Learning from Piper's 'Silence'
On the outside, everything looked fine and dandy. In fact, he is one of the finest examples of a model pastor but during a routine Sunday Service recently, he dropped a bombshell on his congregation. No, there's no adultery, no "coming out of the closet" to declare he's gay, no illegal dipping into the church funds, no heresy, nothing. So, what's the problem?
John Piper is the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and a higly-regarded world-renowned speaker and author who has edified countless lives.
On Mar 28, as he stood in front of his congregation to give his usual sermon, he requested the church for an eight-month unpaid leave to sort out some personal issues. Subsequently, he wrote a letter to his church which is uploaded here.
Do read his letter as his thoughts and choice of words will impact you.
In his message, Piper expressed his concern for "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 (his wife) and others who are dear to me."
So, even though there is nothing specifically immoral in his life or his ministry, Piper is taking this leave of absence for deep, serious assessment of his personal life - a kind of reality check in the light of God's Word. It is humbling to think that such a dear and effective servant of God needs to take this drastic step to examine his life.
Piper's brutal honesty with himself and his congregation presents a great challenge to all of us to keep our hearts pure before our holy God.
What would captivate us is the phrase he used - "several species of pride in my soul". In his letter, he apologised to his church, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws that he felt had affected the church and his family members. He highlighted to the church three things he would do d uring his absence.
Levels of Idolatry
During his leave of absence, there will be no blogging, no Twitter, no article, no reports, no papers and no speaking engagements. His desire was to have very special times of refreshment with his wife Noel. Piper sees this as a kind of fasting to discern levels of addiction. The phrase he used was "no prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety".
Culture of Transparency
He will be accountable to a group of people to stay in touch and keep them informed. That a man of his stature should choose to submit himself to his peers is indeed an example for all leaders to emulate.
Piper and the other pastors of Bethlehem Baptist Church know well the insidious dangers of going it alone and so, among their other strategies for sanctification, they hold each other accountable with a simple questionnaire that they each fill out weekly. It addresses issues from days off to diet, and personal devotions to pornography.
They would all agree that filling out the form is not what matters; what's important is the heart behind it - the desire to be pure and holy.
No Financial obligation
Piper requested a no-pay leave for the entire eight-month period. He did not want his church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, to be financially burdened as they would have to hire people to do his work in his absence. Additionally, he apologised to his staff for the inconvenience they would face as a result of his absence. His no-pay leave request was turned down by his church leaders.
Thousands of ministers who have learned from Piper through his books and sermons will now get to learn from his silence. Realising the grave danger of pride in his soul, this great man of God will give up all public engagements for eight months and retreat to spend time with his Creator and his wife of many years.
Piper's conclusion in his letter is an apt reminder for all leaders that "neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." (1 Cor.3:7)