In recent days the Discovery Channel has honed in on a few of the worlds most dangerous jobs; namely loggers and deep sea fishermen. These jobs are arduous and hazardous. According to Paul Tripp one other “job” that ought to be put on the list is pastoral ministry. In his book, Dangerous Calling, Tripp highlights the unique challenges of pastoral ministry.
Tripp believes that “there are many pastors who have inserted themselves into a spiritual category that doesn’t exist” (23). This false spiritual category is confirmed and strengthened by the pastoral culture in which pastors live. Seminaries are often the breeding grounds for such “self-swindling” (33) pastors. The downward spiral begins with a “distant, impersonal, information-based handling of the Word of God.” (52) Eventually “brains become more important than hearts” and pastors fool themselves into thinking that because they have correct theological answers they must be doing okay.
After graduating seminary this knowledgeable and skilled seminary student will become the pastor of a church. A church of which the pastor will largely not be known by. Given the present pastoral climate in churches he will lead them from above practicing an “intentional culture of pastoral separation and isolation” (70). There he will die. Most pastors never truly become a part of the body of Christ. We were never meant to lead or live this way. This culture must change.
Such a culture breeds pastors that forget. They forget who God is and they forget who they are. Pastoral ministry, then, is a war zone. Even if the culture of pastoral ministry would change pastors would still fight their own selfish hearts. But given our current climate of pastoral ministry many pastors are not even aware of the necessity of fighting. And slowly they slip into familiarity and mediocrity. Eventually they forget who they are and begin preaching a grace that they themselves are not partaking in.
I deeply appreciate this book by Paul Tripp. I am not a lead pastor (only an associate pastor) but I still see every danger that he is talking about in my own life. From my experience Tripp is correct in his assessment of seminary. I believe that I attend one of the best seminaries around (SBTS) but I have heard in my classes from fellow students and felt in my own heart a type of head knowledge that is not matched to heart knowledge. For the most part faculty and staff at SBTS take great pains to be pastors as well as professors, but there are times when academia seems to rule the day.
According to Tripp his central point in this book is to give a “detailed exposition of what happens in the life of a person in ministry when he forgets to preach to himself the same gospel that he gives to others”. As such this book is a little light on practical application. This book is like reading a book that explains your disease in great detail and then points you to other resources for treatment. Some may give Tripp negative marks because of this. I think it is one of the strengths of the book.
If at the end of the day pastors read Dangerous Calling and drop to their knees pleading for mercy from King Jesus, then Tripp has done his job. Sadly, it can be a difficult task to truly convince us pastors that we are desperately in need of Jesus every moment. We will give that truth lip service but at the end of the day when it comes to “spiritual things” many of us assume that we’ve got this down.
Do not misunderstand me, though. There is practical help smattered throughout the book. There are helpful things that churches could adopt to help their pastors. Their are suggestions that pastors could implement that would strengthen them in the middle of this war zone. There is practical stuff, but that does not appear to be Tripp’s major aim in this book. He wants to hold a mirror up to pastors and compare what they see to God’s Word and His wisdom. He wants us to realize that many of us are dying and we need help.
For this reason Tripp’s book is invaluable to pastors. Speaking as a pastor to pastors he is in an adequate position to expose our pastoral pride. He does it with humility and as one that is in the midst of the struggle himself. Reading this book will lay you bare. But it will not leave you there. Tripp will help every pastor to remember the God of mercy anew. He lifts up our All-Sufficient Savior and encourages pastors to run to him. Drink deeply from the grace that we are to proclaim every Sunday.
Should You Buy It?
I agree with Joshua Harris, “pastors needs this book”. This book may be The Reformed Pastor of our day. It is weighty and necessary. If you are a pastor you really ought to purchase this one.
What if you are not a pastor? I would still suggest it. It will help you to help your pastor. You are called to minister to him as well.
The book can be yours for under $13 and I cannot recommend it enough.