Taking listeners with you: review of Preach Like a Train Driver

Preach like a Train Driver, Tim Hawkins

We have all sat through sermons that have failed to engage us. In fact, many of us will admit that we even preach sermons that fail to engage our listeners–something is missing and we simply fail to connect.

Preach like a Train Driver, by Tim Hawkins, is the most practically helpful book on preaching that I have read. Drawing on his years of experience as a preacher, international public speaker and trainer, Hawkins shares all that he has learnt about connecting with an audience and effectively preaching God’s word for life transformation.

The book’s great overriding illustration that holds everything together is that preaching is taking people on a journey and the destination is always gospel transformation. Hawkins begins, “Let me announce clearly to you the destination of this book; that every time you preach God’s word, you take your listeners on a journey to a life-changing destination that God has revealed in his word”.

From the outset Hawkins narrowly defines the scope of his work away from biblical interpretation (even though he readily acknowledges it as the cornerstone of preaching). Instead, he assumes a strong grasp of biblical knowledge in his readers, and has written this book in a very practical manner to enable the preacher to be engaging and effective when faithfully communicating God’s word.

Hawkins anticipates his own critics: “You may be asking: is all this just modern public speaking techniques? Isn’t it God the Holy Spirit who changes people, and not my presentation skills? Aren’t you just teaching me how to manipulate people with fine words and emotional stories?”

He goes on to humbly demonstrate that this is very much not the case, always being extremely careful to ground his motivations, his mandate, and very interestingly, many of his techniques in Scripture.

The highlight for me was the intensely practical nature of the book. It is a real “how to” guide to a preaching style that engages people and changes lives. It contains a wealth of hard earned hints and tips and really lays bare a tested and proven approach to preaching God’s word. Using his framework of taking people on a journey Hawkins works in detail through his four stages of a sermon; the hook, the book, the look, and the took.

In 26 chapters that cover 234 pages the author not only works through his sermon method but also includes some fascinating chapters on engaging people with humour, using the whole stage, moving away from your notes, and tips on how to make your message memorable. Almost an addendum, these chapters were a real bonus to an already very satisfying read.

Another surprise feature of the book is the incredibly insightful examples provided on how to engage teenagers. In addition to being a passionate trainer and international speaker Hawkins is the Youth Pastor Emeritus at St Paul’s Anglican Church Castle Hill in Sydney and has actively preached to teenagers for most of his 35 years of ministry.

Hawkins has taken the couple of practical chapters usually tacked on to the end of a book on preaching and has turned them into an immensely helpful book in their own right – and in doing so filled a much needed gap in reformed evangelical preaching literature.

Paul White is a business owner who has undertaken part time studies at Moore College and in 2012 studied with Cornhill Sydney, a part time course designed to help individuals develop skills for biblical teaching and preaching.