Senior pastors invest varying amounts of time in sermon preparation. I have friends who spend 25 hours a week on a sermon and friends who spend 8-10 hours a week on sermons. The amount of time in sermon prep can vary based on the experience of the pastor (those with more experience have reservoirs of knowledge), the context of the church (a church plant may benefit from a pastor who is in the community more than in the study), and other factors (the style of preaching for example). Regardless how much time a pastor spends in sermon prep, a common question can be “why.” Why do you spend so much time in sermon prep? Can you prepare less and just “be led by the Spirit as you preach?”
I spend approximately 15 hours a week in sermon prep. Because I don’t preach every week, this translates to about 20 hours of prep per sermon. Here are three reasons why we preachers (including me) spend so much time in sermon prep.
1. Respect for the people
Many have pointed out that time is more valuable than money because you can find ways to make more money and you can’t find ways to make more time. Every minute people listen to a sermon is a minute of their lives they are devoting to listen, thus to treat each minute in a sermon as valuable is to honor and respect those who are giving their time. Of course, minutes given listening to a sermon from God’s Word are minutes wisely invested as God uses the preaching of His Word to encourage and sustain us. When you multiply a 30-minute sermon by the number of people listening, that is a whole lot of minutes. By God’s grace, I want to steward those minutes of listening really well.
2. Respect for the Scripture
Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the Book widens and deepens with our years.” The Scripture is the pure and faultless Word of God. The Scripture should be approached with awe as it is God-breathed. To teach and declare the Word of God to others is a sacred task, one which means we will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). We should not “wing it” when it comes to teaching the Scripture.
3. Respect for the Spirit
God exists outside of time. He sees the moment the I am preparing and the moment I am preaching with equal clarity and vividness. Practically this means that God can lead me to say something two weeks before I say it with the same force that He can lead me to say something in the moment. To approach sermon preparation seriously is to seek the Spirit’s prompting during preparation and while on the platform. To not take sermon preparation seriously is to limit the Spirit’s work to the time on the platform. To only rely on the Spirit’s leading during the preaching is not a bigger vision of the Spirit’s prompting but a smaller vision for His prompting. To prepare well is to rely on the Spirit’s prompting during message preparation all the way through message delivery.
Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. (II Timothy 2:15)