How long does it take to bake a sermon?

The Number of Hours Keller, Piper, Driscoll (and 5 Others) Spend on Sermon Prep

There are various opinions on how long it should take someone to prepare their sermon for Sunday. There are minimalists, maximalists, and everything in between.

No matter where you are on the spectrum, it should comfort you to know that well known preachers span the entire spectrum. So how long do well known preachers take to prepare a sermon? Here’s what I found.

Well known preachers spend between 1 and 35 hours on sermon prep
– Mark Driscoll – 1 to 2 hours. A couple years ago, Driscoll caused a bit of a ruckus when he tweeted, “Prepping 2 sermons today. Thankfully, a sermon takes about as long to prep as preach.” Last week he tweeted something similar, “Time to put the sermon together for Sunday. 1-2 hours.” Obviously, a lot of pastors are surprised by those numbers. Driscoll explains:

By God’s grace my memory is very unusual. I can still remember a section of a book I read 20 years ago while preaching and roll with it. I’ve also never sat down to memorize a Bible verse. Yet, many just stick, and I can pull them up from memory as I go. Lastly, I’m a verbal processor. I think out loud, which is what preaching is for me. A degree in speech and over 10,000 hours of preaching experience also helps. And most importantly and thankfully, the Holy Spirit always helps.

When I get up to preach, the jokes, illustrations, cross-references, and closing happen extemporaneously. I never teach others how to preach, as my method is not exactly a replicable method—nor a suggested one. But it works for me.

– Tim Keller (small rural church) – 6 to 8 hours. Keller shared this about his early days pastoring and preaching:

I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time [on sermon preparation], however. The main way to become a good preacher is to preach a lot, and to spend tons of time in people work–that is how you grow from becoming not just a Bible commentator but a flesh and blood preacher. When I was a pastor without a large staff I put in 6-8 hours on a sermon.

– Tim Keller (big Manhattan church) – 14-16 hours. When you have a staff of pastors doing ministry alongside you, that affords the lead pastor more time to put into his message. Check out this two minute video to learn how Keller spends those 14 to 16 hours.

– John Piper – All day Friday, half day Saturday. It’s hard to get an exact number from Piper’s explanation of how he prepares his sermons. When you read it (or watch it), it sounds like something like 14 to 16 hours though. Piper, like Driscoll, admits that his process is less than replicable:

It works for me. Most people who hear I do it that way say, “No way can I start on Friday.” Or, “No way can I take a manuscript into the pulpit and not have it be canned.” No problem. Wear your own armor, not mine.

– Stephen Um – 24 hours (update: 15-16, see comments). Um broke down his entire week as it pertains to his sermon prep schedule in this TGC post. The uniqueness of his pattern, in comparison with the men already listed, is that he prepares throughout the week.

– Matt Chandler – All day Tuesday, all day Thursday. It sounds safe to say 16-plus hours for Chandler. While walking through his preaching habits, he says he blocks these days off, and takes care of the rest of his responsibilities on other days of the week:

Tuesdays and Thursdays are study days for me. I put together sermons and pray and study on those two days. The rest of the week I am meeting with people and trying to shepherd well the people God has asked me to lead.

– Kent Hughes – 20 hours. I can’t remember if it was this Q and A panel, this conference message, or some other time I heard Hughes speak, but he said he spent 20 hours on a Sunday morning sermon, and 10 hours on a Sunday evening sermon.

– John MacArthur – 32 hours. Another throughout-the-week guy, MacArthur takes 4 days, at 8 hours per day to prepare to preach. Here’s the gist, but Colin Adams shows how each day breaks down.

Day One: Exegesis; Day Two: Meditation; Day Three: Rough draft of sermon; Day Four: Final draft, handwritten.

– Mark Dever – 30 to 35 hours. CJ Mahaney interviewed Mark Dever on the preparation and delivery of sermons. Here is an excerpt of their conversation:

CJM: All right. Average number of hours each week devoted to sermon prep?

MD: Thirty to 35.

CJM: How long do you speak on Sundays?

MD: One hour.

CJM: You work from a manuscript?

MD: I do, though I don’t generally recommend other people do that.

CJM: Why?

MD: Manuscripts can just be deadly boring. I don’t want to say there are few people who can use a manuscript well, but it is definitely a minority.

Lessons to take from this survey
At the very least, we can take away some steps not to take as we try to become the best preachers we can.

1. Don’t choose a set number of hours because so-and-so does. Good preachers are all over the place. There is no certain amount of time you should spend. Simply determine how long it takes for you to preach a good sermon – not perfect, but good.

2. On that note, don’t expect preaching success to come from locking and loading other pastor’s habits. Driscoll, Piper, and Dever each acknowledge that they don’t have the most replicable sermon prep process. Bullets for them could be blanks for you.

3. Don’t find your identity as a preacher in how much time you spend on your sermon. Don’t be proud of how many hours or how few hours you spend preparing. Again, there are very good preachers who are all over the spectrum. Your prep is not the end, but a means to an end. Your identity is in Christ and your role is to be a herald of Christ.

4. Don’t let your sermon prep get in the way of shepherding people or leading your church. We saw that Chandler and Keller (especially in his smaller church days) set aside plenty of time for that part of ministry.

Besides that, there is freedom. No “should’s.” If you’re not sure how much time you should spend preparing, experiment until you know who you need to be and what you need to do to be the best all around pastor – not just preacher – you can, according to God’s grace and only for his glory.


22 thoughts on “How long does it take to bake a sermon?

  1. Some people obviously have too much time on their hands.

    I tend to knock mine out at the last minute.

    Always end up giving my notes away though.

  2. Haha. Sorry. Iphone, blogs and eating out don’t mix. That was for the “attack Christian schools, the bible and common sense” piece.

    But what have I become? reading this in a restaurant.

    LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME!!!!!!!!

  3. I just preach like I comment here.
    As the Spirit leads, speaking truth and wisdom to confound the foolish gainsayers.

    Pretty cool huh? 🙂

  4. I serve no man!

    Next time my wife asks me what I’m doing I’ll say “Just throwing some spiritual grenades at the storm troopers of the anti-Christ forces”.

  5. Seriously, Driscoll is a great communicator.

    As for politicians, Clinton is the best I’ve seen. (bill that is)

  6. the storm troopers of the anti-Christ forces

    Yeah, you mean the forces of Murdoch and right wing ideologues. Gotya. Stuff spiritual hand grenades, give me some real ones.

  7. Phone Hacking? Like your idol Pearce Morgan? Your pinup boy?

    Godfather? Like the Obama Administration and the intimidation and attacking of conservative groups by the IRS at the time of the election. Murdochs got nothing on you guys.

  8. Don’t think Obama is a threat to our democracy like old man Murdoch. Nor is he trying to influence Australian voters. Murdoch renounced his Australian citizenship yet still wants control over Australian policy and a say in who runs our country.

    Time to break up his 70% monopoly on Australian newspapers and make newspapers and journalists accountable.

    Go find another country to screw over.

    Who the hell is Pearce Morgan?

  9. Sorry Gregory. I was actually just having fun.

    Bones, Morgan took over from Larry King.
    I insufferable Pom.

  10. I wouldn’t have a problem with a minister who spent 30 hours praying and studying the Word on a message.

    If all ministers were given the time and freedom to do that the world would probably be changed.

  11. I wouldn’t have a problem with a minister who spent 30 hours praying and studying the Word on a message.

    Well the disciples had deacons who assisted them with the day to day stuff so they could devote themselves to doing just that…probably not in the way we do now, but same principle I think.

  12. Exactly Gregory.

    6 Hours five days a week praying, studying the word and thinking about what to say to a congregation. I think you could do worse with your time.

    There’d still be time over for the rest of what they do.

    Ironically, western people seem to think it’s cool when they hear about Buddhist monks meditating under a waterfall for hours.

    But here’s the thing – and hopefully I’m not getting off track.

    For years in churches I heard ministers say that the laity should do everything – the evangelism etc. ANd it’s their job to just train.

    But Paul did the evangelism! So did Peter.

    They just didn’t tell everyone else to do it. In fact, how many times did Paul tell people to get out and invite more people to church and hand out tracts. He said “Pray for me” then he went out. He didn’t even tell them that he would preach and to make sure they invited five people each.

    Paul prayed, spent time obviously in scriptures, and did the main evangelistic trips. Preaching not just in stadiums and five start hotels but just in the marketplace.

    Don’t think he had time to spend 30 hours for one sermon though – unless he reused the sermon!! O he was thinking about the sermon while he made tents.

    But, i don’t think everyone needs to be or can be a Paul.

    He didn’t have a nagging wife or problems with kids at school to worry about.

    WIsh he could come back and spend a few days sorting the apostates on signposts out though. Then it’d be on!

  13. Don’t know where else to put this. But these are interesting stats.

    Pastor Burnout by the Numbers

    According to the New York Times (August 1, 2010)

    “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”

    13% of active pastors are divorced.
    23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
    25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
    25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
    33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
    33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
    40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
    45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
    Though I can find no specific statistics (I’m sure they are out there), the pastorate is seeing a significant rise in the number of female pastors.
    45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
    50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
    52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
    56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
    57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
    70% don’t have any close friends.
    75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
    80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
    80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
    90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
    90% work more than 50 hours a week.
    94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
    1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
    Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.

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