Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday’s Ministry Musing: In Defense of Long Sermon Prep

I recently heard CJ Mahaney talk about 20-25 hours of sermon prep.  Mark Dever at another point mentioned upwards of 30.  I remember a discussion at T4G and most on the panel were at least in double digits.  Should a pastor spend 20-25 hours in sermon preparation? 

Apparently this guy doesn’t think so: The Waste and Redundancy of Sermon Prep

Is this neglecting the people?

The underlying assumption is that by spending 20-25 hours in sermon prep you are neglecting your people.  That is why I get tons of mail encouraging me to spend time away from studying and preparing sermons to do what I really want to do—be with people.  The thought is that if I just recycle someone else’s sermon, use a packaged outline, or show a video clip that I will immediately free up 20 hours of my week and now I can go minister to people.

Now I freely admit that many pastors (myself included) can have a tendency to be bookish and spend too much time in the study and not enough time with people.  I personally can have this tendency.  So, I need to hear the rebuke of men like Tim Keller:

If you put in too much time in your study on your sermon you put in too little time being out with people as a shepherd and a leader. Ironically, this will make you a poorer preacher. It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be--someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people's struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership (along with private prayer) are to a great degree sermon preparation. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Through pastoral care and leadership you grow from being a Bible commentator into a flesh and blood preacher.

And I think Keller is especially saying this to younger preachers (like myself) that lack certain life experiences.  I must confess that I wholeheartedly agree with Keller.  I have on occasion neglected people for the sake of learning. 

But the pendulum can easily swing in the other direction.  And I think that is what has happened in the above article.  There is another side to what Keller is saying.  You will not be able to effectively minister to people as a shepherd and leader unless you are devoting an ample amount of time to the Word and to prayer.  Even if you are not preparing sermons you should be digging deep into God’s Word. 

You can neglect your people by being shallow just as easy as you can by being too bookish.  The wise pastor will find the balance.  Be aware of your own tendencies.  If you are more prone to spending time in the study (like me) then make it a habit to do “people-work”.  If you are more apt to doing “people-work” then challenge yourself to spend a little extra time in sermon preparation. 

The most important aspect to our ministry is the proclaimed word (which is empowered through Word-centered praying).  This happens through “people-work” and through sermons.  Be certain that you are giving ample time to both. 

Tomorrow I want to consider how you could easily spend 20 plus hours preparing a sermon…

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