Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway 2012). 227 pages.
Paul Tripp is convinced there is a systemic problem with the pastoral culture. It may have its roots in the seminary culture and a system of education that turns the faith into something simply academic, it may have other roots in the way pastors view and treat themselves as believers who are somehow set apart from the normal course of discipleship that they preach to others, and it may have roots in church culture where pastors are not treated and handled as humans who need church community and the ministry of the gospel of grace. In any event Paul Tripp unpacks what has gone wrong and where we find evidence of these malfunctions in how pastors live, minister, and are viewed by the church culture.
The book is broken into three sections: Examining Pastoral Culture, The Danger of Losing Your Awe, and The Danger of Arrival. In the first the author builds a case that the dysfunctions he has seen through the years in pastoral ministry are not localized, but common among pastors, and possibly more ubiquitous than we would want to know. This section is also deeply concerned with how we have put ourselves in this situation. In the second he begins to trace a set of solutions through the need for ministers to maintain a deep and sincere sense of the greatness of God. We are not the all-in-all that God uses to minister the gospel. That would be him. In the third section he addresses the problem of pastors losing sight of who they are as sinners in need of grace under the rule and goodness of God. Our positions often lend themselves to heady successes or life-destroying failures. In each and every case, the pastor is a sinner saved by grace and in need of pastoral direction themselves.
I found many of Tripp's ideas and prescriptions helpful, and the kinds of things I hope I will come back to over the years of ministry God may grant me. I also saw myself and pastor friends in the sad stories he relates detailing where ministry can take its toll in life, family, and devotion. Beyond a simple exposition of what has gone wrong, Tripp's pastoral heart is exposed as he reveals things about his own short-comings, and spends a great deal of time offering solutions to the problems.
Pastors are not above being ministered to by the gospel they preach. They are not necessarily recipients of the truths they try to impart just because they work on it from week to week and deliver successful sermons. They are people who need to sit under their own preaching, have circles of people they trust who can do the hard work of pastoring them, and they need the right kind of open community of friends that a congregation provides. That last thought struck me as especially significant. We have created an atmosphere between pastors and churches where there is a manufactured disconnect between the two, which easily leads to short-term ministries and unrealistic expectations. Maybe a bumper sticker is in order, "Pastors are people, too."
This would be a great addition to the pastor's shelf to be pulled out in times of personal burn-out or distress, or in a season where a pastor needs to remind themselves of what makes for a healthy and long-term life of ministry. It would be helpful for boards and elders to read. In it they will find an honest exposure of a pastor's heart and life and find ways to be a significant support to them, and in turn, to the congregation they serve.
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