In many ways, Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling is a book for people who like lists. I’m fond of lists and Paul Tripp, so it’s only natural I’d love this book. It also helps that it provided a good wake up call for me that changed some negative trajectories I had in my life.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to share some of his lists because a) they are helpful and b) it’s a good time of year to evaluate and make changes in your personal life.
In the opening chapter, Tripp explains the signs a pastor is headed for disaster and then offers a personal anecdote about his own near disaster experience. Theaw warning signs are the first list in the book and rather than list in the first person like Tripp does, I’ll phrase them as diagnostic questions:
- Do you let your ministry define your identity?
- Do you let biblical literacy and theological knowledge define your spiritual maturity?
- Do you confuse ministry success with God’s endorsement of your lifestyle?
The middle question is the perennial struggle for a seminary graduate, especially if you end up in a church context where your training exceeds that of the pastoral staff. I hadn’t quite gotten to the point of equating the two, and even wrote an article distinguishing them before I graduated. Still, it was (is) a constant temptation.
In chapter 2, Tripp explains that his particular story is not unique and time and time again in his pastoral consulting he finds pastors on the same life trajectory. He basically gives a more detailed account of how a pastor sets himself up for disaster. Titled “Signs of a Pastor Losing His Way,” here are Tripp’s nine roadmarkers (rephrased from third to second person):
- You ignore the clear evidence of the problem (i.e. answering “Yes” to one of the above questions)
- You are blind to the issues of your own heart
- You ministry lacks devotion (i.e. personal, vibrant devotions with God prior to ministering to others)
- You aren’t preaching the gospel to yourself daily
- You aren’t listening to the people closest to you
- You ministry has become burdensome
- You begin to live in silence
- You begin to question your calling
- You give way to the fantasies of another life
For us here in central Florida, a real life illustration of this descent took place when the pastor of a local multi-campus mega church resigned because he had been having a year long affair. It is doubtful that he woke up one morning and decided to start committing adultery, but if you’ll notice the last step in the descent, it’s likely he got to that point at least prior to actually going ahead with cheating on his wife. His church knew of troubles in his marriage as far back as January of 2011 according to a document they put together to address an Orlando-Sentinel article (among other things). You can read for yourself and see how things transpired (and are better off doing so according to the church document instead of the local news) and notice that very little was done to really press into this pastor’s life. His wife even had concerns about the particular former staff member that ended up committing adultery with but he denied the issue point blank and little was done to follow up or press into his heart.
I share all this not to fault this particular church or pastor. I rather look at it as a warning that apart from daily seeking the grace of God in my own life, I could just as easily end up in my own pastoral disaster. In this particular case, it hits especially close to home since the pastor in question was who first got my wife excited about pursuing the Christian faith when she was in middle school (his dad is the pastor of the church she grew up in). He has had a vibrant ministry in many people’s lives, but has now chosen to leave all of that behind to pursue an adulterous relationship. Rather than being exceptional, it is unfortunately all too common, and as Tripp reminds us in his book, is something that we could all experience if in the midst of pastoral ministry we start thinking we’ve arrived and can how do everything on our own.