Preparation time
How much time do you spend preparing your sermons? (Lightstock)

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Can we complete sermon preparation in four hours? Whether in full-time or part-time ministry, we all have limited time.

However, those of us who are called to the preaching office have to put together effective sermons that are biblically and theologically sound as well as correctly addresses the real needs of the congregation. In light of this very real need, a SoulPreaching.Com reader asked the following:

“Many pastors have limited time to put into sermon prep. What is the best way to use four hours in developing a sermon? Is it possible to prepare an effective sermon with limited timing?”

I want to say a few things. First of all, four hours is a very limited amount of time to attempt to put together effective sermons. I have heard preachers argue that you should spend an hour for every minute preached. So if you preach 30-minute sermons, you should spend 30 hours in preparation. Personally, I think that such time frames are unrealistic and inflated.

Continual Sermon Preparation

After having said that, four hours is almost certainly not enough time. But please keep in mind that we are often working on our sermon during our daily lives, even when we might not think we are working on our sermons. For example, I have had flashes of insight come to me as I was thinking about the preaching text while standing in the grocery store line. That was sermon preparation time. Take out your pen and pad and put down that thought. That's 30 minutes of thought and 2 minutes to write it down. That is preparation.

Here’s another example. You were talking on the phone with a friend and then things went spiritual and you start talking about the text on which you are going to preach. The last 10 minutes, yes, that was preparation. You are sleeping and something just hits you and you get up and spend 30 minutes writing it out. That’s sermon preparation.

You are in the sick room with a parishioner and suddenly real life fits with the text in a powerful way. That’s sermon preparation.

You are watching the news and because you are thinking over your text a particular story hits you. You guessed it ... that’s sermon preparation.

And let us not forget the year you had been struggling with that text and then, all of a sudden, God gives you a flash of insight. All that year of 10 minutes here, five minutes there comes together in 20 minutes and you preach that sermon. Did you really only spend 20 minutes putting the sermon together? No, you didn’t.

Intentional Time

I don’t want to minimize the struggle with the word that is necessary to preach powerful sermons that comes from sitting down and struggling with the text. I think at a minimum you are looking at six to 10 hours for that kind of sermon preparation. But like I said, please add on to that base time any moments that you think about your text.

Is it possible to prepare a sermon with limited timing? I don’t think so, but you may think you can—if you have studied the Bible daily in devotion. You may put together sermons more rapidly than those who do not. However, your devotional time is contributing to your sermon preparation whether you know it or not.

Your daily reading plan is contributing to your sermon preparation whether you know it or not. If you work on theological reflection, everything you do can be contributing to your sermon preparation.

What I am saying is that you need to make study and theological thinking a way of life. The Bible refers to it as “praying without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Your sermons will seem like they are coming together faster, but in reality, you are spending a lot of time struggling with the text, probably even more than those who do not have such a devotional life.

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds an M.Div with an emphasis in homiletics and an M.S. in computer science. Visit Sherman at

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