Sermon Prep: a couple hours, half the work week, or more?

Sermon Prep: a couple hours, half the work week, or more? November 15, 2013

Editor’s Note: If you are reading this, you are probably interested in preaching. As such, I hope I can simply point you towards our great NT Wright Logos book giveaway (we are giving away a collection of 36 books!). Enter here!


It’s always interesting to hear about various pastor’s methods for sermon preparation. Two overarching themes present themselves when discussing this topic. On one end of the spectrum are the pastors whose primary role in the church is simply to speak. When this is the case, it seems that taking 20-30 hours is quite normative. On the other end of the spectrum we find pastors that are more relational in their focus wanting to be available for active ministry and mission. These sorts of pastors often de-emphasize sermon prep or have adapted in such a way as to be quite efficient with their time.

I came across an article this week that examined the habits of prominent conservative pastors. Although many of the preachers on this list are not in my “go to” for podcast and spiritual uplift, I think its interesting to observe their various practices (and yes, I know, this list is lacking female preachers… but there you go).

Excerpt of “Should You Take 2 Hours or 32 Hours for Sermon Prep?” by Eric McKiddie

Well-Known Preachers Spend Between 1 And 35 Hours On Sermon Prep.

Mark Driscoll – 1 to 2 hours. A couple of years ago, Driscoll caused a bit of a ruckus when he tweeted, “Prepping 2 sermons today. Thankfully, a sermon takes about as long to prep as preach.” Last week he tweeted something similar, “Time to put the sermon together for Sunday. 1-2 hours.” Obviously, a lot of pastors are surprised by those numbers. Driscoll explains:

By God’s grace my memory is very unusual. I can still remember a section of a book I read 20 years ago while preaching and roll with it. I’ve also never sat down to memorize a Bible verse. Yet many just stick, and I can pull them up from memory as I go. Lastly, I’m a verbal processor. I think out loud, which is what preaching is for me. A degree in speech and over 10,000 hours of preaching experience also helps. And most importantly and thankfully, the Holy Spirit always helps.

When I get up to preach, the jokes, illustrations, cross-references and closing happen extemporaneously. I never teach others how to preach, as my method is not exactly a replicable method—nor a suggested one. But it works for me.

Tim Keller (small rural church) – 6 to 8 hours. Keller shared this about his early days pastoring and preaching:

I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time [on sermon preparation], however. The main way to become a good preacher is to preach a lot and spend tons of time in people work—that is how you grow from becoming not just a Bible commentator but a flesh-and-blood preacher. When I was a pastor without a large staff, I put in 6–8 hours on a sermon.

Tim Keller (big Manhattan church) – 14 to 16 hours. When you have a staff of pastors doing ministry alongside you, that affords the lead pastor more time to put into his message. Check out this two-minute video to learn how Keller spends those 14 to 16 hours.

John Piper – All day Friday, half day Saturday. It’s hard to get an exact number from Piper’s explanation of how he prepares his sermons. When you read it (or watch it), it sounds something like 14 to 16 hours, though. Piper, like Driscoll, admits that his process is less than replicable:

It works for me. Most people who hear I do it that way say, “No way can I start on Friday.” Or, “No way can I take a manuscript into the pulpit and not have it be canned.” No problem. Wear your own armor, not mine.

Stephen Um – 24 hours (update: 15 to 16, see comments). Um broke down his entire week as it pertains to his sermon prep schedule in this TGC post. The uniqueness of his pattern, in comparison with the men already listed, is that he prepares throughout the week.

Matt Chandler – All day Tuesday, all day Thursday. It sounds safe to say 16-plus hours for Chandler. While walking through his preaching habits, he says he blocks these days off and takes care of the rest of his responsibilities on other days of the week:

Tuesdays and Thursdays are study days for me. I put together sermons and pray and study on those two days. The rest of the week I am meeting with people and trying to shepherd well the people God has asked me to lead.

Kent Hughes – 20 hours. I can’t remember if it was this Q and A panelthis conference message, or some other time I heard Hughes speak, but he said he spent 20 hours on a Sunday morning sermon, and 10 hours on a Sunday evening sermon.

John MacArthur – 32 hours. Another throughout-the-week guy, MacArthur takes 4 days at 8 hours per day to prepare to preach. Here’s the gist, but Colin Adams shows how each day breaks down.

Day One: Exegesis; Day Two: Meditation; Day Three: Rough draft of sermon; Day Four: Final draft, handwritten. 


What are your thoughts about preaching preparation? What do the various approaches offer us practically?

Browse Our Archives