In November 2015, I fatefully met up with a friend who, until recently, was an associate pastor. He suggested that I read the book ‘Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry’ by Paul David Tripp. It has honestly revolutionised the way I have been thinking about ministry and how to keep myself, as a pastor AND as a son of God, refreshed in my calling. I have noticed in the short 10 months that I have been pastor that stewarding a church – even a small one – can be quite stressful. That can happen because pastors can get caught up worrying about where the money’s going to come from (particularly where congregational size is small and their financial contributions are commensurate to their size!) and it feels like the future of the church – and, well, everything – is on their shoulders. Many pastors question their calling as a result, and being a pastor ends up being all about pumping out good sermons like a vending machine pushing out sodas.
Many pastors, sadly, end up seeing it as their role to keep the church going (even though it really is God’s) and as they do so they end up bitter, angry, resentful, and jealous of others. As such, they don’t look after their own bodies, they disengage from their wives and children, eschew accountability and friendship with others, become harsh to people in their churches, and end up with no devotional life whatsoever. They assume they have arrived at the place where they think they no longer need God’s grace – that, they may assume – is for non-believers and apostate Christians, but not them. This can eventually have them being addicted and even acting on those addictions, which can cost them their position and even their legal freedom.
This book by Paul Tripp is such an invaluable one to get through. It’s only 224 pages, although it is not an easy read – it will bring up every painful thing that pastors may be running away from and unwilling to face. But it’s what EVERY pastor needs to hear.
“You are your 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” – p. 23.
Sadly, this is not something that Bible colleges are giving to their seminary students, most of whom end up being Theo-bots (theological robots), “the guys who see theology as an end in itself rather than as a means to an end” (p. 44), which is to glorify God in the most fitting way. This is most dangerous when a pastor is better at exegeting the biblical concept of grace than he is in showing it. Indeed, knowing about God is insufficient compared to knowing God and being known by Him – and yet many pastors amble through their ministries trying to do just that. Message: change begins with us pastors. If we won’t demonstrate change, then we have no place preaching on it.
If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land – 2 Chronicles 7:14
Tripp’s book is immensely practical without being over-prescriptive. I cannot recommend it enough to other pastors and even to those supporting their pastors, like elders and deacons. Be asking your pastor and pastoral applicants the hard questions to ensure he will last the distance and not find out that he can’t when it’s almost too late. This book really has saved my heart from a lot of self-pitying sorrow since reading it, and it will do a good work in setting pastors free from brittle condescension and performance-based assessment. It will help you to remember 1 Peter 5:6-8,10-11:
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.