Improvisation and the Art of Preaching

In high school I joined the Jazz Band as a freshman as a replacement for someone who quit a month before the end of the year concert. If you know anything about jazz music you know that much of it relies on improvisation by the players. As a  young and inexperienced jazz player I was astounded at what some of my older friends were doing with improv. I had to find Hamilton Theater tickets, which were rare at the time, and attend the concerts just so I could get a closer look at them.


As I continued to progress in my jazz feel and knowledge through the years I began to better understand the art of improvisation and its key role in the progression of a jazz chart. Improv also plays a key role in blues music, many forms of rock music and other types of music you may like. Basically the function of improv is the musician gets a basic chart, maybe a few chord progressions, maybe a base of what the other musicians are playing and then they are free to interpret what to play at that time.

When it comes to the art of preaching improvisation can play a big role, just like in music. Here at Rookie Preacher we advocate for a tight, well put together structure. But, that doesn’t mean you need to have every word memorized.

Here are three things I look at when I compare the art of preaching to musical improvisation

Have a Fool Proof Structure

Even the most improvised of musical compositions are going to need to have a good structure underneath it all if it is going to be successful at all. So as it relates to preaching this means everytime you get up to preach you should be well prepared and have a fool proof structure. “winging it and trusting the Holy Spirit” for 40 minutes is not going to be successful. Just like I do not know any good music pieces that were just randomly played with no structure or chord progression that ended up great.

Leave a Little Room For Flexibility

In your structure leave a little room for flexibility-for art-for improvisation. Maybe it’s a joke you tell on the spot or some humor you interject that you didn’t plan. Maybe it’s a story you witness or heard that morning. Maybe it’s a thought that came to you right at the moment, sometimes these things need to be said, even if you didn’t explicitly word for word plan to say it in your initial plan and structure.

Take a Risk

Improvisation is risk. What happens in jazz when someone is given 32 bars to improv and instead they carefully compose a solo? It loses the edge, the risk, the spontaneity, the excitement. Sure it could be good, great even but it isn’t improvisation it is  something different. Sometimes it won’t work. The first time I was called to improv I saw it as a failure, but it was a small step on the path to something better.

This week take a risk, make your preaching an art, do something different, improvise a little and see what happens.


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Written by Joe Hoagland

Joe is a pastor at Rise Church in Marion, Oh. He is married to his awesome wife Jenna and they have one daughter Aryella.

He loves to lead people to Jesus and preach God's word.

You can often times find Joe hiking, camping, writing, reading, or enjoying technology.


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