Since Sunday, I’ve received some questions and engaged in some great conversations concerning how long it takes to prepare a sermon. Our senior pastor has been talking for a long time about how ready he was to begin a sermon series through the Book of Romans. Due to his excitement, it was shocking when he wasn’t there delivering the first message on Sunday.
Unfortunately, Jeff hurt his back on Saturday. While he is on the mend, he was in pretty rough shape to make the call that he could not be there on such an anticipated Sunday. I got the call on Saturday afternoon as we were driving home from a week at the beach. While years ago, I would have stressed out over the situation, the Lord has truly taught me to rely on his strength in all situations (1 Cor. 4:7; 2 Cor. 4:7).
I chose not to mention his condition during the sermon on Sunday because:
- Jeff would have killed me because he doesn’t like the attention, and
- I didn’t want any perspective of the sermon skewed based on the time that was allowed to prepare.
Pastors are called to preach the word and to be ready in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2).
I shouldn’t make excuses for myself if I deliver a lackluster sermon just because I didn’t have a preferred amount of time to prepare.
I didn’t want anyone thinking, “Well, that was a decent message given the time he had.” It causes people to listen critically during the sermon rather than absorbing the information for personal sanctification. It would have been a distraction.
How Long Does It Take?
As word got out on Sunday night that Jeff was still MIA, the questions began. “So how long did you have to prepare that sermon?” When people ask that, you honestly wonder if they are asking due to a positive or negative reaction to it.
I answer that question in two ways:
- I had 2 hours to prepare for that sermon, and
- I had my entire life to prepare for that sermon.
Preparation takes both recent investment and constant development.
In any area of life, we must do diligence to prepare but also be cognizant of how God has been preparing us for what we didn’t know was coming. Sermon preparation often happens both in the stillness of study and the crucible of life.
After unpacking from vacation, prepping for family commitments, meeting Sunday morning, and soundcheck, I had 6-8 AM available. That was it.
Steve Crouse, North Greenville’s Campus Minister, once told me that
“God will hold you accountable for the time you actually had.”
Depending upon how you have been using that time (Eph. 5:15-16), that statement can be an encouraging thing or a discouraging thing.
I tried to use the time I had that morning to prepare what I could. I also was grateful that about 12 minutes of what I shared had been prepared for a Fuge sermon this summer. I actually had used that passage for a sermon over a month ago. Since this was a different context and a greater section of Scripture, I couldn’t use the entirety of the sermon. Some of what I said had been said before, and some of it was on the spot.
I am cautious about anyone who limits the Holy Spirit’s activity solely to the study or solely to the pulpit.
The Spirit works in both. The Holy Spirit prepares words to say ahead of the time, and he is also able to give us words in the moment.
How Long Should It Take?
I have often tried to discern an adequate amount of sermon preparation time. While you can calculate study time, it is hard to articulate the time that a sermon is brewing in your mind.
Reading how much others spend is interesting but not very helpful or reproducible:
- Tim Keller – 14-16 hours
- David Platt – 20-25 hours
- John Piper – 14-16 hours
- Matt Chandler – 16 + hours
- John MacArthur – 32 hours
- Mark Driscoll – 1-2 hours
- Mark Dever – 30-35 hours
Stats on Sermon Preparation
Thom Rainer provides these statistics on the matter:
My 2001 study found that the average amount a time a pastor spent in sermon preparation was four hours a week per sermon prepared. Most pastors then were preparing two different sermons, so they spent about eight hours a week in sermon study and preparation. Now look at the numbers for 2012:
Amount of Time in Sermon Preparation Each Week
- Less Than 5 Hours — 8%
- 5 to 7 Hours — 23%
- 8 to 10 Hours — 25%
- 11 to 15 Hours — 23%
- More Than 15 Hours — 21%
These numbers represent total sermon preparation time per week, and the increase from a decade ago is dramatic. Of the pastors we surveyed, nearly seven out of ten spend eight or more hours in sermon preparation. More than four out of ten spend eleven or more hours; and more than one out of five spend 15 hours or more preparing sermons each week.
I am encouraged. In past studies, I have found a correlative relationship between time in sermon preparation and church health metrics. The greater the time in sermon preparation, the more likely the church is to be evangelistically effective, have a higher retention rate of members, and have a higher weekly per capita giving.
Simply stated, when the pastor spends more time in the Word, the church tends to be healthier.