Tim Keller’s Preaching Equation and your first 200 sermons

05 Dec

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.


Posted by on December 5, 2008 in Equipping, humor, preaching


10 responses to “Tim Keller’s Preaching Equation and your first 200 sermons

  1. Josh

    December 5, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    At the end of 2008 I will have preached 49 messages in 2008. So I have 151 more to go as of Jan. Anyone want me to come preach???? I would like to hit 200 asap!

  2. bumble

    December 6, 2008 at 11:42 am

    I am an occasional preacher too. Once I was impressed at a younger pastor who spoke so well despit of his spare outline (which I saw before hand).

    Astounded, I asked my mentor, “How could every sentence came out from this young man was so well put?” And the old preacher replied, “O, after preaching a few years regularly for a church and you will know…”

  3. joshuaotte

    December 12, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    I really liked Keller’s advice to spend much time knowing, loving and caring for your church throughout the week rather than only through the sermon. I think he’s spot on to say “the only way you’re going to be a better preacher is if you preach often.’ Right in line with your mentor’s advice!

    Along with preaching on Sunday, I’m finding great joy in making the most of every opportunity to preach the gospel to each other every day, throughout the week, not just on Sunday.

    Regarding the 200-equation…I’m hoping that teaching 5 years as an adjunct instructor counts for something?!

  4. Heartburn Home Remedy

    April 15, 2009 at 8:38 am

    My fellow on Facebook shared this link and I’m not dissapointed that I came to your blog.

  5. Gordan

    July 24, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Sunday’s sermon will be in the 400’s for me. Not to depress anyone, but my attempts at eloquence and orational brilliance still occassionally KLANG!

    I will agree that the first 200 were especially embarrassing, though.

    You’ve got to be like a cornerback in the NFL: try to cultivate a short memory in the times you get smoked, toasted, burnt, etc.

  6. Jewona Dyson

    June 9, 2011 at 10:52 am

    The way you know you have preached well is if you said what God told you. He told Jeremiah do not look at their faces. The response from the people is not the greatest indicator of success. Did you say what GOD gave you under HIS SPIRIT! Did you seek HIS face when preparing? Were you under HIS annoiting?


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