By Maina Mwaura
As a counselor, Paul David Tripp understands one of the most wrestled-with questions of human history: Why am I here?
And as a pastor, he understands the struggles that accompany ministry life.
Tripp shared how to discern if something is a calling, why some abandon the pulpit, and how to balance the demands of ministry.
The whole act and art of calling is huge, especially ministry calling. How do you define that?
I don’t think of that so much in the formal sense that we often do, because all God’s people are called to be instruments in God’s hands. The difference in pastoral calling is God has established a certain structure for His church in certain offices where that calling is expressed.
But think about it: A pastor is just another member of the body of Christ. If Christ is the head of his body, everything else is just body.
Now, when God calls you, He always gives you to do what He’s called you to do. He always goes with you when He sends you, and He always gives you what you need to do, what He’s called for you to do.
So when I think of ministry calling, I ask myself, How do I know I’m called? It’s a combination of gifts. Do I have gifts that have been recognized as a combination of experience? Has God given the experience where I’ve been able to exercise those gifts? And is all of that structured and endorsed by the local church?
Do you feel God has called you to the word “called”?
Yes, I’m called to live for something bigger than myself. I argue that the four most important words in the Bible are the first four: “In the beginning, God.”
When you create something, you create something for purpose. If I’ve got wood, screws, a hammer, a saw and nails and I’m about to build something, I say to myself, I hope this turns into something. I have a purpose in mind for what I want to create.
If God’s created me for a purpose, then life is not—What do I want? When do I want it? Where do I want it? Who Do I want it from? But instead I ask myself, What has God called me to as His creature? And so I’m always living life with that bigger purpose in mind.
What’s in us is to shrink our lives down to the claustrophobic confines of my wants, my needs, and my feelings. So I think that calling really reminds us of the greater purpose God has ordained for all of us.
I love in the New Testament where it talks about working in such a way that you make the gospel attractive. How beautiful is that?
Do you have a biblical example of how God used the word calling?
1 Peter talks about someone coming to you and asking about the hope that’s within you. Now what’s that a picture of? It’s a picture of somebody who has watched you and they’ve been attracted to your life and they come to you and say, “Wow!”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if just the way I relate to you makes you come to me and say, “You’ve got something I want”? What is it that defines living for a person? And I think calling is a nice basket to put that in.
Why do you think people enter into the ministry, then decide that ministry isn’t for them down the road?
I think a lot of those people were never actually called to ministry.
You think so? Why?
I think what happens is a sincere believer thinks, How can I serve the Lord best? And so they think it’s through formal ministry. Well, God doesn’t call everyone into formal ministry. He wants His children all over the place, so I think some of those people weren’t called.
I think the other aspect is a lot of those people develop big theological brains, but they have diseased hearts, and their heart issues get in the way of ministry.
And then the third thing is that ministry in the local church is brutal. I’m working on a book now that’s going to be a companion to Dangerous Calling that’s written to the leadership community.
I think often, behind burned out or fallen pastors, is a dysfunctional leadership community where leaders don’t know how to pastor their pastor.
What have you learned so far about leadership within the local church?
Every leader has sin inside of him; he’s got to have a leadership community that realizes that and does something about it. That’s not just a community of achievement, but it’s a community of grace.
Down here we must recognize God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign over everything. I don’t have to do everything; His sovereignty gives me the liberty of saying no. Just because it’s not under my control doesn’t mean it’s out of control.
I think we’re asking leaders to do too much. When I read a pastor’s job description, I just laugh. I think Jesus couldn’t do this job description, let alone a human being. I mean, it’s ridiculous because we’re asking people to do too much.
How does a pastor say no to the demands that church leadership places on him?
I just think you have to. You have to know you can’t keep expanding ministry without saying no or it will deteriorate in other areas in your life. I’m a mix of strengths and weaknesses.
Every leader has limits and being a good leader is recognizing your limits. There are things I’m not good at. There are things I shouldn’t do.
Do you have any personal examples of when you had to say no?
I was offered the leadership of a major Christian organization. I immediately called five friends who know me well, and every one of them told me I shouldn’t be doing this. It was attractive, but I shouldn’t be doing this.
There are places where you’re going to be asked to do things that require you to say, Is this what God has called me to do?
Why do you think it’s hard to say no in ministry?
We confuse gifting with calling. There are wonderful opportunities that somebody in the body of Christ should take advantage of.
Not every door that’s open to you is meant for you to walk through. Sometimes you have to step aside and let somebody else who is gifted and called walk through the door.
This past April you wrote a blog on race, you also attend a predominantly African-American church. What’s that been like for you?
It’s been a wonderful, encouraging, humbling, and deeply convicting experience. God has exposed things in my heart that I’m thankful He exposed.
What were some of those things?
I was comfortable in closing my eyes to injustice, to systemic racism that’s in the church and in the culture.
God didn’t compromise His justice in order to deliver His grace. And if that’s true of God, that should be true of me as well. Now, your commitment to justice is not what gives you a relationship with God. God’s grace alone does. But shouldn’t justice be a fruit of the operation—that grace inside of me? Yes, it should.
And I think, in my life, it wasn’t there. I’ve sat with my African-American brothers. I’ve heard stories that brought tears streaming down my face.
How have you address people who have criticized you in the area of race?
Nobody’s going to silence me when I am convinced that what I’m doing is an expression of the gospel of God’s grace.
Maina is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.