Every pastor wonders how much time is appropriate to spend on sermon preparation. It can be easy to carry guilt about it and feel that we’ve never given it enough hours in the week.
The reality is that there’s not one right answer. Some pastors, who have the luxury of a clear schedule and a church that encourages them to spend plenty of time in the books will spend thirty hours or more preparing a message.
Then there are the bi-vocational and extra-busy pastors, who serve churches with very different expectations, and may spend less than ten hours getting ready to preach.
Instead of focusing on the amount of time that should be spent preparing sermons, we should answer some basic questions about each message, such as:
- Am I confident about my understanding of the context of this passage and the intent of the biblical authors?
- Have I spent time praying and meditating on the application of the message to my life and to the lives of my hearers?
- Have I arrived at the best possible outline for the message, with points that are well thought out?
- Am I ready to stand and deliver this message confidently, having allowed it time to go deep into my mind and heart?
No matter how much time a preacher spends in preparation, it’s likely that there is a desire to find more time.
However, the truth is that we all get 168 hours in a week, so it’s really all about maximizing that time and freeing up the spare moments to add to our available time for message preparation.
Here are five ways to do that.
- Get up early.
This may seem obvious, but getting up earlier in the morning is the surest way to carve out private, quiet time for message preparation.
- A. Criswell always advised young preaching students to set aside their mornings for alone time with God, from at least six until noon. Ronnie Floyd gets up at 3:30 am each weekday and doesn’t take any appointments until noon.
Hal Elrod, in his best-selling book, The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life Before 8 AM says,
How you wake up each day and your morning routine (or lack thereof) dramatically affects your levels of success in every single area of your life. Focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days—which inevitably create a successful life—in the same way that unfocused, unproductive, and mediocre mornings generate unfocused, unproductive, and mediocre days, and ultimately a mediocre quality of life. By simply changing the way you wake up in the morning, you can transform any area of your life, faster than you ever thought possible.
So go to bed on time, set a couple of alarms, drink some water as soon as you wake up, and spend your mornings thinking clearly about the coming weekend message.
- Carry a notebook.
It isn’t just the big blocks of time that matter to sermon preparation. It’s also the little moments of otherwise dead time that can sharpen our sermons. That means, whether in paper or app form, we should always carry a notebook for writing down insights.
We spend a lot of time waiting: at doctor’s offices, in the car while our spouse shops, at the stop waiting for public transit, etc. These moments add up quickly.
This practice of carrying a notebook everywhere and working on our messages during random downtimes also has another benefit–it keeps us coming back to refocus on the message over and over, so it stays fresh in our minds.
- Consolidate other tasks.
Did you know you actually lose a lot of productivity during what is known to experts as “context-switching”? When you glance away from your sermon preparation to see the email notification that just popped up, your mind switches contexts, and it takes time to get you attention back on your primary task.
With email, meetings, visits, and administrative tasks, it’s far better to consolidate tasks together during designated portions of the day.
For example, you could set aside the half hour before lunch and the last half hour of the day for answering emails, plus another half an hour for scheduling social media posts. And you can schedule as many meetings as possible in the mid-afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Working in time blocks is far better than the randomness that usually makes up a pastor’s schedule.
- Set benchmarks during the week.
We accomplish our biggest goals best when we break them into smaller goals. If your goal is to have a completed sermon by Friday afternoon, you’ll need to break your preparation into pieces with mini-deadlines.
You could decide to have your exegetical work accomplished by Tuesday at noon, your illustrations gathered and written down by Thursday, and then your final outline by the end of the day on Friday.
Cramming worked okay in college, but it’s not the best way to establish a weekly routine as a pastor. It’s far better to celebrate small accomplishments on your way to the bigger ones.
- Schedule blocks of sermon preparation time.
Returning to the theme of establishing blocks of time in your schedule for certain priorities, when it comes to the sermon preparation time blocks, be super protective.
If you’ve been in ministry long enough, you know all about the tyranny of the urgent and how the interruptions of casual guests can rob you of precious time spent in the Word.
It’s vital that you consider your sermon preparation time sacred and guard it well. It’s also important that you communicate this priority to your spouse, family, and church as well. Then, find a place to study where you are only accessible when you choose to be.
Above all, remember this: The time you spend preparing your messages is the most well spent time on this side of eternity. It’s worth it to set aside ample time for preparation and then to protect it well.