This book seeks to reveal the truth that the culture surrounding pastors is often times spiritually unhealthy, that is, an environment that actively undermines the well-being and efficacy of church leaders and thus an entire church body. The author presents different diagnoses and offers cures for issues that impact the pastor, the pastor’s relationship with his wife, the pastor’s relationship with his children, and his relationship with his congregation. The author gives strategies for fighting the all-important war that rages in our churches today. He also offers a DVD teaching companion to this book at www.paultrippministries.org.
The book is divided into three parts: Examining Pastoral Culture, The Danger Of Losing Your Awe (Forgetting Who God Is), and the Danger Of Arrival (Forgetting Who You Are)
In the first part the author points out that he was destroying his marriage and his ministry, and he didn’t have a clue. He saw that there was a disconnect between his personal life and his public ministerial life. At home he was an impatient, irritable, and angry man; in the public ministry he was seen as a gracious, patient, and happy man.
He points out that there were three underlying themes that blinded him in his life. Those themes were: 1) He let ministry define his identity. He writes: “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” (22). He lost his identity as a child of God and the title “pastor” defined him. 2) He let Biblical literacy and theological knowledge define his maturity. He writes: “It is possible to be theologically astute and be very immature. It is possible to be biblically literate and be in need of spiritual growth” (25). In this section he goes into a fine presentation of sin and grace. 3) He confused ministry success with God’s endorsement of his lifestyle. The author writes: “Without knowing that I was doing it, I took God’s faithfulness to me, to his people, to the work of his kingdom, to his plan of redemption, and to his church as an endorsement of me” (27). He set things in perspective when he says, “The success of a ministry is always more a picture of who God is than a statement about who the people are that he is using for his purpose” (28).
Another chapter in Part 1 is entitled “Again and Again.” Tripp gives the signs of a pastor losing his way: he ignored the clear evidence of problems; he was blind to the issues of his own heart; his ministry lacked devotion; he wasn’t preaching the gospel to himself; he wasn’t listening to the people closest to him; his ministry became burdensome; he began to live in silence; he began to question his calling; and he gave way to fantasies of another life.
Another chapter of part one, “Big Theological Brains and Heart Disease,” addresses what may happen at the Seminary level of education. The author asks serious questions in regard to the Seminary education: “Have we accomplished our training task if we produce generations of graduates who have big theological brains but tragically diseased hearts?” (52). Tripp saw a huge disconnect between the academic world of his Seminary training and the ministry world he stepped into upon graduation. He suggests that each seminary classroom be a place for education and worship.
In “More Than Knowledge And Skill” he feels that the calling body should really get to know their pastor, his heart and life. The pastor should really get to know his people, their heart and life.
In “Joints And Ligament” he asks tough questions. He reminds us that “the most influential pastor or ministry leader is a member of the body of Christ and therefore needs what the other members of the body need” (70). Pastors need the ministry of the body of Christ. The author gives a list of eight steps of how to bring pastors out of isolation and into contact with the essential and normal ministries of the body of Christ. Those steps not only involve the pastor, but also his wife and family.
In the chapter entitled “War Zones” he points out that ministry is war: War for your heart, which is between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God; and war for the Gospel. Satan will do everything in his power to get you to surrender to him. Tripp suggests five possible “treasure shifts” that can easily take place in the heart of any pastor. For example, an “identity” shift, which moves from identity in Christ to identity in ministry; or a “confidence” shift, which moves away from a humble confidence in transforming grace to overconfidence in one’s own experience and gifts. He concludes this section as he does most sections with a question: “The question for you, pastor, is, are you an aware, wise, and prepared soldier who runs again and again to the Captain of your soul for recusing, forgiving, transforming, empowering, and delivering grace?” (110). This is an important chapter because all pastors are tempted to lose focus of the ministry.
Part two is “The Danger Of Losing Your Awe” (Forgetting Who God Is). Tripp states something obvious: “…familiarity with the things of God will cause you to lose your awe” (114). Standing in awe of God should be the reason we do what we do not only in our ministry, but in our life and with our life. According to Tripp, sermons must be delivered in awe and have as their purpose to motivate awe in those who hear. The author says, “Awe of God is one of the things that will keep a church from running off its rails and being diverted by the many agendas that can sidetrack any congregation” (118). In other words, this awe of God will produce humility, tenderness, passion, confidence, discipline, and rest. However, fear can take that awe of God and the gospel away. The author spends a chapter listing the fears that can creep into a pastor’s heart, life, and ministry. After he gives that list of fears, he gives a list of how to conquer those fears. He also points out that mediocrity can also lay waste to the awe of God. Mediocrity is a heart problem because it causes a pastor to lose commitment. Tripp gives another list of sinful, prideful attitudes in pastors who think that they are basically God’s gift to the ministry.
The third part of his book is entitled: “The Danger Of Arrival (Forgetting who you are).” This part deals with self-glory and lists what it potentially destroys. To combat self-glory, the author quotes John 13:1-17 where Jesus is the model example of humility. A pastor needs to have a meditative, Christ-centered devotional life to keep his head and heart on the straight and narrow. The author also gives wise advice when he says: “As a pastor you need the hope and courage that only an accurate view of God’s grace can give you. You need to remember that you don’t have to attempt to do in your ministry what only that grace has the power to do” (192). Tripp encourages pastors not to get so busy feeding others that they are neglecting the need to feed themselves. Once again he gives a list of some vital gospel applications that every pastor must preach to himself again and again.
You and I might not agree with all the conclusions and remedies Tripp suggests. He could have benefited at times from more explicit reference to the grace of God in Christ, our crucified and risen Savior, as our greatest joy, strength, reason for awe, remedy, etc. Nevertheless, his questions deserve our reflection. Lutheran pastors will benefit from reading this book, even if some of the questions the author asks prick the conscience. This book could also be useful as circuits and conferences discuss pastoral culture within our midst.
Paul David Tripp is president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a non-profit ministry whose mission statement is “Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life.” A gifted communicator and sought after conference speaker, Tripp speaks weekly around the world. With a pastor’s heart for pastors, he is professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas and the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care under the auspices of the Association of Biblical Counselors. Paul has taught at respected institutions worldwide and has written many books on Christian living that are distributed internationally. Paul resides in Philadelphia with his wife, Luella, and has four grown children.