Many years ago my team did a time study of a pastor’s work week. The study group of pastors spent an average of 22 hours a week in sermon preparation. The study is dated but telling. The pastoral activity which requires the most time often goes unseen by most church members. Indeed, some members think pastors spend a lot of time enjoying coffee shops and listening to music through their ear buds.
To the contrary, most of these pastors are actually working on their sermons. The sound coming through the ear buds may be music or simply white noise. They are attempting to drown out the noisy distractions around them.
Is the coffee shop the most common place for pastors’ sermon preparations? In the now famous words of Rainer and Jonathan Howe, “It depends.” This past week, I asked pastors on social media for their feedback. Let’s look at seven insights into where pastors said they actually do their sermon preparation.
- The location is largely personality-driven. In our survey, two different personality types emerged among the pastors’ location preference. One group cannot work effectively unless people are around. They are actually distracted by inactivity. The other group of pastors expressed the opposite sentiment. They have to be in a place with no audible or people distractions. They want to be alone. Though I don’t know for certain, I suspect this factor may be related to extraversion or introversion. As an introvert, I definitely prefer to work in solitude.
- The church office is the least favorite location for sermon preparation. Pastors have learned that being in the church office means you are available at a whim to church members. Many pastors share stories of how, in the eyes of some church members, preparing a sermon in your office means you have time to chat for a few minutes . . . or an hour.
- The place of sermon preparation is a factor of routine for many pastors. They have become accustomed to a place conducive to study, so they stick with it. Similarly, many pastors try to create a routine schedule. For example, one pastor shared that he tries to get most of his sermon complete on Monday mornings and Tuesday mornings. He awakens at 5:00 am on Monday morning and works until noon. He then works on the sermon another five hours on Tuesday morning. Of course, pastors understand their schedules and routines are subject to emergencies and necessary interruptions.
- Coffee shops are popular sites, and seem to be growing in popularity. Many pastors have a specific coffee place they go. Others like to rotate coffee shops in the community just to be visible to others. Of course, these pastors are among those who strongly prefer to be around people when they work. I don’t like to be around people when I work. In fact, I usually don’t like to be around people at all.
- Home offices are a distant second for places to prepare sermons. While home offices are used by many pastors for sermon preparation, that location is a distant second to coffee shops. Some pastors have studies as a part of their bedrooms. Some have places set aside in their garages. A few are fortunate to have dedicated rooms in their homes for study, particularly for sermon preparation.
- Rarely is the place a silent place. Very few pastors work in total silence regardless of the location. Even if they are in a garage alone, they prefer some type of noise, such as background music or white noise. Total silence for most pastors is a major distraction wherever they prepare their sermons.
- One response was my favorite. Obviously, a single response is not usually worthy to note in a post on insights. I must, however, give a shout out to the pastor who said his favorite place of sermon preparation was the offertory right before the sermon. I laughed. He was either humorous or honest or both.
Thank you to all you pastors who participated in this social media survey. Please feel free to add your own comments and insights to this post.
Posted on July 22, 2019
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom