God may use this book to save your life. Perhaps you’ve already read something like this in another review; I certainly have, and in more than one review! The thing is, though, I can’t avoid the potential redundancy in reiterating this important fact: Dangerous Calling could save your life.
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
— 1 Timothy 4:16
These words are from 1 Timothy, one of Paul’s ‘pastoral epistles’, and as such, they are especially applicable to a pastor or someone in pastoral ministry. According to Paul Tripp, pastoral ministry is a dangerous calling. Why is this?
The enemy is eager to kill pastors and thereby also kill those they are called to serve. Tripp is especially equipped to address this issue since he had gone through a pastoral crisis himself and has since advised others going through the same experience. As such, Tripp’s book is full of personal stories that drive his points home. This keeps the book from being too academic and clinical. Tripp is anything but distant, he speaks directly to the pastor and probes his heart.
Following Tripp’s three-part outline for the book, he presents the dangers to pastors in the following areas:
- The broader pastoral culture (chapters 1-7)
- Pastors losing their awe (chapters 8-11)
- Pastors feeling that they have arrived (chapters 12-15)
I won’t summarize Tripp’s chapters, but I will offer a few thoughts from the book.
First, the expectations placed upon pastors are addressed. His concerns here are particularly towards churches that seek to hire a pastor externally, but others could still receive his cautions. Tripp is concerned that many, if not most, churches look for certain criteria such as the education, theology, and charisma of a pastor but don’t recognize the need for them to probe any deeper into his life and family. Unfortunately those areas are the most ‘dangerous’ for pastors. Our pastoral culture also expects (even encourages) pastors to avoid being part of their own church community, and be closed to their own struggles and need for grace. This results in a pastor forgetting that he is a “man in the middle of his own sanctification”, and thereby missing out on “the normal range of the essential ministry of the body of Christ that God has ordained for every member of the church to receive” (p66).
Second, Tripp addresses the pastor more directly in chapters 8-11 by exhorting him not to forget the gospel and lose his awe in God: “when you forget the gospel, you begin to seek from the situations, locations, and relationships of ministry what you have already been given in Christ” (p99). The pastor must not read the Word only with questions of how this can be applied to his congregation!
Thirdly, the pastor must not ever believe he has arrived. The pastor is in desperate need of grace and the gospel being applied to himself. “Perhaps there is nothing more important in ministry than knowing your place” (p218). To guard themselves pastors must be open and humble.
Though I am not a pastor, I am constantly placed in pastoral situations. I interact with students on a daily basis, students who are from different situations and are all in the middle of their own sanctification. I wanted to read this book to be aware of the dangers that apply even in my situation, and thereby better guard my heart. This book is especially suited for pastors, but Tripp often addresses a potential congregant who is reading the book also. Tripp recognizes that for the pastoral culture to change his message must be heard by more than just pastors!
Perhaps my only criticism of the book is Tripp’s habit of repetitive sentences for rhetorical effect. Let me give you an example:
“We talk about the beauty of forgiveness yet harbor bitterness against families or leaders that have opposed us. We are capable of talking about God’s ownership of every area of our lives and then masturbate in the bath- room before we go to bed. We talk of the rest we have in God’s control and then anxiously work politically behind the scenes to ensure that we get our own way. We talk of giving God the glory that is his due, and then we fudge the numbers to make our ministries look more successful in the eyes of others than they actually are. We talk of trusting God’s provision but then get ourselves in debt by spending more than he has provided…”
— p201, emphasis added by me.
This sort of repetitive paragraph happens very frequently, sometimes more than once a chapter (and I didn’t even quote the above one in full)! Some will find this sort of thing adding to the rhetorical effect and effective at probing the heart, and with this I can agree. However, once I recognized the abundance of paragraphs like this, I quickly tired of them and found my eyes glazing over every time I bumped into another one. Perhaps this is just me, but this got in the way and lowered my enjoyment of the book considerably. That said, the content of this book is excellent, so I won’t dwell any more on this criticism of Tripp’s stylistic choice.
In summary, Dangerous Calling is an important book. Any and every pastor should read it for the sake of their own souls (1 Tim 4:16) and the protection of their ministry and congregations. Anyone in pastoral type ministry would easily benefit from the many insights in this book also. Even if you are not a pastor or in ministry, then I am sure you have a pastor, and you need to know how to pray and care for them. Despite my frustrations with the writing style, I can’t think of a Christian who couldn’t benefit from reading this book.