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Home » All Resources » Articles on john macarthur » Eric McKiddie, Should You Take 2 Hours or 32 Hours for Sermon Prep?

Should You Take 2 Hours or 32 Hours for Sermon Prep?

Eric McKiddie more from this author »

Pastoralized.com/

Date Published: 11/13/2013
No matter where you are on the prep-time spectrum, it should comfort you to know that well-known preachers span the entire spectrum.

There are various opinions on how long it should take someone to prepare their sermon for Sunday. There are minimalists, maximalists and everything in between.

No matter where you are on the spectrum, it should comfort you to know that well-known preachers span the entire spectrum. So how long do well-known preachers take to prepare a sermon? Here’s what I found.

Well-known preachers spend between 1 and 35 hours on sermon prep.

Mark Driscoll – 1 to 2 hours. A couple of years ago, Driscoll caused a bit of a ruckus when he tweeted, “Prepping 2 sermons today. Thankfully, a sermon takes about as long to prep as preach.” Last week he tweeted something similar, “Time to put the sermon together for Sunday. 1-2 hours.” Obviously, a lot of pastors are surprised by those numbers. Driscoll explains:

By God’s grace my memory is very unusual. I can still remember a section of a book I read 20 years ago while preaching and roll with it. I’ve also never sat down to memorize a Bible verse. Yet many just stick, and I can pull them up from memory as I go. Lastly, I’m a verbal processor. I think out loud, which is what preaching is for me. A degree in speech and over 10,000 hours of preaching experience also helps. And most importantly and thankfully, the Holy Spirit always helps.

When I get up to preach, the jokes, illustrations, cross-references and closing happen extemporaneously. I never teach others how to preach, as my method is not exactly a replicable method—nor a suggested one. But it works for me.

Tim Keller (small rural church) – 6 to 8 hours. Keller shared this about his early days pastoring and preaching:

I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time [on sermon preparation], however. The main way to become a good preacher is to preach a lot and spend tons of time in people work—that is how you grow from becoming not just a Bible commentator but a flesh-and-blood preacher. When I was a pastor without a large staff, I put in 6–8 hours on a sermon.

Tim Keller (big Manhattan church) – 14 to 16 hours. When you have a staff of pastors doing ministry alongside you, that affords the lead pastor more time to put into his message. Check out this two-minute video to learn how Keller spends those 14 to 16 hours.

John Piper – All day Friday, half day Saturday. It’s hard to get an exact number from Piper’s explanation of how he prepares his sermons. When you read it (or watch it), it sounds something like 14 to 16 hours, though. Piper, like Driscoll, admits that his process is less than replicable:

It works for me. Most people who hear I do it that way say, “No way can I start on Friday.” Or, “No way can I take a manuscript into the pulpit and not have it be canned.” No problem. Wear your own armor, not mine.

Stephen Um – 24 hours (update: 15 to 16, see comments). Um broke down his entire week as it pertains to his sermon prep schedule in this TGC post. The uniqueness of his pattern, in comparison with the men already listed, is that he prepares throughout the week.

Matt Chandler – All day Tuesday, all day Thursday. It sounds safe to say 16-plus hours for Chandler. While walking through his preaching habits, he says he blocks these days off and takes care of the rest of his responsibilities on other days of the week:

Tuesdays and Thursdays are study days for me. I put together sermons and pray and study on those two days. The rest of the week I am meeting with people and trying to shepherd well the people God has asked me to lead.

Kent Hughes – 20 hours. I can’t remember if it was this Q and A panelthis conference message, or some other time I heard Hughes speak, but he said he spent 20 hours on a Sunday morning sermon, and 10 hours on a Sunday evening sermon.

John MacArthur – 32 hours. Another throughout-the-week guy, MacArthur takes 4 days at 8 hours per day to prepare to preach. Here’s the gist, but Colin Adams shows how each day breaks down.

Day One: Exegesis; Day Two: Meditation; Day Three: Rough draft of sermon; Day Four: Final draft, handwritten.

Mark Dever – 30 to 35 hours. C.J. Mahaney interviewed Mark Dever on the preparation and delivery of sermons. Here is an excerpt of their conversation:

CJM: All right. Average number of hours each week devoted to sermon prep?

MD: 30 to 35.

CJM: How long do you speak on Sundays?

MD: One hour.

CJM: You work from a manuscript?

MD: I do, though I don’t generally recommend other people do that.

CJM: Why?

MD: Manuscripts can just be deadly boring. I don’t want to say there are few people who can use a manuscript well, but it is definitely a minority.

Lessons to take from this survey

At the very least, we can take away some steps not to take as we try to become the best preachers we can.

1. Don’t choose a set number of hours because so-and-so does. Good preachers are all over the place. There is no certain amount of time you should spend. Simply determine how long it takes for you to preach a good sermon—not perfect, but good.

2. On that note, don’t expect preaching success to come from locking and loading other pastor’s habits. Driscoll, Piper and Dever each acknowledge that they don’t have the most replicable sermon prep process. Bullets for them could be blanks for you.

3. Don’t find your identity as a preacher in how much time you spend on your sermon. Don’t be proud of how many hours or how few hours you spend preparing. Again, there are very good preachers who are all over the spectrum. Your prep is not the end, but a means to an end. Your identity is in Christ and your role is to be a herald of Christ.

4. Don’t let your sermon prep get in the way of shepherding people or leading your church. We saw that Chandler and Keller (especially in his smaller church days) set aside plenty of time for that part of ministry.

Besides that, there is freedom. No “shoulds.” If you’re not sure how much time you should spend preparing, experiment until you know who you need to be and what you need to do to be the best all-around pastor—not just preacher—you can according to God’s grace and only for his glory.


Eric  McKiddie

Eric McKiddie is a husband, father of three, and one of the pastors at College Church in Wheaton, IL. You can follow Eric on Twitter (@ericmckiddie).

Ralph Drees
November 15, 2013
The truth of the matter is that nobody actually spent 2-35 hours preparing that sermon. We spent years reading and studying our Bible, hours in Bible studies, hours praying and meditating over the Word, and then the direct sermon prep... in a sense, some or most of these men have been preparing these sermons their whole life. And for the common and deeper truths, we probably spent years coming to a doctrinal position, being able to defend that position, and then years of adjusting and applying that position. I wouldn't say that these numbers are accurate, with those considerations in mind. If you don't spend years in the word, no amount of sermon prep is going to have you preaching the Biblical narrative with much truth or clarity. [delete comment]
Jerrell Jobe
November 14, 2013
Personally, I'm not so sure the question is quite that easy to answer. Often, people ask me, "How long do you spend preparing a sermon...?" There are some weeks where I may have ONLY spent an hour or two. I sat down, thoughts flowed, I mapped out the text, ideas, etc... However, embedded in those ideas about that emerged from the text (though they emerged in moments, were the cumulative byproduct of hours-and-hours spent at some other time reading, studying, reflecting, meditating on that passage). And, the principle, thought, application, life story that I wrote down, while it seemingly just popped in my head, was also the result of years-and-years of walking with God and journeying with people through life. So, while it took me, say two-hours, this week - did it really take me two-hours? I don't think so. This message, while compiled in two-hours, took a life-time to prepare. It sounds novel that Driscoll spends only two-hours. But, I imagine he's spending several other hours each week reading books, studying scripture, meeting with people, etc. This is sermon prep, for this week's readings and experiences will find them in some up-and-coming week's two-hour sermon prep session. For me the goal isn't how fast can I prepare this weeks sermon (and pride myself in that) or pride myself in how much time I spend preparing. The goal is: God what do you want to be communicated to these people, at this time, in this place? I take the time that's needed (little or much)... [delete comment]
personal study time 30 min to 1 hour a day, sermon prep, wed nights (1-2 hours usually), Sunday morning 1-2 hours, and sunday nights service 3 hours (I tend to get writers block after sunday morning service). [delete comment]
Jerry Chiasson
November 13, 2013
Very well done.... Just got to keep it all straight in my head.. I am just a new pastor been preaching two half years.. Just a small church, I spend about eight to 12 hours maybe more and that's not including media... I love the comment pulling in the whole counsel of God's word but there's so many good ideas I can apply... Just trying to find my style.... Keep up the good articles very encouraging.... Nothing like some good healthy stretching.... [delete comment]
Erica Beglin
November 13, 2013
It depends on the text. I usually use the lectionary, and some weeks are much more challenging than others. It also depends whether you are preaching to your regular congregation and repeating texts, or on the circuit, as I am now a retired minister. This means I have much more time to prepare services than when I was in pastoral charge, when I would start meditating on the readings on Monday, making notes of ideas, and sit down to write on Thursday, with adaptations for events, sometimes as late as Saturday night/Sunday. I would say the actual writing was 4 hours on average. [delete comment]
Robert Butkus
November 13, 2013
Bob Butkus from Christ the King Evangelical Free Church Great topic to share with all who preach. Thank you. I am relieved to know that sermon prep is different for everyone. I spend 15 to 20 hours preparing a sermon for Sunday and I was always curious of where I fell in that time range. I begin with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, rough draft on Monday, then work on the sermon daily throughout the week in the mornings, with it all coming together on Friday. [delete comment]
Tom Dooley of First Free Will Baptist Church
November 13, 2013
I preach Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings and sometimes mid week. That takes several hours of preparation for me. Usually around 30 hours and sometimes more. I generally put in about a 60 hour week. Just a note... I have heard some of Driscol's jokes he would be better off to plan some of those. [delete comment]
Chad Dale
November 13, 2013
I would be interested to read comments from those who, as I do; write and preach new sermons for each Sunday AM, Sunday PM and Wednesday PM services. I've been preaching for 30 years and I CAN put together a sermon in 2 hours; but it's not very often. When you are pioneering a new church, you have to do almost all of the elements of a service; ie, Song Worship, sermons, sunday schools. There are not a lot of free hours if you work, have children and protect a good marriage. Not to mention study, devotion and quiet time! Most of my sermons take 3-4 hours to write, but an additional 3-4 hours to study out the thought or direction the Holy Spirit provided. This tends to be a reasonable average; but I would be interested to read about others' experiences. Blessings! [delete comment]
Keith Ross
November 13, 2013
God bless you brother! Keep up the good work. I know you are putting in long hours, and it may SEEM like somtimes you are just spinning your wheels. But all you are doing is both needed and appreciated. [delete comment]
Jose Ruiz
November 13, 2013
Since we are held accountable for every idle word, then it is imperative to take as long as needed to remove from the sermon whatever may fall under this category. If what we bring to our people every Sunday is considered words from God, then we should make every effort to make sure that's what it is. [delete comment]
Brent Lenentine
November 13, 2013
I think the direction that we are going as preachers is very sad. If any of these preachers preached more than 1 time a week they could not spend 30 hours on sermon preparation. In these last days we are told to be in church MORE not less! "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25) [delete comment]
I find this discussion both helpful and disconcerting at the same time. For me I spend about 8-12 hours preparing my Sunday morning message each week. I spend about 5 for my Wednesday night Bible study. I have actually wondered recently where that stands in reference to other pastors so this post was helpful. I find it disconcerting to read that anyone could only spend two hours and preach well. However it seems that Mark Driscoll has an incredible mind (at his own admission). I do not know how anyone could spend 32 hours on a message and still have time for ministry unless they only speak once a week and do not have other responsibilities. I did come across this quote from an interview with Macarthur..."AL: How long does that take, John, that process of preparing just one sermon? JOHN: Well essentially, you know, that's basically a two-day process, for me a two full day. It's not as much as it used to be because I know more now than I used to know...so the well is deeper I can draw on what I know." This tells me that he may have shortened the process to two days rather than 4. That seems more feasible to me. [delete comment]
Bumble Ho of Redemption Point
November 13, 2013
It's actually depends on how big is your church staff. When you have other leaders helping you with administration and pastoral care, then you can just concentrate on sermon prep. In small church, you are generalist. In big church, you have to specialize on the sermon because that's the primary way you minister to people. [delete comment]
I find this discussion both helpful and disconcerting at the same time. For me I spend about 8-12 hours preparing my Sunday morning message each week. I spend about 5 for my Wednesday night Bible study. I have actually wondered recently where that stands in reference to other pastors so this post was helpful. I find it disconcerting to read that anyone could only spend two hours and preach well. However it seems that Mark Driscoll has an incredible mind (at his own admission). Ii do not know how anyone could spend 32 hours on a message and still have time for ministry unless they only speak once a week and do not have other responsibilities. I did come across this quote from an interview with Macarthur..."AL: How long does that take, John, that process of preparing just one sermon? JOHN: Well essentially, you know, that's basically a two-day process, for me a two full day. It's not as much as it used to be because I know more now than I used to know...so the well is deeper I can draw on what I know." This tells me that he may have shortened the process to tow days rather than 4. That seems more feasible to me. [delete comment]
please ignore this comment...I had misspelled words so I edited it. :-) Simply read the other comment. [delete comment]
Jimmy Smith
November 13, 2013
The wide variety of responses will be a relief for many to see that the preachers they look up to are each unique and different in their approach to sermon prep. Good work! [delete comment]
Mike Spencer of West Central Life
November 13, 2013
I accept that there is a certain diversity in prep time. I am struck by the fact that somebody like MacArthur spends 30-plus hours in sermon prep after a lifetime of Bible study. Unfortunately today's pastors are hung up on finding something inspiring to say, rather than preaching the Word faithful to its meaning and context. The power is not in our preaching, but the word rightly divided. Every other job of the preacher relates to his duty to bring the Word of God to the church. [delete comment]
Rodney Shanner
November 13, 2013
A properly interpreted Scripture passage requires/demands that the Preacher understand the historical situation that is the context the passage was written in. That's for starters. Proper exegesis takes longer than 2 hours. [delete comment]
i believe you have valid points . I also believe that the best time is the time in prayer and depending on God. I have changed my sermon and spent about 15 mins in prep. I have studied for an entire week and nothing inspiring came forth. God will give us the words if we depend on him. [delete comment]

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