Sermon Preparation – How Long?

Some people wonder how long it takes to prepare a sermon.  Some seem blissfully unaware of what it takes.  But honestly, is there a right amount of time?  Someone famous (you can remind us who it was), said a sermon takes a lifetime to prepare.  That is certainly true.  I had an instructor that suggested taking one hour for every minute in the pulpit.  That’s a nice thought, but it raises two questions – 1. How does he prepare any sermon on top of all his other commitments in teaching, family, etc.?  and 2. How come a ten or fifteen minute message seems to take longer to prepare than a thirty or forty minute message?

So here’s my somewhat unhelpful guideline.  Sermon preparation time is a blend of two realities:

As much time as it takes – to prayerfully select a passage, exegete the passage in context, determine passage purpose and idea, then evaluate congregation, define message purpose, craft the message idea, design the preaching strategy (outline) and fill in the details, then also prayerfully preach through the message a few times.  Realistically that could add up to tens of hours.

As much time as you have – You must take into account the reality of ministry pressures, other responsibilities, unforeseen circumstances, family illnesses, emergency room visits with your injured child, late night crisis counseling with dear friends in marital meltdown, and so on.  God knows about these things and perhaps sometimes allows them to keep us from trusting in our preparation routine.  If you procrastinate preparation and only take a couple of hours, that’s between you and the Lord.  But if life hits and you honestly only have limited time, He knows.

My ministry varies because no two weeks are the same.  It’s nice to have a predictable schedule, be thankful if you have that privilege, but in reality no preparation schedule is really predictable!  The bottom line is this – we do our best, but always relying fully on God to do God’s work.

4 thoughts on “Sermon Preparation – How Long?

  1. These are helpful insights.

    Still, it would be interesting to see some numbers. For someone as practiced as you, roughly how long would you typically take to prepare a half-hour message?

    • It is so hard to put numbers on it. There are so many factors. One is how well I know the passage. To put it another way, have some of the hours of Bible study already been put in over the years (Bible school, etc.), so that I am already a few hours into the preparation as I start. Another factor is the occasion and the audience. Do I know them well or do I need to prayerfully think through who I will be preaching to at greater length? Another factor is the time element. Sometimes it takes an extra two or three hours of work to prepare a 30 minute message as opposed to a 40 minute message. If you are in the habit of using powerpoint, then you’d want to add hours onto whatever I take (rather than stealing from Bible study, prayer, preparation of message, etc.) And, not to be annoying, but the reality of life comes into play too – i.e. what amount of time is actually available. I suppose it would be a matter of multiple evenings if I were in your situation, Mike.

      • Well, I am actually rather relieved to hear that — it means I may not be quite so slow and I’d feared! PowerPoint is a real pain. As I think you know, we always use it in our church. And since I have to have it, I like to make sure that I use it well, which means quite a lot of time preparing images and slides. I have toyed with just flatly refusing to prepare slides next time, and seeing what Tim says!

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