Tim Keller on Preaching

Pastor Tim Keller has a blog post he put up recently called Preacher – onlys aren’t good preachers.    He makes some really good points that I too have been thinking about with regard to the the pastoral ministry and church life and that is this:  preaching isn’t everything.

In other words, there is more to the pastoral ministry and church life in general than preaching, even the oft praised expository preaching.  Much more.   Now this isn’t to put down preaching or to say that there isn’t a need for good preaching but if that is all you do in the church then you are only fulfilling a very small part of your pastoral calling and vocation, if not neglecting it altogether.  In fact, you are overdoing it.

What are the other aspects of the pastoral ministry?  Keller writes in part:

I have often seen many men spend a great amount of time on preparing and preaching lengthy, dense, expository messages, while giving far less time and energy to the learning of leadership and pastoral nurture. It takes lots of experience and effort to help a body of people make a unified decision, or to regularly raise up new lay leaders, or to motivate and engage your people in evangelism, or to think strategically about the stewardship of your people’s spiritual gifts, or even to discern what they are. It takes lots of experience and effort to know how to help a sufferer without being either too passive or too directive, or to know when to confront a doubter and when to just listen patiently. Pastors in many of our Reformed churches do not seem to be as energized to learn to be great leaders and shepherds, but rather have more of an eye to being great teachers and preachers.

I am sorry to have to say this and sorry to hurt some pastors ears but again, there is more to the pastoral ministry and church life than just the preaching – there is the ministering of the ordinances, there is pastoral care and nurture, shepherding, leadership issues, and so on and on and on.   And in the end what does all this do?  Make you a better preacher.  Why?  Because you’ve been interacting with people, dealing with daily life issues and problems and successes and so on.

I was surprised to see he gets in about 15 hours of sermon prep time – and advised that newer or younger pastors only get in about 6 – 8 hours.  I remember once hearing John MacArthur telling a church board he was interviewing with that he was essentially demanding 30 hours for sermon work – to me, when I heard this, I thought that was massive overkill.   I fall in the 6-8 hour range, I just don’t have a lot of time for sermon prep – though I try to follow certain methodologies to be a s effective as I can be in the time I have (ie: diagramming, word studies, some background research and the like).  But 30 hours?  Man that is just too much.

So, don’t over focus on the preaching prep – make sure you put in time being a pastor too!  😉

Go here for more thoughts on preaching.


8 responses to “Tim Keller on Preaching

  1. Not that I’m anyone who should be commenting on this, but what about a large church with a “plurality of elders”? Which John MacArthur’s church would fall under. He isn’t the head pastor, he’s just one of many elders–the preaching pastor. Other elders do the other things mentioned in your post. I believe he spends much of those 30 hours writing and doing some other things too. I also remember him saying he refers to up to 20 commentaries when preparing. I’d love to have that library. Then there is the other 10 hours which usually is more than that.

    I don’t know how a single pastor (only one) does it.

  2. Jeff, I am a solo pastor, I spend between 15-20 and I would say I have plenty of time for people. I too have heard Keller say this and as much as I liked everything else he said I thought this was crap. When someone is newer to ministry they don’t have the resources (personal) to draw together a sermon in 6-8 hours. I do agree with you Brian that people will listen to your sermon if you spend time listening to them in their homes.

  3. I think if you are spending more than a couple of hours a week preparing a sermon you are spending too much time. Sermons are way overated. As you go about your week, spending time with the Lord, reading the Word, fellowshipping, the Lord is faithful to lay a word on your heart to share.

    Spend more time equipping, and releasing. Let others share. I don’t think you will find much evidence of one local elder preaching a sermon every week in the gathering of the saints. 1 Cor 14:26 It’s not about one guy, it’s about the body of Christ functioning as one body.

  4. Jack, I would hate to go to that church – preaching is the one thing the pastor does that others do not (although lay people from time to time are able to preach). The Minister’s part of the body is as preacher and teacher.

  5. Thanks for the comments – I think Keller’s basic point is that we need to not overdo certain parts of the pastoral ministry and some way overdo sermon prep and need to be following through on other aspects of the ministry as well.

  6. Mark,

    I guess the point I am trying to make, is there is no such thing as lay people or clergy in the bible. We are all ministers of the gospel. For sure there are men that are gifted to teach and lead, but the whole purpose of the gathering of the body is for mutual edification. 1Cor 14:26. Heb 12:24-25.

    In the New Testament you will not see the same focus at the gathering of the saints that we do today. It seems our focus today is on buildings, singing, a man preaching and money. The NT church gathering was about sharing a meal, fellowship, singing, teaching, everyone participating. It was not a spectator sport like church is today. See Col 3:16.

    You will find no descriptive or prescriptive examples of one man preaching a sermon week end and week out in the local church setting. The church gathering was about community. It was not individual oriented. Read 1 Cor 12 and Rom 12 as it describes how the body functions as one. How did Jesus disciple? Did he preach three point sermons to his disciples? How do we train our children?

    Discipleship is not about preaching sermons. It is about leadership laying down their lives and walking side by side with their fellow saints. Paul’s greeting in Phil 1:1was to the saints “with or along side the bishops and deacons. That is the only epistle to the churches that Paul even mentioned leadership. It was always addressed to the saints. That is significant. See
    Mt 20:25-27, 1 Pt 5:2-3.

    The point is not how long preachers spend preparing sermons or how well they can present a sermon. Are the leaders building up and releasing the saints for the work of the ministry? Are the leaders replicating themselves?

    When I was young (20’s), I was a flight instructor. If I had taught like most preachers, I would have never let my students touch the controls. However, for a student to learn how to fly, I had to actually let them touch the controls.
    There was risk involved. I would suggest that preaching is the easy way out. Get involved in peoples lives. Let them handle the controls.

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