How long should it take to prepare to preach a sermon? If you're not a pastor, you might be surprised to hear that a study from LifeWay Research found that almost 70% of pastors spent 8 hours or more each week in sermon prep. Over 20% said they spent more than 15 hours on it. That seems like a lot of time to invest in something that only takes 30-60 minutes to deliver. This is especially so for bi-vocational and pro bono pastors. These guys put in 40+ hours at their regular job, take care of home and family needs, serve in other capacities at the church, and prepare and deliver a sermon on top of all that. How do we cut down on prep time without sacrificing the quality of our message?
I was pleased to find Moody Publishers willing to send me a review copy of 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley. I set aside my normal scepticism over such a title because it was endorsed by James MacDonald, who I know from experience to preach solid, biblically-grounded sermons week after week. I also noticed that the book wasn't very large—a good sign. A book about writing faithful sermons in 8 hours or less shouldn't take 8 hours to read.
Huguley shares how he was exhausting himself week after week agonizing over his sermon preparation until he developed a method revolving around three basic principles: divided work, daily milestones, and determined deadlines. After spending a chapter defining what a faithful sermon is, he lays out his framework for putting in a total of about 8 hours, Monday through Friday, to craft his sermon. He also describes his typical Sunday morning leading up to the moment of delivery. The final three chapters are appendices about sermon notes, preaching labs for developing new preachers, and recommended resources for a first-time preacher.
I found the entire book helpful. I don't preach all the time, but the weeks I'm called upon to preach tend to be hectic. Huguley's words: "[M]ost of us simply don't have the time to read twenty commentaries on every passage we preach," shone the spotlight on one of my weaknesses. I was spending too much time reading everything I could get my hands on about the passage I was preaching. When you have the time, that's great. Most weeks I don't. Huguley quotes one of my all-time favorite preachers, Charles Spurgeon, and he recognizes the role of the Holy Spirit during prep time, not just delivery.
Because this book is a quick read, I can get a refresher without having to invest a lot of time. Most of the chapters use headers, numbered lists, bold font, and italics to give it structure. In the blank space opposite one chapter I wrote out a brief outline of the chapter. It makes the book that much more usable (and teachable to others).
It's amazing how good time management and division of labor can turn a challenging process into something much more manageable. While I won't necessarily follow the exact order Huguley recommends for Monday through Friday, his process is very adaptable. Fortunately, I had already begun to implement some of these time-saving strategies before I read the book, so my adjustment period won't be that long.