In Sermon Prep: A Week in One Life, Stephen Um describes his normal process of preparing a sermon. Although there’s some helpful stuff in here, especially his last four points, and although he says “every pastor’s week looks a little different,” I think a lot of pastors will find it quite amusing – and perhaps a little disturbing too.

The amusing bit is to have what looks like about 20 hours to prepare a sermon. It reminds me of the time I heard Paul Tripp tell gasping pastors that no sermon should be preached with less than 35 hours of preparation! Talk about air leaving the room.

In my first congregation I had to prepare a minimum of three new sermons every week (every other week it was four). In my second pastorate, it was a steady diet of three sermon preps a week. Three is probably the norm for most UK pastors, mostly in small congregations with no staff. 15-20 hours to prepare a sermon sounds to us like an over-realized eschatology!

The disturbing bit for me was beginning sermon preparation with a group consultation rather than face to face with God and His Word. Stephen says:

For me, sermon prep starts on Tuesday morning when I gather my preaching staff (assistant pastors) for sermon discussions. We meet for about two and a half hours to read the text, talk it over, and pray that it would begin to shape us….By the end of our discussion, we will have determined a basic outline for the sermon, a general idea of where the sermon is headed.

I know its become strangely common for pastors to circulate their almost-completed sermon to fellow elders and other pastors before preaching, but this seems to be taking the co-operative sermon prep model way too far. What’s happened to the man of God prayerfully seeking a text and message from God, wrestling with the text face-to-face with God, seeking its meaning in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and coming out to the people of God with a divinely-given message: “Thus saith the Lord…”

I really hope and pray that this kind of collaborative-group-sermon prep will not become the norm. Instead, let’s get our patterns and practices from some of the more tried and tested homiletics models of the past. It might spare Peter, Paul, Knox, Calvin, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones some grave-turning.

  • Mike Leake


    Thanks for bringing out this corrective. I’m still chewing on it. I linked to the TGC article this morning and will link to your article tomorrow.

    I think there can be some benefit to mulling over a text within the community of believers and other pastors. I found that interesting. I’m honestly not sure where I’m landing on this one yet. But I greatly appreciate you giving this caution.

  • Michael Whitcomb

    I agree with your points of caution with doing “corporate” exegesis prior to personal, I would do that later in the week as well. I question your citation of Tripp concerning a 35 hour sermon prep per sermon. Did you (or do you) spend on average of 35 hours studying per sermon? If so, that means when you were preaching 4 times a week, that was 140 hours of work per week total on sermon prep alone. I’m just wondering if you had a family then, any other pastoral responsibilities, or slept during those years of spending that kind of time per sermon. Perhaps you could shed some light on those who only preach once a week and then have multiple other pastoral duties.

    • David Murray

      Michael: If a regular 15-20 hours per sermon is the counsel of perfection, 35 hours is the counsel of despair!! I’ve never spent 35 hours on a sermon in my life. I average 7 hours probably. Wish it could be more but I can’t ignore other responsibilities.

      • Michael Whitcomb

        I totally missed your “amusing bit”. I thought you were criticizing his lack of sermon prep time because of what Tripp said. Now I see your humor and agree with you. I was wondering how much you were being paid for spending 140+ hours in sermon prep alone! My guess is that Um preaches only once a week, in which case 20 hours doesn’t seem too egregious. (avg. 4 hours a day). Just my opinion! Thanks for the clarity and insight.

  • Jacob Young

    Hi David,

    Very helpful thoughts here, especially on the hours needed for prep! One small question here, and if you answer this elsewhere, please just point me in the right direction. Could you talk me through this point: The “strangely common [practice] for pastors to circulate their almost-completed sermon to fellow elders and other pastors before preaching”. It seems to me that whether a pastor manuscripts or not, talking through a sermon with other pastors (of their local church) prior to preaching is a good way to bring clarity to a message, check against unnecessary or unhelpful points, and is a means of bringing a functional plurality of elders into the teaching and preaching of a congregation. Thoughts on this? I feel that I’m potentially taking your point to far, or missing the mark here. Thanks for your time!

  • Bob Wiegers

    I understand that you’re saying this method isn’t advisable (nor possible in most circumstances, for that matter), but would you consider it un-Biblical?

  • Luke Simmons

    I agree that 20 hours is pretty unrealistic. At least if you want to do anything else valuable like develop leaders, lead a staff, meet with new people, etc.

    I agree about not advising starting with the “group think” before individual study, but I disagree that having a collaborative experience diminishes the “thus saith the Lord” aspect. We are a multi-congregational church, each with a lead teaching pastor but studying the same things at the same time. My insights into the text as well as my overall preaching has improved greatly by getting insights and perspectives from other gifted, godly preachers. It’s also an outstanding environment to develop exegetes and future preachers who sit in with us and participate.

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  • Stephen Dunning

    Thank you for raising this issue. I have complained on a couple of blogs recently where people have shared how they do sermon prep. In each case they had more time for one sermon than most of us have for three. It is not helpful or encouraging to hear of people able to give 20 hours per sermon.

  • Graham