I know it sounds strange, but sometimes the best thing a book can do is hit you square between the eyes. Paul Tripp’s new book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, is like that. I’ll be doing a comprehensive review soon, but I wanted to take a moment to share one of the most helpful passages of the book.
Too often those of us in any form of church leadership—whether formal or informal—can feel a temptation to hide how we’re really doing. We feel like we need to put on a brave face, or we need to be super-shiny-perfect Christians.
But what does this reveal about us? Tripp explains:
First, when people are your substitute messiah (you need their respect and support in order to continue), it’s hard to be honest with them about your sins, weaknesses, and failures. There is a second thing that kicks in as well: fear. The more separation and discontinuity there is between the real details of my personal life and my public confession and image, the more I will tend to fear being known. I will fear how people would think of and respond to me if they really knew what was going on in my life. I may even fear the loss of my job. So my responses to the concerns and inquiries of others become structured by fear rather than faith. So I do not make the regular, healthy confessions of struggle to my ministry co-partners, I do not ask candidly and humbly for prayer in places where I clearly need it, and I am very careful with how I answer personal questions when they come my way.
This all means that I am no longer benefitting from the insight-giving, protecting, encouraging, warning, preventative, and restoring ministries of the body of Christ. I am trying to do what none of us is able to do—spiritually make it on my own. Autonomous Christianity never works, because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project. (Dangerous Calling, p. 38)
If the Christian life is a “community project” as Tripp says, we must resist the temptation to withdraw and hide our problems, not in the played “authentic” sense, but simply making sure we’re all in intentional community. Pastors need those around them to whom they can confess their sins—and not just their wives (for that is a burden to great to carry). Pastors’ wives need safe women to be in intentional community with, who don’t expect them to be “just so.” Same goes for leaders at every level.
Leader, if you feel like ministry “has” to be a lonely thing—if you consistently pull away from any form of community—you need to ask yourself:
Is the problem that there’s no one I can trust—or is it me?