Review: Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry

by Dec 13, 2012Books, ChurchLife, Preaching3 comments

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral MinistryDangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book for pastors (I’m sort of a pastor). I really did. It’s an excellent book. But it gets three stars because, searching my heart of hearts, I can’t honestly say—as Goodreads requires for four stars—that I “really liked” it. I also can’t call it “amazing” (five stars). I felt like Tripp kept saying the same thing over and over. That thing was a good thing. A very good thing. But I got a little tired of it… I also (all criticisms are coming in the first paragraph—sorry) couldn’t help but wonder how this book will sound when “gospel-centeredness” marks books for their early 2010’s origin as suredly as “The New Age” marks books for their 80s (was it? I can’t remember) origin. I’m gospel-centered, but it has become the new auto-pilot for Christian writing. Let’s all just agree to stop.

All criticisms done. Back to this (otherwise) excellent book.

I mostly listened to this book, and I mostly did it in circumstances which did not allow for easy note-taking (i.e., driving). So let me offer a different kind of book “review” from my usual. These are the thoughts that stuck with me after reading the book:

  • There is a crisis in American pastoral culture.
  • Every pastor is in the process of sanctification just like his people and needs the ministry of the body just like his people.
  • Don’t prep to preach on Saturday. Let the text marinate for several weeks instead.
  • A pastor who says yes to too much is guilty of simple pride: you think you are necessary; you think you can do it all.
  • A pastor is meant to be a glory advertiser calling others to the glories of Christ, not to his own glories.
  • Pastors are ambassadors for the king, not kings themselves setting up their own kingdoms.
  • A lot of pastors are blind to the failure of their own spiritual growth. (Their wives probably aren’t.)
  • We all have to be desperate for grace, even and especially as pastors.
  • Don’t pick up the Bible in order to prepare good meals for others without picking it up to nourish your own soul.
  • Don’t be driven by a desire for theological expertise and biblical knowledge more than a desire for the God of the Word.
  • Don’t pastor as one who has “arrived,” but as one who still personally needs grace.
  • Listen to your wife, you idiot. (Tripp didn’t use the word “idiot” that I can recall; that was my gloss.)

Tripp made the best case I know of for two things I’ve commonly heard older pastors deliver advice on:

  1. A pastor’s sermon preparation and his personal devotions must be kept separate.
  2. A pastor and his people must not be kept separate.

The first of these is stated a bit more baldly than Tripp ever stated it. His argument is really more that preaching ought to flow out of personal feeding on the words of God. So I perhaps should have added the word “conceptually” at the end.

But the second statement is, I think, accurate. A pastor needs the ministry of the body and should seek and develop friendships among that body (perhaps especially among the leaders?). I’ve definitely heard pastors say the opposite on this. And perhaps there are other ways to have close friendships with Christian men who can provoke you to love and good works. But I lean toward Tripp on this and plan to do what he recommends.

A small note: I appreciate it that Tripp did not tell any stories (I can recall) of adulterous moral failure. We all know that happens among pastors, too. But it was nice to read stories in which the pastor realizes his error, repents, and by God’s grace changes. That, in fact, is Tripp’s own story.

I was stirred, challenged, and convicted by this book. May God give me grace to obey the scriptural truths expounded in it.

Thanks to Crossway Publishing, NetGalley, and Christian Audio for two complementary copies of this book for reviewing purposes. I wasn’t, quite obviously, required to say anything nice.

View all my reviews

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  1. dcsj

    I felt like Tripp kept saying the same thing over and over.

    This is a huge failing of many “preacher books” in general, and, in my experience, many of Tripp’s books. It seems to me that he really has enough material for a chapter or two, but the publisher wants a book (to trade off his name?) so out comes a book.

    And on this particular point:

    Don’t prep to preach on Saturday. Let the text marinate for several weeks instead.

    Right. Nice work if you can get it. Most pastors are an army of one. They don’t have a staff. They have precious few men in the church to carry administrative burdens.

    I am reminded of a comment by beloved professor (and Dr Minnick’s mentor), Dr. Rupp, when he had recommended a minimum of 20 hours of study for every sermon. One of my classmates asked something like this: “When you are preaching three to four times a week, working daily with people, administering the day to day needs of the church, how are you going to fit in the time to give 20 hours to each sermon?” Dr. Rupp paused, then said, “Well, at least give 20 hours to one sermon a week.”

    Sometimes advice to preachers is much more idealistic than realistic.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      I have nearly no authority to speak on that last point, but what you say sounds right. However, I do think I could do well to look at my texts a little further in advance. I’m not a full-time pastor.

  2. dcsj

    No doubt it is good advice. I have a goal of actually writing all my messages on the Monday preceding the Sunday they are preached. I sometimes realize this goal. I am much more confident in preaching them (not sure if my messages are better – hard to be objective).

    But reality is that I don’t often achieve this goal. Too many responsibilities crowd out the time.

    When I am in an extended series, I do try to be several weeks ahead of myself in the passage, but that doesn’t mean that I have sermons written before Saturday night.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3