How much time should a pastor spend preparing a sermon?
The amount of time for message preparation will vary with the individual. The newer one is at this, the more time it will take because of a lack of experience and previous studies to draw from. The same applies in the use of the languages. The better one knows the original languages and the more a person uses them, the greater will be the ability to grasp and see the significance of the Greek text in the passage being studied.
As to my own method, I follow a certain basic procedures: I read the text in the Greek over and over along with several English versions and look for key ideas, words, constructions, connectives, etc. In other words, I familiarize myself with the text. Along with this, I read the context before and after and review all I can about the background, context of the whole book, the cultural situation, the problems the author might have been dealing with, his purpose, concerns, etc. I then begin to develop an outline which becomes the skeleton for the message, but at first, I am simply seeking to identify the key ideas of each verse, paragraph, and section of the passage. At first, the outline simply tells me what each verse is doing and how it relates to the others in the structure of, let’s say, the paragraph. Then I may work at making the outline more homiletical by using some form of alliteration. Such an outline is needed to develop the thought of the text and to keep us from wandering all over the place. It also helps listeners to better follow the argument or theme of the text and know where you’ve been and are going. The outline should reveal the text and not just be clever.
As we do all of this and more, we need to be prayerfully dependent on the Spirit, but as important as this is, we must not think this alleviates the need for careful thinking, study, and the proper use of sound principles of exegesis. Too often, we hear a preacher using the words of the text to preach his own agenda or to manipulate his people. Such is an abomination and unfaithfulness to our calling. It is the message of God’s Word faithfully and accurately presented that changes lives and anything else is simply man manipulating people.
Below is a list of excellent books on exegesis and message preparation that I think can really help and add volumes to what I have just said. I have placed one or more asterisks (*) by those that might be best to start with. These are all available in paperback and would be good additions to your library:
1. Using New Testament Greek in Ministry, A Practical Guide For Students and Pastors, David Alan Black, Baker Book House. (Even if you do not know Greek, this is a valuable book. Though it deals with using Greek, it is loaded with insights for study and sermon preparation.) ***
2. Linguistics For Students of New Testament Greek, A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications, David Alan Black, Baker Book House. This one is more difficult and should be one of the later additions, especially if you do not know Greek.
3. Homiletical Handbook, Donald L. Hamilton, Broadman Press.**
4. How to Prepare Bible Messages, James Braga, Multnomah.**
5. Rightly Divided, Readings In Biblical Hermeneutics, Roy B. Zuck, General Editor, Kregel.***
6. New Testament Exegesis, Revised Edition, A Handbook for Students and Pastors, Gordon D. Fee, Westminister/John Knox Press.*
7. Preaching That Connects, Mark Galli and Craig Brian Larson, Zondervan Publishing.*