Before You Kvetch About the Sermon…

Jason Micheli —  June 25, 2013 — 7 Comments

tumblr_m7mc5pcuS01rr0fewo1_1280This is from Tom Rainer:

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.

Jason Micheli

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7 responses to Before You Kvetch About the Sermon…

  1. People think that giving talks is easy. When I give a talk, it takes at least a week to prepare and my talks are not nearly as impactful as sermons. Moreover, my delivery is “presentational” as opposed to “inspirational”.

  2. I think a survey of Catholic priests would show far fewer hours. From what I understand, they have one set of readings that every church uses.

    It seems inefficient to have every pastor spend 2 days/week writing a sermon. Is it heretical to suggest buying/sharing sermons and then customizing them? Very few churches write their own worship songs, VBS programs, or sunday school curriculum.

    • I don’t think Jason is suggesting that sermon preparation should take less time. On the contrary, he’s highlighting how often the laity misunderstand a pastor’s work.

      Buying or sharing material and presenting it as one’s own is called “plagiarism” in other contexts. Shouldn’t we take the task of proclaiming the Gospel even more seriously?

      • I know that Jason wasn’t suggesting it take less time, but my reaction to the time it takes is that it’s inefficient.

        Take your VBS program. Your two VBS programs are kit-based. My church is using the same company that does the Athens vbs, but we choose the Kingdom rock kit instead. VBS is one our biggest outreaches to children because many parents think of it as a cheap alternative to other camps. We take it seriously, but we don’t write the material.

        I’m not suggesting pastors secretly plagiarize but openly share. Our adult Sunday School and our small groups are often based around a book.

        I thoroughly enjoy these blog posts. I’d be interested in hearing how long Jason takes to write them. I think they bring something unique to the internet and our highly valuable.

        I enjoy Jason’s sermons. I’m not that familiar with UMC, so maybe his style of preaching is common. I’d be surprised though. I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s articulated problems that have been gnawing at me for years. IMO, his sermons should be used elsewhere. In particular, I’d love to see his sermons at my evangelical church. Too often, we live in silos.

        I’ve had 7 pastors at 4 churches (I’ve moved around the country), two were gifted in teaching. Two were gifted in presentation. Three were sleep inducing.

        • Jason Micheli June 26, 2013 at 8:45 AM

          I’m in that middle category of about 20 hours to research/prep/write a sermon. I don’t usually mind the time as engaging the text is my primary spiritual discipline; I think that’s the biggest argument against using others’ sermons. The preacher, as understood in the African American tradition, is the one called by the congregation to engage the text on behalf of the congregation. To use others’ work models inauthenticity and only mirrors the many Christians who don’t engage the bible on a regular basis. There’s value in having a congregation centered around a common theological core. While we use the VBS kits etc, I have developed my own confirmation curriculum, and curriculum for 4th and 5th grade. The blog posts mostly get written on Mondays at my kids’ swim practice. The regular discipline of writing actually makes the sermon writing go quicker.

  3. Daniel English June 25, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    In light of this…..is there a place for “plurality” of teachers? More than just a church “staff” (i.e. senior pastor, teaching pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor)?

    Could that possibly ease, the week in and week out, amount of invisible hours spent?

    Just some questions because I find myself interested in that approach for a number of reasons.

    -de

  4. It would be interesting to observe how prep time relates to sermon length.

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