The Sin of a Preacher Man
There is a disheartening rite of passage every young pastor faces. And though it was almost 10 years ago, I remember my own moment clearly. "Have you heard?" asked my senior pastor when I arrived at the church office that morning. I hadn't. So he proceeded to tell me about the well-known pastor whose moral failure had made the morning headlines. I remember two things about that moment: my pastor's grief and my inability to focus the remainder of the day. Though neither of us had met the man or been greatly influenced by his ministry, this pastor's public shame still felt deeply personal.
"Have you heard?" As the years have passed I've come to dread that question, yet it—and the sad stories behind it—is frustratingly common. The hushed conversations between pastors at these moments reflect an unsettling worry: that in our discredited colleagues, we see possible reflections of ourselves. We too have known temptation. We too inhabit a church culture that can seem to hinder our own discipleship by elevating ministry production over spiritual fruit.
In Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Crossway), Paul David Tripp wades into these murky and hazardous waters. An author and director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care, Tripp knows the pastoral vocation well. His years in church ministry provide the intimate knowledge necessary to write boldly and mercifully to ministers who so often feel misunderstood by anyone but a fellow pastor. Tripp has spoken to and with enough pastors to see disturbing themes emerge.
"From Belfast to Los Angeles," he writes, "from Johannesburg to New York, from Minneapolis to Singapore, from Cleveland to Berlin, I've heard their stories and felt their discouragement, bitterness, aloneness, fear, and longing. As I've told my story, pastors have felt safe in telling their stories. And it has hit me again and again that there are too many pastors with sad stories to tell, and I've wondered again and again to myself, What's gone wrong with pastoral culture?"
Neglecting the Heart
Is a dysfunctional pastoral culture a new development? The Puritan pastor and writer Richard Baxter penned his classic The Reformed Pastor in 1656, and he too lamented the state of the pastorate. "Alas!" he wrote to his fellow pastors, "it is the common danger and calamity of the Church, to have unregenerate and inexperienced pastors, and to have so many men become preachers, before they are Christians …. O that all our students in our universities would well consider this!" The circumstances in 17th-century England were certainly different than our own, but it seems the pastorate was prone to defect all the same.
Interestingly, though separated by centuries, both Baxter and Tripp are interested in the schools that train pastors for ministry. Tripp, who has taught for years at Westminster Theological Seminary, thinks seminaries are failing to prepare ministers for the realities of ministry. They focus too narrowly on theological education for future pastors' heads, he argues, while almost entirely neglecting their hearts.