I remember a preaching a number of years ago now at a youth camp—a setting that combined both great freedom to explore options within worship (true in a number of settings) with the scheduled opportunity to involve in worship planning a number of people with different areas of interest and giftedness (true in fewer settings).
So, I had my words. I had slides and a C.D., dancers, drums and drummer, candles, sparklers, flashlights, light cues for the man working the light board, and a vocal choir. And we all got together the morning before the evening worship, and we practiced and it was not good. It didn’t work. It really didn’t work—didn’t come together at all. There was this great chasm fixed between the experience of that morning and the idea in my head of what that evening could be.
I wandered off on my own and spent a fair amount of the afternoon terribly afraid I had messed up what I wanted to say in how I was trying to say it—that I was trying to do too much—that I had bitten off more than anyone could possibly chew—terribly afraid that in my very attempt to claim my responsibility to proclaim, I had been irresponsible— elevating my idea of how the story could be told over the story itself—tearfully afraid of having gotten in the way of the way of God. Better to have not risked so much on a re-telling and trusted the story itself, I thought to myself.
But … the fact of the matter is that how we tell the story does matter. Our story, as powerful as it is—as beautiful and relevant as it is, will often not be heard if it is simply repeated. That’s not to say there isn’t something basic there with which you really don’t want to interfere; it is to say while repetition of the known may bring comfort to those who already know the story, it is the wonder of the unknown that piques interest in those who either don’t know the story or who have heard the story so much they don’t actually hear it anymore.
And while ears that hear are, in part, a being prepared to hear—to receive, they are also a being—another being, prepared to speak—to tell—and to tell not just in repetition, but also in re-creation as the story unfolds ever anew in the re-telling. So the story is told and heard always within the risk of the interplay of its essential truth and its ever-changing form.
It is in no way denying, or even minimizing, God’s role in all the preparing to acknowledge that, as a preacher, it’s good to know the risk, and that it’s also good and necessary to take the risk.