Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry

by Paul David Tripp


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Recognizing the widespread struggles facing pastors today, Tripp exposes and exhorts the cultures that train and support our church leaders so that they can lead well and our churches can be healthy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433541377
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 01/31/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 583,066
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Paul David Tripp (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor, author, and international conference speaker. He is also the president of Paul Tripp Ministries. He has written a number of popular books on Christian living, including What Did You Expect?, Suffering, Parenting, and New Morning Mercies. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Luella, and they have four grown children. For more information and resources, visit paultrippministries.org.

Read an Excerpt



I was a very angry man. The problem was that I didn't know I was an angry man. I thought that no one had a more accurate view of me than I did, and I simply didn't see myself as angry. No, I didn't think I was perfect, and, yes, I knew I needed others in my life, but I lived as though I didn't. Luella, my dear wife, was very faithful over a long period of time in bringing my anger to me. She did it with a combination of firmness and grace. She never yelled at me, she never called me names, and she never called me out in front of our children. Again and again she let me know that my anger was neither justified nor acceptable. I look back and marvel at the character she showed during those very difficult days. I found out later that Luella had already been putting together her escape plan. No, she wasn't planning to divorce me; she just knew that the cycle of anger needed to be broken so that we could be reconciled and live in the kind of relationship that God had designed marriage to be.

When Luella would approach me with yet another instance of this anger, I would always do the same thing. I would wrap my robes of righteousness around me, activate my inner lawyer, and remind her once again of what a great husband she had. I would go through my well-rehearsed and rather long list of all the things I did for her, all the ways I made her life easier. I'm a domestic guy. I don't mind doing things around the house. I love to cook. So I had a lot of things I could point to that assured me I was not the guy she was saying I was and that I hoped would convince her that she was wrong as well. But Luella wasn't convinced. She seemed more and more convinced that she was right and that change had to take place. I just wanted her to leave me alone, but she wouldn't, and frankly that made me angry.

In ways that scare me now as I look back on them, I was a man headed for disaster. I was in the middle of destroying my marriage and my ministry, and I didn't have a clue. There was a huge disconnect between my private persona and my public ministry life. The irritable and impatient man at home was a very different guy from the gracious and patient pastor our congregation saw in those public ministry and worship settings where they encountered me most. I was increasingly comfortable with things that should have haunted and convicted me. I was okay with things as they were. I felt little need for change. I just didn't see the spiritual schizophrenia that personal ministry life had become. Things would not stay the same, if for no other reason than that I was and am a son of a relentless Redeemer, who will not forsake the work of his hands until that work is complete. Little did I know that he would expose my heart in a powerful moment of rescuing grace. I was blind and progressively hardening and happily going about the work of a growing local church and Christian school.

When being confronted, I told Luella numerous times that I thought she was just a garden-variety, discontented wife. I told her that I would pray for her. That helped and comforted her! Actually, it did the opposite — it depicted two things to her. It alerted her to how blind I was, and it reminded her that she had no power whatsoever to change me. The change that was needed would take an act of grace. Luella was confronted with the fact that she would never be anything more than a tool in God's powerful hands.

But God blessed Luella with the perseverant faith that she needed to keep coming to me, often in the middle of very discouraging moments. What I am about to share next is both humbling and embarrassing. On one occasion, as Luella was confronting me with yet another instance of my anger, I got on a roll and actually said these deeply humble words: "Ninety-five percent of the women in our church would love to be married to a man like me!" How's that for humility? Luella very quickly informed me that she was in the 5 percent! How blind does one have to be to let a statement like mine roll out of one's lips? God was about to undo and rebuild the heart and life of this man, and I did not know I needed it and had no idea that it was coming.

My brother Tedd and I had been on a ministry training weekend and were on our way home. I never thought that a single trip up the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike could be so momentous. Tedd suggested that we try to make what we had learned over the weekend practical to our own lives. He said, "Why don't you start?" and then proceeded to ask me a series of questions. I think I will celebrate what happened next for ten million years into eternity. As Tedd asked me questions, it was as though God was ripping down curtains and I was seeing and hearing myself with accuracy for the first time. There is no way that I can overstate the significance of the work that the Holy Spirit was doing at that moment in the car through Tedd's questions.

As God opened my eyes in that moment, I was immediately broken and grieved. What I saw through Tedd's questions was so far from the view of myself that I had carried around for so many years that it was almost impossible to believe that the man I was now looking at and hearing was actually me. But it was. I couldn't believe what I saw myself doing and heard myself saying as I recounted scenarios in answer to Tedd's questions. It was a moment of pointed and powerful divine rescue, a bigger moment than I was able to grasp in the shock and emotion of the moment. I don't know if Tedd knew at the time how big this moment was, either.

I couldn't wait to get home and talk with Luella. I knew the insight I was being given was not just the produce of God's using Tedd's questions; it was also the result of Luella's loving but determined faithfulness for all of those trying years. I am a man with a lively sense of humor, and I often enter the house humorously, but not this night. I was in the throes of life-altering, heart-reshaping conviction. I think Luella knew right away that something was up by the way I looked. I asked her if we could sit down and talk, even though it was late. As we sat down I said, "I know you have been trying for a long time to get me to look at my anger, and I have been unwilling. I have always turned it back on you, but I can honestly say for the first time that I am ready to listen to you. I want to hear what you have to say."

I'll never forget what happened next. Luella began to cry; she told me that she loved me, and then she talked for two hours. It was in those two hours that God began the process of the radical tearing down and rebuilding of my heart. The most important word of the previous sentence is process. I wasn't zapped by lightning; I didn't instantly become an unangry man. But now I was a man with eyes, ears, and heart open. The next few months were incredibly painful. It seemed that my anger was visible everywhere I looked. At times it seemed the pain was too great to bear. That pain was the pain of grace. God was making the anger that I had denied and protected to be like vomit in my mouth. God was working to make sure that I would never go back again. I was in the middle of spiritual surgery. You see, the pain wasn't an indication that God had withdrawn his love and grace from me. No, the opposite was true. The pain was a clear indication of God's lavishing his love and grace on me. In this trial of conviction, I was getting what I had so often prayed for — the salvation (sanctification) of my soul.

I will never forget one particular moment that took place months after that night of conviction and rescue. I was coming down the stairs into our living room, and I saw Luella sitting with her back to me. And as I looked at her, it hit me that I couldn't remember the last time I had felt that old ugly anger toward her. Now, I want to be candid here. I'm not saying that I had risen to a point in my sanctification where I found it impossible to experience a flash of impatience or irritation; but that that old, life-dominating anger was gone. Praise God! I walked up behind Luella and put my hands on her shoulders, and she put her head back and looked up at me, and I said to her, "You know, I'm not angry at you anymore." Together we laughed and cried at the same time at the beauty of what God had done.


I wish I could say that my pastoral experience is unique, but I have come to learn in my ministry travels to hundreds of churches around the world that, sadly, it is not. Sure, the details are unique, but the same disconnect between the public pastoral persona and the private man is there in many, many pastors' lives. I have heard so many stories containing so many confessions that I have carried with me grief and concern about the state of pastoral culture in our generation. It is the burden of this concern, coupled with my knowledge and experience of transforming grace, that has driven me to write this book.

There are three underlying themes that operated in my life, which I have encountered operating in the lives of many pastors to whom I have talked. These underlying themes functioned as the mechanism of spiritual blindness in my life, and they do in the lives of countless pastors around the world. Unpacking these themes is a good way to launch us on an examination of places where pastoral culture may be less than biblical and on a consideration of temptations that are either resident in or intensified by pastoral ministry.


It is something I have written about before, but I think it is particularly important for people in ministry to understand. I always say it this way: "No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do." Whether you realize it or not, you are in an unending conversation with yourself, and the things you say to you about you are formative of the way that you live. You are constantly talking to yourself about your identity, your spirituality, your functionality, your emotionality, your mentality, your personality, your relationships, etc. You are constantly preaching to yourself some kind of gospel. You preach to yourself an anti-gospel of your own righteousness, power, and wisdom, or you preach to yourself the true gospel of deep spiritual need and sufficient grace. You preach to yourself an anti-gospel of aloneness and inability, or you preach to yourself the true gospel of the presence, provisions, and power of an ever-present Christ.

Smack-dab in the middle of your internal conversation is what you tell yourself about your identity. Human beings are always assigning to themselves some kind of identity. There are only two places to look. Either you will be getting your identity vertically, from who you are in Christ, or you will be shopping for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life. This is true of everyone, but I am convinced that getting one's identity horizontally is a particular temptation for those in ministry. Part of why I was so blind to the huge disconnect between what was going on in my public ministry life and my private family life was this issue of identity.

Ministry had become my identity. No, I didn't think of myself as a child of God, in daily need of grace, in the middle of my own sanctification, still in a battle with sin, still in need of the body of Christ, and called to pastoral ministry. No, I thought of myself as a pastor. That's it, bottom line. The office of pastor was more than a calling and a set of God-given gifts that had been recognized by the body of Christ. "Pastor" defined me. It was me in a way that proved to be more dangerous than I would have thought. Permit me to explain the spiritual dynamics of all this.

In ways that my eyes didn't see and my heart was not yet ready to embrace, my Christianity had quit being a relationship. Yes, I knew God is my Father and that I am his child, but at street level things looked different. My faith had become a professional calling. It had become my job. My role as pastor was the way I understood myself. It shaped the way I related to God. It formed my relationships with the people in my life. My calling had become my identity, and I was in trouble, and I had no idea. I was set up for disaster, and if it hadn't been anger, it would have been something else.

It's no surprise to me that there are many bitter pastors out there, many who are socially uncomfortable, many who have messy or dysfunctional relationships at home, many who have tense relationships with staff members or lay leaders, and many who struggle with secret, unconfessed sin. Could it be that all of these struggles are potentiated by the fact that we have become comfortable with looking at and defining ourselves in a way that is less than biblical? So we come to relationship with God and others being less than needy. And because we are less than needy, we are less than open to the ministry of others and to the conviction of the Spirit. This sucks the life out of the private devotional aspect of our walk with God. 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. And if I was not like everyone else, then I didn't need what everyone else needs. Now, if you had sat me down and told me all this specifically, I would have told you it was all a bunch of baloney; but it was how I acted and related.

I know I am not alone. There are many pastors who have inserted themselves into a spiritual category that doesn't exist. Like me, they think they are someone they're not. So they respond in ways that they shouldn't, and they develop habits that are spiritually dangerous. They are content with a devotional life that either doesn't exist or is constantly kidnapped by preparation. They are comfortable with living outside of or above the body of Christ. They are quick to minister but not very open to being ministered to. They have long since quit seeing themselves with accuracy and so tend not to receive well the loving confrontation of others. And they tend to carry this unique-category identity home with them and are less than humble and patient with their families.

The false identity that many of us have assigned to ourselves then structures how we see and respond to others. You are most loving, patient, kind, and gracious when you are aware that there is no truth that you could give to another that you don't desperately need yourself. You are most humble and gentle when you think that the person you are ministering to is more like you than unlike you. When you have inserted yourself into another category that tends to make you think you have arrived, it is very easy to be judgmental and impatient. I heard a pastor unwittingly verbalize this well.

My brother Tedd and I were at a large Christian-life conference listening to a well-known pastor speak on family worship. He told stories of the zeal, discipline, and dedication of the great fathers of our faith to personal and family worship. He painted lengthy pictures of what their private and family devotions were like. I think all of us felt that it was all very convicting and discouraging. I felt the weight of the burden of the crowd as they listened. I was saying to myself, "Comfort us with grace, comfort us with grace," but the grace never came.

On the way back to the hotel, Tedd and I rode with the speaker and another pastor, who was our driver. Our pastor driver had clearly felt the burden himself and asked the speaker a brilliant question. He said, "If a man in your congregation came to you and said, 'Pastor, I know I'm supposed to have devotions with my family, but things are so chaotic at my house that I can barely get myself out of bed and get the child fed and off to school; I don't know how I would ever be able to pull off devotions too'— what would you say to him?" (The following response is not made up or enhanced in any way.) The speaker answered, "I say to him, 'I'm a pastor, which means I carry many more burdens for many more people than you do, and if I can pull off daily family worship, you should be able to do so as well.'" Maybe it was because he was with a group of pastors, but he actually said it! There was no identifying with the man's struggle. There was no ministry of grace. Coming from a world this man didn't understand, he laid the law on him even more heavily, as sadly I did again and again with my wife and children.

As I heard his response, I was angry, until I remembered that I had done the very same thing again and again. At home it was all too easy to mete out judgment while I was all too stingy with the giving of grace. But there was another thing operating that was even more dangerous. This unique-category identity not only defined my relationship with others but also was destroying my relationship with God.


Excerpted from "Dangerous Calling"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Paul David Tripp.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 11

Part 1 Examining Pastoral Culture

1 Headed for Disaster 17

2 Again and Again 29

3 Big Theological Brains and Heart Disease 41

4 More than Knowledge and Skill 57

5 Joints and Ligaments 69

6 The Missing Community 83

7 War Zones 97

Part 2 The Danger of Losing Your Awe (Forgetting Who God is)

8 Familiarity 113

9 Dirty Secrets 125

10 Mediocrity 137

11 Between the Already and the Not Yet 151

Part 3 The Danger of Arrival (Forgetting Who You Are)

12 Self-Glory 167

13 Always Preparing 183

14 Separation 199

15 So, What Now? 213

General Index 225

Scripture Index 227

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Dangerous Calling is a dangerous book to read. It is also a book every person in ministry should read. It will cut you to the heart and bring massive conviction if you read it with a humility and ask God to expose sins deeply hidden in your soul. It cuts, but it also provides biblical remedies for healing. I would love to put this book in the hand of every seminarian who walks on my campus."
Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Pastoral ministry is a dangerous calling, and this is a dangerous book. It will not leave you unchanged. Pastors need pastors, and by God’s grace, every page of this book will minister to your heart, your marriage, your family, and the people you serve—in ways you never thought you needed it. This book digs down into the inner recesses of our hearts to reveal our greatest idols and point to our greatest needs. It will make you joyfully uncomfortable and, by God’s grace, will bring you to your knees in tears of thankfulness only to help lift your weary head to fix your renewed gaze on Christ. This book is like a mirror that redirects our hearts’ reflection from ourselves to Christ. If this book were a sermon, it would be the most weighty and refreshing sermon you’ve ever needed to hear. My sincere hope is that this book would be translated into multiple languages, become required reading in seminaries, and be distributed to Christians everywhere who know they’re called to serve God and others with the gifts the Holy Spirit has equipped them.”
Burk Parsons, Senior Pastor, St. Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, Florida; Editor, Tabletalk

“Our wives, children, and the members we serve will have a new husband, father, and pastor by Friday if we follow Tripp’s example and give a humble and honest reading of this book—one with our inner Pharisee and scribe turned off. We will see the need to save our selves from a very dark and destructive force working against pastors: undiagnosed pastoral self-righteousness. With much wisdom and conviction, Tripp’s Dangerous Calling preaches the gospel of grace to the men who are preaching the gospel Sunday after Sunday to everyone but themselves.”
Eric C. Redmond, Associate Professor of Bible, Moody Bible Institute; Pastor of Preaching and Teaching, Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park, Illinois

“Few would regard a pastor’s role as a dangerous calling, but few people are as qualified and insightful as Paul Tripp to penetrate the snares and potential pitfalls associated with pastoral ministry. Fewer still would prescribe such gospel based and local church rooted remedies. This excellent volume should be read, re-read & applied.”
Terry Virgo, Founder, Newfrontiers

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Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
coramdeo540 More than 1 year ago
Dangerous Calling Paul David Tripp Book Summary: After traveling the globe and speaking to thousands of churches worldwide, Paul David Tripp has discovered a serious problem within pastoral culture. Dangerous Calling reveals the truth that the culture surrounding our pastors is spiritually unhealthy—an environment that actively undermines the well-being and effectiveness of our church leaders and thus the entire church body. Here is a book that both diagnoses and offers cures for issues that impact every member and church leader, and gives solid strategies for fighting the all-important war that rages in our churches today. Review: Fantastic Book!!!! What a personal testimony, and a very relevant topic for today. Sadly I had to agree with many of his views. I think that never before has someone on the inside of the pastorate admitted that something is radically going wrong with our churches and it starts many times from the man in the pulpit or the leadership. I heard for years it is not the people in the pews that are destroying the church, it is the leadership. It also seemed so sad that pastors feel like they can not be real with the very people who are wishing them the most success. His stories that add depth to the call for pastors to become vulnerable and authentic with the leadership and congregants. I found this book to be more for every church goer so that everyone in the church can help those in need. Because being authentic with people in the church is the hardest thing to do, most people do not really know how to come alongside others and bare one another’s burdens. I would like to thank Net Galley and Crossway for allowing me to read and review this book in return for a free copy and I was never asked to write a favorable review by anyone. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pros: One of the most personally convicting books I've read in a long time. Every pastor and ministry leader ought to read this. Cons: The book is too list heavy. There is a list for every problem. Lists make note-taking easier but not all problems can be solved by remembering bulleted lists. Trip's writing style is very personal until he begins with the lists. The constant listing makes the book feel more clinical and less personal during those sections. Also for someone who is a good writer, it was odd to notice the overuse of the word "functional /functionally." At times the word didn't even seem to fit the sentence. Writing style aside the convicting and sin-revealing nature of this book causes me to highly recommend it to everyone in ministry. Read with an open mind and a soft heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago