Over the last two weeks, I have offered up my thoughts about serving bivocationally in ministry through my Reflections and Navigating posts. After both posts, I have had friends ask specifically about how I prepare for sermons with a full-time job. Most of the time, I want to say: poorly, by the skin of my teeth, barely in the nick of time.

Recently, Thom Rainer released some research he did on the amount of time that pastors spend studying for one sermon. He stated that it was unscientific in the classic sense as it was a survey done through Twitter. Nevertheless, I think that it represents the reality I experienced when serving as a full-time pastor and church planter.

The key points that I take from Rainer’s post are: took from his post were these:

  • 70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.
  • 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.

I did not participate in the survey and I’m not sure how I would have answered. I prepare for one sermon that I preach twice each Sunday (in two locations). In thinking about my amount of preparation, it is difficult to land on how many hours it takes. The main reason is that it feels as if every spare moment often leads to thinking about the next sermon.

Please know that I’m going to state all of the following about how I prepare for sermons with two assumptions in mind. First, your personal spiritual formation is foundational for all of the rest. No amount of sermon prep can make up for neglecting your personal time with Christ. Secondly, sermon prep must be done with an ever-deepening prayer life. Martin Luther reportedly first said the axiom, “He that has prayed well has studied well.”

So with the hope of bringing some sense to it all, I’ll give to you some of the method to my particular madness. First, my schedule and then a few final thoughts after the photograph.

Start with planning months in advance. Currently, I have my series planned for the next six months including passages, themes, main points that need wordsmithing, and tentative titles. I have met with our elders, ministerial staff, and worship leader to test out the ideas and ask for their input. It is critical for me to know where I am going for an extended period of time. And, it helps me to spiritually prepare for more than one message at a time.

Weekly planning begins at the end of the sermon. Believe it or not, I begin my sermon preparation on the front row during our response time. As soon as one message is done, I’m praying about how the next message intersects with what God is doing in that moment. My drive home from church each week also gives me a chance to meditate on how one sermon follows another; how the next sermon can dovetail on what I just witnessed the Spirit do in our lives together.

Sunday night, read. I read the passage for next week and just sit with it for a bit.

Monday night is normally my heavy preparation time. It is when I outline the passage, extract the key points again, review academic resources, and begin thinking about illustrations.