In light of the fall of man and the pursuit of God’s redemption through Jesus, John Piper expressed that “life is war.” Battles within this war occur every day. No believer gains immunity from this war, or the battles within. In fact, everyone finds his or herself on the front lines—including pastors. As a result, pastors must not forget that pastoral ministry is one of the many fields of battle that this war for the heart and allegiance to Christ is waged. And it is the battlefield of pastoral ministry that Paul Tripp candidly discusses in his work, Dangerous Calling. In bringing awareness to this battlefield, Tripp writes to confront a complacent, comfortable, mediocre, mechanical, and lethargic pastoral culture that seems to have forgotten to apply (to themselves) the same gospel they preach to others, and to call pastors to “humble self-reflection and change.”
Being in vocational ministry for over thirteen years, I found this book extremely beneficial, in that God used it to bring both conviction and encouragement in my life. The following are five principles that I gleaned from Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.
1) Pastors are not perfect, even if they think or the church thinks they should be
I understand the catch-22 pastors face in this area. On one hand, pastors intuitively know they are not perfect (or I hope they do). Theologically they know they are sinners by nature and are undergoing the same sanctification process as other believers. However, on the other hand, there are some church members that do not tolerate the imperfection of their pastors. It seems that some place the pastor—whether intentionally or unintentionally—on a pedestal to the point they think that spiritual maturity means refraining from public blemishes. As a result, practically speaking, they may try to cover up or hide as much of their blemishes and imperfections as they can. In a surgical way, Tripp isolates this tendency, exposes it, and encourages pastors to be real and authentic about who they really are—a sinner who is as much in need for (daily) grace as the people to whom they preach.
2) Pastors need pastoring
Given the fact that pastors find themselves on the journey of sanctification means that they need pastoring just as much as their congregants. While I have been taught the need for someone to pour into pastors, and while I have mentors in my life as well as someone who I would consider my pastor, I have not specifically thought of nor practiced the concept of having someone consistently pastor and shepherd me. Tripp addresses this concept and drives it home. Since the pastor has not arrived, he too is in need to be pastored just as much as those he oversees. In other words, as Tripp understands, spiritual maturity is not the abstention of being led, but the acceptance of it. But who plays this role in pastoring the pastor? According to Tripp, it can be a variety of people from a leadership body, another pastor, or a counselor. The important point is not who does it, but that it is done.
3) Pastors need to be aware of the bifurcation of their personal lives and their public ministry
Those in ministry have the tendency to view their personal lives as an isolated island, and their public ministry as the inland. In order to go to work, public ministry, they take a ferry leaving their private life behind. The separation of a pastor’s private life from their public life can easily happen because the personal lives of pastors are messy and broken. As a result they attempt to separate their personal lives from the realm of public ministry. However, as Tripp argues, regardless of how hard a pastor tries to keep their private life from invading their public ministry, it cannot be done. The two are inextricably linked. Therefore, the health of the pastor’s personal life will aid in a healthier public ministry, and vice versa, the unhealthiness of the pastor’s personal life will lead to an unhealthy public ministry (even though it may seem the public ministry is successful).
In order to prevent this separation, pastors need to embrace authenticity and humility. Authenticity is being who you are, which is the opposite of hypocrisy— masquerading around as someone you are not. Humility forms the base for pastors to be authentic and whole because they realize they, too, are still broken and in need of a daily dose of the gospel. As a result of embracing humility and authenticity, pastors do not have to be afraid (or at least shouldn’t have to be afraid) of being real and authentic—letting down their prideful guard—sharing their struggles and how they are daily dependent and desperate for the same gospel they declare to others.
4) Pastors need to minister from the gospel, not only for the gospel
Identity should come from the gospel, not from the ministry of the gospel. Although it is a slight word change, the meaning and understanding is vitally important. It is easy to get in the habit of viewing gospel ministry as being done for the gospel. [And to a certain degree gospel ministry is done for the advancement of the gospel.] However, gospel ministry should primarily be done from the gospel. In other words, the most effective gospel ministries will be enacted from a heart that has been and is constantly being shaped by the gospel. The proclivity, however, in gospel ministry is that although a heart has been once shaped by the gospel, because of the busyness of ministry and even [the busyness of] personal life, the pastor’s heart tends to minister for the gospel rather than from the gospel.
Given this tendency, Tripp attempts to paint the picture that a ministry that operates “for” the gospel eventually turns a passionate, zealous, and grateful ministry or minister into a dry, complacent, comfortable, callous, lethargic, and apathetic one. Therefore, pastors must discipline themselves to apply a daily dose of the gospel to their own lives. In living “from” the gospel, one’s passion, zeal, and gratefulness is stirred “for” the gospel. Just imagine what kind of gospel-centric culture would be created if pastor’s not only had an intellectual ascent to the gospel, but a personal, daily, experiential, passionate, intimate, and transformational engagement with the gospel—one that flowed from them into their ministry. Talk about churches becoming more vibrant, reproducing, grace-oriented, and gospel-centered.
5) Pastors are not just a vehicle of Christ’s amazing grace, but also a recipient
The previous point leads to this point. A pastor’s ministry is not solely a vehicle of Christ’s ministry and mission, but is also a recipient. If pastors come to view themselves as first a vehicle of Christ’s ministry rather than a recipient, it will lead to a “puffed up” pride. They will wear a Sadducee(an) chip on their shoulder, walk around with a Pharisaic religious and moral pride, and possess a sort of vicious Zealot(istic) aura that views themselves as head and shoulders above others. While it is certainly true that pastors (and the church as a whole) are vehicles of Christ’s amazing grace, it’s paramount they realize they first are recipients. Living from the reception of grace makes the vehicle more potent, impactful, and plausible.
The quintessential need for pastors to embrace and apply personally the same gospel they preach is the common theme throughout Dangerous Calling. Summarizing his book, Tripp writes that Dangerous Calling is “a detailed exposition of what happens in the life of a person in ministry when he forgets to preach to himself the same gospel he preaches to others” (224).
In closing, how can pastors call their fold to do something they themselves are not practicing? Truthfully, it would be, and is, extremely difficult. Maybe that is why many churches find themselves consisting of “knowledgeable” people who can verbalize the gospel, but have a difficult time practicing the personal, internal (inside the church), and external (outside the church) implications of the gospel. As Jarrod Wilson expresses in his book, Pastoral Justification, the judgment of God begins with the household of God, which begins with the leaders. Therefore, if we want churches full of people who not only “know” and can regurgitate gospel lingo, but full of people who passionately know, embrace, embody, enact, and apply the gospel in all areas of their lives, churches must be led by leaders who model this.