If you were to rank the responsibilities of a pastor, the top one would be preaching. It's the most visible thing we do. It's what we're most known for. It's what we're expected to do week in and week out. And because it's our top priority, it's what we should devote the bulk of our time to.
But how long should it take?
When I was in seminary I remember hearing someone say that a minute in the pulpit = an hour in the study. If you're in a church that does Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night you're looking at anywhere from 80-100 minutes each week of preaching. Congrats pastor, you can catch a couple hours of sleep on Thursday afternoon.
Instead of focusing on study time as a direct correlation with the amount of time you spend preaching, I loved how this article from The Gospel Coalition ended: sermon preparation takes "however long is necessary."
Everyone has a different flow and capacity for what they're able to do. Some of us are speed readers who can work through commentaries quickly, others of us are slower readers who have to labor more intensively to retain what we've read. Some of us can flesh an outline out quickly and others of us have to stare at a white board and make connections to try to figure out what a text is saying.
Whenever you're preaching a passage, your study should focus on how to take what the passage says, explain what it means, and give practical application for it today. We should strive to avoid two pitfalls of pastoral ministry:
1. Spending too little time in preparation - Acts 6 makes it clear that the role of elder/pastor in the church is primarily the preaching of the Word, but it's not all there is. Pastors still must lead, do administration, counseling, shepherding, discipling, and the "whatever it takes" to serve a congregation. We fail our primary task when we let our time be overrun with the secondary responsibilities. And when pastors are ruled by secondary responsibilities they run the risk of becoming nothing more than a chaplain/gardener who tends the garden until everyone's dead. What suffers in the gardener ministry? The proclamation of the Word. Preaching becomes weak, trite, shallow, and malnourishing. Instead of giving strong meat, we're giving chewed up bread.
2. Spending too much time in preparation - I actually believe pastors can spend too much time in sermon preparation. Spending too much time in study and preparation means that the primary responsibility has become the only responsibility. When we spend too much time in preparation sometimes we overthink the passage, where we make bigger mountains than the text allows, or we try to dive into every possible rabbit hole. More pragmatically, when we spend too much time in preparation we're failing to live and serve among our congregations. The difference between a speaker and a pastor is that a pastor knows to whom he's preaching. We know to whom we preach because we spend time with them, we invest in them, we're in hospitals and living rooms.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.