the shape of leadership

How Long Should It Take to Prepare a Sermon?

Finding the time for weekly message preparation

Chris Colvin on February 15, 2018

When I speak to pastors about sermon research, one of the questions that always comes up is, “How long should it take me to prepare a sermon?”

My answer is always, “Well, it depends.”

There are many factors at play, including the size of your church and staff, your educational background, and your own study habits. But regardless, it’s really up to each individual pastor to feel it out for themselves.

There are numerous studies that try to arrive at a magic number for sermon prep hours. Thom Rainer conducted an informal poll and found that the average pastor spends 13 hours in sermon prep every week. A more scientific study from LifeWay found that number is closer to eight to 10 hours.

Others have taken a more direct approach, asking several highly visible pastors how many hours they spend in preparing their sermons weekly. On average, it seems to be about a day and half, although a couple of prominent leaders said they spend much less time preparing.

In that survey, Timothy Keller said newer pastors of smaller congregations should spend no more than six to eight hours a week on study. Once the church begins to grow, they can devote more time to weekly research.

Admittedly, Keller’s advice seems counterintuitive in some ways. With a larger staff, there is more opportunity for a teaching team, thus alleviating some of the sermon prep responsibilities. And as a younger pastor, it may make more sense to spend more time honing your craft early on. In fact, many pastors agree that the longer they spend in ministry, the less time they need for sermon prep.

Perhaps the bottom line is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But there are ways to maximize your efficiency and make the most of the prep time you have.

The Calendar Crunch

Sermon prep is either something you love to do or something you dread. Either way, there are weeks or even months when you feel you can’t devote enough time to sermon prep. The demands of the calendar have you in a bind.

Think of sermon prep hours in terms of percentages of your work week. Assuming a standard 40-hour work week, 10 hours of sermon prep is one-fourth of your total time. That may seem like a lot considering what else you need to do before Sunday. And if you have a smaller staff or are bi-vocational, that sermon prep time is taking an even larger bite out of your schedule.

Like most things in life, it’s quality over quantity when it comes to sermon prep.

I want to share some advice with you to help you maximize your sermon prep hours. But before that, I want to encourage you. God has called you; He has also equipped you (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 13:21).

You have an amazing set of talents, and I’m sure one of them is preaching the Word of God. The members of your church agree! They show up each week because of what you have to say and how you say it. Don’t be discouraged by the clock on the wall. Instead, lean into your God-given talents, and preach with boldness each week.

Make the Most of Prep Time

Like most things in life, it’s quality over quantity when it comes to sermon prep. It’s about making the most of your time when you’re at your desk prepping next week’s message. Here are just a few tips for improving the use of your time.

Schedule it. No matter how much time you decide to spend on weekly sermon prep, put it on your calendar. By marking out a specific time and place, you’re prioritizing one of the most important parts of your ministry.

Once it’s on your calendar, guard it against distraction. Staff people and church members will want to take that time from you. Don’t let them. Turn off your phone, silence your emails, and get to work.

Delegate it. Often, this is more easily said than done. The feasibility of delegating part of your sermon preparation may depend on church resources.

Pastors with larger staffs can delegate some research to another staff member, one who may have a penchant for reading, learning and writing. Other pastors may use an outside firm or individual, or even a volunteer from the congregation. If possible, find a way to share the burden of sermon prep.

By delegating some of your sermon prep, you’re not shirking responsibility. You are getting a head start on your own sermon prep time. Instead of starting with a blank page, you can begin your preparation with a folder full of scriptural analysis, book and article reviews, or illustration suggestions. What a great way to get a leg up!

Catch it. Be ready to grab sermon inspiration when it comes. Outside of your regularly scheduled sermon prep time, you’ll be thinking over the text, meditating on the main ideas, and pondering the application for your audience. You never know where inspiration will strike, so be ready to catch it!

This may mean carrying a notebook around with you at all times. You could also use an app on your smartphone, like Evernote, that syncs everything online for you to keep it all in one place.

Making the most of your time is really about controlling your calendar, rather than letting it control you. Let me share two final thoughts about that, especially for those who struggle with sermon prep.

First of all, you may be tempted to skip sermon prep and wing it on Sunday. But don’t use your talent as a crutch to avoid sermon prep. On the other hand, don’t use sermon prep as a crutch to avoid other ministry responsibilities.

You may be comfortable in your study, but your presence will always be needed and appreciated elsewhere, too. When you put in the right amount of time for sermon prep — not too little, but not too much — you’ll be better prepared to handle the other matters of ministry in your church.

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