Preaching Articles

Last week, I surveyed how long well-known pastors—like Keller, Piper and Driscoll—take to prepare their sermons. The discussion in the comments was fantastic. One commenter, Andrew, posted an interesting thought:

“This was really interesting. I’d also be interested to hear a similar breakdown from faithful, small church pastors. May give those of us who are not outrageously gifted a more helpful barometer!”

So, I emailed faithful pastors whom I know personally to see if they’d be willing to shoot me a couple short paragraphs of how they prepare. They each gave me a detailed description of their process, and I offer their thoughts here for you, and I list some ways they surprised me at the end.

These guys are not lead pastors of megachurches. They have not published any books. They don’t have a top 200 church blog. But they are good pastors who shepherd their people well.

How does their process compare to yours? Is there anything you can take from their sermon prep methods and incorporate into yours? Do they do anything you disagree with?

Jeff Brewer (@jnjbrewer), Lead Pastor of Hope Fellowship in Lombard, Illinois

My normal sermon prep for Sunday starts on Tuesday mornings in our staff meeting. We ask questions about the text, look for a theme and talk briefly about application. After the staff meeting, I read the passage, start a Scrivener document, and begin to write down initial thoughts and outlines. I also try to read books that I think might be helpful to my thinking. I don’t read commentaries at this stage.

On Wednesdays, I’ll get in the text and read the passage again. In the mornings, during my devotionals, I’m praying for my heart to be softened as I prepare and study.

I typically block out all day Thursday and Friday for sermon prep, hoping to have a manuscript done by mid-day Friday. On Saturday night, after dinner, I edit the manuscript and print out my first draft.

I wake up at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and read through the manuscript as I am making coffee, marking in the margins what needs to be cut, fixed or moved. I also typically scribble some additional application that has been on my mind through the night. I type out the changes, print out a new copy, read it through one more time and head off to church to worship with the congregation.

Chris Spano, Sr. Pastor of Trinity Community Church in Bowie, Maryland

Although it’s not “sermon preparation” per se, the most important part is prayer. In his excellent (but now little known) book Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, W.G.T. Shedd describes the ideal prayer life of a preacher:

“The most holy and spiritual teachers and preachers in the church have been remarkable for the directness and frequency of their petitions. … Some of them began their day with hours of continuous supplication, and then interspersed their [study] with brief petitions.”

I plan my week to imitate this ideal. I’m not a great preacher, but without lots of prayer, I would be a terrible preacher.

During the week, I spend 12-18 hours preparing a sermon between Tuesday and Thursday. Sometimes, I slip into Friday. I begin with exegesis from the original languages. Then I consult commentaries, formulate a sermon outline, theme and aim, write a full manuscript, give the manuscript to both my wife and my father to scrutinize, heed their wisdom and then finish the sermon.

On Sunday morning, I arise early to pray and mark up my manuscript like a Greg Beale/Scott Hafemann overhead (let the reader understand).

Jason Hill (@pastorjasonhill), Lead Pastor of Gospel Life Church in New Braunfels, Texas

I generally spend 15-20 hours on the sermon. My prep time is concentrated in the latter part of the week. The closer I am to Sunday, the more I am able to focus.

As crazy as it sounds, I do really well Sunday mornings getting up at 3:00 a.m. I’m not one to sit at a desk for hours on end. I like to go for a run, a walk or a hike, and I stop and type a note on my iPhone when a thought comes. I can’t tell you how many times while running that I get an “aha!” moment.

I do not look at the original languages, not because I don’t care to, but because I only took two days of Greek in Bible College. I observe the text, crying out to God for help to locate the main idea. I consult commentaries for help when needed, but I try to wait as long as I can to do so.

The excitement of studying God’s word is seeing something that you discovered personally, with the Spirit’s help. When this happens, I find myself more eager to share with my church. I preach from a manuscript to keep my train of thought.

Brandon Levering (@BrandonLevering), Lead Pastor of Westgate Church in Weston, Massachusetts

I spend roughly 18-22 hours preparing my sermon each week. My preparation is usually spread over several days, here and there in between meetings and other responsibilities, with usually at least one day set aside entirely for writing.

My preparation begins with exegetical work (three to four hours). Lately, I have been working in the original languages less than I would like, but I consult the Greek or Hebrew for difficult questions or differences among English translations. My goal at this stage is to get a feel for the structure, identify the main theme, aim and fallen-condition focus and raise interpretive questions to wrestle with (one hour). I then move on to commentaries.

By the time I’m halfway through a series, I look mainly at four or five that have been most helpful (two to four hours). I create a general outline of the sermon, including where I need to illustrate and apply points (one hour). The bulk of my time is given to writing the sermon. I produce a full manuscript and follow it pretty closely on Sundays.

I write a sermon once (as opposed to writing and rewriting), so it’s a slower process, especially as I work out bringing the passage to bear on life (ten hours). I try to finish by Thursday or Friday. I invariably tweak a few things after a day or two (one or two hours). On Sunday mornings, I spend time praying over the manuscript and familiarizing myself with it so I’m not enslaved to it.

Jeremy Vander Galien (@jvandergalien), Lead Pastor at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Ripon, Wisconsin

I have been lead pastor for six years, preaching at a rate of 46 sermons per year. At about year four, I settled into my current sermon prep groove. I spend between 12 and 15 hours on sermon prep. I begin Monday morning and end two hours before I preach on Sunday. Monday through Thursday, I get into the office at 8:00 a.m. and study until 11:00 a.m. This time consists of prayer, reading about preaching and actual sermon prep.

My method of sermon prep is nothing spectacular. On Monday, I read the entire book I am preaching out of (currently Revelation), and then read and reread the text I will preach on Sunday (Revelation 2-3). I take notes in Evernote.

On Tuesday, I reread the text and work on context: how the text contributes to the book and local context, how the local context contributes to my preaching text, the main idea of the text and how the subpoints contribute to the main idea. I conclude Tuesday with an initial attempt at an outline. Wednesday, I read and reread the text, and then read between two and five secondary sources and commentaries.

By the end of Wednesday, I have a complete outline. On Thursday morning, I read and reread the text, and then write a full four- to six-page manuscript, which takes two to five hours. Friday and Saturday are off days for me, though I am constantly mulling things over in my head.

I get into the office by 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. After a time of Bible reading and prayer, I read the manuscript and make necessary adjustments. I take the full manuscript to the pulpit on my iPad.

Garrett Nates (@garrettnates), Pastor of Discipleship Ministries at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois

The number of hours that I spend on preparing a sermon is between 12 and 15 hours. I find that I have to marinate my soul in the text, having an internal dialogue with God and His word on an ongoing basis. I typically begin my sermon preparation on Monday afternoon, and then spend the bulk of Wednesday and Thursday in sermon prep.

I read the English text and its surrounding context multiple times and then print out two to three copies of the text from and mark it up like crazy. I list numerous initial observations and end the day with a first shot at an outline. On Wednesday, I continue to make observations but move towards interpretation and in-depth word studies. I am not proficient in the original languages, so I use Logos. I nail down a theological proposition, main points and how to preach the gospel from the text. Finally, I consult one or two trusted commentaries. By the end of the day, I have a solid outline.

Thursday is a big day for me, as I write out a full manuscript of my sermon. Throughout the week, I look for ways to illustrate the text, and now I pull those out of the toolbox. My goal is to end the day with a full manuscript.

On Friday, I go over and over my manuscript, almost to the point of memorization, so that I deliver it naturally. I have recently begun preaching from my iPad and I use Adobe Reader. That app allows me to highlight in various colors to represent a main point, supporting biblical passages and illustrations. I can also write directly on the sermon manuscript. 

Some surprises

1. Each pastor writes a manuscript. I thought for sure there would be some disparity here. Not so much.

2. Two guys, Jeremy and Garrett, preach from an iPad. Has anyone else done this with any success? I’m personally scared stiff of the idea!

3. Everyone in this post prepares throughout the week, with Sunday morning playing a key role in most of the pastors’ schedules. This is the case for me, too. I thought I’d see a few more end-of-the-week types like Jason.

4. I expected more tech talk, but there was a definite lack of focus on apps and programs. They were mentioned but not emphasized as much as I thought they would be. (Although, I didn’t expect this from Spano. He’s not even on Twitter!)

Some takeaways

1. Don’t rely on commentaries to do your interpretation for you. Each of these pastors does their own work first and then digs into his books.

2. At the very least, have a really good idea of exactly what you are going to say on Sunday morning. You don’t have to manuscript, but none of the pastors above are winging it either.

3. Be yourself! I was comforted that no one in this post apologized for the preacher God has made them to be. By God’s grace, we are what we are.

4. Pray! Prayer was a common theme in these vignettes, and for good reason. Preachers don’t change people’s hearts; God changes people's hearts. He just happens to do it through preachers. To him be the glory. 

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).

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Talk about it...

Brad Brucker

commented on Nov 19, 2013

Thank you! While I appreciate the input of the "famous" guys, this is such a breath of fresh air! For every one of those famous pastors there are thousands of these faithful pastor/preachers who will never get an audience at one of the conferences. Thanks pastors for your faithfulness and wisdom! God Bless you!

Jerry Chiasson

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I live in a small town it's not easy to get a printer cartridge so I had to use my iPad on Sunday scary at fist but now I would not think of not using it environmentally friendly ...I can so relate to these pastors I read the last articles felt like a outsider...maybe I was doing something wrong...I feel so much better not only that there's points which I can build upon....I just might be normal...thanks for including us small church pastors....keep up the good work in Christ

Robert Schmidt

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I would have a heart attack if I waited till Sunday morning to finalize my message. I prepare a week in advance. Early the week I am to preach the message I prepare a handout for the bulletin and the notes for the overhead. I preach from a manuscript and use Dragon Naturally Speaking in its preparation. Preparing a week in advance helps me ruminate on the message in case there are some thoughts I need to add or subtract.

Trent Bilbo

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I began using an IPad several months ago and I really enjoy it. I use an app called Good Reader.

Robert Schmidt

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I too use an iPad, but with advice in an article by Rick Warren I have a printed copy on the podium just in case there is a glitch of some kind.

Joel Rutherford

commented on Nov 19, 2013

This is more helpful than knowing how the guys with multiple staff do it. However, even one of these discussed a 'staff meeting'. I've got a routine, but more often than not, I'm driving an hour and a half one-way to member's surgery, or a spending hours on prep for a funeral or special event. I find myself making up this time working past midnight Friday night and/or most of the day Saturday. I'm interested in what others do on 'shortened' weeks.

Jerry Chiasson

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I live in a small town it's not easy to get a printer cartridge so I had to use my iPad on Sunday scary at fist but now I would not think of not using it environmentally friendly ...I can so relate to these pastors I read the last articles felt like a outsider...maybe I was doing something wrong...I feel so much better not only that there's points which I can build upon....I just might be normal...thanks for including us small church pastors....keep up the good work in Christ

Eric R Nobles

commented on Nov 19, 2013

Eric Nobles from Oakland CA, I start my sermon prep. with a scripture text of emphasis God puts on my heart. I then think on other Bible text/ stories related to my thoughts. Then relative stores that will engage and encourage the congregation. I try to discover the main points God wants to reveal. I write it out although seldom complete the manuscript because God leads me and I just quote portions of what I prepared but the emphasis and theme or my sermon remains the same.

Frances Draper

commented on Nov 19, 2013

Thanks for the article. I write out my manuscript and then convert the text to power point. Then I save it to an app called Voice Dream which 1. Tells how long it is (in minutes) AND 2. reads it back to me. Hearing it really helps! I've been preaching from my iPad for 2 years and love it.

Rodney Shanner

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I am surprised by the thinking regarding the use of scholarly material such as commentaries. It is not possible to correctly preach a passage without first understanding its historical situation. Commentaries are incredibly helpful in this. Now, not all commentaries are of equal value. However, the New Beacon Bible Commentary by the Church of the Nazarene is an excellent tool for sermon prep.


commented on Nov 19, 2013

Just curious to see if anyone preaches/teaches more than once a week? And how that works out with your sermon prep? I teach a Wed evening Bible study so spend almost all day Tues and Wed to prepare for this. I preach Sunday morning so spend almost all day Fri and Sat preparing. I teach a short Bible study on Fri morning and spend half the day on Thursday to prepare. And obviously, between all this I have other pastoral duties. How do you guys who have more than one sermon per week to prepare do it?

James Lee

commented on Nov 19, 2013

Jimmy Lee: Pastor of Elim Bible Church. I love reading about those who have staff members they can bounce ideas off of. I tell my congregation that if they hear voices coming from my office and they all sound alike, we are in a staff meeting. I'm in the office talking to myself. I start Monday morning with an idea that I believe comes from the Lord and lay out a rough outline. I always want to be careful to stay in the context of the whole Scripture. Normally by Tuesday I have the sermon outlined and from that point it is tweaked and poked at the rest of the week. Even after I have the finished product by the weeks end I never call it finished. When I pray on Sunday, as I start the sermon I ask God to move me out of His way so that He can move us into His presence. There have been a number of messages that what was preached was not exactly what was on the paper and I love it when God takes over and simply uses my voice for His. There always has to be time for Bible preparation as well, since we are a single staff church it all falls to me. It is tough sometimes but like I tell my Dad, who wants me to find a bigger church. It's not a job, it's a ministry. Word studies and historical background studies are very important to me, as well. It's easier to understand what the Scripture says to the 21st century Believer when we understand what it said to the original audience.

Jeff Glenn

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I'm curious. Are there any bi-vocational pastors who read this newsletter and if so, would anyone care to elaborate on how you prepare? As a bivo pastor, I study when I can, not when I want to. Then again, I can relate to those pastors who wake up early on Saturday and Sunday morning to study! Thanks in advance for any insight!

Anthony Jones

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I pastor a small church as well, most sundays less than 30 members. But I have for the last several years used 6:00 a.m. for preparing. This is mostly due to having to work a full time 10 hr. week job. I must admit, must sunday mornings it's cut and paste from sermoncentral. Of course after I cut and paste I modify to keep my original language. But it has been a great benefit to me. It takes away the research I would have to do on my own, gives great insite to the text and just saves me. My congragation thinks I am a genious but because of this site I have been well kept. AJ

Jeff Glenn

commented on Nov 19, 2013

Anthony, I fully understand. When we have 30 people, we think we have a crowd! I use Sermon Central occasionally, but mostly I use Keep the faith!

Jesse Bingaman

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I also pastor a small church of about 50 people. I work about 25 hours a week at a secular job. I also have Sunday evening and Wednesday evening services as well. Tuesday is vital for preparing for Wednesday evening, and I spend nearly all day Saturday preparing for Sundays. I would love to spend 15 hours per message, but the best I can manage is 6 to 8 hrs. This forces me to use commentaries for background information.

Lafern Cobb

commented on Nov 19, 2013

May I make a suggestion for your next article? Now take the time to research Women Clergy and how we prepare our sermons. It would be interesting to see if the approach is different......I am a member of the Women's Clergy in our County and it would be nice to look at sermon prep from our point of view. By the way, I have been in the ministry for over 30 years. Please consider this. Thanks.

Michael L Winship

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I preach at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Being as I work full time the evenings are the only time I have to work on my sermons generally an hours or two a night. When I finish I practice them on my wife my best critic and she lets me know if there to strong or as she calls it over her head or you lost me.... Sermon Central can be a great asset, but a lot of times I feel my best sermons have been spiritually inspired.

John Jackson

commented on Nov 20, 2013

I work full-time Monday to Friday -high school teacher-and don't really have staff away from a secretary. Most of my sermon prep is done in my head during the week where I will seek God for a thought and meditate on it during the week. It will usually be around a text which will form the basis of my devotion for that week I will jot down key thoughts that I will read around. I don't actually start committing anything written before Saturday evening and that very often may only be a couple of hours. Early Sunday morning is when the bulk of my manuscript is written the freshness of the writing means that I use a manuscript as a prompt and not slavishly. I like to put my key points onto PowerPoint so that the congregation are able to follow and make notes as I preach. I find this as one of the important points in my prep because it means that unless the Holy Spirit prompts me otherwise I don't ramble or stray too far from the thought I have meditated on during the week. I am "a walker" and hate to be tied to the pulpit while I preach so the manuscript does not get looked at often hence having it fresh is a necessity. Since February I have being use an iPad instead of printed notes and it makes the whole process easier as I can add and do my prep anywhere a thought comes to me. I generally only preach Sunday mornings and try to get the lay preachers involved on Sunday Evenings if I preach Sunday Evening it generally is to share a thought and will rely almost entirely on what the Holy Spirit has prompted me concerning the Evening's lesson. Would love to have more sermon prep time and hopefully as we grow I will be doing less full time teaching. Wednesday Bible study is structured around the study of a particular Book or Epistle with the aim of drawing out particular themes. Because it is very structured I have been able to delegate some of the teaching as there is sufficient rigour to allow the genuinely gifted teachers to express their ministries with an appropriate safety net.

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