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Monday, August 20, 2012

"Dangerous Calling" (Paul David Tripp)

TITLE: Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry
AUTHOR: Paul David Tripp
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2012, (240 pages).

Some books tend to be explanatory and others tend to be encouraging. Still other books attempt to be instructive and others try to be exegetical. This book is none of the above. Instead, it aims to be diagnostic. The pastoral calling is a dangerous calling. It calls one toward humble reflection and to be prepared to be challenged to change. The key requirement is for readers to "deactivate their inner lawyer" and to consider the book's challenges "with an open heart."

A) Beware of Dangers Outside

Part One describes the nature of the modern pastoral culture. Beginning with his confession of his own anger problem, Tripp points out that there are blind spots in each of our lives, especially when our "public pastoral persona" and the "private man" are two different people altogether. We let ministry define our identity. We let our Bible knowledge and theological education define our maturity. We let "ministry success" determine God's will. What makes these blind spots even more dangerous is that we tend to do it over and over again to let them sink roots. This leads to 9 dangerous ways.

  1. Ignoring the problem(s)
  2. Blind to issues of own heart
  3. Lacking devotion in ministry
  4. Not preaching the gospel to self
  5. Not listening to people closest to him
  6. Ministry becoming a burden
  7. Living in silence and fear
  8. Questioning calling
  9. Vulnerable to fantasies

Pride then leads to big headed theological brains and small-hearts with it comes to grace to others. Tripp warns about "academized Christianity" that fails to connect theology with practice and points out seven dangers when that happens. The ministerial calling is more than knowledge and skills. It needs a new understanding of what pastoral success means.

"The problem was the pastor's lack of a living, humble, needy, celebratory, worshipful, meditative communion with Christ. It was as if Jesus had left the building.... You see, it is only the love for Christ that can defend the heart of the pastor against all the other loves that have the potential to kidnap his ministry." (63-4)

There are some concrete steps that Tripp proposes that are worth pondering and practising.
  1. Requiring that pastors attend a small group he does not lead
  2. Seeking another person to be mentored by.
  3. Establishing a pastors' wives small group (especially for churches with multiple pastors). This gives wives an opportunity to ask for prayer and help.
  4. Commit to self-disclosure in preaching. This promotes openness.
  5. Ensure that the pastor and his family be invited regularly to meals at the church family. This avoids isolation.
  6. Pastor's wife be mentored too.
  7. Regular time away by the pastor and his wife
  8. Ensure counseling help available for pastor and wife
B) Beware of a Dangerous Inside

One important point Tripp mentions is that ministry is not to be a one-person-show. The body of Christ needs to be ministered by the body of Christ. Even well trained pastors need to be surrounded by well-trained members. The eight danger signs about the "Cycle of Danger" are worth pinning up on the wall of every pastor's office. Spiritual warfare is also a crucial area of concern. Ministry is war. Unfortunately, many ministers have forgotten that. They forget that the evil ones are constantly warring against their inner hearts, tempting them. They forget the purpose of their ministry being to fight for the gospel. They become less conscious of the warring divide between the world and the kingdom. Tripp also points out four ministry principles to be heavenly "treasure oriented; to let our hearts be commanded by this heavenly prize; to let our allegiance to Kingdom drive our ministry; to constantly recognize that these treasures point to being attached to God. Otherwise, if we lose our sense of calling. We forget who God is. We forget who we really are.

When this happens, familiarity breeds contempt, and we lose awe of God. We become vulnerable of fear, and tend to hide our true selves from people. Our ministry turns mediocre. We substitute practicality and worldly expectations for the heavenly perfection. We become prideful people, not knowing where we are in the already-here and not-yet worlds. We forget our sins.

C) Be Aware of Hope

Thankfully, all is not bad news. There is good news. We need to be reminded that our pastoral ministry must lead us to regular worship of God. We need to be God-assured rather than self-assured. We replace self-glory for God's glory. With great humility, we are always preparing ourselves to improve, and to anticipate the work of God in our ministry. Our private worship needs to lead us toward self denial. We need to be reminded that we are in the world but not of the world. Wisdom and discernment will help us be separate from sin in the world. Finally, in a powerful five pointer teaching from 1 Peter 5:6-11, Tripp calls pastors to:

  1. Know your place, that God is king, not you.
  2. Learning to rest in God, to let God handle any of our anxieties in ministry and in life
  3. Taking our ministry seriously, like recognizing the potency of sin and the reality of spiritual warfare
  4. Learning to resist the evil one and temptations constantly
  5. Trusting God's sanctifying grace, that we are not going through it alone.
D) Closing Thoughts

This is not a difficult book to read, but the teachings can be difficult to chew especially when those of us in ministry has gotten lukewarm about ministry altogether. Perhaps, this book can be a wake up call for nominal pastors. That said, I recommend three groups of people who can benefit from reading this book. Firstly, all pastors need to read this book, as the teachings and observations apply directly. Secondly, all leaders ought to read this book, so that they can support, admonish, protect, discipline, or do whatever they can to help pastors do the ministry together with them. Thirdly, laypersons can read this book for the sole purpose of knowing how to pray for their ministers or pastors. Sometimes, we take the pastoral ministry for granted, thinking that they are so holy up there, that God will protect them. Yes, it is true that God will protect them. The question is, what if God is calling you the reader to help guide and protect them?

The title of the book "Dangerous calling" has a double meaning. In negative terms, the first is the literal danger in terms of pastors being waylaid and fall from grace in ministry. In positive terms, the second is the heightened awareness of spiritual danger that raises the fire-power against the minister who has woken up from spiritual slumber. Either way, the calling is dangerous. If that is the case, make the danger something worthy to fight against, for the Kingdom of God.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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