17 Ways A Pastor Can Shorten His Sermon Prep Time

1) Borrow.

In the secular world, this is called plagiarism. But we pastors know “God richly gives us all good things to share” or something like that. Fortunately, your people don’t read other preachers’ sermon books anyway, so they’ll never know. (Disadvantage: if the written sermon bombed, chances are yours will, too.)

2) Repeat.

Everyone knows repetition is a proven learning technique. Warning: do not call these sermons ‘repeats’ or ‘re-runs.’ “Previously preached’ is also verboten. If you have to put a label on them, try ‘Back by popular demand.’ It sounds better.(Disadvantage: some little sister in the church writes in the margins of her Bible every time you have preached a particular text, so you’ll need to vary your Scripture even if it’s the same sermon.)

3) Confess.

Tell a story out of your childhood and turn it into a microcosm of the universe, or at least of the gospel. Didn’t Phillips Brooks call preaching ‘truth through personality’? The advantages are that you are the authority on yourself, no one can contradict you, and very little study time is required. (Disadvantage: if nothing dramatic has happened to you, this can get boring quickly.)

4) Obvious.


Our Lord said people prefer old wine to the new (Luke 5:39). So, with that great insight in mind, choose a well-loved subject, reinforce it with three obvious points–preferably all starting with the letter ‘P’–and then belabor the obvious.

An example of this could be a sermon on the Second Coming of Christ. Your points could be the PROPHECY of His coming (when), the PURPOSE of His coming (why), and the PEOPLE of His coming (whom).

The good thing about this approach is if you need to stretch out the sermon, your concordance has lots more ‘P’ words. Think how exciting your message becomes as you touch on the PROOF, the PRECEPT, the PREPARATION, the PRICE, the PROCEDURE, the PROFIT, the POSSIBILITIES, the POWER, the PLAN, the PLACE, the PATIENCE, and the PARADISE of His return. Any preacher worth his salt could wax eloquent for hours on these without a moment’s advance notice. (Disadvantage: you’ll probably want to leave out some of the good thoughts you had on this sermon, otherwise it can last till…well, until the Lord comes back.)

5) Concordance.

As you know, a concordance gives you a word and tells you where to find it in Scripture. But, if you have an aversion to actually studying for your sermons, you can use it as a book of magic. Look up a word and find at least three usages throughout Scripture that work for you. Let each reference suggest one main point of the sermon.

Then, go cut the grass while your subconscious reflects on how to make a sermon out of that odd collection of Scriptures. (Disadvantage: you have to own a concordance.)

6) Network.

Find some preacher no one has ever heard of who records his sermons and mails out tapes or CDs to friends who request them. Your people will never be the wiser. (Disadvantage: in the time it takes to learn someone else’s sermon, you could be working on one of your own.)

7) Procrastinate.

Make it a point not to do any preparation until Saturday night, then begin to panic. Some people work best under a deadline, and you might as well be one of those. Besides, it’s great for your prayer life. (Disadvantage: sometimes the Holy Spirit does not cooperate.)

8) Fudge.

Skip the word study. No one in your congregation knows Hebrew or Greek anyway, so they’ll never be the wiser. (Disadvantage: God knows.)

9) Series.

If you preach a long series of sermons on the same general topic, you can spend half of each sermon time recapping the previous messages. Very little time is left for you to get to the new stuff. (Disadvantage: this is a proven congregation killer unless it’s done well.)

10) Borrow.

Ask a pastor friend what he’s preaching next Sunday and get him to practice on you. He’ll appreciate the audience and the rehearsal will do him good. Your congregation can’t be in two places at once, so they’ll never know you both preached the same thing. (Disadvantage: be careful to adapt the stories to your own situation. Borrowing is one thing; lying is something else.)

11) Dramatize.

By turning your imagination loose, you can make biblical events come alive. Teach the people not to be bound by only what Scripture says happened in an incident. The advantage is that little study is necessary other than briefly rereading the text just before the service. This allows the inspiration of the moment to energize your message. (Disadvantage: if your imagination doesn’t show up today, you could be in big trouble.)

12) Acceptance.

No one can be fresh every Sunday. Even Stuart Briscoe and Calvin Miller has their off-Sundays. Give yourself freedom to be human and deliver a poor sermon occasionally.(Disadvantage: you can’t do this more than once a quarter or the deacons will get suspicious.)

13) Expand.

Shorten the song service to give preaching the central place it deserves. This will allow you time to chase a few more rabbits. (Disadvantage: know how to return to your home base when chasing rabbits. Some preachers have taken trails so deep and remote, they were never seen again.)

14) Condemn

By preaching against sin (pronounced with two syllables: see’-in), you can do about anything you please and so long as you are condemning the wickedness of the modern age, most of your people will think you are preaching the word. This may be the easiest of all methods for avoiding study, since you already know so much about sin. If you need additional material, the television will be glad to cooperate. (Disadvantage: certain elements of the congregation get high off juicy stories of sin, so be careful here.)

15) Stories

By telling stories of “what happened to me this week,” you will hold your audience spell-bound. This is especially effective if you relate the conversations which took place in a counseling situation in your office this very week. People will sit on the edge of their pews trying to figure out who you’re talking about. (Disadvantage: you lose a lot of church members this way. Of course, it balances out in that your counseling load drops quickly and permanently.)

16) Obedience.

Didn’t our Lord tell us not to plan in advance what to say, but promised that the Holy Spirit would provide? (Matthew 10) Although He was speaking of believers on trial for their faith we all know nothing can be a greater trial than having to dig out a fresh sermon from Heaven every week. By walking into the pulpit unprepared, you give the Spirit a fresh slate on which to write His message. (Disadvantage: He has been known to leave the preacher who tries this hanging in the wind.)

17) Termination.

If you use the first 16 methods of sermon preparation, we can guarantee that you will:

a) be terminated.

b) have a lot of short-term pastorates.

c) eventually be out of the ministry altogether.

In this case, your sermon preparation time will be cut to the bare minimum. And after all, that’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?

4 thoughts on “17 Ways A Pastor Can Shorten His Sermon Prep Time

  1. once a young man called to pastor decided to be original or nothing, he winded up being BOTH…

    Be a Gospel Thief. If you hear something you like, use it.

    Remember ”There’s no new thing” The Holy Spirit teaches the same thing always to everybody.

  2. Well, I’m still too young at this to be an authority, but I cannot imagine how an anything “thief” is a god idea, and plagiarism is still stealing. Ironically, I think that technology will soon do away with the preacher who lacks the spark of Spirit driven preaching–in my business we call it “the satellite church.”

    Joe, this is very helpful. I hope all seminary students read it (I know at least 19 who will read it while they wait out Gustav). I hate to state the obvious, but the preponderance of #4 The Obvious “Sermon” is what Janet and I see most often. It breaks our hearts. What has happened to the “prophetic” aspect of the gift of preaching? These are difficult times for Southern Baptists, and I wonder if you’ve hit on at large part the problem. Are preachers in a hurry, and, therefore, less prayerful and less in tune with the Holy Spirit? Or have our sins caught up with us and the Spirit has grown silent?

  3. Oops Joe,

    Jack said plagarism is stealing. Not when it’s a good ‘idea’or thought. Aren’t we supposed to be messengers spreading good? Like a good joke. Tell it. Share it. Make others feel good. If it’s a profound thought ….tell it and give the author credit. It makes you look doubly good. The audience likes it and the author is humbled that you used his material. And USE IT, if it makes you BETTER.

    If you use some of Billy Grahams sermons from 40 years ago and you don’t give him credit, that is stealing. H.A.Thompson, Charlotte

  4. May I add one?

    Punt. Come up with some reason not to preach. When I evacuated for the hurricane, I went to a church not far from here. Unfortunately, it was still close enough to feel the effects of the hurricane, so not many people came to church that day. In fact, there were a total of 27 of us. I suppose the pastor didn’t want to waste his sermon on such a small number, so he said, “I’m not going to preach today. We’re just going to have a prayer service.”

    I cannot tell you how disappointed I was. I don’t get to attend church very often and hear someone else preach. I got up that morning, spent time in the Word and in prayer preparing my heart for worship, and I could hardly wait to hear a word from God. I was even excited about saying something nice to the preacher after the service. But alas, I went away hungry. No sermon for me.

    I had an older and wiser preacher tell me early in my ministry, “When your crowd is low, don’t punish the faithful who showed up.”