How Much Time For Sermon Preparation?

Can we complete sermon preparation in four hours? All of us whether in full time or part time ministry have limited time. However, those of us who are called to the preaching office have to put together effective sermons that are Biblically and theologically sound as well as correctly addresses the real needs of the congregation. In light of this very real need a SoulPreaching.Com reader asked the following:

Many pastors have limited time to put into sermon prep. What is the best way to use 4 hours in developing a sermon? Is it possible to prepare an effective sermon with limited timing?

I want to say a few things. First of all, four hours is a very limited amount of time to attempt to put together effective sermons. I have heard preachers argue that you should spend an hour for every minute preached. So if you preach 30 minute sermons, you should spend 30 hours in preparation. Personally, I think that such time frames are unrealistic and inflated.

Sermon Preparation Can Happen All The Time

But after having said that, four hours is almost certainly not enough time generally. But please keep in mind that we are often working on our sermon during our daily lives even when we might not think we are working on our sermons. For example, I have had flashes of insight come to me as I was thinking about the preaching text while standing in the grocery store line. That was sermon preparation time. Take out your pen and pad and put down that thought…you just did 30 minutes of thought and 2 minutes to write it down…that is preparation.

Another example, you were talking on the phone with a friend and then things went spiritual and you started talking about your text that you are going to preach on. Well them last 10 minutes…yep…that was preparation. You are sleeping and something just hits you and you get up and spend 30 minutes writing it out. That’s sermon preparation.

You are in the sick room with a parishioner and suddenly real life fits with the text in a powerful way. That’s sermon preparation.

You are watching the news and because you are thinking over your text a particular story hits you. well, you guess it…that’s sermon preparation.

And let us not forget the year you had been struggling with that text and then all of a sudden God gives you a flash of insight and all that year of 10 minutes here 5 minutes there comes together in 20 minutes and you preach that sermon…did you really only spend 20 minutes putting the sermon together? No…

Sermon Preparation Does Require Intentional Time

Now back to your question. I don’t want to minimize the struggle with the word that is necessary to preach powerful sermons that comes from sitting down and struggling with the text. I think at a minimum you are looking at 6-10 hours for that kind of sermon preparation. But like I said…please add on to that base time any moments you can think about your text.

Is it possible to prepare a sermon with limited timing? I don’t think so, but you may think you are. If you have studied the Bible daily in devotion. You may put together sermons more rapidly than those who do not. However, your devotional time is contributing to your sermon preparation whether you know it or not. Your daily reading plan is contributing to your sermon preparation whether you know it or not. If you work on theological reflection, everything you do can be contributing to your sermon preparation.

I guess what I am saying is that you need to make study and theological thinking a way of life. The Bible writer calls it “praying without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Then your sermons will seem like they are coming together faster, but in reality you are spending a lot of time struggling with the text, probably even more than those who do not have such a devotional life.

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  • Vernetia Miller

    I agree with you, Elder Cox, that daily living adds to sermon preparation, and preparation does not always happen while sitting at a desk. I know of two preachers who can deliver a top-notch sermon at the drop of a hat, but the reality is that both of them spend much time in prayer, devotion, study, reflection, and service. Yes, they are gifted preachers, but it’s a gift that comes from constant preparation.

  • Sherman Haywood Cox II

    That’s the main key…These preacher are “always ready” because in a sense they are “always preparing.” I don’t mean preparing in a laborious way, but in constant communion with the Holy Ghost…

  • Bruce Seals

    I agree whole-heartedly with the article. Staying in constant communion with the Holy Ghost allows you to recieve help with sermon preparation.

  • Robert Hudson

    I agree with both comments, what I have found is that no true man lof God can deliver any type of meaningful sermon not communing with Holy Spirit too often they deliver a personal and emotional sermon that really just about them and how they want to be perceived

  • rev.ricky k.williams

    i would just like to what do you do when you have desire to preach gods word and never get the chance. iwould love to pastor only when god calls.yours in christ jesus rev.ricky k.williams aka radio pastor on ktsu 90.9 gospel sunday morning 6a to10a here in houston texas

  • http://growthmusicblog.blogspot.com Bro. Kamal Sharif

    This article was very helpful to me. I can spend months working on one sermon. Maybe I’m just over thinking it, I don’t know. I haven’t preached yet, but I know that day is fast approaching and I want to be ready. I thank God for this website and all of your great teaching. I have a question for you and your readers. I teach the adult Sunday School class at my church. Is it possible to teach a SS class in a sermon style? I think it would make my class so much more exciting. Thanks again!

  • Sherman Haywood Cox II

    Brother Sharif,

    I have had one person tell me that they used the 7 steps to create and present a Sunday School Class. I have lost touch with the person and wish that I could ask her what she did. I do think that a Bible lesson and a Sermon are similar in some respects and different in others.

    I have been slowly updating a site for Sunday or Sabbath School teachers called Bible Study Tactics. In about a month or two I will formally launch it. You can look on there for help in preparing and addressing a Sunday School class.

  • http://www.sinners2saints.org Pastor Robert Hoog Jr.

    Hey Pastor, I am a Holy Ghost taught Preacher. All that I have learned was through the University of Trial and Fire, or Holy Ghost University lol. You are helping me soo much. I have never been taught to write a sermon. I have always just had one pop in my head from God, or prayed, opened the Bible and went with the Spirit. There have been times people told me I was leaping and stomping and so filled with Spirit I nearly kicked the Pulpit over by accident, then there have been times, when I felt as though I wasn’t even interested in my own words. I have a hard time getting quiet time to devote to preperation, and get lost sometimes in my own thoughts, do you have any suggestions for a man who is just simply trying to preach with fire and lead people to the only one who matters, Jesus Christ? I have only preached full time for 1 year, haven’t preached persay at all in almost 1 year now, but have been ordained since 2007. Please give me any advice you could! Thanks and God Bless You, Pastor Robert Hoog Jr. – Golden City Missouri

  • Evangelist Victor Addis Jr

    Right On Pastor Cox ! I find my sermons take place in a varaiety of ways ….After getting the theme & verses, I find my sermons take shape while out for a walk as The Holy spirit may speak some of the sermon to me , Watching a program , listening to some Gospel music , Going back to exegesis the text . Its a few days fom theme to final Sermon construction for me . While Preaching the Lord sometimes Changes some of the sermon then . I really Thank You for Being Obedient to the spirit of the lord opening the door for me to take the course ! Its helping alot.

  • paul

    Pastor Cox, do you offer courses or classes?
    If so please sign me up. I am interested to enroll.

  • http://www.aalministries.weebly.com Rev Luckett

    I agree. I put in many hours when preparing a sermon. Four hours is not enough. I would estimate that I put in 10 or more hours when preparing a sermon. However I never thought about writing down the spontaneous thoughts, or if the Holy Ghost gives you revelation while waiting in the grocery store line, is sermon preparation. I do encourage all preachers to keep a pen and pad with them just in case God speaks when we are doing other things not related to sermon prep.

  • Min. Andrae Walker

    Rev Luckett…I hear from my pastor and other ministers at the church all the time to keep a pen and pad with you at all times. I had just recently begun doing so the last 3 months and I am soooo glad I listened. The Holy Spirit get to speaking and if you don’t have that pen you can easily forget some powerful words coming from the Spirit. I also find that He likes to wake me up between 2-4 in the morning and just won’t let me sleep until i do. I thank God for hearing and following thru with what the Holy Spirit says and requires of me. Learning all the while as I go.