Ministry Must-Read: Paul David Tripp’s “Dangerous Calling”

imagePaul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

Last winter a friend convinced me to participate in something called “The Manly Bike Race”. It was a rogue group of mountain-biking beasts who would blaze a trail through the city across busy highways, parks, random backyards, and the occasional creek. Did I mention this was at night? And not just in the winter, but mid-rampage of Arctic-zilla 2013, with about 2-4 inches of ice on everything. Against my better judgment, and to avoid being anything but manly, I went for it. And somewhere between falling face-first into a stream and flying headlong over a stump, I was convinced that I was going to die. Yet here I am to tell the tale. Manly? Maybe. Glutton for punishment? Definitely.

So would it be too dramatic to say that a few times throughout Paul David Tripp’s Dangerous Calling I also thought I was going to die? No. In fact, I would say it was worse. While the bike race brought a few blows to  my head, Tripp was tearing out my heart Temple of Doom-style. That’s probably not the best way to start a book recommendation. But it’s real. And it comes with a plea for you to let him have a whack at your heart as well.

Tripp pulls no punches from the very beginning. Dangerous Calling has an agenda:

This is a diagnostic book. It is written to help you take an honest look at yourself in the heart- and life-exposing mirror of the Word of God— to see things that are wrong and need correcting and to help you place yourself once again under the healing and transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ (11).

It’s probably safe to say that the friend and pastor that recommended this book to me had an agenda as well. He could clearly see what I like to think I so neatly hide: I’m obsessed with myself. Yet by the end of the first chapter, I came to the simultaneously disturbing and encouraging realization that this is a book for all of us—especially those in ministry.

Tripp examines pastoral culture from multiple angles: pastor, professor, and now pastor of pastors. The stories he tells are crazy. Pride, pornography, hostility, legalism. But if we’re honest, they hit close to home. Rooted in a world where spiritual knowledge equals spiritual maturity (i.e. theological education), pastors easily lose their awe of God in light of their own “arrival” in ministry. He continues:

Tender, heartfelt worship is hard for a person who thinks of himself as having arrived. No one celebrates the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ more than the person who has embraced his desperate and daily need of it. But ministry had redefined me. In ways I now find embarrassing, it told me that I was not like everyone else, that I existed in a unique category (23).

Thus, over and over Tripp basically preaches the gospel—to preachers. And that gospel includes unique insight into the sin that so easily entangles spiritual leaders. “Public acclaim is often the seedbed for spiritual pride” (157)—BAM!  “If you think you are keeping the law, then you are comfortable with throwing the law at others” (159)—BOOM!  “Pride causes you to accept more responsibility than you can bear” (162)—OUCH!  Like I said before, it’s not a fun ride.

But every honest reproof is trumped with the corrective good news of grace upon grace. Yes, there will be blood, but you’ll be more of a man for it as Christ is formed in you. You’ll be less likely to gain the whole world only to lose your soul. Tripp describes,

In this violent mercy there is hope for every person in ministry. Your Lord is not just after the success of your ministry; he is working to dethrone you as well. It is only when his throne is more important than yours that you will find joy in the hard and humbling task of gospel ministry. And his grace will not relent until our hearts have been fully captured by his glory. Now, that’s good news! (182)

Indeed. If you feel you don’t need to read a book like this, then you definitely need to read a book like this. I need to revisit it annually.

Unlike that crazy bike race.

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