John Piper’s Leave

John Piper has announced that he will be taking an 8-month leave of absence from his duties at Bethlehem Baptist Church. As I was leaving church today, I received an e-mail from DesiringGod.org with a letter from Piper explaining why. He writes:

“I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.

“But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.

“Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion. In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments. . .

“The difference between this leave and the sabbatical I took four years ago is that I wrote a book on that sabbatical (What Jesus Demands from the World). In 30 years, I have never let go of the passion for public productivity. In this leave, I intend to let go of all of it. No book-writing. No sermon preparation or preaching. No blogging. No Twitter. No articles. No reports. No papers. And no speaking engagements. There is one stateside exception—the weekend devoted to the Desiring God National Conference combined with the inaugural convocation of Bethlehem College and Seminary in October. Noël thought I should keep three international commitments. Our reasoning is that if she could go along, and if we plan it right, these could be very special times of refreshment together.”

I am encouraged by this letter to take account of the state of my own soul and marriage. Thank you, Pastor John, for your transparency in this. The leave hasn’t even started, but it is already bearing fruit.

Read the rest of the letter here.

25 Responses to John Piper’s Leave

  1. Jerry Jacques March 28, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    Dr. Burk,

    I must admit that I appreciate a man who wants to take time for spiritual reflection.

    I wish him well during his time of reflection. May the Spirit heal him.

  2. Jada Swanson March 28, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

    I commend this pastor. There are many pastors who need to follow his example for a variety of reasons. Yet, some won’t take the risk, or don’t see the need.

    Sadly, many ministry marriages are some of the least healthy marriages, or as Pastor Piper put it ‘rock solid, but not emotionally satisfying.’

    While I am sure there are a variety of factors/reasons, etc. for this leave, having him explain the desire to ‘thrive’ in his marriage, not just ‘survive’ is HUGE. (my words from what I read in his letter). I walk along side of many pastors’ wives, who desire for their husbands to love them enough to take this courageous step and to heal the brokenness in their marriage and family (pastor-dad’s relationship with his children).

    Praying for you, Dr. Piper and for this step to have far reaching impact in the lives of many pastors and their families.

  3. Donald Johnson March 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

    I appreciate John’s willingness to lay down something in public in order to work on a higher priority in private.

  4. Ben March 29, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    I also commend Piper’s ability to self-reflect, and his willingness to step away to tend to the more important things in his life. Let that be clear.

    While reading this article, though, something felt strange. How does someone just back away from much of their day-to-day commitments? How is John going to pay his bills? And, for that matter, how should pastors with either less means, or less financially able churches intended to “back away” when needed?

    Let me reiterate – these questions are nothing against Piper. I’m simply wondering how this will work from a practical standpoint, and what it should indicate to us about smaller churches or less financially capable pastors.

  5. Ben March 29, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    Hmmm, one of those sentences didn’t come out quite right. Let me try again.

    “And, for that matter, how should pastors with either less means, or less financially able churches be able to “let go” when needed?”

    Sorry about that.

  6. Jan March 29, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Kudos to Dr. Piper for putting his priorities back in order. I pray he and his wife and family will be renewed and refreshed during this season, and when he comes back, that his commitment to his family won’t ever take a back seat to his ministry.

    Hopefully, many men will see themselves in Dr. Piper’s situation and be encourged to do the same.

  7. Nate March 30, 2010 at 8:32 am #

    I know this is probably going to sound mean-spirited or insensitive, but that is not my goal. My goal is to ask how this is a model for the “average” husband/father. So, here goes.

    While I commend Dr. Piper for wanting to address issues in his marriage/family, essentially retiring from public life does not present a model for younger men in his congregation. Perhaps this is not part of his mindeet or goal.

    However, no husband/father I know can simply excuse themselves from their job for 8 months, nor can any pastor for that matter, because most pastor’s dont have churches that can afford to give them paid sabbaticals of 8 months.

    While Dr. Piper is extraordinarily busy, so are many husbands/fathers in churches who are trying to balance work, marriage, and family. Yet, they will need to work through similar “speices of pride” or other items that are endangering their families and marriages. But they will not have the luxury of avoiding the daily grind of work/commitments that Dr. Piper will. So, what lessons are they being taught?

    How do young pastors learn to cope with these burdens and still maintain balance? Because they will surely not be given 8 months off to get themselves together.

    I know this probably is coming off mean, but that is not my desire. I guess I wish that Dr. Piper would have withdrawn from all public activities other than his pastorate and then modeled balancing job and family to show his congregation how to trim excesses out of their lives to maintain their most prized possession – walk with Christ, wife, and family.

  8. Darius March 30, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    You know, Nate, I thought that very thing. It’s easy for Piper to step away from everything, but most men don’t have that luxury. I would have also preferred to see him pare down his ministry to just the essential caring for his Bethlehem flock… however, it may be that something needs to be addressed in his life or family that requires a fuller withdrawal.

  9. Diane Brookins March 30, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    What a wonderful witness!

  10. Matthew Staton March 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    As a part-time seminary student and full-time programmer in addition to volunteer staff at my church, I can fully identify with the feeling that “it must be nice!”

    But the family of a well-known leader is important. Far better to step back and minister to one’s family than ignore problems. And perhaps it will be an example to some of us who can be tempted to drift towards valuing studies and career over family. I’m usually among Piper’s faithful opposition but I would encourage people to keep open the possibility that this might not have been easy for him. I don’t know his heart or the circumstances but if it is the case that he is being bold and making a hard choice in favor of his family, then perhaps he is doing just the right thing.

    Something in his words about “rock solid” speaks to me. Perhaps the wrong has been in years past – perhaps he has previously not ministered to his wife as he ought. Perhaps this is a corrective to that. Perhaps not. I’ll probably never know either way. As envious as I am of the time with family, I do think we should be quick to support shepherds when they indicate they need some time to step back. It may be cheaper than the consequences in the long run for many families (meaning to imply nothing about the Pipers in specific).

  11. Eric Schumacher March 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    I’m seeing these questions asked all over the blogosphere — particularly, “How is an average pastor to do this?” and “What lesson is being taught here?”

    I think it is important to remember that:

    (a) John Piper is not the average pastor. He is in his situation, and not ours.

    (b) Though all of our actions teach, Piper is doing this to particularly teach us (the average pastor). He’s doing this because he and his pastors think it right and best.

    Those two thoughts satisfy me, and convince me that Piper is taking the right course.

  12. Denny Burk March 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Ditto to Eric. My thoughts exactly.

  13. Ben March 30, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    Eric (#11):

    But doesn’t the sentiment that “Piper is not the average pastor” help feed the very pride that Piper may be seeking to address?

    I don’t know Piper, and cannot properly critique his situation. As such, I’ve not tried to make my comment (#4) about Piper, but rather used it as a platform to discuss more “average” concerns.

    The defenses of Piper, though, bring him back into the discussion. In what way does Piper not being an average pastor make his response to the situation okay? Is there nothing to the critiques being leveled on this blog?

  14. Jada Swanson March 30, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    Or, perhaps the lesson to the ‘average’ pastor (or Christian husband for that matter) is not to neglect your marriage and family to begin with; to learn to say “No”; and to not think you have to be all things to all people at the expense of your marriage and family, especially those men in vocational ministry.

    Good often becomes the enemy of the best. While we don’t want our marriages and families to become idols, the church doesn’t need to be the ‘other woman’ either. I am SO BLESSED my pastor-husbands gets this and lives it out. While there are busy seasons in ministry neither myself, nor our kids feel as if we get his leftovers. BTW, he is also in school, pursuing a doctorate and works a bit part-time, on top of church planting/pastoring full-time.

    So, don’t be jealous or envious that Piper “can” take an 8 month sabbatical, Perhaps be thankful that you don’t have to take an 8 month sabbatical. That your marriage/family is not in that place. Or if it is beginning to be in such a state, start now taking steps to where you won’t be in the place he finds himself, his marriage and family.

    Pastors, your marriages are a HUGE ministry tool, as well you are the only dad your kids will have. Make the most of it. No, it’s not easy balancing it all for pastors or other Christian husbands/fathers. In ministry (and other vocations) is not one or the other (productive worker/pastor and/or great husband/father), rather it is BOTH/AND.

    You don’t have to be at every meeting, every church function, or answering the phone during your family’s evening meal (I hope you sit down for a meal once in a while. Sure made a HUGE difference in our family when we made this a consistent part of our day. That is what answering machines are for imho. Doesn’t mean we care any less about our church family. What it speaks to them is our marriage and family are important, too.).

    Attending a kids game is important, a night out with your wife (or a night in as the case for us, much less expensive), too. Pastors and Christian husbands, while an 8 months departure from work might seem like ‘easy street’, I can only imagine the work that he, his wife and family will be engaging during this time. For me, as a wife and former pastor’s kid, I would much rather not find myself, my marriage, or my family in this place to begin with.

    Use this example to take the necessary measures to protect yourselves, your marriages and your families. Be pro-active. You can always find another job (might not pay as much), but a marriage and kids respect and view of you, not always as easily repaired.

    Better to be proactive, than to find yourself in a place of desperation, requiring desperate measures.

    Blessings!

  15. Jada Swanson March 30, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    Sorry for the typos, fighting a migraine that is making my eyes cross and no edit button.

    🙂

  16. David Mohler March 30, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    To whom much is given, much is required…and I think Pastor John has given more than the “average” pastor.

    But “average pastor” is not the point.

    The lesson for any pastor is not all that hard to get, if you simply scale down (or up) the situation:

    ALL pastors need to learn how to say “not right now” or “no” (not always say “no” – but at least know when to say “no”) to their sheep, and “yes” to their wives and family.

    In today’s church, there are too many things to do.

    Pastors can submit to a kind of pride that says “I must do these things, because much is required of me. And I must control them, if they are to be done right.” Whether that is Piper’s concern, we don’t know. But even those of us who pastor small flocks can get so chewed up by the tyranny of activity, or our own self-importance, that our souls become sapped of strength.

    What I most anticipate 8 months from now is observing what God’s grace looks like in a situation like this. God gives grace to the humble; not many of us have witnessed this kind of large-dose humility before – a true rooting out of pride – from a public pastor.

    The outpouring of God’s grace upon Pastor John, his family, and Bethlehem church may be something the likes of which we have never seen before.

  17. Peter March 31, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    John Piper is a good teacher/preacher. So many congregations are attracting people because of the head pastor’s gifting. It can be a tough challenge for the church and the other leaders to fill the shoes of a man like John Piper. Although they man not be saying it, his preaching will be missed. On the other hand John Piper recognizes the fame he is attracting to himself and feels like he does not want to share in getting glory, which is God’s domain and he needs to minister to his family now. Good will come out of this, especially for him and his family. It is a well deserved leave, because he has deposited so much already into the body of Christ. Thanks John you have blessed my life.

  18. James Cole March 31, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    I’m almost 100 percent sure that he’s not getting paid by his church while on sabbatical.

  19. Cassy March 31, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    I really respect the teaching of John Piper. I don’t know the man. I believe that the request to limit outside or “personal ministry” should come from the elder board of the church. If indeed there is such transparency, why weren’t the elders caring for the pastor, his family, and the flock by stepping in and requiring a reduction of outside involvements which are not directly related to pastoring the church? My pastor is also a “christian celebrity” of sorts, a writer, speaker, etc…He has “pulled back” before for weeks or months, only to plunge quickly back into non-stop activity and “personal ministry”. I believe the elders need to monitor this and reign in a pastor for his own good, and the good of his family, and his church. We need our pastors to be living examples for us–not perfect–but trying to live what they preach.

  20. David Mohler March 31, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    James: why are you “almost 100% sure”? Did you watch the video from Bethlehem church?

    The elders are insisting that Piper be paid.

  21. James Cole April 1, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    David, you are right. My apologies. I checked into it further and I was wrong. Someone at my church who I thought would know said that Piper refused to be paid (which was true, but then the elders insisted that he be paid).

  22. Thomas Arhelger April 3, 2010 at 5:16 am #

    I commend John Piper for taking this leave. And I really do think that it is a model for us. Quite frankly, I don’t understand why some people say that it is easier for Piper to take a leave than it is for other pastors. This might be only true when it comes to finances. However, it should be taken into account that he didn’t ask for money and he would have taken this leave also if his church wouldn’t keep paying him. Why do people think that it is easier for Piper to take a leave than for other pastors? Isn’t quite the opposite true? I would assume that it is a lot harder for somebody in his position – namely a well known pastor, who leads a large congregation, an internationally known author and speaker – to take a leave from all of his public activities because it is not just money but also other things that he has to take into account. And I think this is exactly the first step to make war on pride, namely the pride that believes: “I am indispensible…the church won’t work without me.” I don’t know if this is the kind of pride that John Piper sees in his own heart (he mentioned several species of pride). But couldn’t it be that this kind of pride is in the heart of many pastors? I am a pastor myself, and I know how easily I can fool myself into thinking that I am needed and ministries would slow down and grow weak without me. I wonder how much of our identity as a pastor is left when God would take us our ministries. After all, the church is Jesus’s church and He has kept and built his church for almost two thousand years now. Therefore I believe that John Piper is a model in doing a reality check on his heart and life and faith.

  23. Sue April 13, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    I appreciate those who show us how to live God honoring lives, serving, tithing, sharing Jesus, and loving their family while balancing it all within our 24 hour day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It is hard work. There are many of you in every congregation. Learning to balance is a hard lesson. God bless you.

  24. Linda Broujos April 19, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    Thank you, John Piper!
    Withdrawing for a time has no relationship to abandonment! I honestly find his decision to take this time away and publicly laying out his personal reasons humbling for all concerned, not to mention how refreshing the integrity of this decision, although sadly evoking criticism from The Body of Christ!

  25. Josh April 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    I think he is good to take a leave if he feels it is necessary. In order to qualify to lead the church your domestic life must be in order. It takes discipline and humility to do what he’s doing. How easy and simple would it be for him to continue on as status quo normal. From the content of his letter he’s concerned with his own soul, something not typically outwardly expressed from most church leaders. Why anyone would discourage any Christian man (Pastor or not) for taking time to care for his family is beyond me. Without families humanity ceases to exist. Without healthy Christian families leading churches, hypocrisy abounds. Our words, thoughts, and deeds must all be in harmonious alignment with God’s word. For certain seasons in life, longer periods of time are required to implement action to bring forth the fruit of one’s inner reflections. Pastor Piper is in our prayers.

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