One of my favorite musical artists of all-time is Bruce Springsteen, and this year marks the 40th anniversary of his seminal album “Born to Run.” The story goes that this was a make-or-break album for “The Boss.” If this project did not gain traction and sell well then his label was probably going to drop him. So, needless to say, Springsteen was highly motivated to create the best rock album he could. And boy did he! “Born to Run” is widely considered to be one of the greatest albums to ever be produced.
Earlier in the year, Bruce did an interview with Rolling Stone magazine about the making of the album; and, strange as it may seem, a portion of his reflection hit home with me as a preacher.
In the interview, the reporter asked the following question: “When you heard a mastered version of the album, you hated it and threw it into a pool. You’ve said the truth is that you were afraid. What were you afraid of?”
To which, Springsteen replied: “I’ve always had a bit of an ambivalent attitude towards…what was I afraid of? Change, I don’t know [laughs]. Also, it was a moment when your music was the totality of your identity, and so you were so caught up and invested in it. Part of what made the record good is that we went to extremes to structure it and compose it and play it in this very detailed and drive-yourself-crazy fashion.
I hadn’t listened to it in about 20 years or so, and I recently listened to it because we remastered it and I said, ‘Wow.’ It held up really well, because it was just structured and built like a tank. It was indestructible, and that came from an enormous amount of time that we put in, an unhealthy amount of obsessive-compulsiveness. So part of it was, I was afraid of releasing the record and just saying, ‘Well, this is who I am,’ for all the obvious reasons that people are afraid of exposure and putting themselves out there: This is who I am, this is everything I know, this is my best, this is the best I can do right now.”
The last part of Springsteen’s response is what I resonated with because that’s exactly what preachers do each and every week. We put ourselves out there in service to God’s Word, leaving us feeling exposed and afraid, at times. As with a song, there is a structure to a sermon, and every preacher builds his or her sermon to last and to have an eternal impact. That’s a lot of pressure to put on oneself, and that pressure returns as soon as the last sermon has been preached because Sunday’s always coming and we’ve got to do it all again.
With every sermon, as a preacher, you are constantly saying to your audience, as Springsteen does, “This is who I am, this is everything I know, this is my best, this is the best I can do right now.” And the best you can do on any particular Sunday is at the mercy of what is happening within the congregation, your family, and yourself that week.
Most of the preachers I know are extremely diligent about their sermon preparation, and they protect their prep time well. They have to or else it will get eaten up by the constant demands of ministry. However, the truth is that there is a limited amount of time to prepare a sermon each week. And sometimes it just isn’t enough to build the sermon you really want to build.
This is why the best preachers are heavily dependent on the Spirit of God, in both the preparation process and the presentation. They deliver their sermon with passion to the best of their ability and then say, “OK, Lord, take this meager offering and feed the masses through the work of your Spirit, because I’ve done the best I can do right now.”
Preaching is a courageous act because it requires so much vulnerability. And, as Springsteen notes, that can cause you to be afraid and self-conscious. While Springsteen was driven by the music to overcome his fear, preachers are driven by their service to God and their love for God’s Word to conquer their trepidations and get up on that stage. Then they do it all over again the next week.
This is why I am such a fan of preachers – because every week they pour themselves out for the sake of the people they serve and for the sake of the Kingdom of God, even though it’s a scary thing to do.
Just think about the incredible work of art we would have missed out on if Springsteen had given in to his fear. Now, think about all that we would miss out on if our preachers gave in to their fear.
Keep on preaching preachers, because we’re listening with grateful hearts for what you do!