Preaching Without A Text Is Alternate Tuning

I have to preach this week on a theme. I don’t like preaching on themes. I like preaching on texts. I have a whole system for exegeting a text and for moving from exegesis to sermon that I have used almost exclusively since 2004. Give me a text, a notebook, a few days to prepare, and I’m comfortable enough.

It’s getting late in the week now, and I feel like I haven’t done the kind of sermon preparation I need to have done, because I haven’t run my process on a text. But yesterday I listened to John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats explain why, for a very long time, he didn’t play one of his best known songs, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” in live shows, because it was recorded in an alternate tuning that he hadn’t preserved. Basically, an alternate tuning forces a musician to not know what they’re doing. Darnielle says,

“There’s always great advantages to knowing what you’re doing, but if I take a little of control away from you, I take a little something away and force you to think on your feet, you may resent it, you may enjoy the process less, but you will probably find stuff you weren’t going to find otherwise.”

If you’re proficient at preparing sermons (or lesson plans, or meeting agendas) with a hard-won process that works for you, maybe going without that process once in awhile is beneficial. Thinking of it this way, some of my most gratifying preaching experiences resulted from preparation deprived of my precious process.

Maybe this is how we create things that, like the best ever death metal band out of Denton, will in time both outpace and outlive us.

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