How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?

June 22, 2013

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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110 Comments

  • Miguel A. Oquendo says on

    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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Now that’s funny.

      • Joe Rhoads says on

        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?

    • 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

    • Kelly Wiley says on

      If as suggested here we need to give the congregation answers from our life experiences then some might say why we should study or even need a Bible at all. Only God’s Word is inspired and is our only source of ultimate truth. Everyone’s experiences are different. We would all be going in different directions. Yes I agree we don’t need to give people our Bible coated ideas. People don’t need our ideas at all. Just give them the Word. God doesn’t need our input. His Word is all we need. America is in deep spiritual trouble because we have abandoned the written Word.

  • 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!

  • 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.

    • 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)!

      • 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.

  • Tom Bryant says on

    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.

  • 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.

  • Michael says on

    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 on

      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.

  • 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…

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Well said Andrew. Thank you.

    • 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.

  • Philip Bohlken says on

    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.

  • Jeff Glenn says on

    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!).

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Jeff –

      You bivocational pastors are my heroes.

    • 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 on

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

      • 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 on

        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 on

      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

    • 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

  • 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.

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