Every preacher wants to preach well, right?! But how many sermons does it take? According to Tim Keller…200! That’s right, two hundred, 200, 100+100=200, 2-0-0! I first heard this during a Q&A session in his series “Preaching to the Heart”, where Keller was asked how much time a preacher should devote to sermon prep:
I don’t believe you should spend a lot of time preparing your sermon, when you’re a younger minister. I think because we are so desperately want our sermon to be good, that when you’re younger you spend way too much time preparing. And, you know, its scary to say this to the younger ministers… you’re not going to be much better by putting in twenty hours on that sermon – the only way you’re going to be a better preacher is if you preach often. For the first 200 sermons, not matter what you do, your first 200 sermons are going to be terrible. (laughter from the crowd). And, if you put in… fifteen or twenty hours in the sermon you probably won’t preach that many sermons because you won’t last in ministry, because your people will feel neglected.
However, this can be disheartening if you don’t preach often (I’m not even close to 200)! But it shouldn’t be. Being a faithful pastor definitely means being a diligent, Christ-centered exegete in the study and a Spirit-empowered preacher in the pulpit. But being a faithful pastor also includes preaching the gospel to people throughout the week–
- as you visit the sick in the hospital,
- as you counsel those who belive sin is bigger and better than God,
- as you equip leaders to build a gospel community,
- as you pray with an unexpected drop-in.
Speaking from experience, young pastors can wrongly view these as “interuptions” from the “real ministry”, i.e. sermon preparation. No doubt we all need help with biblical productivity. But let’s not be fooled into thinking ministry would be great if it were’nt for all those people! Love your people, know your people, spend time preaching the gospel to your people throughout the week. You’ll be a better preacher on Sunday.
On a funnier note, just last month one our elders applied the “Keller equation” to his own life and shared his results during his sermon. We’ve got to get this guy preaching on a regular rotation! Check it out.
Keller’s thought was to help a young pastor not to have unrealistic expectations at the beginning of his ministry. This has helped me to relax more than Mark [our lead pastor] realizes. My last Sunday morning sermon was approximately 30 years ago. Therefore by my calculations I won’t become proficient at it for another 5970 years. Boy, does that help me not to have unrealistic expectations. But remember that when we are weak God is strong. In this confidence I’m hopeful.
Scott is right, Keller’s advice is both humbling and encouraging. While it may take him nearly 6000 years, he’s not going to give up, and more importantly he’s going to trust in God who has spoken and who empowers.
Still, if you’re interested, here’s the equation. How long will it take you?
( __ years divided by __ sermons) x 200 = ____ years until you preach good sermons!
Thank you, Tim Keller.