Crossway, 2012, e-book, $5.99 (special offer price)
With a title like that you might have thought Paul David Tripp was writing about the perils of being a fireman, a deep sea diver or a soldier on the front line in Afghanistan. But no, the 'dangerous calling' in question is pastoral ministry. 'Oh, that 'dangerous calling', I hear you say. True, if you are a pastor you are unlikely to get fried alive, drowned, or shot at, but the work is nevertheless fraught with perils. The number of pastors who burn out, drop out, or keep slogging away in ministry when then they have lost all passion for the work is testimony to that.
Tripp claims that the problem begins in theological seminary, where the emphasis is often on ministerial knowledge and skill at the expense of godly character formation. That can cause rookie ministers to think they have arrived spiritually because they know more stuff than their people, although they fall short when it comes to living a consistently holy life. I'm grateful that at the London Theological Seminary, where I trained for the ministry, the lectures were all serving pastors, or at least men with pastoral experience as well as theologians and biblical scholars. Students were repeatedly urged to pursue godliness as well as develop their ministry gifts. Even so, there have been casualties among LTS alumni. Some are no longer in pastoral work due to serious spiritual and moral failings. Let he who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.
Tripp writes with an awareness of the dangers of pastoral ministry because he has experienced many of them himself. He highlights issues like the frequent disjunction between the pastor's public persona and private life, the stresses and strains of family life, fractious relations in the church leadership team and pastors falling out with the churches they serve. The writer provides examples of this kind of thing from his own experience and from the lives of other ministers he has tried to help.
One of the key dangers is that of ministerial professionalism. Something that is repeatedly denounced in D. M. Lloyd-Jones' magesterial Preaching and Preachers as an 'abomination'. We can get into a position where we only read the Bible for sermon prep and forget the need to seek God's face and hear his voice for ourselves as Christian believers. For that is what we are above all else, broken, needy, grace-dependent believers in the all-sufficient triune God of the gospel. We need that gospel and its life-transforming power as must as the people to whom we proclaim the good news of Jesus. Pastoral ministry is a very dangerous calling when we forget just that.
This is a heart-searching book that all ministers, whether newbies or greybeards should read reflectively, prayerfully and penitently.