time-preparing-sermons

Most church members give little thought to the amount of time it takes a pastor to prepare each sermon. In reality, sermon preparation is a large portion of a pastor’s workweek. Unfortunately, this work is invisible to typical church members. They don’t realize the enormous amount of time it takes just to prepare one sermon.

I recently conducted an unscientific Twitter poll to ask pastors precisely how much time they spend in sermon preparation. For this question I asked for the amount of preparation time for one sermon. Many pastors must prepare more than one sermon per week, so their workload to prepare to preach is even greater.

I am pleased and appreciative for the number of responses I received. Here are the results of the poll by three-hour increments:

1 to 3 hours — 1%

4 to 6 hours — 9%

7 to 9 hours — 15%

10 to 12 hours — 22%

13 to 15 hours — 24%

16 to 18 hours — 23%

19 to 21 hours — 2%

22 to 24 hours — 0%

25 to 27 hours — 1%

28 to 30 hours — 2%

31 to 33 hours — 1%

The results were fascinating to me. Here are some key points I found in the study:

  • Most pastors responded with a range of hours. I took the midpoint of each range for my data.
  • 70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.
  • Keep in mind that these numbers represent sermon preparation time for just one sermon. Many pastors spend 30 or more hours in preparing messages each week.
  • The median time for sermon preparation in this study is 13 hours. That means that half of the respondents gave a number under 13 hours; the other half gave a number greater than 13 hours.
  • Most of the respondents who gave a response under 12 hours indicated they were bivocational pastors.
  • If the sermon was part of a series, the pastors indicated they spent even more upfront time to develop the theme and preliminary issues for the sermons to be preached.
  • Many of the pastors are frustrated that they don’t have more time for sermon preparation.
  • A number of the pastors indicated that finding consistent and uninterrupted sermon preparation time was difficult.

Most pastors have workweeks much longer than we realize because of the invisible nature of sermon preparation. As for me, the results of this poll have caused me to pray even more fervently for my pastor. His work is long. His work is never-ending. But the work he does is vitally important.

I pray that we all will remember to pray for our pastors ever day.

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Comments

  1. says

    This is very timely, I’m starting to feel some “cracks in my armor” as a full-time career, family and preaching every Sunday is starting to catch up with me a bit. Prep time can indeed fluctuate depending on how the week goes.

  2. Jeff Glenn says

    As a bivocational pastor, I really have no idea how much time I spend in sermon preparation. I do, however, email my sermons to my smart phone and read them on the job when time allows. I just can’t do any “editing” on my phone (Or, perhaps I haven’t located the “editing” feature on my phone, lol!).

    • says

      Jeff,
      Upload your sermon to Dropbox. Then use an app called Cloudon. Cloudon allows you to edit your notes and saves them back to your Dropbox for you. I use it all the time. I hope this helps you and saves you some time!

      • Jeff Glenn says

        At the risk of sounding ignorant, what is Dropbox? I use Gmail for my email. Could you send me any further instructions? Thanks!

        • says

          Mr. Glenn, Dropbox is an on-line storage/sharing area. You can share certain files only with your self, or set up folders to share with others. It allows and works with certain basic documents, like word processing software’s, spreadsheet software’s, etc.

          You can find out more by following this link. http://db.tt/XPIzmbdO

          Hope this helps.

          a Pastor’s Wife, actually he’s totally bi-vocational for the last 3 years, having to do most of his sermon prep listening to an audio Bible, and catching what time he can in the midst of a 60+ hrs on the factory floor. We are praying through when and where he can work that will allow him to do more ministry, with a focus on a church plant.
          Also a Pastor’s daughter, Pastor’s sister, and it appears that our son, who is a senior in HS, will be attempting to get a college degree in ministry and then seminary so that he will also be thoroughly equip to be more effective in ministry as well.

        • Mark Koekemoer says

          Hi Jeff, I would actually suggest Google Drive, it ties quite well with your gmail. I also edit my sermons on the go through Google Drive. It is a great help for us bivocational pastors. Good luck and God bless.

    • Dennis G. Nix says

      Jeff, there is an Ap called Doc to Go that syncs with your computer and allows editing with your smart phone. You just have to remember to sync when you make changes. I save all my sermons here for easy access on the go.

      Dennis Nix

    • says

      Jeff, I would agree that Google Drive is an excellent choice. Any editing that you do on your phone, iPad, etc. is directly on the documents. Also, you can download the docs to PDF and then open them in iBooks on your iPad if you are already preaching on a iPad. Blessings! I commend you for your diligence!

      Tony C

  3. Philip Bohlken says

    I think I did sermons better than many other things in pastoral ministry and decided to spend the most effort on what I believed I did best. Preaching is also the place where I could interface with the most people at one time. Thankfully, the human mind can work on a sermon in the background while doing other things, too. Still, working and thinking about a text could be very time consuming until I finally saw a simple and practical connection between the biblical text and the daily life of the hearers. Then there was still the task of organizing my thoughts and making them ready for public consumption.

    Some sermons came together quickly, while others required a huge amount of time. Now I am retired and do not preach often. When I do, I find my preparation time is more, not less, than when I served a local congregation. It feels like it did when I was first beginning after seminary training, even though I have more experience and biblical background knowledge.

    I always wished I could have developed a good sermon in less time, but it just did not work that way.

  4. says

    And for those of us who are bi-vocational pastors, the amount of time needed to properly prepare does not go down somehow. When you have to prepare 3 sermons per week and also maintain a full-time job and also maintain a family with small children, many churches don’t realize the burden of their bi-vocational pastor.
    However, I must say that I am blessed with a church who does understand and recognizes my family time as that. I don’t want to complain, just to remind that there are many who are working 3 full-time jobs to be a pastor…

    • says

      Andrew, I am right there with you. Full time Active duty military, pastor, husband, father, student and all of the full-time, unexpected things that just simply do not go according to plan in each of these areas. Time is definitely at a premium, I too am thankful for not only a church that understands, but a loving and understanding wife as well.

  5. Michael says

    As a bi-voc pastor who works north of 50 hours a week on my job and tries real hard to remind my family that I still exist, I find sermon prep a great challenge. Not only do I pastor, I cut the grass at the church, I visit hospitals, I do all sorts of things that are just part of the job. I find so often that in preparing sermons I rely on others more then I should at times (eg. books, other sermons, etc). My church was about dead when I got there and God seems to be blessing so I would ask for your prayers. I hope that some day I can go full time and earn my living doing what I love to do. Right now, Im just a volunteer like everyone else. Thanks for the article. It is a great reminder of how I need to keep the main thing in focus. God Bless

    • Thom Rainer says

      Michael –

      Don’t thank me. I owe you the gratitude for the service you give to your church and to our Lord. You are the type person and leader who gives me great hope.

  6. says

    Thanks for all the exceptional posts about preachers & their work.
    As a preacher for several decades, and as one who has trained preachers, I agree with the idea that sermon preparation is ongoing. It’s difficult to even state how many hours per week it takes to prepare. Your concerns for your people and their spiritual growth never slacken. Preachers often go to bed thinking about it and wake up still thinking about it.
    But, it’s an honor to preach His word. I wouldn’t want to work in any other field.

  7. Tom Bryant says

    At 62 and being in ministry for over 30 years with the last 15 being in the same church, the way I spend the time in sermon prep has changed. Much of the background work for many passages has already been done simply because of having prepared sermons over the time, so in some ways that has shortened. But the time trying to keep the sermons fresh, both to me and the congregation, has grown.

  8. Joel says

    I appreciate what pastors do in preparing sermons, but is this an indication that there may be wisdom in having more than one pastor/elder to bear the teaching and preaching load in the local church? I know in most cases there will be a “first among equals” who will do the greatest share of the teaching but I just don’t see how one man can bear this load along with all the other things he must do without eventual breakdown or burnout. If a pastor spends 15 hours on Sunday morning and say, 10 hours on Sunday night and 5 hours on Wednesday night preparation, then he will have worked three ten hour days just in study. Many pastors teach at other times as well, like teaching Sunday School or Bible School or special Bible studies or outside events. I just don’t see the wisdom of having this all in the hands of one person. It not only seems unwise for him but also for the people in the congregation.

    • says

      Great comment, Joel! Our church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, yet our pastor and I were convicted from Scripture that the traditional model we’d grown up with was not how the early church “worked.” In traditional SBC (and many other) churches the deacons have assumed the role of what the Elders did in the first century church. When we incorporated we decided to go back to the first model. First we created the office of Elder and ordained another faithful leader to join the senior pastor and me. In a couple of years we ordained two more men as Elders and three as deacons with the Biblical description of “deacon” being a minister and servant to the flock being clearly articulated. This is working very well for us; it has taken the congregation a while to understand how the Elder role works, but I think they see the wisdom in it. It does indeed take a significant load off the senior pastor as well as lets the other Elders share the leadership burdens of the ministry.

      One irony in this discussion that I do see: every pastor knows what the Great Commission is – to make disciples. Preaching does not make disciples! If a pastor spends a huge amount of time in sermon preparation, is he also spending an appropriate amount of time disciple-making in small, intimate groups of men he is raising up to lead in the next “generation”? I fear that most are not. Our senior pastor is a great disciple-maker. Our church structure affords him that time and energy. Food for thought, anyway. Blessings, brothers (and sisters)!

      • says

        I agree, that most SBC, and other churches, don’t practice a Biblical model of leadership….But I even in, and maybe more so in, those churches that have gone to “elders”, I have not seen the elders as servant-leaders, which I believe all the Biblical leader examples were. Instead what my family has seen are churches making this move, to only end up having a group of men that are attempting to “spiritually lead” the church. But they still have lead pastor’s that are struggling with the burden of “ministry” (and by that I mean “SERVING”) to the flock and reaching out to those in the community.

        Unfortunately, the art and application of true “discipleship” is something that is either very rare, or extinct within most of our congregations.

  9. John says

    Thanks for your post! I am a bivocational associate pastor who is in the pulpit monthly, in addition to my other responsibilities as an associate. I appreciate you bringing more attention to this subject. Unfortunately most people don’t realize how the bulk of a pastor’s work is known only to God, and the average lay person will only see a tip of the iceberg of a pastor’s work. Though I don’t want to be negative, it can be rather discouraging when you work 40 hours at your day job and 15 – 30 with your bivocational ministry and hear comments of lay people that reveal they don’t you think you do more than show up on Sundays and Wednesday. I think part of the problem is pastors being afraid to be more transparent on what their ministry life is like (for fear of people not understanding). I’d love a blog post on your thoughts on how, if possible, minsters can be appropriately transparent about their challenges but at the same time not making their ministry come off as a burden. Thanks!

  10. paul says

    How much time a pastor prepares for a sermon seems to involve a legalism perception.
    God can speak to anybody in a snap-of-a-finger.The pastor should be keen enough to hear and wise enough to know when God speaks to him in different,real circumstances that God will allow him to experience.He can draw messages from there.The struggle begins when we impose our own biblically-coated ideas on people.Bivocational or not I believe would not make much of a difference.Will anointing matter if you haven’t sleep the whole week preparing? Well,you’ll probably look like a ghost when you stand infront of the congregation.Like prayer,can one boast to be prayerful because he spends much time praying? i believe we all know that short prayers are the ones that got the immediate answer.Like Peter when he almost drowned.So what’s this study trying to prove?

    • says

      I once heard a professor of preaching answer this exact opinion with these words: “Only God can create ex nihilo.”

      Our preparation time involves prayer, of course, but proper preparation will also take us through the Scriptures to insure we remain consistent with the the teachings of God’s word on any subject we discuss in the sermon. Preparation also involves a historical study of the Scriptures, as we know God used the same words to speak to people throughout history. Much of the circus we see in current American Christianity would evaporate if people remembered the Scriptures weren’t written to twenty-first century Americans; they were written to15th century B.C. shepherds, 10th century B.C. kings, sixth century B.C. exiles, and first century A.D. Christians, to name a few groups.

      Anyone who thinks he can get up in front of a congregation and wing it had better find something else to do. If I showed up on my secular job and winged it in server administration, I wouldn’t not work there very long. I’ve spent decades mastering the arcane arts of computers and servers to do my job, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t devote as much time and effort to my ministry.

      I once heard of a guy who believed in your philosophy. He’d wait until he sat on the stage in front of the congregation, hold his Bible in front of himself and say, “God, show me what you want me to say today.” Then he’d open his Bible and preach from there. One day he prayed, “God, show me what you want me to say today.” He heard the words through the Spirit: “[His name], you’re lazy.” He never again entered the pulpit unprepared.

        • Joe Rhoads says

          What helps me is to remember something King David said. In 2 Samuel 24, David has sinned against God for counting his army. As punishment for his sin, God gives David a choice of disaster to plague the land. David chooses three days of pestilence. 70,000 men died because of David’s sin. Gad tells David to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David goes to Aranauh to buy the property. Ever the faithful servant, Aranauh insists on giving the property to David. David says in verse 24, “No, but I will surely but it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.”
          My sermon prep isn’t just my job; it’s my offering to God. It’s a part of my worship of the LORD my God. And I need to ask myself (far more than I currently do), am I going to give my all in preparing this message from God’s Holy Word? What would be worthy of His Word? Am I going to offer my time is sermon prep in a way that cost me nothing?

    • says

      I encountered God in a very real way 24 years ago, in a “snap-of-the-finger” experience – so you are absolutely right Paul that God can speak to people in that way. However, for the last 24 years I have tried to comprehend and articulate exactly what happened in that “snap-of-the-finger” moment and I still haven’t managed to completely understand. I have also had a number of discussions over the years, with people who are convinced that they have had a “snap-of-the-finger” encounter with God, yet what they articulate is not consistent with what the Scriptures reveal about God, God’s character and God’s values. What God can divinely download in a moment can take a human lifetime to unpack and articulate. Time spent with the Bible is a vital part of the process of comprehending and then articulating what it is that we believe God reveals in those moments… Mike

  11. Miguel A. Oquendo says

    I had at one point to prepare 1 Sunday School class and 2 sermons per week. It was crazy. I’d do it, and when the week was done, I’d take a look at them to find that they were really INCOMPLETE. They did not really extend to the true place where they were intended to go.. Had I given them more time, I could have developed them. Of course I did not recycle other folk’s material which might have enabled me to deliver complete messages, yet lacking in conviction for I had not PROVED THE MATERIAL, as David said of Saul’s battle implements forced upon him before he faced Goliath.

  12. JD says

    Let us strengthen our holy resolve, brethren, lest we succumb to the temptation of unveiling these statistics on sermon-prep time to our wives and families; yea, lest we say unto them, “See, honey? It’s not just me!!!”

  13. John Wylie says

    Great article Thom. Sometimes, I hate to admit it, I spend as little as 3 hours in preparing one Sunday morning sermon. But most of the time I would say competent sermon preparation for me is somewhere between 6 and 8 hours. Now that two of my girls are in college, I’ve went to what I would call semi bi vocational. I only work somewhere between 15 to 25 hours a week. The advent of things like LOGOS, ESword, and Blue Letter Bible has definitely sped the process up.

      • Ben Vernon says

        Well, I was unsure if I could use the term Logos on this site, but I have Logos. I upgraded to Logos 5 specifically because of their new Sermon Starter feature. It’s really helped me in basic prep, although I find I still need to do a lot of exegesis so that I’m deeply into the scripture. Being bivocational this has been a huge benefit to me.

  14. says

    I spend in the 12-16 range myself, and have tried to always do this. I spend many years being bi-vocational. It definitely makes the sermon prep more of a challenge. It has advantages, but spending a good amount of time preparing for the service on Sunday is often hard. I’m thankful that I’m not longer required to be bi-vocational, and hope I don’t have to go back to that.

    I’ve found that a software called “Online Bible” is really helpful. While not as colorful and vibrant as things like Logos, it is much cheaper, and has all the basic things I’ve needed for sermon prep. Many translations, commentaries, books, cross-reference guides, language helps, and a great search program. There is a lot out there to help those who prepare every week.

    Thanks for sharing this info. It’s nice to see these numbers. I was shocked, though, at the people who responded with hours in the high twenties or thirties! That is a lot of time!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Steve. Don’t be dismayed. There were very few in 30+ hours, and relatively few in the 20+ hours.

  15. Teri Summers-Minette says

    I’m so thankful to hear I’m not the only preacher spending 1/4 of my time during sermon preparation. It’s so difficult for boards/councils to understand that amount time is needed to create with the Holy Spirit something that is hopefully in line with God’s Truth not our egos, is timely to the congregation members’ lives, AND does not ramble.

    I was taught this quote attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for thirty minutes, it will take me a week to prepare. If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now.”

    Hard numbers will help with the skeptics. Thank you!

  16. Lisa says

    I am curious to find out if the pastors who can spend the 17 hours in sermon prep are the only staffers at the church or have others that can share the work.

  17. says

    54 years would be my prep time time and it will be 55 years next year.
    I was taught your taking every thing you have in life up to the pulpit.
    Yes I want to hear a man who has spent time in the Scripture.
    Except for the rare vocational pastor who has a pastoral staff and does not work another job you cannot not minister to people in crisis. John MacArthur can set up undisturbed study hours . I cannot.
    What if you get asked to preach tonight.
    2 Timothy 4:2 (NKJV)
    2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

  18. says

    I used to spend 12-15 hours per week on my sermon. Recently, however, I’ve been working at getting that down to 5-6 hours. Not because I don’t respect preaching and enjoy expounding God’s Word, but I’ve found that the traditional sermon isn’t relevant to most people in the pew. Even less-so if we’re not gifted communicators. We really don’t need to put that much time in if it’s not connecting with people anyway. I guess less is more.

  19. says

    I spend about 20 hours a week starting with an examination of the original language, thorough exegesis using the cultural and historical contexts and ending up with a hermeneutic or several hermeneutics that may either be metaphorical or literal depending on the text. People in this area will not stand for anything less than the Bible being preached and good for them. They don’t want Readers Digest sermons or empty-headed feel-good fluff. I love what John Piper wrote in “The Supremacy of God in Preaching,” that people don’t need to hear about how to work on this or that, but to be introduced weekly to the sovereignty of God. I believe that the hard work of good preparation really pays off in a healthier congregation.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Supremacy-Preaching-John-Piper/dp/0801071127/ref=cm_lmf_tit_9

  20. Howard Gunter says

    I fall right on the 13 hour cusp varying plus and minuses based on the topic, readings and theme. I rarely feel that I have spent as much prep time as I should and could. One of the most difficult areas for me is to try and make the message meaningful to the most in attendance. That means children, adolescents and adults – middies to seniors.. Sure we receive the obligatory, “enjoyed your sermon” in passing at the door after church. What does encourage me the most is when I am told that the children’s part of the message really made the best impact when coming from adult congregants.

  21. Lynn Anderson says

    Thank you. I am bi-vacational, a mom of young children, and moderator of a Presbytery Committee. I really struggle with time management to balance all things. I do come to Sunday worship tired. I do incorporate all life experience into my sermon writing. However, without the time studying to prepare the sermon I am left undernourished, spiritually lacking, and unengaged. The deep preparation time is needed for the pastor not only to share a message with the congregation but to heal and inspire the soul for ministry throughout the week. I often speak of this in my sermons, so as to be transparent about my spiritual journey and growth. I would rather be tired and deep on a Sunday morning then polished and skimming the surface of the message.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Best quote this week: “I would rather be tired and deep on a Sunday morning, than polished and skimming the surface of the message.”

  22. Ben Vernon says

    What a great article. I’m bivocational like many others here. I just finished my first year in my first appointment as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. I feel the same time crunch as everyone else. It’s interesting to see the range of time spent on sermons is so large, from 10 to 18 hours. Being Bivocational I simply don’t have that time, so I have to maximize my time. I use a bible software program that has a sermon starter feature that has helped me greatly. I wonder if there is an appreciable impact on our sermons based on time spent in prep? Is there a minimum time that has to be spent on a sermon to ensure a minimum value, quality, or what ever the appropriate term would be? I mean there has to be a point in sermon prep that reaches overkill, so there must be some point in prep where you have minimum adequate prep. What are the minimum and maximum thresholds?

    • John Wylie says

      Ben Vernon,

      Great comment. I do think that insofar as study time is concerned a pastor has to finally reach a point of critical mass. If I spent 30 hours preparing a single message I’ll promise you no one would want to hear me preach it, including me. :)

      If you don’t mind me asking, what software are you using that has a sermon starter component?

      • Ben Vernon says

        Hi John :)
        Sure, I use Logos 5 Gold Edition, although their entry level package for pastors, Scholar edition, also has it. The only difference is the number and variety of books. The sermon starter function is amazing and worth every cent! I can put in a topic, like Joy, or a scripture, like Gal. 5:13-25, and the sermon starter gives an unbelieveable assortment of sermon outlnes. You get a variety of broad ranging general areas of thought. Under each area there are numerous subjects. Under each subject there are more specific subjects related to the scripture or topic provided. Under each subject there are quite a few topics bullet pointed. Each topic has numerous scripture that are related to the topic and subject. It’s all organized very logically. Usually there are far more topics under each subject than you can realisticaly preach, so thats where you begin deciding what you want in the sermon. All together there usually is more stuff to work with than you could ever imagine, it’s organized so very well, gives you tons of flexibility, and it’s done in a matter of seconds. Plus, I can easily export the raw material including the complete scriptures including references to Word & have a worksheet to begin my actual review. The software does other research pulling from the entire library, but that requires a different search tool. Between both the sermon starter and the other research tools in Logos 5, I get more material than I could ever have imagined to work with. And, it’s done in seconds.

        Now, it doesn’t take the place of exegesis at all. I still find that I need to do my normal work at delving into the topic or scripture in order to be deeply familiar with it. I don’t feel good about just getting Logos to outline a sermon without me first having a good feel for things. That said, I can craft a really decent sermon very quickly if I need to using this software. I suggest you go to their web site and check it out. I hope this helps.

        • John Wylie says

          Ben,

          Thank you for your answer. I have LOGOS 5 as well and you just reminded me in your comment that I have that component. I’m going to start using that component.

  23. Randy Smathers says

    I am a pastoral and Bible and Theology Meager and will be graduating in 2 years with a BA from Nazarene Bible Collage. Any help you could give me on how to become a good sermon righter it would be greatly appreciated. I know most of the time is spent in prayer for me right know.

  24. Ann says

    There are many dedicated pastors out there. But is it ok for a full time pastor not come in to office during the week but only work from home while babysitting his two very young kids (now 1 and 3)? When you called him on his cell phone, there can be static on the connection or kids scream at the background. When congregation member questioned about his office hours, he became defensive and questioned why the church wants to chain him down. The Church paid him a reasonable compensation worth high 60K, and his wife works. It is enough for him to drive a Lexus. His weekly sermon is based on a book in the New Testament, chapter by chapter, like bible study style. He would not teach or prepare any Sunday School class. He is good at getting members to run activities via emails and texting. Cut the long story short, I am wondering his work ethics. Is it unreasonable to ask Pastor to have set office hours during the week? Is it right for the Pastor to babysit the toddler in the office during office hours? Is this a trend or is it an exception?

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  1. [...] How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing Sermons? – Thom Rainer Most church members give little thought to the amount of time it takes a pastor to prepare each sermon. In reality, sermon preparation is a large portion of a pastor’s workweek. Unfortunately, this work is invisible to typical church members. They don’t realize the enormous amount of time it takes just to prepare one sermon. [...]

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