Improvisation and Preaching

saxtrioContinuing on the themes from Robert Gelinas’ book Finding the Groove, we will discuss improvisation and preaching. What is improvisation? I remember when I first heard a jazz standard and thinking, that doesn’t sound like the song. What I didn’t realize then was that I needed to listen closer to hear the original. I needed to allow the performer to interpret the song for this context and time in which we found ourselves.

Improvisation is to take the original text and to interpret it in a way that is true to the original as well as true to the current context. To do this, you have to really know your instrument as well as your song and your context. All of these things will allow the performer to play the song for the hearers.

As preachers we do this every time we preach. We take the “old-old Gospel Story” and interpret it for the hearers that are sitting in our congregations. It requires doing more than simply quoting the text. We can’t just quote the text and sit down, no, we must interpret the text. We must show the different shades of meaning that have relevance to the context that we find ourselves. We must “sing” the gospel with our people.


As with the jazz performer, we must really know the gospel story before we can “sing” the gospel story. In addition, we must understand the context that we are preaching to. Simply put, we don’t sing the exact same song everywhere, we change the way we sing to help the message get to the people.

So what does it mean to improvise the text? I am sure we have all heard the preacher talk about God being our shepherd. That is all well and good, but what is a modern day version of the shepherd? Is the Lord like a football coach that leads to victory and protects our resources? Maybe it doesn’t fit, but you get the point. Maybe God is like our military leader who goes into combat with us.

What is the author trying to convey? Can you use modern day examples to convey the same thing? Go ahead and try…the attempt will be you improvising. Go ahead and improvise, play, and sing the scriptures.

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Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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Revised Common Lectionary
Proper 14 (February 26, 2017)
  • OT: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
  • Psalm: Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b
  • Epistle: Romans 10:5-15
  • Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33
Af Am Heritage Lectionary
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