Dangerous Calling, Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, by Paul David Tripp (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 227 pp., Hardcover $22.99)
Paul Tripp, who has ministered as a pastor, seminary professor, counselor, conference speaker and author, is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. With this wide range and depth of ministry as a backdrop, Tripp is certainly one who would understand well the dangers of the pastorate. Having talked with thousands of pastors throughout the world, as well as examining his own experience, Tripp knows how easy it is to fall into various traps that can greatly diminish, or even destroy, the servant of God. He has written Dangerous Calling to warn about and evaluate those traps and prescribe a biblical solution. He calls this work a diagnostic book “written to help you take an honest look at yourself in the heart- and life-exposing mirror of the Word of God” (p. 11). More specifically Tripp says “It is 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” (p. 222).
Some of the ministerial traps that Tripp identifies and addresses include:
- Becoming professionals rather than servants (pp. 21-25).
- Defining spiritual maturity by theological knowledge, a problem often aggravated by seminaries (pp. 25, 44, 53-56, 84-85).
- Not being realistic about our own spiritual problems (pp. 33-35, 97, 199, 206).
- Attempting to serve without an adequate support base (pp. 73-82, 97).
- Not preaching the gospel to oneself (pp. 99, 136, 222).
- Losing the awe of God (pp. 113-163) and therefore ministering in fear of others (pp. 204-205).
- Becoming mediocre, especially in preaching (pp. 137-150).
- Thinking that one has arrived (pp. 151-224).
- Inadequate private devotional life (pp. 183-197).
- Envy and bitterness (p. 179).
Dangerous Calling exposes the lives and hearts of pastors in a realistic and biblical way. The delusional, false idea of pastoral life and ministry is stripped away revealing the difficulty of the work and the weaknesses of the worker. This is both helpful and disheartening as Tripp states, “There is a way in which pastoral ministry will make you either sad or delusional” (p. 208). I would hope that there is a road between these two extremes—one described as realistic, wise, grounded in Scripture, and joyful even in the midst of much sorrow. This leads to one issue I have with Dangerous Calling—it could leave the reader with a sense of despair. Tripp rightly exposes pastors’ many flaws and the dangers of ministering to people. He even offers excellent remedies, but when the dust has settled we are all still a mess (as Tripp claims he is), so where is the hope? Tripp returns repeatedly to preaching the gospel to ourselves, meaning that we live and preach the grace and glory of God rather than our own selves and efforts. This is excellent and on target, still a bit more of the joys of ministry would have been welcomed. .
Another observation is that Tripp seems to be describing mostly the pastors of large and outwardly successful ministries, rather than the average pastor. He is deeply, and rightly, concerned about ministers who have allowed their success to “go to their heads.” This is probably due to the nature of his ministry in which he speaks mostly at large churches and venues, rather than smaller works. In my experience the average pastor seldom struggles with too much success, but with lack of results and a sense of failure. The resulting reaction by both successful and (self-described) non-successful (outwardly speaking) pastors, however is the same—a tendency toward pride. In that way Dangerous Calling does speak to one of the great heart issues of pastors everywhere.
I did not particularly enjoy Tripp’s writing style in this book, which often took on a cadence form. A typical example,
“There will be moments in ministry when you will be tempted to wonder if God is near and if he cares. There will be moments when it will seem as if your prayers have gone unanswered. There will be moments of trial when it will seem as if God is absent. There will be moments when you will feel misunderstood and alone. There will be moments when it will be nearly impossible to figure out what in the world God is doing. There will be moments when you will be tempted to wonder if it’s worth it, when selling iPads doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. There will be moments when the bi-factorial pressure of ministry and family will seem too much to bear. There will be moments when it will feel as though God has given you neither the wisdom nor the strength to do what he’s called you to do. There will be moments when opposition is great and progress is scarce. There will be moments when the temptation to doubt God’s ever-present care will be great” (pp. 216-217).
This style, which is dominate throughout the volume, numbed me and I was often tempted to skip to the next paragraph.
With these relatively minor issues aside, I believe Dangerous Calling has much to say to pastors, missionaries and others in ministry. It would be a good book to read and discuss with another ministerial friend.