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.
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I study the text and try to do some of the background reading in the weeks before the message–which works for me as I generally preach through a book. On Sunday evening, Monday and some of Tuesday I do the tougher language and commentary work. I need to have the outline done by Tuesday noon as the bulletin is published that afternoon.
After that, it’s fill and polish. A lot of that time is done while working out, riding my motorcyle, driving, or other activities which put my mind in a state of thinking through all I’ve pumped in over the previous days.
I usually try to spend at least few hours Monday doing the basic exegetical work for the coming Sunday’s message (even if I’m feeling tired an “uninspired”). This helps me prioritize sermon preparation and gives me the whole week to think about the message. I’ll go back to it later in the week (usually Thursday) to further refine the sermon outline and read additional commentaries. I’ll usually look over my notes again Saturday evening, then get up early Sunday morning to make the final adjustments.
One of the more challenging parts for me is trying to think of a good opening illustration (usually accompanied by some kind of picture). Sometimes I know right away what I’d like to use. Usually I think about it the whole week until something comes to me.
It’s Monday . . . back to sermon prep.
Ah, the blessedness of introversion. Oh, the joy of extroversion. I am a meditator. What I write comes out of a stream of consciousness that is heavily influenced by God’s Word and the voice of the Holy Spirit. So, prep time is best for me alone but polishing time is best for me when I am with others. I guess you could say I am in a constant state of sermon preparation.
My pattern is in my office for research, drafting and final writing. I inform my my admin asst what I am doing and I do not want to be interrupted unless it’s an emergency, a death, or my wife. I like to do this on Thur or Fri of the previous week. Mon is my day off so on Tues or Wed am I will type it out and prepare what I want presented on my sermon slides. Thur I will spend anywhere from 3-5 hours to learn my sermon so I can preach without notes. I do not memorize it but learn key points from each paragraph that are important.
As the years went by my “place” has evolved from a carport, son’s room to now my room. Looking ahead we when we remodeled this space we install lots of windows. Now I can watch the neighborhood and God’s creation while praying and preparing.
Living in Florida many times in the early morning I move out to our patio with coffee and materials.
Over the years my Library has evolved to digital so I am very mobile. God is Good.
I am not a pastor, but I am or at least try to be a Christian Blogger. I try to keep a self-imposed deadline of posting at least weekly. I do not a one place or time to write. What I have found to be invaluable in my writing is, keeping a notebook and pen with me all of the time. When the Lord gives me inspirations I stop and write it down. Then. when I do sit to write, I glance back through my noted and always I find something that stirs me. The Lord has never failed me.
Love this blog, Dr. Rainer. For the last 11 years or so, I have done almost all of my sermon development at home. However, in the previous two years, I created a teaching team, and I meet with them 90 minutes a week. This team has taken the teaching to a whole new level as we interact, challenge, pray and stimulate observations about the text and how they applied to our entire church. The team also helps in long-term planning, which has helped reinvigorate the teaching ministry of our church as a whole. Being the lead pastor of a larger church, I feel a great conviction to multiply my leadership, and we are starting to become a “band of brothers.” After our teaching team meeting, I go back home and continue to study, think, pray, germinate, and formulate the ideas behind the sermon. I also give these guys about six reps a year on our main campus (we are multisite) and they are improving in their teaching. It’s been an encouraging process for me personally.
The most essential thing for me is to decide on the passage or passages I think I want to preach on, do some basic exegetical research (on Sunday eve. on Mornday morn.), then I make my hospital, nursing home, and member visits. I don’t usually talk about my upcoming sermon with the people I visit, but later I reflect on the things they talked about during our time together and how they might relate to the sermon texts. I have occasionally done sermon writing in the office, but it’s not my preferred place, though a few times the interruptions I experienced there fed significantly into my sermon. So, I am an extravert, in that I like being with people. In coffee shops I make notes and plan the outline or structure of the message, but then I need peace and near-quiet (soft music is nice, especially praise/worship music) as I write. All that takes place by Thursday or Friday, and on Saturday I stews (and I try to remember it without reading it). Far too often, early on Sunday morning I am reducing and rephrasing it from memory, and occasionally, finding a totally new approach that I preach at both morning services. I always preach without notes because my preaching prof taught us to preach that way. He believed that if the preacher can find a clear and concise way to make his/her point then the hearers stand a good chance of remembering it and taking it with them.
Very good insights, Jim.
Thankfully, I have my own reading/prayer/study room at the church in a separate building apart from our main offices. If I’m there, there is a “no interruption” understanding. Got that idea from Alistair Begg. VERY helpful. If pastors have the space for that, I highly recommend it.
When I was a pastor in Delaware, my favorite Sermon Prep place was a little mom and pop breakfast joint called Rhonda’s. She was a strong christian woman and allowed me to have the back booth on Friday mornings. If my cup was on the left side of my laptop it would get filled without asking, if to the right I would be left alone. I learned the locals, their stories, and personalities while writing. Once done I would socialize and enjoy their company and friendship, eventually I found I had a sub-congregation at the Church of Rhonda. Many have graduated to heaven, now in SC I get a teared up just remembering them.
Love it! Thanks, Bud.
I like to have peace and quiet when I study, but a little gospel music in the background often helps stir up my thought processes. It’s amazing how people can be so different. My wife is a college professor, and we both consider ourselves introverts. She likes to have the TV going in the background while she works, but she finds music distracting. I like to listen to music while I work, but I find the TV distracting!
You nailed it, Ken. There are indeed a variety of preferences.
My favorite time to get messages is actually mowing the lawn at church and home., or jogging. I get a lot of work done while doing something else.
Many of my best insights for sermons come on the pavement. One of the best insights for a sermon preaching about John the Baptist came in the middle of a 10 mile run. Nothing like the rhythm of the road to ruminate over the exegesis.