MacArthur’s Sermon Preparation

March 21, 2007

If you love biblical preaching, then whatever your millenial view (!) you will no doubt appreciate the faithful ministry of John MacArthur. The following is some rough notes taken from a session at the Shepherd’s Conference 2006 regarding how MacArthur currently prepares to preach. Having read MacArthur’s book Preaching, I know that this roughly corrolates.


4 days to prepare:

Day 1 (First 8 hours):

* Reads, re-reads, and re-reads the text.
* Takes out a legal pad a jots down some notes.
* Turns to the Greek text.
* Peruses some 20 commentaries on the text.
* Goes through cross-references.

Day 2 (2nd 8 hours):

* Mediates on what he learned on Day 1.

Day 3 (3rd 8 hours):

* Puts together his rough draft.
* Finds Biblical illustrations.
* Writes his introduction and conclusion.

Day 4 (4th 8 Hours):

* Writes his final draft, all of which is hand-written.

What I find interesting about this is two fold. First, the simple length of time that MacArthur takes to prepare. Its not as if after forty years of exposition he takes shortcuts! Second, I appreciate the idea that MacArthur takes a day simply to meditate on the text following all his reading. Perhaps this is a missing element in many of our preparations?

(HT: Galatians 4v16)


  1. Colin, do you really think MacArthur takes 32hours to prepare each of his sermons? That seems very high to me.

  2. It does seem a little on the high side Dave. Unfortunately, I’ve only got this source (see the link) to go on. Perhaps someone else made that session and can verify.

    That said, from listening to MacArthur being interviewed it seems that he rarely takes a day off. Further, he has a rather large staff team to bear the weight of many other responsibilities. So its not inconceivable.

  3. I have heard only one other preacher who noted sermon prep as long as that. It would be nice, but is that really a possibility for pastors in churches to spend so much time on sermon prep?

  4. I guess it could be the case that those hours include telephone calls, etc, or other interruptions. I’m not questioning MacArthur’s integrity – just wondering whether 32hours solely dedicated to one sermon is time best used. Did the apostles spend this amount of time in preparing for their teaching? I doubt it.

  5. WEll I am not questioning him either…I just wonder about the pastor who does not have a staff and therefore does not have the time that a senior pastor over a staff has…The other pastor who stated that he took that amount of time in sermon preparation also had a staff…

  6. Well the calling of a pastor is to “preach the word” not organize and administrate. His job is simply to study the word and preach it. For a pastor to spend his time any other way would be to neglect his calling, even the busy apostles “devote[d themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” On the note about telephone calls and other interruptions, MacArthur studies at his house so that he can’t be interrupted.

  7. I am fairly confident that MacArthur is preparing two sermons in that amount of time–approximately 16 hours for each message. He mentions this in his interview with Mark Dever at the Nine Marks Website (http://www.9marks.org/). I also had the privilege to sit under two different sermons on Sundays while I was attending Grace Community Church. In the morning, he would preach from Luke, in the evening, he would preach from Genesis. That was 5 years ago, but I believe that has been his practice for some time.


  8. I am so glad that you posted this. It simply takes a lot of time to get the preacher into the text and more time to get the text into the preacher. It takes days to develop the “burden” that you must deliver to the people. Those hours of preparation of the message and of the preacher are essential to the anointing and the authority or assurance that the Holy Spirit gives to make the Word penetrate and produce fruit.

    I have read that Charles Swindol and Rick Warren take 16 hours to prepare. Years ago, I heard J. Vernon McGee say that he needed 20 to 25 hours to prepare, stating that one of the greatest sins of the ministry was laziness. When I later heard him preach, rather than his “Through the Bible” radio broadcast, I was spellbound by his message. I don’t know of anyway around this. There are no shortcuts. Somehow, we have to make the time to “give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word”. That is our calling.

  9. I like what Dr. Piper said when asked (at the T4G conferece) “How long did it take you to prepare that sermon?” His answer: “Thirty years.” The lesson for me is not the number of hours per week MacArthur puts in (16 or 32), but the 40 years he has been invested in intense sermon preparation. He still treasures and defends his time in the Word.

    I am thankful for MacArthur’s preaching ministry and I pray that his prep. time would be edifying. The Church benefits greatly from it.

  10. Looking through MacArthur’s book again, he mentions that he takes about 15 hours on each sermon, which amounts to around the overall figure.

    Tim, that’s a great point from Piper. No doubt most of us will preach better at 50 than 30.

  11. On whether a pastor ought to spend as long as 32 hrs preparing a sermon in the light of his other pastoral commitments. I find Lloyd Jones’ view pastorally insightful. He is of the view that one is pastoring when preaching, and if preaching truly achieves its divinely appointed aim, it saves a lot of time when we actually get down to one-to-one “counselling”, etc.

  12. To Tim, who said:
    “Well the calling of a pastor is to “preach the word” not organize and administrate. His job is simply to study the word and preach it. For a pastor to spend his time any other way would be to neglect his calling, even the busy apostles “devote[d themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” ”

    1) A pastor’s work is much more than simply preaching. The “ministry of the word” means much more than preaching. And the only other works besides preaching are not organizing and administrating.

    2) Pastoring is shepherding and that involves knowing the sheep and that involves spending time with them. There is pastoral counselling, discipline, hunting down the wandering, doing the work of an evangelist (which is not just preaching the Gospel from the pulpit), teaching people, praying with people, marrying them, burying them,(OK – those last two may not be dictated as pastoral work, but all pastors do it – even MacArthur) preparing them for works of service. There is much one on one work. There is time spent with children, adolescents, adults and seniors on a more personal basis than just the pulpit. All these things and more constitute “the ministry of the Word” in a biblically legitimate sense. Watching over people’s souls as men who must give account (Hebrews 13:17)is much more than hunkering down alone in a study in prayer and sermon preparation.

  13. Our Pastor, David Downs also prepares extensively for each sermon — around 35 to 40 hours each week. Like John MacArthur, he’s also an expository preacher, and his sermons last between 60 and 75 min. He puts his entire, mind, body and soul into each message. At this time, he’s preaching in the book of Matthew, and although he’s preached on this Book of the Bible before, he doesn’t use his old notes to prepare for his sermons. He starts all over again. He still manages to go out with our church members to evangelize door to door on Saturdays. He also goes out on his own or with other members who can join him, 4 additional days a week. He and John MacArthur are a rare breed. Pastor Dave Downs’ sermons can be accessed on Sermonaudio.com.

  14. With the current state of our families (even in our churches) and with the cultural pressure to become workoholics, I sometimes wonder if we, as pastors, don’t send the wrong message to our congregations that we must be working endlessly all the time.
    I am reminded of William Carey who won so many converts in India and yet lost his own family

  15. […] I believe that meeting together with kids around, on our couches, and kitchen tables, in the warmth of the most vulnerable place for any human on earth is not only intriguing but beautiful. I believe that as we sit with God’s Holy Word and allowing all to share WHENEVER we gather, not just in small groups and “Sunday School” will more closely model what I see in Scripture. I believe the elder(s) facilitating and bringing his wisdom to what is being shared instead of being the centerpiece of the gathering is more in line than the way we practice today. I believe that us wrestling through the scriptures naturally, instead of a well prepared formalized and one person dictated sermon, encourages growth, allows all to minister to all and really deals with the everyday struggle of the believer. Too many times when the saints gather their needs aren’t met because they can’t share that need. The sermoner already has something to share from his experience and his prayer and his studying the scriptures so anything against that program nullifies his week of preperation.  […]

  16. Just read Acts 6:1…equate the apostles to a Pastor (i.e. Ephesians 4:12) and there is your answer

  17. I remember when Grace community was a little brick house and my mom taught sunday school. I never liked church and John caught me drawing monsters on the giving envelopes.He was not happy.40 years later I go to a church that was called Grace community in RENO. Now its called Grace. I read Johns books and have visited once. I AM NOW A PART TIME PRISON CHAPLAIN.

  18. The pulpit is the most holy ground on earth. One of the things wrong with most of our churches in America is that there is a famine for God’s Word. Thank God for pastors like John MacArthur so devoted to the preaching of the Word that if it took 80 hours to prepare I believe he and a few others would give it. Indeed Acts 6:2-4

  19. Romans 6:1 – thats it;

    He is called to preach the word

    Some of you are imposing your own interpretation of shepherding on Macarthur. He has been called to preach and you know what, preach is what he does!

    And I am sure that Grace Community has other Pastors to do the one on one shepherding of people. That is why Macarthur is listed as the Teaching Pastor at the church. There are different ways to shepherd and I am sure that Grace has that all the ways covered by employing a Pastoral staff each with their gifts and areas of responsibilities.

    We all have our own ideas of what Pastors should do- but leave it up to the One who called them. He knows what they should be doing.

  20. If you try that in India. You will be out of Pastoral ministry soon. People here want personal touch. Not cereberal fireworks.

    I think his style is more relevant in the wes.

  21. If you try this in India. You will be out of Pastoral Ministry soon. I think it is relevant more in the west.

  22. […] awesome post on how John MacArthur prepares for his sermons Share […]

  23. […] The invention of a full-time, salaried pastoral position feels like one giant missed opportunity to me. We pay someone to read the Bible for us, to pray for us. Then, every Sunday, he or she tells us what they’ve learned (after 30+ hours of sermon prep). […]

  24. […] – John MacArthur – 32 hours. Another throughout-the-week guy, MacArthur takes 4 days, at 8 hours per day to prepare to preach. Here’s the gist, but Colin Adams shows how each day breaks down. […]

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