“How much time do you give to sermon prep each week?”
I regularly get asked this question by other pastors and ministry leaders. The trouble with this question is that it doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. Some pastors preach multiple sermons each week. Others only have one sermon to preach. Many pastors carry heavy leadership loads besides their preaching ministry. Still, others carry less of a load. These factors alone will shape the time a pastor can or should spend in sermon prep.
Opinions differ over how much time is enough for sermon preparation. There is no universal agreement. But I believe in a principle that can help every preacher who follows it. It is simple to understand, but hard to live out: Prepare to help people.
I know there are pastors and ministry leaders who spend 20-30 hours per week in sermon preparation. God bless them. The Word of God is a treasure worthy of studying with all intensity and resources. Preaching God’s Word is an endeavor worthy of our highest efforts to prepare for. But most pastors cannot do that. Most pastors should not try to.
There are a few reasons we spend large chunks of our week in sermon preparation that do not align with our most important aim of helping people.
1. We want to impress people.
Rather than focusing on helping people, we may subconsciously try to impress people. It rarely takes endless hours of study to grasp a text. However, if our aim is to impress people with our knowledge and intellect, it will compel us to share every nuance and parse every word. Here is an important reminder that will help you prepare sermons: 99% of the people sitting in front of you as you preach don’t care about the Greek or Hebrew words. Use them sparingly.
2. We love to study.
Some spend large chunks of their week in sermon prep because they love to study. And that’s great! I am a theology nerd. I am always reading a theology book. But we cannot let our love for study lead us to spend too much time in the sermon preparation process.
3. We underestimate our leadership responsibilities.
This is why we cannot spend more time than is necessary for sermon prep. There are other responsibilities to the church’s health. The role of the shepherd isn’t just to feed the sheep, he must lead the sheep. If you do not spend the time learning to lead the sheep, they become a bunch of fat, well-fed sheep, who wander around in the wilderness.
4. We think the sermon will improve.
If you do not study enough, the sermon will suffer. But if you over study, the sermon suffers. Effective study may take two-hours (I’m talking about the study process, not the entire sermon process). Researching until you know every detail of the text – which you will never do – and grasp what the major commentators say may require twelve-hours. But the sermon you preach will have little noticeable distinction between the two-hour prep time and the twelve-hour approach. Why? Because if you prepare to understand the text and be effective, then the added study time will only offer marginal – if any – difference in your sermon. It is possible the extra study will burden your sermon with too much info and make it less effective.
5. We feel pressure.
Too many pastors and ministry leaders believe they have to tell congregants or other peers they spend inordinate amounts of time in sermon prep. Preachers wear it as a badge of honor or as a validation of their role. Those who spend less time – by choice or necessity – often appear inferior due to not logging hefty hours in the study. The truth is: we can be faithful and fruitful preachers and not spend half our work week in sermon preparation. There is nothing more spiritual about twenty-three hours of sermon prep than six hours of sermon prep. Free yourself from the pressure to accumulate hours.
So how much time should you spend in sermon preparation? Enough time to make sure you prepped a sermon that will help people.
**In Part 2 of this post, I will outline how we can approach sermon prep to help people. I will tell you the three things I do each week to get a sermon ready and explain how much time I typically spend doing it.**