This is a very powerful book that everyone in ministry should read.
Tripp has spent years talking to and counselling pastors and he is convinced there is a malaise that has taken over ministers of the gospel: that pastors are in great danger of both losing their awe of God and of thinking they have ‘arrived’ and are no longer in need of change.
Tripp is clear from the beginning this is a diagnostic book encouraging pastors to look honestly at their lives and hearts, and to hold them up against the gospel for Christ for analysis. He calls on pastors, and those around them, to try read it with an open heart and mind, to deactivate their ‘inner lawyer’ and to be willing to address things in their lives that need change.
Boy does he use a scalpel to dig deep! Tripp starts with pastoral culture and the risks it brings:
- Letting ministry define your identity
- Letting biblical literacy and theological knowledge define your maturity
- Confusing success with God’s endorsement of your lifestyle
- The regular disconnection between public and personal life
- The fact that in the ministry of the body of Christ, often the minister does not allow himself to be ‘ministered to’
- That there is always a battle going on between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of self (a key idea also in Tripp’s marriage book What did you expect?)
He has quite a challenge to those responsible for employing ministers that they must try to see their heart, what really matters to them, not their ‘on paper’ success. Rather, how they relate to their families, treat their wives and listen to rebuke. I imagine this would be a very hard thing to do well in an interview process.
Then he comes to the first of 2 key areas – the danger of losing your awe of God, in forgetting who God is. When this happens, various things can result:
- A familiarity with the word of God, to the extent they are no longer moved by it
- Living in fear of man, caring more about what others think than how to be godly
- A contentment with mediocrity. This was a very helpful, sad chapter about the way we accept mediocre sermon preparation. If you are still preparing a sermon on Saturday, there is no way you have worked out its truths in your life, so how can you properly apply it to the lives of your hearers?
- Losing your awe of God, results in you starting to think you are pretty good, and therefore leads to the second area – the danger of forgetting who you are.
The risks of thinking you have arrived are:
- Self-glory – promoting ourselves, not God
- Always preparing – personal time with God gets squeezed out and preparation time takes over. We no longer let the word of God shape us personally
- We risk separating our public life from our personal life – we don’t let people in, we find it hard to hear rebuke, etc
As you can probably imagine, it’s a pretty devastating critique. Yet I also think it’s very accurate. I saw his truths in myself, in our lives and have seen evidence of them in others.
For those who are willing to listen and learn, there would be great benefit. Not many people are willing to stand up to their pastor and challenge their godliness (and perhaps not everyone should); but every pastor should make sure they have people around them who are willing to do so. I would say the same for ministry-wives.
Tripp’s solution is that pastors much keep coming back to the gospel, dwelling on God’s majesty, their sinfulness and the grace of God in Christ. When we raise again the glory of God and decrease again our own important, we are willing to change. There were ideas throughout the book about a way forward, although really much of it was depressingly diagnostic. The final two chapters were a proposed way forward which were helpful. However to really get into this further and analyse one’s heart and motivations, I would switch over to Lane & Tripp’s book How People Change and do some serious work from that one!
Very worthwhile reading for all in ministry, and those who are responsible for them.