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Ligon Duncan

How much time should you expect to spend preparing a sermon?

By Ligon Duncan

J. Ligon Duncan III is Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS and adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary

How much time a preacher spends in sermon preparation depends, of course, to a certain extent on the gifts of the individual minister. I had seminary classmates who reported to me that in the early years of their ministries, it was not uncommon for them to spend 15 to 20 hours preparing one sermon.

I have personally never had the luxury of that amount of time for sermon preparation. While preaching regularly in the churches during the time I was a seminary professor, I could spend no more than a couple of hours per sermon. Since I have been preaching as the minister of a local congregation, I would estimate that I have on average about four hours per sermon to prepare. Ideally, I would like to have eight hours per sermon. By the way, I have preached on average four different sermons per week over the last four years since I have come to the church. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, and Tuesday morning Staff are the times that I regularly preach. Funerals, weddings, and other outside preaching engagements are over and above this.

The issue in sermon preparation is not only how much time a pastor should expect to spend, but on what specifically should he spend his time. If the minister has a shorter amount of time to prepare his sermon, I would strongly urge that he focus on his exegesis and theological content. If something has to go, it ought to be the frills.

However, if a minister has a more adequate amount of time to spend in his sermon preparation, without in any way diminishing his focus on theological content, he should bear down on the issue of application, after which he
should give some consideration to his introduction, illustrations, and conclusions. I believe that is the proper order for sermon preparation (content, exegetical and theological), application, and then introduction, conclusion, and illustration.

Considering these three basic components, if I had about eight hours per sermon, I believe that I could do an adequate job of preparation.