Should You Take 2 Hours or 32 Hours for Sermon Prep?
Eric McKiddie more from this author »
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 panel, this 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.
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.
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