How Much Time Should a Pastor Spend Preparing a Sermon?

I like to joke that as a pastor I only work one day a week, but the truth is that on average most pastors work 50-60 hours a week. This time is spent managing, planning, corresponding – and of course: studying and preparing a sermon.

Sermon preparation can take a lot of time, especially for a perfectionist. I know that I have often certainly spent an inordinate amount of time preparing my sermons before; partly because I consider it a high and holy calling to preach and teach the Word of God, and also because it is something I enjoy doing and I want to do it well, in a way that truly honors God and impacts peoples’ lives.

So how much time should a preacher spend on preparing a sermon?

I heard one well-known pastor say once at a conference that he only spent about four hours per week preparing his message. He then added that this is because he has a team of people who do all of his research for him, and he takes the material they bring him and organizes it into a message. Most pastors don’t have this luxury, nor would they want someone else doing their studying for them.

A friend of mine who pastors a small church told me that he spends 30 hours per week preparing for his Sunday message. He also has a midweek service, for which he prepares about 15 hours. The result of that is that he doesn’t have time for anything else except sermon preparation. In other words: he doesn’t have any time left over to be a pastor (Greek for “shepherd”) to his congregation. He is only a preacher. Particularly in smaller congregations, it is important that a pastor not only be a preacher, but a shepherd, and he and I both agreed that his time allocation in this area was more of a detriment than a blessing to his congregation.

As for myself, in addition to my regular duties as a pastor, I have a wife and young children who I like spending time with, and in the past few months I have taken on hosting a live radio show once a week and I’m studying for my Masters, which requires about 16 hours of my attention every week. All this means that I need to be good at managing my time well, not only for my own benefit, but for the benefit of my family and my church.

8 Hours or Less: Writing faithful sermons faster by [Huguley, Ryan]

So I was intrigued a few weeks ago when a friend recommended this book: 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley.  It sounded a bit gimmicky to me at first, but after reading it, I think it’s a great resource that I would recommend. Basically, in the book, he outlines a plan for your week, which has you doing certain tasks each day for an hour or two, which help you focus and write better sermons faster. I think that’s really key; it’s not hard to write sermons faster – the question is if they will be good sermons. The system he lays out is intended not only to improve the speed, but also the quality of sermons.

One part which was foreign to me is that on Tuesdays he has you study the text and review your outline with a small group of people. This is probably the part I was most hesitant about, but the part which I have enjoyed the most.

If the end result is better sermons and more time for a pastor to spend pastoring people,  leading the church and preparing for the future, and having more time for their families, that’s a win-win-win. I recommend this book whole-heartedly.

The Effect of Woundedness

I have been doing some premarital counseling for a young couple recently, and was feeling unsatisfied with materials I’d used in the past, so I picked up a copy of Tim and Kathy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage.

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My expectations weren’t particularly high; I figured it would be similar to all the other marriage books I’ve read before, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. In fact, although I’m not finished with it yet, I have been impressed by how much they address many of the questions which I think people today are really asking: questions like why couples shouldn’t live together before getting married, or whether the biblical command for wives to submit to their husbands isn’t outdated at best and misogynistic at worst.

One of the things which Tim Keller is really good at is something called ‘presuppositional apologetics’ – which means understanding another person’s position and point of view so well that you are able to articulate it in such a way that they themselves would say, “I couldn’t have put it better myself!” It is only when you have done that first that you can really begin to show someone the flaws in their concepts, because you have proven that you really do understand where they are coming from and why they think the way they do. That will always be much more effective than just stating your view loudly.

As I was reading this book today, I came across something which I found very insightful. Speaking about “woundedness,” which they describe as “compounded self-doubt and guilt, resentment and disillusionment” which results from hurtful experiences from past relationships – here is what they say is the effect of woundedness: Woundedness makes us self-absorbed. 

When you begin to talk to wounded people, it is not long before they begin talking about themselves. They’re so engrossed in their own pain and problems that they don’t realize what they look like to others. They are not sensitive to the needs of others. They don’t pick up on the cues of those who are hurting, or, if they do, they only do so in a self-involved way. That is, they do so with a view of helping to “rescue” them in order to feel better about themselves.

They get involved with others in an obsessive and controlling way because they are actually meeting their own needs, though they deceive themselves about this. We are always, always the last to see our self-absorption.

When you point out selfish behavior to a wounded person, he or she will say, “Well, maybe so, but you don’t understand what it is like.” The wounds justify the behavior.

– Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, pp. 60-61

I have certainly experienced this in other people, but as I read it, it made me also think of myself – because as they say: We are always the last to see our own self-absorption.

The common view in our society of how to cure this problem is by encouraging people towards self-realization: to focus on themselves, finding themselves and seek to fulfill themselves. Ironically, this encourages already self-absorbed people towards further self-absorption, and actually is counterproductive for that person in further relationships, because it encourages them to think that their feelings and desires should take preeminence in the relationship because of all that they have been through.

The biblical view on this is to realize that self-absorption is part of our fallen nature, and that it is actually in giving up our self-centeredness, embracing that Jesus died for the sins which have been committed against us and focusing our attention on honoring God and on serving others, and put those things before ourselves, that we will find the life and the happiness which will actually fulfill us – and the cure for poisonous self-absorption.

 

God is Not Mad at You…unless He is.

I took my son to the store on Sunday night to buy some trading cards for a game he plays. As we were walking around the store, a book caught my eye.

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The title: “God is Not Mad at You.” To be fair, I haven’t read this book, however, I did take the time to go and read some reviews of it online to see if my initial assumptions about the message of this book would turn out to be mistaken. It would seem from these reviews that they were not.

Here’s the thing: the author is correct, God is not mad at you…that is unless, of course, He is.

What do I mean?  What I mean is that God is mad at some people – and rightly so! The Bible makes it very clear that God “opposes” some people, and that God considers some people “enemies.”  In fact, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18) and the objects of His wrath are in fact people (Ephesians 2:1-3)!

After all, isn’t it only right that God should be mad about some things AND at some people?  The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, makes it explicitly clear that there are things which God abhors, and which we should also abhor, for example: injustice, deceit, abuse. God is mad about these things, and more than that: God is mad at the people who do these things. God is mad at the person who exploits another or takes advantage of them from a position of power. God is mad when children are abused, when women are raped, when racial injustice occurs, and God is mad at the people who do these things.

Here’s the thing: it’s easy for us to say, “Well, yeah, okay, I get what you’re saying: God is mad at the bad guys who do bad things. That makes sense… But aside from those guys, who need to know that what they are doing is wrong and that divine justice is promised, the rest of us need to be comforted and encouraged that God isn’t mad at us – after all, most of us aren’t that bad.” 

The question is: who defines “bad”? And how bad do you have to be to be “bad.”  The Bible says this: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) Furthermore, Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount and the Bible says elsewhere that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and that “there is none who is good, no not one.”

What this all means that you and I are more sinful than we even realize, and therefore more deserving of God’s wrath than we even know.

But here’s the message of the Gospel: it’s not that you are a good person and therefore God isn’t mad at you – it’s that God LOVES you in spite of your sins and failures and shortcomings so much that He sent Jesus, the Divine Son, to die in your place, and absorb the wrath which you deserved.

What that means is that if you are in Christ, then indeed God is not mad at you – because Jesus became the “propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2), which means that he absorbed not only the legal judgment for our sins, but the righteous anger of God toward our sin.

If you are in Christ, then indeed: the message of the Gospel is that God is not mad at you

However, if you are not in Christ, then the Bible says that you are still in your sins. Jesus himself said this: “Unless you believe that I am He (the Messiah, the Savior), you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24). And if you are still in your sins, then the wrath of God remains on you!  Again, Jesus himself said this very thing: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:36)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. – JESUS (John 3:36)

Here’s the point: God is not mad at you IF you are in Christ, because God’s wrath was poured out on Him in place of you – the undeserving in place of the deserving.  Apart from Jesus, however, there is no such promise and no such hope.

The reason I take issue with this book is because it declares something to all people as a blanket statement, a broad generalization, which does indeed apply to some, but only some! To others, therefore, it gives a false sense of comfort and security, which actually does them a disservice.

The false prophets in the day of Jeremiah did the same thing. God had called Jeremiah to call the people of Judah to radical repentance, to turn away from sin and wickedness and turn with their whole hearts to God, and if they did that they would experience blessing. Jeremiah preached this message, which turned out to be radically unpopular, despite the fact that it was from God.  At the same time, another group of prophets came with a message which was wildly popular, despite the fact that it wasn’t from God! Their message? “Don’t worry; be happy. God’s not mad at you. God just wants you to be happy, so just do your thing and don’t bother yourself with feelings of guilt or needing to repent.” About these false prophets, God said:  “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)

The message of the Gospel is that Jesus died on the cross, so that God could end sin without ending us.

No matter who you are or what you’ve done, that is how much God loves you. If you are in Christ, if you have put your faith in Jesus as your Savior, as your righteousness, as the propitiation for your sins and as your Redeemer – then indeed, take comfort: God is not mad at you!

The Most Misused Verses in the Bible

A few weeks ago I saw a promotion on Twitter, offering this book for free on Kindle. I assumed it would be somewhat cliché and predictable, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised!

The book is thoughtful and gives context to many verses which are frequently quoted out of context, and then explains how they are usually misapplied and gives their proper application.

If you’re looking for something to read, I recommend it.

Christianity suffers from too many trite clichés and platitudes; too many scriptures are stripped of their original meanings and used to say things they were never meant to say.

Here are a few quotes from the chapter on Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

When we take a closer look at the context of Matthew 7 and the teachings of the rest of Scripture, it is clear that this verse cannot be used to substantiate unrestrained moral freedom, autonomy, and independence. This was not Jesus’ intent. He was not advocating a hands-off approach to moral accountability, refusing to allow anyone to make moral judgments in any sense. Quite the opposite, Jesus was explicitly rebuking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were quick to see the sins of others but were blind and unwilling to hold themselves accountable to the same standard they were imposing on everyone else.

No one will reach perfection in this life, but together we are to wage war against and forsake the sin that results from living in our fallen flesh. We are to “take off the old life,” so to speak, and “put on the new,” growing in holiness out of reverence for God. But the reality is we can’t accomplish this without the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the mutual encouragement and accountability of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We can’t do this alone; we need each other! This then, is why the apostles called us to help one another in our struggle with sin. For example, James says: My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (5: 19– 20 NIV 1984) Paul said something similar in the book of Galatians: Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (6: 1– 2 NIV 1984) Notice that both James and Paul assume two things. First, there will be times when fellow believers will wander off the straight and narrow path. Second, they assume that other Christians, out of love, will seek to come alongside that brother or sister in an effort to bring him or her back from the error of their ways and save them from the destructive power of sin (see Jesus’ method for doing this in Matthew 18: 15– 17). Since we have been commissioned to proclaim a message of repentance and faith to those outside the church who need to hear the good news, certainly we need to proclaim the same message of repentance and faith to those inside the church.

Therefore, Jesus does not forbid all moral judgment or accountability. Rather, he forbids harsh, prideful, and hypocritical judgment that condemns others outright without first evaluating one’s own spiritual condition and commitment to forsake sin. It is my contention that the popular misuse of “do not judge” reveals just how far the discipline of sound biblical study has slipped in recent years. More than that, it sheds light on the state of our culture, a culture that seeks to avoid accountability and responsibility for personal actions. This current trend and mentality runs counter to the teachings of Scripture. For the collective teaching of the Bible insists that those who are created in the image of God are morally responsible to God and to one another. So to use “do not judge” as a means of dismissing oneself from moral responsibility would be to interpret it in a way that pits it against the rest of Scripture.

Bargerhuff, Eric J. (2012-05-01). The Most Misused Verses in the Bible,Surprising Ways God’s Word Is Misunderstood (pp. 25-30). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This book is worth the price. Check it out.