Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jazz Preaching


At my church, we have a 8:00 A.M. Matins Service every Wednesday morning. This service is primarily prayer and song, but it does include a short sermon.

When I first came to this church, I wrote out short manuscripts for delivery every time I led the Wednesday service. After a few months, though, I started to do something a little different. I would choose texts and a theme, and get an idea or a story that I wanted to talk about. Once in awhile I would jot down a few notes; sometimes I wouldn't write anything down at all. Every once in awhile it would even come to me to do something entirely different in the midst of the service on Wednesday morning.

I was talking about this to another staff member recently. I explained it this way: instead of preparing a manuscript, I decide on a text and a theme, and then I "riff" on the text and the theme for a few minutes. "Oh, Jazz Preaching," she responded.

The Wednesday morning crowd doesn't seem to mind my Biblical/theological improvisations. In fact, it seems that they like them BETTER than my Sunday sermons, which I research and craft with as much care and precision as I can muster. Perhaps it's the spontaneity they are responding to; perhaps the simplicity that is inevitable (at least for me) when I preach "note-less". I'm perhaps a tad more passionate on Wednesday, too.

I'd like to bring a little bit of Wednesday's Jazz into Sunday's more formal preaching. But I've yet to feel (even after 14 years) that I can quite let go in front of the larger crowds.

Part of it has to do with writing. Once I have finished a manuscript I grow attached to certain words and phrases and don't want to risk losing them. Another part is time. These Wednesday morning sermons are short. On Sunday, I would need to remember and improvise for a longer time. But not too long. I can't afford to improvise for too long, either. (we have three services on Sunday.)

What do you think? What would be a good way to begin bringing the passion and spontaneity of "Jazz Preaching" into Sunday mornings?

10 comments:

Kievas said...

I think one of the best sermons that the pastor at our former church preached was the one where he left his notes at home. I'm all in favor of the improv style when it comes to preaching.

Presbyterian Gal said...

It's very Southern Baptist I think. Jazz or improvisational preaching.

For the big magilla on Sunday, why not write most of it and leave the last 5 or 10 minutes open for the jazz.

Carol Howard Merritt said...

I was at a preaching conference...the kind where the participants have to preach in front of each other. I couldn't prepare, so I improvised.

It turned out well. And, so I've been wondering the same thing, but I just can't seem to pull it off on Sunday morning....

And three services on Sunday? Four in a week? Whew! That's a lot.

Wayne Stratz said...

you just describe how I teach... I like the idea of calling it jazz teaching instead of winging it. I agree presbyterian gal... Jazz musicians are not constantly improvising, well a few are, but most know the material by heart, then in the midst of it go off for a bit of improvisation. good luck with freeing your spirit.

do the mid-week folk say encouraging things about your sermons?

Grace, Every Day said...

I love jazz; I'm a musician, and I improv almost everything these days. As the worship leader, my favorite moments are when I can 'noodle' for my teaching pastor, or improv some transition music. Inevitably, it's the highlight of my personal worship, and it usually strikes a chord with somebody else.

Your post and subsequent comments made me think of a book I am currently reading: 'Communicating For A Change' by Andy Stanley. It details his 'jazzy' approach to teaching/preaching; I really think you'd like it. It addresses a lot of what you've identified here. Good book...

FranIAm said...

I am not sure of what to tell you, but I will tell you this... I am praying for the Holy Spirit to bring you what you need on this.

Whether it comes from within or from a comment or several comments or a convesation... You will know what to do.

Peace my sister!

Jiff said...

Maybe a little jazz. for starters, in the middle of a Sunday sermon?
I've done it- and it's been well received.

Paul said...

I have no advice, but join Fran in praying for the Spirit's guidance for you. I do have my own preaching journey. I first began preaching (on rare occasions) at age 15--a Baptist kid in Youth for Christ--and from seminary onward used manuscripts. I understand working hard on expressing something and becoming attached to a really clear thought of fine rhetorical phrase. For years people urged me to get my head out of the manuscript--even though my style was NOT dull reading and I did ad lib as I went.

Finally, influenced by my associate who used notes rather than full manuscripts, I broke away. For a short while I had an outline, maybe a few phrases. Then I went paper-free. At that point I had been preaching (from rarely to weekly) for almost forty years. Now it is all "jazz preaching." Sometimes I come into it with a strong mental outline and sometimes I just listen to the lessons and stand up and go.

I have lost some tightness, some polish, and those apt researched quotations. I have gained immediacy, far more connection with the congregation, and deeper emotional and spiritual depth. I am more transparent and honest. As an ex-Baptist, my biggest challenge is not to riff for too long as I can develop stuff at great length; that is an ongoing challenge. But I am never accused of being dull.

Diane said...

Paul, it makes me wish to hear you preach sometimes.

Paul said...

You are kind, Diane. LOL. As rambling as my posts but with all the passion and immediacy, more humor and less anger.