April 7, 2010
John Piper's "Poisonous Cup"
What can we learn from Piper's leave of absence from public ministry?
As nearly everyone has now heard, John Piper is taking an 8-month leave of absence from public ministry starting in May. The announcement was made to his congregation during his sermon on March 28. He plans to examine his life and focus on his marriage and family. Piper said:
"You could view this as a kind of fasting from public ministry. One of the goals in this kind of fasting is to discern levels of addiction. Or, as Paul Tripp or Tim Keller might say, levels of idolatry. The reality check is: What will happen in my soul and in my marriage when, to use the phrase of one precious brother on staff, there will be no 'prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety'?"
Whether it's international or merely local, pastors who find themselves on a platform week after week are going to face some level of notoriety. But how do we keep it from poisoning our souls? Many have applauded Piper for his honesty and preemptive disconnection from public ministry rather than the punitive disconnection so often seen among celebrity pastors. But rather than focusing on Piper, what should this development make the rest of us think about?
Below is an excerpt from Piper's announcement. You can read the entire sermon on his site.
As I have stood back in recent months and looked at my own soul—my own sanctification, my own measures self-denial or self-serving—and my marriage and family and ministry patterns, I have felt an increasing need for a serious assessment—a kind of reality check in the light of God’s word. Am I living in the mindset and the pattern of life that Jesus calls for here in Mark 8:31-38, especially in relation to those I love most?
On the one hand, I love my Lord, Jesus; I love my wife and my five children and their families. These are the supreme treasures of my life—my Lord, my wife, my children. And I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. Indeed, I hope that the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem. That’s my dream. And that’s my plan, if God wills.
But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, even though 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. 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. And I believe that at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage together the best way to say it is by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.
What I have asked for is something very different from a sabbatical or a writing leave. In 30 years, I have never let go—not on writing leaves or on sabbatical or on vacations—of the passion for public productivity—writing and preaching. In this leave, I intend to let go of all of it. No book-writing. No sermon preparation. No preaching. No blogging. No Twitter. No articles. No reports. No papers. And no speaking engagements—with a very few exceptions that you can read about online on Sunday afternoon.
You could view this as a kind of fasting from public ministry. One of the goals in this kind of fasting is to discern levels of addiction. Or, as Paul Tripp or Tim Keller might say, levels of idolatry. The reality check is: What will happen in my soul and in my marriage when, to use the phrase of one precious brother on staff, there will be no “prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety”?
You may think: My, a leave of absence is a pretty drastic step in the war against pride and idolatry. That’s true. It is. But I’m not the only one affected. And I hope that you will trust me and the elders that it will be good for my soul, good for my marriage and family, and good for you and for the next five or six years of ministry together, if the Lord wills.
For your encouragement about the spirit of our church, Noël and I are known inside-out by a few friends at Bethlehem—most closely by our long-time colleagues and friends David and Karin Livingston, and then by a cluster of trusted women with Noël and men with me. We are accountable, known, counseled, and prayed for. Oh how deeply thankful I am for the grace-filled culture of transparency and trust among the leadership at Bethlehem.