I learned today that John Piper, Pastor for Preaching and Vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church,
prolific author, and one of our nation’s most influential Christian
leaders, is taking an eight-month leave from his work as a pastor,
writer, and speaker.
This, in and of itself, is a bit surprising, given Piper’s usual
volume of productivity, which is vast. But even more surprising is his
explanation for this leave. Though he keeps private that which ought to
be private, Piper opens his heart and life in a way that few people do,
especially highly-regarded Christian leaders.
Here are some excerpts from the letter Piper posted on the church website:
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.
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?
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.
The other way that our marriage is not an island is that its
strengths and defects have consequences for others. No one in the orbit
of our family and friends remains unaffected by our flaws. My prayer is
that this leave will prove to be healing from the inside of my soul,
through Noël’s heart, and out to our children and their families, and
beyond to anyone who may have been hurt by my failures.
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
Personally, I view these months as a kind of relaunch of what I hope
will be the most humble, happy, fruitful five years of our 35 years at
Bethlehem and 46 years of marriage. Would you pray with me to that end?
I have no need to “read between the lines” and figure out what was
“really going on.” I trust John Piper to be honest and believe that he
has been extraordinarily open here about his own shortcomings. Thus, I
don’t believe there’s any hidden story to be found here.
But I do believe there are some valuable lessons to be learned, for
all of us, but especially for those of us who are Christian leaders
(pastors, elders, etc.). Here are some of those lessons:
Don’t we all need times when we step back and get a “reality check”
from the Holy Spirit? I know I do. Yet it’s easy not to step back and
listen to the Lord.
Yes, being “rock solid” in one’s marriage is essential, but not
enough. Piper speaks the truth when he says that “‘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.” As one who tends
toward the rocky side of things, this is a powerful and pointed word
for me. I think many, many pastors, in particular, should reflect upon
what Piper is saying here about the quality of relationship in a
marriage. (Thank you, John, for your openness about this!)
I admire Piper’s gutsy choice to step back from his work – indeed,
his godly work – in order to focus on his marriage and his soul. This
example both challenges and encourages me. Even if I’m not in a
position to take (or to need) an eight-month sabbatical, I can
certainly make choices to prioritize my relationships with my wife and
Actually, I’m going to make one of those choices now, and stop
writing so that I can walk the dog with my wife. I will be praying for
John and Noël Piper, and for so many others of us who wrestle with
challenges similar to theirs. May God give us the grace to be honest
with our Lord, with ourselves, and with our Christian community.