Saturday (On Sunday) Afternoon Book Review: Dangerous Calling

I just finished reading Paul David Tripp’s new book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (kindle version). Normally I publish my book reviews on Saturday afternoon, but this one seemed appropriate for a Sunday. On Sunday afternoons, pastors are spent. They are tired physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. They have very little left to give. In that moment, they have many doubts. Fears, emotions and temptations pop up that have been quiet for possibly years. Tripp’s latest book is a way to help pastors with that. A way to help them proclaim the gospel to their own hearts, the same gospel they proclaim every week to their church’s.

For me, I found this book to be incredibly helpful and challenging.

You can read the introduction and first chapter here.

I found Tripp’s book to be incredibly insightful and helpful into what it is like to be a pastor, the unhealthiness that has been created in many church cultures, the dichotomy many pastor’s have between their private life and public life, and how the gospel brings change to those areas. Tripp said, “The biggest battles of pastoral ministry are fought on the turf of the pastor’s own heart.”

He goes on:

The fundamental battle of pastoral ministry is not with the shifting values of the surrounding culture. It is not the struggle with resistant people who don’t seem to esteem the gospel. It is not the fight for the success of the ministries of the church. And it is not the constant struggle of resources and personnel to accomplish the mission. No, the war of the pastorate is a deeply personal war. It is fought on the ground of the pastor’s heart. It is a war of values, allegiances, and motivations. It is about subtle desires and foundational dreams. This war is the greatest threat to every pastor. Yet it is a war that we often naively ignore or quickly forget in the busyness of local-church ministry.

This dichotomy happens in two places, usually simultaneously. It happens in the pastor’s heart and life as he believes he must act a certain way, keeping his struggles hidden from community, never showing his hurt, pain or his need for grace. Always having the right answer, always acting put together, always seeming like everything is okay instead of a broken person in daily need of the gospel. It also happens in the minds of people who attend a church. Their expectation for their pastor to never sin, to be perfect, to always be put together, to live the life they would like to live but can’t measure up to.

Both of these expectations are impossible, which leads to disillusionment, hurt and ultimately, a lack of community and a move of the gospel in that community.

That’s why I think Tripp’s book is incredibly helpful and needed.

Here are a few things that jumped out to me:

  • No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.
  • You are constantly preaching to yourself some kind of gospel. You preach to yourself an anti-gospel of your own righteousness, power, and wisdom, or you preach to yourself the true gospel of deep spiritual need and sufficient grace. You preach to yourself an anti-gospel of aloneness and inability, or you preach to yourself the true gospel of the presence, provisions, and power of an ever-present Christ.
  • Human beings are always assigning to themselves some kind of identity. There are only two places to look. Either you will be getting your identity vertically, from who you are in Christ, or you will be shopping for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life.
  • Bad things happen when maturity is more defined by knowing than it is by being. Danger is afloat when you come to love the ideas more than the God whom they represent and the people they are meant to free.
  • The biggest battles of pastoral ministry are fought on the turf of the pastor’s heart.
  • The big crisis for the church of Jesus Christ is not that we are easily dissatisfied but that we are all too easily satisfied.
  • Pastor’s ministry is never just shaped by his knowledge, experience, and skill. It is always also shaped by the true condition of his heart.
  • Leadership fruitfulness or failure is seldom only about knowledge, strategy, skill or experience.
  • No one gives grace better than a person who knows he desperately needs it himself.
  • One of the most powerful components of spiritual blindness is self-deception. There is no one we swindle more than we swindle ourselves. There is no one we run to defend more than we do ourselves.
  • Many churches simply don’t expect their pastor to struggle with sin.
  • We should care about, pray for, and do all we can to work toward the constant, progressive spiritual growth of our pastors. We should not assume that it is taking place.
  • Sin inserts me into the middle of my universe, the one place reserved for God and God alone.
  • Pastor, no one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one else talks to you more. The things you say to yourself about God, you, ministry, and others are profoundly important, shaping your participation in and experience of ministry. My experience with hundreds of pastors is that many sadly function in a regular state of gospel amnesia. They forget to preach privately to themselves the gospel that they declare publicly to others.
  • The gospel declares that there is nothing that could ever be uncovered about you and me that hasn’t already been covered by the grace of Jesus.
  • Worship isn’t first an activity; worship is first our identity.
  • Could it be that many of the stressed of ministry are the result of us seeking to get things out of ministry that it will never deliver?
  • Once something is our treasure, it will command our desires and shape our behavior.
  • When awe for God is absent, it is quickly replaced by awe of ourselves.
  • The standards you set for yourself and you ministry are directly related to your view of God.
  • If your heart is in functional awe of the glory of God, then there will be no place in your heart for poorly prepared, badly delivered, functional pastoral mediocrity.
  • Preaching is not just about “this is what this means”; it is also about “this is what it means to live in light of what this means.”
  • If you are developing original content for your sermon late on Saturday evening, you have no business preaching it on Sunday.

If you are pastor, this is a book you need to read to apply the gospel to your own heart and the brokenness you experience, but often hide.

4 thoughts on “Saturday (On Sunday) Afternoon Book Review: Dangerous Calling

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  2. Josh

    Dangerous Calling? Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry?

    1 – Is it possible the reason “Burnout,” “Depression,” “Finishing Poorly,”
    is such a problem for today’s “Pastor/Leader/Reverend” is…

    They have found themselves with a “Title/Position” – “Pastor/Leader/Reverend.”
    That is – NOT – found in the Bible? (Non- biblical, Extra-biblical, Anti-biblical?)

    2 – Another possible reason for “Burnout,” “Depression,” “Finishing Poorly,” is…
    “Pastor/Leader/Reverends” also refer to themselves as “Elder/Overseers.” And…
    “Elder/Overseers” have some very tuff “Qualifications” to live up to.
    (1. Must be Blameless. 2. Holy? 3. Just? 4. Rule well their own house? etc.)

    80% of pastor spouses wish they would choose a different profession.
    80% of pastors say pastoral ministry is harmful to their family.
    77% say they do NOT have a good marriage.

    Isn’t that at least 77%-80% of pastors who do NOT “Rule well their own house?”

    For if a man know not how to rule his own house,
    how shall he take care of the church of God? – 1 Tim 3:5

    And, When these “Elder/Overseers” know in their heart they do NOT meet
    these tuff “Qualifications” the guilt and shame cause fear, anxiety, depression.
    NOT good for “Spiritual” health, “Physical” health, Or your “Families” health.

    3 – And the “Pastor/Leader/Reverend” is taught, by example, in seminary…
    The “Pastor/Leader/Reverend” is a Special Class of Christian – Clergy Class.
    And “separate themselves” from the rest of the body of Christ.

    And – Is the “Clergy-Laity” Divide in the Bible? I can’t seem to find it.

    70% Of “Pastor/Leader/Reverends” say they do NOT have a close friend. 😦
    77% Say they do NOT have a good marriage. 😦

    Yes – a very Dangerous Calling and lonely profession indeed. 😦

    Maybe that is why – In the Bible…
    NOT one of His Disciples had the “Title/Position” – “Pastor/Leader/Reverend?”

    • Amos,
      Great points and I know those stats well. There are a lot of things we’ve placed on pastors or pastors have placed on themselves that is not in the bible, that’s part of what is unhealthy with it and a lot of what the book is about.

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