I recently read Paul David Tripp’s book, Dangerous Calling. This book is essential reading for vocational ministers and helpful reading for anyone who serves in ministry. Here are five lessons I took away from my reading.
Pastors must beware of mastering theology without experiencing transformation. Tripp says “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” (42). Developing the personal discipline of worship and devotional Scripture reading is necessary to avoid becoming all head and no heart.
Pastors must beware the danger of living two separate lives: one life in the ministry and another life at home. Tripp offers five practical suggestions later in the book for “closing the separation gap.” Tripp instructs to “sit under your own teaching and preaching”, “confess publicly to your own struggle”, “place yourself under wise and biblical counsel”, “be approachable to your friends and family”, and “build a humbly candid leadership community” (209-212). While every pastor and leader will fall short of the very standard they proclaim occasionally, this type of lifestyle can never be tolerated by a Christian leader.
A pastor’s ministry is shaped by the condition of his heart. While training, knowledge, and experience all are significant factors which shape one’s ministry, Tripp correctly observes that “The heart is the inescapable X factor in ministry” (68). It is easy to measure ministry by metrics which ignore the heart condition of the minister, and we do this too often. This truth correlates with the essential oneness of the pastor. Tripp says, “You are one person. The boundaries of life and ministry are not separate and defined. You do not become a different person when you step into some kind of ministry function. You and I are each in possession of only one heart, so the condition of our heart is a huge issue in our ministry. I know this seems blatantly obvious, but I’m afraid it is not so functionally obvious in our churches” (188). The realization that all ministry is essentially the outflow of my personal spiritual condition is a sobering fact, and one that drives me to pursue holiness and devotion to God.
Whatever motivations or “treasures” the pastor has will determine his ministry. Tripp states that our ministries are shaped by our treasures, or motivations. If we treasure the wrong things, we will lead our ministries incorrectly. “Things like appreciation, reputation, success, power, comfort, and control become all too important. Because they are too important to me, they begin to shape the way I think about ministry, the things I want out of my ministry, and the things I do in ministry” (99). Tripp further states that “your ministry will always be either propelled by or victimized by what you treasure” (103).
The pastor’s ministry will be opposed by the forces of Satan. This seems like a simple and fundamental truth that does not need repeating, but we often conduct our ministries as though we are in a neutral playing field. Tripp says, “It’s sad and dangerous, but it’s true that many of us have taken on a functionally unspiritual view of our ministries… There is a devouring Devil. You need to be serious and watchful.” (218-219). Sometimes we minister as though we are merely working with human factors and realities. This can lead to undue frustration when things do not go as we want them to go. We need to realize that God has given us a divine task that will be opposed by Satan. We should expect opposition and hardship.
I highly recommend Dangerous Calling if you are currently involved in ministry or are seeking to enter the ministry. Tripp highlights several danger zones that can destroy a ministry or even worse, destroy a home.