rarely, if ever, any real opportunity for improvisation. Every note is planned out long before the sheet music even hits the stand. The idea is sound: you take the music and you put your heart into it. Hard to argue with that.
But, in jazz band, we typically lived or died by improvisation. Improvisation was the air we breathed; it was our bread and butter. While most of what we’d do was planned out to the note before we went on stage, included in the music was deliberate open space for exploration of what was in our heart in the moment. And the way it sounded in performance might not be at all what it sounded like in practice. It’s a healthy idea: you take your heart and you let the music come out from it.
Now if you can grasp that, then understand it’s the same way with preaching. Some preachers are like those in the orchestra. They live by structure and predictable repeatability. They know what they’re going to do months in advance and their Sunday sermons are in manuscript form long before Saturday night rolls around. Improv isn’t even in the vocabulary of such ministers. And that can be a good thing.
Meanwhile, other ministers can’t plan out in detail a single sermon in advance, much less a series. A manuscript? What’s that?! Oh, but don’t think for a minute that such preachers are unprepared or of a lower grade. No, they’re prepared to the hilt! It’s just that it’s just not possible for them to preach the same sermon twice and it come out the same way. They’re often just as surprised by what comes out when they get up on stage as anyone else in the room. And that too can be a very good thing.
Now I say all of this to simply say two things. First, if you’re a minister, deliberately experiment. Find the style toward which you tend to gravitate. And then, own it. Refuse to beat yourself up for not being like – or even able to be like – others who preach differently. And if others, who preach differently, give you static, let it roll right off of you. I know, that’s easier said than done and it’s a ceaseless task, but improvise. Because you’ve got to make your own kind of music.
Second, if you’re an elder who oversees your preacher – or you’re a member who listens to your preacher – give your preacher the freedom to sing their own special song. They need that. And you need that. Don’t ever try to squeeze them into your own mold. Especially if they’re more of the jazz band type and you’re more into the orchestral mode – or vice-versa. After all, the preacher’s task isn’t to cover the song the way you would or the way you think they should, but to play the music they sense God is laying on their heart. If they try to do otherwise the music will likely, at best, come out all wrong – forced, stilted, and flat.
Imagine, and let it be.