I hope that John Piper's theological and pastoral influence will continue with his decision to take an eight month sabbatical. Since I am a pastor of a local congregation I hope I don't seem self-serving in posting the following thoughts from Matthew Lee Anderson. However, Anderson's reaction to Piper's announcement so closely mirrored my own that I wanted to pass it along.
I for one am thrilled to hear that John Piper has asked for, and been granted, an eight month leave from each of his ministries.
But I don’t quite know why I’m so excited by his decision. After all, eight months is a relatively short amount of time, and I don’t know Piper at all.
But I suspect there’s a lesson here that all evangelical pastors and their churches need to pay attention to. And I hope that Piper’s influence can help them learn it.
Growing up within evangelicalism, I saw almost no emphasis on sabbatical periods for pastors, especially in those evangelical communities that have under 200 members and a small support staff. For them, sabbaticals require a greater level of sacrifice by the whole church community, as most pastors fill roles well beyond the pulpit.
But preaching the word of God every week, even when not writing a book a year, is (I have observed) incredibly difficult work and frequently spiritually draining. While Piper cites a growing pride, I suspect that many pastors who have labored long and hard have a sense of numbness to the power of the Word of God and its ability to transform their own lives.
I don’t know what kind of Biblical warrant there is for this sort of sabbatical (though I’ve always thought that if the land got a break from producing every seven years, we ought to allow our pastors the same). But it strikes me as enormously wise, and as bearing witness to the reality of God’s action in a significant way.
Within evangelicalism, we tend to expect a level of spiritual hyper-productivity from our pastors. And so we rarely, if ever, let them enjoy the sort of sustained rest from their labors that is truly required to replenish their hearts and their minds. Sabbaticals, in their core, are breaks from activity to let God be God, and to create space for him to work in us anew. So it is encouraging to see one of our most prominent relinquish his duties and simply enjoy the world and relationships that God has given to him.
I prayed today–and I don’t often pray for people I don’t know–for John Piper and his wife. And you should too.
But more importantly, I pray that evangelical churches around the United States will seek to follow his example and allow their pastors space to replenish, space to delight in their wives, space to seek the renewal of their hearts in their from their labors.