THEM: Good sermon. How much time did you take to prepare it?
ME: About 15 years.
I’ve preached about 2,500 times in my pastoral career. That’s not a ton in comparison to some, but it’s still a lot. Never once have I gone online to borrow a sermon. I will admit to copying and or using some good points I’ve heard, or taking an idea from a book or sermon and making it my own, but I’ve never point for point preached someone else’s sermon.
I put work into my sermons. I make them my own. They have my flavor and personality on them when I get done. I have to take in a lot of information in order to get this many sermons to come out. I read the Bible a lot, for it has a remarkable ability to give a guy sermon ideas.
Many sermon ideas percolate in my head for a long time. I have theories and ideas I loosely hold and then keep reading my Bible until I can test them. Are there other verses that go along with this idea? If so, I pile them together over time and go with it.
When I sit down to make a sermon I don’t invent it out of nothing. I have a reserve of things I’ve been thinking about and verses memorized, read, and written down for further consideration. I put my time in.
I once heard John MacArthur say that a pastor should spend 40-hours a week preparing his sermon. I find that insane. Is he typing his notes with his feet or something? How can it possibly take that long? I can only assume he reads many theology books or translates from the Greek or something.
I really don’t find that amount of time to be necessary. And, of course, his sermons are better than mine, so you should probably listen to his advice more than mine. Consider the source, folks.
But still, there are some sermons that practically write themselves. There are subjects I’ve been thinking about for a long time and they suddenly come together in a collective whole. I can make ten sermons out of one idea I’ve had and really plumb the depths of it. I find it exhilarating and challenging and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in life (besides marrying my wife of course).
I preached a sermon on the word logizomai in Romans 4. Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Huge subject. I actually spent very little time during the week preparing the sermon.
But I have been thinking about this subject for about 15 years. I’ve really done some thinking on this one, read a lot, talked to a lot of people, and really went all-in over the years figuring this one out. It all came out in one 45 minute sermon that required very little preparation that week. But it entailed 15 years of regular thought.
If a pastor is not growing in his faith, dealing with doctrine on a daily basis, not just studying the academics of the doctrine but living it out, then yeah, you’ll have to copy other people’s sermons. But if faith is alive and kicking in the pastor, I really do think the sermons will naturally appear.
That’s not to say there aren’t tough weeks where the ideas don’t come and there are three sermons that need to be prepared and I got nothing. Those happen too, especially when weddings and funerals are thrown in there. I’m not trying to throw people under buses here. I’m just saying, your life should be sermon prep. These ideas really should be from your heart, from experience as well as study.
If you aren’t living it, you shouldn’t be talking about it anyway. Pastors are supposed to meet a standard of godliness. That’s not just for hiring purposes, that’s so the pastor will have something to talk about.
But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
–1 Peter 1:25