This book is written to confront the unhealthy shape of pastoral ministry when the preacher’s outer life does not match his inner life because he is not living by the grace he preaches to others. The danger this poses is heart-rendingly described by stories Tripp tells, beginning with his own. What’s frightening is that the disconnect between the public persona and the private man is widespread and so hard to spot. It makes me ask, ‘am I a different man in public and in private?’. (The answers my wife gave were encouraging and at the same time unexpected. You should try asking your wife the same question).
The clear signs of living in this danger zone, explored in following chapters, are to
- Let ministry define identity: “My faith had become a professional calling” (22).
- Let biblical and theological literacy define or substitute for maturity
- Confuse success with God’s endorsement of a lifestyle.
Brokenness that has been healed by the Gospel is a great asset here:
You are most loving, patient, kind, and gracious when you are aware that there is no truth that you could give to another that you don’t desperately need yourself. You are most humble and gentle when you think the person you are ministering to is more like you than unlike you.(Tripp, Dangerous Calling, p. 23)
Worship requires change
Ministry, including preaching, must have change as its goal and not mere knowledge:
The content and theology of the word of God is not an end in itself but must be viewed as a means to an end. The intended end of this content is God-honoring, life-shaping worship. … When the Word of God, faithfully taught by the people of God and empowered by the Spirit of God, falls down, people become different. Lusting people become pure, fearful people become courageous, thieves become givers, demanding people become servants, angry people become peacemakers, complainers become thankful, and idolaters come joyfully to worship the one true God. (Ibid., p. 51)
Pastors need friends in Church
In his own words:
Is it biblical to tell pastors that they won’t be able to be friends with anyone, that they must live in an isolation that we would say is unhealthy for anyone else? (69)
How can we realistically expect someone in the middle of the sanctification process to live outside of one of God’s most important means of personal insight and growth and be spiritually healthy at the same time? (Ibid., p. 78)
[The pastor] is a member of the body of Christ who himself desperately needs the ministry of the very body he has been called to train and lead. (89)
This takes us on to the church which needs to be an ‘intrusive, Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive community’ (84).
Ministry is war!
Pastoral ministry is a war, and the war is waged within the pastor’s heart:
Pastoral ministry is always shaped by a war between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God, which is fought on the field of your heart. The reason this war is so dangerous and deceptive is that you build both kingdoms in ministry by doing ministry!(Ibid., p. 98)
In Part 2, Tripp explores the different dangers:
- Familiarity that leads to a loss of awe
- Dirty Secrets by which he means fear which can only be conquered by a greater fear:
It is only when God looms larger than anything you are facing that you can be protected and practically freed from the fear that either paralyzes you or causes you to make foolish decisions. (Ibid., p. 129)
- Mediocrity and specifically lack of preparation:
[Preaching] is bringing the transforming truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ from a passage that has been properly understood, cogently and practically applied, and delivered with the engaging tenderness and passion of a person who has been broken and restored by the very truths he stands up to communicate. You simply cannot do this without proper preparation, meditation, confession, and worship. (Ibid., p. 145)
- Self Glory
- Neglecting to feed oneself: “You have forgotten your dual identity when you forget that in addition to be an instrument of the work, you are also a recipient of it.” (193).
Tripp is persuasive and clear, and his remarks are pertinent to the pastoral situation. All this is about rebuilding spiritually healthy ministry which has integrity – which is God’s desire for our lives and our churches.
It is now clear to me that some of the most significant periods of ministry hardship were God-sent to pry the grip of my hands off my ministry…they were to tools God employed to rescue my ministry and to recapture my heart. (Ibid., p. 215)
Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling First ed. ivp, 2012.