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A Conversation With The Boss

I listened a bit ago to a conversation between two musical legends.

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, band leader and drummer of The Roots (and DJ, producer, author, etc.), hosts a podcast called Questlove Supreme, in which he convenes long-form conversations with artists and creatives in music, film, literature, and television.

A few months ago, I listened to an episode in which he interviewed Bruce Springsteen. Their expansive discussion explored Springsteen’s childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, how he assembled the E Street Band, songwriting, marriage, and more.

I was particularly intrigued, however, to listen to Springsteen talk about his approach to his vocation as a musician, and the way in which he and his band have developed their craft over the course of five decades and twenty-one studio albums.

I’ve been thinking lately about how I approach preaching — one of the main crafts that comprise my vocation — and found some wisdom worth applying to the preaching life as I listened to The Boss describe his own musical growth…

Like Shoemakers or Seamstresses

One thread of Springsteen’s story that fascinated me was his recalling how he and the E Street Band honed their musical chops over innumerable hours playing together. Springsteen described how, in their early years playing high school dances, Asbury Park’s Stone Pony, and the other music clubs dotting the Jersey Shore, they’d be expected to play a catalog of Top 40 songs, and Motown, blues, and soul music — whatever was in heavy rotation on the radio at the time. In reflecting on how all those hours of playing together have shaped them, Springsteen observed, “We’re like craftsmen; like old-school craftsmen. Like shoemakers or seamstresses. . . We learned our craft bit by bit, piece by piece, song by song. . .The E Street Band is a band filled with craftsmen.”

Springsteen went on to express concern for how technological advances often short-circuit this process of development for younger generations of musicians. You can now record something on your laptop in your bedroom, he observed, and have a global hit almost immediately, without needing to apprentice oneself to the craft over all those hours of playing.

I resonate with this as I think about how I’ve developed as a preacher. I benefited from early mentors who would give me chance after chance after chance to teach classes, preach in worship, or speak at a retreat, no matter how unpolished or uneven I was.

Now, in my work coaching and mentoring women and men who aspire to lives of preaching and teaching, one of the things I hope to cultivate is this kind of patient attention to developing one’s craft over the long haul. I’m grateful to serve in a church that’s a hospitable community to developing leaders — that cheers on seminarians and interns as they preach their first sermons, teach their first classes, and open the Scriptures for teenagers and children for the first time.

For those in the early stages of their vocation — I wonder if we think intentionally about growing, apprenticing, and developing over years and decades? And for those of us leading Christian communities, as I listen to the Boss, I wonder how we might be more hospitable places for those God is calling to preach and teach to find opportunities to use their gifts, make mistakes, and find their own voice over time?

Somebody’s First Night

As their conversation was nearing its end, Questlove mentioned that he’d recently gone to four or five Springsteen concerts on consecutive nights at Madison Square Garden, and was floored by the energy and intensity of the performances. Springsteen, at 74, would roam the whole stage, jump from pianos, and throw himself into singing and playing. They’d change the lineup of songs, keys, and arrangements between each individual show. Springsteen mentioned that, even to this day, their band will regularly do multi-hour sound check rehearsals before concerts that can last three to four hours a night.


“We love it. . . It remains an honor to play for our audience, and that’s the way I approach it.”

“I don’t care how long you’ve been doing it. You have an opportunity to impact somebody’s life — tonight. However long you’ve been doing it.”

And then he added this:
Every single night is somebody’s first night. So I want to play like it’s my first night.

The joyful urgency in The Boss’s gravel voice as he said that struck a chord with me (no pun intended). And I think there’s something there for we preachers to learn from: that passionate commitment to every single person, every single evening.

I remember Fred, my coach when I was a novice church planter, telling me again and again, “Every single Sunday, there’s going to be somebody out there who’s had a friend bugging them to come church for a couple of months. This is the one time they said yes. What are you going to say to them?”

When I arrived to the congregation I currently serve, one of the dynamics I realized we needed to work on was our hospitality to outsiders. So I’d start, in our weekly meetings, telling our staff over and over, “This Sunday is somebody’s ‘one Sunday.’ This Sunday will be, for someone, the one time they agree to set foot on our campus for worship. What are they going to experience?”

I think it urgent that the Church in the West recover that sense of the gravity of preaching; of what Richard Baxter meant when he wrote that he sought to preach “never sure to preach again, as a dying man to dying men.” For all those women and men called to open the Scriptures and declare the name of Christ, “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom” (1 Timothy 4.1), each time the Church gathers is the one opportunity we’re given to announce the glories of Christ.

Each time the Church gathers is somebody’s first time.

Somebody’s one time.

Each time is the only time we know we’ve been given.

What are we going to say?

Jared Ayers

Jared Ayers serves as the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach, Florida. Prior to this, he founded and served as the senior pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Western Theological Seminary & the Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 16 years, and have been graced with two sons and a daughter.


  • Daniel Meeter says:


  • Liz Estes says:

    Completely helpful, thanks for this boss quote: ““Every single night is somebody’s first night. So I want to play like it’s my first night.”

  • Scott VanderStoep says:

    Loves this essay. I’ve seen Bruce in concert 18 times from NYC to Milwaukee (19 after rescheduled Baltimore in Sept 2024). No musician works harder at his craft/vocation than he. So much more to say, but I’ll skip and simply say thanks for sharing.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Great observations on learning the preaching craft as well as the need for practice and experience. As Malcolm Gladwell said in “Outliers,” before The Beatles arrived on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, they had logged 10,000 hours of playing together, mostly in non-glamorous clubs on the Repperbahn in Hamburg, Germany. No substitute for learning through repetition!

  • Fred Mueller says:

    If just one person reading this article renews her/his passion for the pulpit, then it is worthwhile. It is! BTW, it puts me in mind of the Harry Emerson Fosdick prayer he always prayed before reaching: “I know what I want to say to myself before I get into the pulpit: there is in that congregation one person who needs what I am going to say. O God, let me get at him.”

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