How Much Time Should a Pastor Spend on Sermon Prep

How much time should we pastors spend preparing a sermon? Recently I watched a video where a 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 can 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. Here are some thoughts on sermon prep time.

bible study

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. Thom Rainer has an interesting post here from a survey pastors took.

So, how much time should you spend? It depends.

It depends on…

  • 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.
  • how well you’ve catalogued your previous study notes, sermons, and materials.
  • how well you manage your time.
  • what’s happening around you…sometimes unexpected family and ministry demands arise that require our time that we otherwise would have spent on sermon prep. No need to wallow in guilt when that happens.
  • 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 ideas to consider as you answer this question for yourself.

  • Schedule your study and prep time during your best, most alert hours.
  • Set reasonable expectations. An hour or two is too little time for most just as 35 hours is probably too much.
  • 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.
  • 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?

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jeremiah Vik

    Great article. Colleagues that I’ve had this discussion with seem surprised that a bi-vocational pastor would put 14-16 hours into sermon prep. Some think a greater dependency on the Holy Spirit allows for less time in preparation. I feel that the more prepared you are, the more God’s Spirit has to work with.

    • Jeremiah, totally agree that the more we prepare, the more the Spirit can work.

  • Early in my ministry, I determined to find out how many people retained what they heard. Try this yourself. Leave church quickly after the service. I mean no handshaking, just go. Stand out in front of local restaurants and tell people you are conducting a quick survey. Ask them if they attended church. If they say yes, ask them how long they have gone to church, when they tell you, ask them to give you a summary of the sermon. It won’t take long for you to realize sermon prep is a massive waste of time, as I did. Folks might have just as well stayed home and watched TV. Part of the problem is that people are lazy and like to be spoon-fed the Bible. Another part is that pastors talk way too long and don’t even remember much of their own sermons after a while… I spent my time helping underserved young people and their families, making in-home and hospital calls, working at soup kitchens and ministering there. In fact I actively recruited people for my church out of soup kitchens, homeless shelters, drug rehab and jails. I had prostitutes attend because I invited them to come. But here’s the thing, sermons went 10 min, 15 tops and these people on the fringe of society would remember them the following week! I just read the Bible and followed the instructions. If you read the Sermon on the Mount out loud you will find it lasts 20 min or less! I took my cue from things like that… Now that I am retired, I look back with much joy on an hour of prep, changed lives and remembered sermons.

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  • This is a fascinating subject. I’ve been preaching weekly for 13 years now and for me it’s between 16 – 20 a week. Another factor is what the subject is and what type of sermon. Great stuff Charles!

  • Norman Prather

    A short rule from TV and radio is 1 hour of prep for each minute of content.

    • Thomas Moore

      That would require about 60 hours of prep in my church, which has about 60 minutes of content each Sunday. Too much.

      • Norman Prather

        60 minute sermon is way too long.

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  • Ken Bailey

    a lifetime, the Holy Spirit, French roast and a couple of hours. I believe God blesses preparation but so many of us lay people wish you would trust His direction in the moment. I think fear keeps many in a darkened study when you could be out ministering. The result is too often an overproduced presentation which misses the mark from it’s organic intention and gives us in the congregation a rest you are probably not intending.