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A Christian Leader Opens His Heart and Sets an Example for Us

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, April 7, 2010

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 engagements.

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 children.

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.

Topics: Christian Life |

5 Responses to “A Christian Leader Opens His Heart and Sets an Example for Us”

  1. Thomas Buck Says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 1:53 am

    I am not a minister, but have been an active lay person in the churches I’ve been a member of over the last 30 years.

    My lovely wife told me in 1983 that she needed me to not be “over-involved” in church (or work, or any other activity) outside of our home. I promised her that I would do the best I could to live a well-rounded Christian life.

    There’s a temptation to over-work in church, because of the holiness connected with church. And how can working more at something holy be bad, right? :-/

    To this day, I find myself saying “no” often when asked to get involved in another project in church. My life is better for the balance that came with a promise to my wife. Praise God for spouses and friends!


  2. Joe Arnett Says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 6:22 am

    I can relate to much of what you said. To me, the lesson is that we all need to review our life priorities from time to time no matter what we do or what stage of life we are in. I join you all in prayer for Rev. Piper even as I give thanks for the work he has done.

  3. Mariam Says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Interesting how everything becomes so very public on the Web. But, at least, this is a case where we can learn something, or even absorb something profound. So, for that, thanks for sharing…

  4. Paul Says:
    April 8th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Thanks, Mark. I appreciate your comments here and we can learn much from you about our response to Piper’s leave of absence. Though I’m sad he will not be attending ETS this year as scheduled for the important discussion with N. T. Wright and Thielman, I trust his time is much better spent in refreshment and renewal.

  5. J.Falconer Says:
    April 14th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Rev. Roberts,Readers & Posters, Rev. Roberts–Thanks so much for your detailed sermons & postings. Sometimes, ministry burns out married,singles, widows & divorced individuals–The churches or faiths requirements-agendas & give, give, give ethic & many individuals are struggling with different issues–job pressures, family commitments, or emotional sorrows,fears or challenges. Many people remain true to their faith regardless of their situations but sometimes the time loyalty can conflict with their need for hobbies, relationships, more free time. Especially appreciated Paul’s contribution that a speaker needs to attend to family or personal matters & maybe some much needed private time to relax. Thanks again Rev. Roberts for your computer forum on many topics & we love reading the experiences, opinions & responses throughout the country of your readers j


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