Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Paul David Tripp’s recent book has just been released: Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).
It looks to be an excellent book! Tripp acknowledges in an interview that of all he has written, this has been the hardest book for him to write. The reason?
No book that I've written has so successfully exposed the sin, weaknesses, and failures of my own heart. It's not an exaggeration to say that I wrote this book tearfully. The writing was marked over and over again by moments of personal prayer and repentance. I finished the book as a sad celebrant---sad because of the renewed realization of the spiritual war still raging in my heart, yet at the same time celebrating the transforming grace daily lavished on me. Writing this book has renewed my commitment to constantly preach the gospel to myself until the preaching is needed no more.
Tripp addresses the unique challenges those in pastoral ministry face: silence about life, ministry, struggles, and sin; and the need for sanctification which happens in the corporate context of the church.
"My prayer," you write, "is that this book would get a conversation started that will never stop." What's the nature of the conversation you have in mind?
As I've traveled around the world engaging pastors in conversation every week, I've encountered again and again a fearful wall of silence that surrounds the life, ministry, and struggles of pastors. Many, many pastors live in silence, alienated from the community of care that the church has been designed by God to be. More than once I've heard pastors say, "Everybody else in the body of Christ can confess sin, but if I did, I think I would be done."
Think about it: every pastor is a sinner. Yes, the power of sin has been broken, but the presence of sin remains. This means the culture of silence that so often surrounds the life and ministry of a pastor is a culture that is unbiblical and, frankly, unworkable. All of this is compounded by the fact that churches often call pastors whom they don't know because they tend to focus on knowledge, theological agreement, ministry experience, and pastoral skill. It's not irrational to focus on these things, but it simply isn't enough since a person's ministry is never shaped by knowledge and skill alone---it's also always shaped by the condition of his heart.
My hope is that Dangerous Calling would be used by God to break the silence and encourage a ministry culture of humility and candor that begins in seminary. Shouldn't the gospel community be the most courageously honest community on earth? We believe that there's nothing that could ever be exposed in us that hasn't already been covered by the blood of Jesus.
What would you say to the pastor who just feels too busy to let others step over the boundary from public persona to private life?
There's no indication in the New Testament that a pastor doesn't need the same sanctifying ministry of the body of Christ that every other believer needs. If Christ is the head of his body, then everything else is just body---including the pastor. Yet, in many churches no one receives less of the ministry of the body of Christ than the one charged with leading that body locally: the pastor.
It is both unbiblical and dangerous for any pastor to live above or outside of the body of Christ. No pastor, then, should allow himself to live so isolated or to be so busy that he has no real connection to the intentionally intrusive, Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive community that God has designed the church to be.
Tomorrow I will share a few comments about this aspect of pastoral ministry.