Paul Tripp’s most recent book on the challenges of pastoral ministry is the fruit of years of ministry to pastors and deep introspection on his own heart while serving the local church. I personally benefited from this book on several levels. First, I was reminded that a pastor must protect his own heart before the Lord. We should expect ups and downs in our spiritual passion over the years of ministry, but when we get to the place (and routine) where our hearts are cold toward God and it doesn’t bother us, we are in serious trouble. Every pastor knows that their personal relationship with the Lord is the most important part of their ministry, but few pastors know what to do when they find themselves in a dry place. Into this void, Tripp adds his clear, compassionate voice.
While many of Tripp’s insights are helpful, the one that most spoke to my heart was his analysis that most pastors preach the importance of the ministry of the body of Christ, but live as though they don’t need the ministry of the body. I believe that Tripp has picked up on one element that feeds the spiritual death of pastors – their relational isolation from the people they lead. This seems strange to people outside of ministry, because the pastor looks as though he is connected relationally to so many people in the church. And this is true, to a point. However, the pastor is not known as peer or friend, but always as pastor. This means that he is always leading, always shepherding, always caring for others, always guiding and directing, always making disciples, always counseling and teaching. But when does he ever experience those things in his own life? Who shepherds him, cares for his soul, guides and directs his relationship with the Lord?
I’ve always known this is a danger of pastoral ministry, but Tripp’s take on this problem was different than mine. I assumed that this was just a by-product of the role of pastor, a necessary challenge of leadership. But Tripp diagnoses the pride in the heart of the pastor who believes that he doesn’t need the ministry of the body, that he can (or must) hide his true nature from the people in his congregation. We all know the consequences of hypocrisy and dishonesty on our congregations, but Tripp shows that this kind of isolated leadership is also deadly to the pastor himself. It isn’t just the congregation that needs an authentic leader. The pastor himself needs genuine community. He needs to submit to the ministry of the congregation in his own life. This one insight was worth the price of the book, in my mind. It confirmed something I already believed, but helped me see the spiritual and biblical mandate to be in honest community with people that I lead spiritually.
By the end of the book, I felt like Tripp’s observations were getting somewhat repetitive, continually pointing out the need for the pastor to have a right view of God and a right view of himself before God. He shows how our low view of “remaining sin” in the life and heart of the pastor can deceive us into thinking that we can do ministry apart from a vibrant, passionate relationship with Jesus, and open, honest, gracious relationships with others. I have received his correction and thank God for it. I hope and pray that my ministry will last a lifetime and bring honor to God because I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that I have arrived spiritually or try to live above the congregation instead of in the midst of it.