MINNEAPOLIS Well known pastor John Piper announced in a sermon delivered the weekend of March 27-28 that he will take a leave of absence from May 1 until the end of the year. The absence, approved by the church elders on March 22, was the result "of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit," according to a blog post by Piper.
Piper has been at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis since 1980; prior to that, he taught biblical studies at Bethel University (then called Bethel College). He is also the author of more than 30 books and a frequent speaker at conferences across the country.
In the post, Piper cited his love for his family and his work at Bethlehem, saying, "I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem."
Yet, he said, "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 [my wife] Noël and others who are dear to me."
He offered an apology, "not for a specific deed but for ongoing character flaws."
Piper noted there is "no whiff of unfaithfulness" from either him or his wife, but "the precious garden of my home needs tending."
Former pastor Daniel Henderson, now a full-time coach to pastors and churches in spiritual renewal through his ministry Strategic Renewal, enthusiastically affirmed Piper's "authentic and wise decision."
"You never arrive in your marriage, regardless of how many years you've been married," said Henderson, who was a senior pastor for more than two decades. "First Peter 5:7 warns every husband of the tendency to drift toward insensitivity toward his wife, which creates a serious hindrance to emotional unity and spiritual fruitfulness. Pastors are not immune. In some ways, they encounter occupational hazards and spiritual attacks that can exacerbate this tendency."
Henderson, who recently wrote "Defying Gravity"specifically designed to help pastors survive personal and ministry stormsfollowed two mega-church pastors who succumbed to moral failure during his 27-year pastoral ministry.
"From those experiences of bringing healing and wholeness to a congregation, it is clear that good men can get into serious trouble when they tolerate long-term personal decline," said Henderson. "If they do not act transparently and courageously to make mid-course corrections, they lose altitude and crash.
"John Piper has embraced a courageous course to make these necessary corrections for the sake of his integrity, marriage, congregation and the honor of Christ's name. I celebrate his resolve to finish well, whatever it takes."
Church elders at Bethlehem Baptist have appointed a group of men to stay in touch with Piper and to keep him accountable for the leave.
Piper concluded his post, saying, "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."
ACTION BOX: For more information on Bethlehem Baptist Church and Piper's ministryincluding his entire blog post on his leave of absencevisit www.desiringgod.org. For information on Henderson's ministry and his latest book, "Defying Gravity," visit www.strategicrenewal.com.