Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp made a number of top-10 lists last year. I have read several of his other books and they have been excellent. One, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, is among the five best books I’ve ever read. After reading Dangerous Calling it is easy to see why so many people included it on their 2012 lists. It is that good.
Dangerous Calling is written primarily to pastors and those who either live with or lead ministry among them. It is meant to warn and encourage pastors of the hazards of their profession. It is a topic of which Tripp knows well, from his own experience in pastoral ministry and his current work, which includes consulting with churches and pastors on ministry leadership.
He divides the book into three parts. The first addresses the culture in which pastors are formed and live. This includes a critique of the weaknesses of many seminaries in the formation of pastoral identity and the pitfalls awaiting these new pastors as they move into their congregations.
Parts Two and Three are the Danger of Losing Your Awe (Forgetting Who God Is), and The Danger of Arrival (Forgetting Who You Are). In these two parts of the book Tripp gets to the heart of the dangers of pastoral ministry, dangers that all too often result in someone who is called to ministry becoming someone who is just doing a job rather than in living in service to the Lord God Almighty. He shows how easy it is for a pastor to slide in either the direction of living as if God is not God, or living as if the pastor is functionally God.
Tripp is no ministry idealist, with the mistaken belief that every pastor is capable of always ministering perfectly. Much like the central thesis of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, that imperfect and broken people are active in the healing of imperfect and broken people, he knows that while all Christians are being shaped in the image of Christ they will never fully achieve that image in this life. Time-and-again he uses examples from his own ministry and the churches and pastors he has consulted among to show that all pastors are just like the people in their congregations, equally in need of hearing anew the same Gospel they are preaching.
In his closing thoughts Tripp writes this: “It is in the moments of hardship when what God is doing doesn't make any sense that it is all the more important to preach to ourselves the gospel of his unshakable, unrelenting, ever-present care. He is actively caring for you and me even in those moments when we don't understand his care and can't figure out what he is doing." (217)
Pastoral ministry is dangerous work, strewn with hazards that can adversely affect the pastor, their family and the congregation. In Dangerous Calling Tripp has written an excellent book to help pastors stay on track in the places where God has called them to serve, for the sake of God’s kingdom and the magnification of God’s glory.