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How much time should a pastor spend preparing a sermon?

Recently I watched a video where a rather famous pastor answered that question. His response, “I study and read all the time, and it takes me about one to two hours to put a sermon together.”

Yikes! When I heard that, I felt guilty, because there’s no way I could prepare a sermon that quickly. I’m sure this pastor’s heart was right, but I wish he had qualified himself more. I doubt very many of us are that speedy.

In Haddon Robinson’s book, Biblical Sermons, he wrote that experienced preachers he surveyed spent an average of 16 hours preparing. That sounds more like it to me. That’s probably my average, and I’ve been preaching for 25 years.

So how much time should you spend? It depends.

It depends on…

a. How long you’ve been in ministry. If you been in ministry several years, you have a backlog of study material. If you haven’t, you will probably need to set aside more study time. I did in my early ministry years.

b. How well you’ve kept your previous study notes, sermons and materials upon which to refer back.

c. How well you manage your time.

d. What’s happening around you. Sometimes unexpected family and ministry demands arise requiring our time that we otherwise would have spent on sermon prep. No need to wallow in guilt when that happens.

e. Your personality. Some pastors have the gift of gab and can "make up stuff on the fly." Some of us don’t; some personalities require the preacher to process what he wants to say more thoroughly.

Here are a few thoughts to consider as you answer this question for yourself.

1. Schedule your study and prep time during your best, most alert hours.

2. Set reasonable expectations. An hour or two is too little time, but for most 35 hours is probably too much.

3. Use computer tools readily available. I own a Mac and use both Accordance and Logos. I rarely use paper books. These tools have made my study time more efficient.

4. Trust God to use your faithful preparation. Seldom do ministry demands allow us to study as much as we’d like. We must do our best and trust the Holy Spirit to fill in the gaps.

How much time do you spend preparing your sermon?

Dr. Charles Stone is Lead Pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada, and the founder of StoneWell Ministries, a pastor coaching and church consulting ministry. He is the author of four books including, "People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership" (IVP 2014), and his most recent book, “Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry” (Abingdon, May 2015).

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Daniel Castiglione

commented on Feb 20, 2015

Thanks for the insightful article. I have a question. I use Logos and it has been my go to program for years, what does Accordance offer in sermon prep that you cannot get in Logos? I have never used Accordance, so I am curious to hear from someone who uses both.

R. Pearce

commented on Feb 20, 2015

Sorry but I have a different perspective. For me it takes 1-3 hours max and in some cases I have just been asked to bring a word, I open my bible and preach the word. There again, I'm a tent maker so I lavish love on my family, work full time so i don't need to take anything from the church (and I can tithe back) and pastor full time. Time is a limited commodity and from my perspective I think it's sad that some spiritual leaders would need 16 hours to prepare a 30-40 minute sermon when that is essentially robbing you of 13 hours of actual ministry you could be doing.

Mike Spencer

commented on Feb 20, 2015

On the one hand, not all sermons are created equal, but on the other, God's word is not to be trifled with. Sermon Prep is actual ministry. I can't speak to the quality of your sermons, but the guys I know that spend that little time preparing usually fail to deliver the word, properly interpreted. I believe John McArthur spends about 30 hours in sermon prep, he never fails to deliver the word in its power, and he spends that long, as I do, because we would rather die than speak amiss.

Norm Howell

commented on Feb 20, 2015

I have been preaching for over 35 years. I have found that some messages take longer than others. Some come quickly and flow together easy while others require much more diligent study. I preach series of expository messages through books of the Bible or on special topics. For me anywhere from 3-8 hours usually is all that I need. I do keep good records on file of all messages and research info. I use both paper and ebooks. Logos is a big time saver for me. I do all my own power points also.

Gregory D Mostella

commented on Feb 20, 2015

Great article -- great question! Like R. Pearce, I'm a husband, father and a pastor who does much of the behind the scenes work at our church. This, in addition to people ministry. I do however, have 30 years in ministry. For most sermons, the experience gives me an advantage. My greatest advantage comes from reliance on the Holy Spirit for sermon inspiration. When younger, I stuck strongly to manuscripts. I now use a combination - primarily, notes to jog my memory via Powerpoint slides, which I prepare. My most successful sermons come from inspiration, study, prayer

Jeff Glenn

commented on Feb 20, 2015

Being bi-vocational working a full-time job, I have no idea how much time I spend in sermon prep, but I try to study ahead as far as possible by preparing sermon series. It really does take a lot of pressure off from studying from "week-to-week."

B Armstrong

commented on Feb 21, 2015

I have been preaching 17 years and find it takes longer for some messages than others. On the average, it takes 16-20 hrs. Work on it for 3-4 hrs, study and cross reference, go to my outside job, sleep, take care of some things around the house, back to the message. The message MUST be accurate and Biblically sound and in the proper context. The Holy Spirit is key in leading me in preparation and delivery. Never be so poorly prepared that you get up there and throw God's children some of anything. Enjoyed the article.

Ron Anderson

commented on Feb 22, 2015

I have been in full-time pastoral ministry for over 25 years preaching 3 to 4 times almost every week. Sunday morning sermon prep depends on text/topic but generally 15 to 18( ) hours; Sunday evening is generally 8 to 12 hours; and Wednesday evening is usually 2 hours... that's typically 25 to 32 hours a week just in study and sermon prep! Add the hours necessary for the services, counseling, visitation, administration, meetings, etc.; a typical week is 55( ) hours.... but then again, when is a pastor ever "done" studying, reading, praying, counseling.... etc. Several years ago I kept a log/journal of actual "ministry" activity hours over the course of seven days... it came out to 92 hours! I use Logos and some other online resources but I still use hard copy study tools as well... I'm 56 and "old school"... I still hand write study notes, ideas, and illustrations.

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