I read a lot of books. Some of those books are fine, but when I get a chance I trade them in at a local used book store, knowing that I will never read them again. Others are better and are books I want in my library because they will be a valuable reference to me. Still others reach a higher plane, becoming books that I know I need to pull off my shelves every few years and read again. Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp is one of those books.
I will admit, I was not keen on reading this book at first. While I have been impacted by Dr. Tripp’s writing and speaking over the years, I was not sure I wanted to read another book on ministry. But when a friend suggested we read it together, I agreed and I was so glad I did.
The title of the book – Dangerous Calling – and the graphics suggesting warning and danger on the cover of the book led me to believe that this was a book about the outside pressures, temptations and dangers that confront pastoral ministry. I was wrong. Rather, the emphasis of this book is internal. Dr. Tripp forces the reader to focus on the attitudes, the assumptions and the motivations that all too often guide, and misguide the average pastor.
There are two themes that can be found throughout the book. The first is a negative one – Dr. Tripp is persistent in giving us a glimpse of the dark underbelly of pastoral ministry. What does it look like when a pastor has theological knowledge but lacks a heart for God? What happens when a pastor divorces himself from the church community? What occurs when the minister does not recognize that the calling they have is a calling to a spiritual battle, a war? What is the result when a pastor is motivated by pride or a sense of arrival? What goes wrong when we settle for mediocrity in preaching or seek our own glory rather than God’s? Over and over again, I found myself searching my own soul, as the words and the personal testimonies of this book revealed my own struggles, my own temptations, my own personal ugliness. It was not a pleasant experience.
At the same time, another theme persists in the book. Without this theme, Dangerous Calling would likely be the most depressing book I have ever read. This positive theme is found in a simple statement – pastors need the truths of the gospel as much as anyone else. You see, the key to solving all the struggles inherent in pastoral cultural and all the temptations that come upon a sinful person in church leadership is found in the gospel. The gospel reminds us that our value comes from God, freeing us from feelings of unworthiness. At the same time, it reminds us also that everything in our lives comes from God, freeing us from pride. The gospel tells us that all glory belongs to God, not us. The gospel reminds us that we are sinners, but also has the solution to our sin. The gospel is about grace and transformation, enabling a flawed instrument to be used by God. The gospel reminds us of God’s profound and loving care for us. I could go on and on. Every ailment in the heart of a pastor can be solved by honestly and carefully preaching the gospel to himself before he preaches it to his congregation. We can never think we are above the basic truths of the gospel, or begin to believe that they are applicable to the flock but not the shepherd.
So if you are in ministry, read this book. It will hurt, but the gospel truths in it can heal. If you are not a pastor, prayerfully read this book yourself and then pass it on to your pastor and perhaps your church leadership. Pastors are involved in a dangerous calling. Let’s make sure they are strengthened by and equipped with God’s truth in the midst of it. Anything less will spell disaster.