I am going to say something many preachers would perceive as heretical. Are you ready? Here it is:
In order for me to even go forward I need to qualify this statement. You may need to skip what I’m going to say if:
- Your sermon prep is less than 10 hours a week.
- Your job only requires you preach and nothing else.
- You’re less than five years into your preaching ministry.
But if you spend a ton of your week on sermon prep (20-25 hours) and actually have other things which need your attention as a pastor, father, husband, and whatever other hat you wear, I want to challenge you to reduce the amount of time you spend in the study. Let me explain why.
What I have found is many preachers think that unless they put in, let’s say, 25 hours worth of work on their sermon the pulpit would suffer greatly on Sunday. But I believe that’s often only true in the mind of the preacher, not in his congregation. In other words, it’s a myth to think that strategically reducing the number of hours studying would completely shipwreck the effectiveness of your message on Sunday. Obviously, I am not advocating prep time go from 25 hours a week to two, but for preachers to intelligently think about cutting an appropriate chunk of time from their study where those hours would be better served. For example, I recently recommended a preacher who studied about 25 hours a week to reduce his study time to 15 hours. Think about the implications of that commitment. He would free up TEN HOURS to give to his wife and kids each week! Imagine how much a person could do with ten more hours a week. What would you do? Do you think it would enhance areas of your life and ministry that need those hours? I want to be clear, this isn’t a call to preach poor sermons but a willingness to recognize the possibility that those sermons would be just fine with less time in preparation and that other, just as important, spheres of your life would be greatly enhanced with more!
You see, sermon preparation is like a sponge. At some point your message-under-construction will reach a saturation point where its effectiveness-as-preached becomes incremental instead of monumental. The wise preacher must discover the time where the monumental meets the incremental and let that determine the general amount of time spent studying. What’s your saturation point? When would any more hours only get your message mere miniscule improvements? Not only is that your target time for study but I think for many it’s likely several hours less than they currently give each week. It’s not that the hours past saturation are wasted, it’s just that they could be better maximized other places, like your family, various leadership challenges, or even creating times of rest for you.
In order to study less preachers must come to grips with the truth that a sermon they see as having 100% effectiveness with 25 hours of preparation is not really that much different to their listeners than a message with 90% effectiveness and 15 hours preparation. The only people who are bothered by that missing 10% are preachers. Congregations wouldn’t notice the difference at all. If by some miracle they can tell the difference, incrementally add as many hours as you need, but I’d argue that most congregations wouldn’t even blink hearing a 15-hour prepped message vs. a 25-hour prepped message. If that would be true of your congregation, then why wouldn’t you do your church, your family, and your health a favor and study less?
- How many hours do you need to reclaim?
- What is your sermon’s saturation point?
- How many hours does it really take until you find your message at the incremental phase?
- What areas of your life need monumental hours from your incremental hours in sermon prep?
Answering those question honestly and courageously can be the difference between surviving in ministry and thriving in it.
Honestly, do you need to study less?
2 thoughts on “Do You Need to Study Less?”
Wow, great post, Yancey. I’ve given similar counsel before, and it usually produces a strong reaction. “What, don’t you care about the preaching of the word? It’s the minister’s chief duty!” I agree with you, though, that a 90%-effective message is virtually indistinguishable to the congregation from a 100%-effective message.
How would you respond winsomely to a pastor who assumes that fulfilling his ministry means spending one hour in the study for every minute of his sermon? How might you broach the topic graciously?