John Piper’s Time to Ponder

All will probably have read about John Piper taking some months out of the ministry in order to look closely at himself and his family. He has described his awareness of the sin of pride in his life. Rather than discuss it on the tail of another unrelated thread, it deserves its own space for the issues this raises.

Here is Piper’s announcement.

Wazza’s response to this off another thread was:

John Piper takes a few months off, where he says he’s going to do absolutely nothing – and he gets universal praise and applause from other pastors and the general community.

Dont get me wrong, I think its a very good thing that he’s doing – but there would be very few jobs where you’d get that kind of affirmation for taking a holiday.

– Wazza2

Teddy’s response to Piper’s announcement is:

John Piper is taking time out to restore the proper balance to his marriage – rightfully acknowledging that his marriage is more important than his ministry. As was said by another pastor ….

“Piper’s greater concern to work out his own salvation in fear and in trembling rather than to extend his influence.. We should all take careful note.”

My own reaction is firstly to think, good on him. Its encouraging to see a highly respected pastor admit to something like pride where there may be no obvious incidents that reveal this to the public around him. Adultery for example, seems to show up when affairs are unavoidably exposed, but pride – well, its one of those things that we all agree is sin, but there aren’t the same shocking incidents to unavoidably expose it.

My second reaction is to agree regarding the irony that Wazza has pointed out. Merely by announcing his decision, he is subjected to a torrent of approving remarks, and admiration for his step, which themselves could lead to the problem he’s trying to address.

So, how widespread is the problem of pride in church leadership positions? How can it be addressed? Are there some inherent practices in the way we do church that make this particular sin more of a trap? And the more successful the pastor, the more dangerous the trap.

Teddy put up another good link on the subjecthere, which is worth reading.

As an aside, I did attend the local Anglican church the other day, for my son’s scripture class Easter church service. I noticed the minister was on the cleaning roster, in with other volunteers. Perhaps that is one of his ways of practically keeping himself on the same level as everyone else – it did send a message about a level standing before God with others in the congregation, I think.


33 thoughts on “John Piper’s Time to Ponder

  1. Wazza’s comment from the other thread:

    wazza2 Says:
    April 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    ok thanks RP. I dont think its about John Piper specifically, I think its a good decision he has made.
    But others make the same kinds of decisions every day and do not have the same level of attention paid to them.

    Its more about the way that some Pastors lives are lived in a fish-bowl, everyone looking in and commenting. Negative comments would be very difficult, but also positive ones could be difficult to deal with over time – which is why I said it would be difficult not to become a narcissist.




  3. ‘For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.’ Rom.12:3

    If it were not for the grace of God no minister would be where they are. It is his Church, and his ministry, overseen by his Spirit. Without Christ we are nothing.

    ‘Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.’ 1 Cor.10:12

    If you take notice of flattery you will fall. It doesn’t to have to be Pastors. It can be anyone. Musicians in the church band may have at least as much cause to watch themselves. Deacons, even those who have a cleaning fetish who are subject to ‘Martha’ syndrome. We all have to watch our motives and attitudes.

    That’s why we don’t hold the less seen members of Christ’s body in low regard, but rather in high esteem.

    1 Corinthians 12
    20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.
    21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
    22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.
    23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty,
    24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it,
    25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
    26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
    27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

    But pride, well it’s a hard one to handle if we’re not careful. But God has a way with dealing with the proud.

  4. Yes, the musician role could be a vulnerable one too. So could being a successful business person, particulary in churches where they are given special accolades.

    At the same time, do we then not give anyone a pat on the back? That would seem to be an over extreme reaction. How do we show thanks and appreciation but also avoid empty flattery? Can we tell the difference? (I _think_ I can… especially when its a salesperson doing the flattering!)

    Not wanting to get off topic, but how does ‘Martha syndrome’ express itself? Honestly, those deacons have quite a lot to organise at times, and so do those of us who have people into our homes at times!

  5. this one is from my all-time favourite author, and I think that John Piper knows this piece very well too:

    “I now come to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals. There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

    The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

    C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    @FL, RP: As with musicians, I think the risk may be even greater than with pastors in our pop culture, and in that area, I know of no one, except one, who ever admitted to be affected by it. But maybe I simply don’t know enough about many musicians.

  6. Probably a very good idea … I wonder what prompted the realisation.

    Anyway, loved what you said RP, about your local vicar.

    I remember what someone once said “I suppose the priesthood of all believers means the Pope is sometimes right.”

    I am excited today.

    Maybe it’s the time of year … but ALL THINGS are possible with God!

    And before you cynics say anything, it’s not to do with the coffee. I’ve only had one very strong full jug.


    Well, whatever, I am in a good mood. Hallelujah!!!

  7. The pastor at my ex-church is reputed to have said – and I quote – “I’m not called to wash feet”.

    It’s a little incredible that any Christian would say that!

    Another reason it was reassuring to see the local minister’s action I mentioned above!

    Glad you are in such a good mood, Bull. 🙂

  8. Glad you’re in a good mood Bull.
    Good quotes Bull and Teddy.

    Isn’t there a saying that goes ‘Flattery gets you no where’?

    If there is, it should be modified to say ‘Flattery gets you no where unless you want to get into public ministry’.

  9. s&p,
    ‘‘Flattery gets you no where unless you want to get into public ministry’.’

    I’m a bit curious as to how that would actually work, s&p.

    I don’t think Piper got where he is through flattery, but through hard work and applying effort to the call on his life. If you consider it flattery that many ministers are supportive of his brief sojourn out of ministry, then you don’t understand the nature of ministry. There’s a vast difference between flattery and support, be it through affirmation or encouragement.

    We are all supposed to provoke one another to love and good works. It’s part of our mandate to exhort one another, but exhortation is completely different to flattery, which is generally synonymous with an attempt by the flatterer at achieving recognition, rather than the other way round.

    A wise leader learns to see through flatterers by examining the fruit of their current endeavours rather than their aspirations. We are not supposed to train up those who claim ability, but those who are faithful whom God will enable.

  10. Usually the aim of flattery is to get something. So there will be those who will try to ‘flatter’ their way to the top of whatever industry they are in. Just as there will be others who will offer sincere and positive encouragement. If someone is trying to ladder climb by flattery, they will probably also ignore people who won’t advance them, and spend a lot of time with those whom they think can. This isn’t always obvious to the person on the positive end of the behaviour.

  11. Agreed, RP. So is s&p saying the best way to get into public ministry is through flattery?

  12. Flattery also got many people in places in the Corinthian church. It indeed got the super apostles back then and today into their positions of authority over people.

    I do mean what I say Facelift as a general statement. I observe quite a bit what happens in different church culture.

    I see this related to the topic. If people continually praise ministers for what they do like Piper, I think it is healthy sometimes for these types of ministers to step back out of the limelight.

    It gives them a chance to discover that they are still human and not a super Christian celebrity set apart from everyone else. Church culture is full of genuine positive comments. It is very hard to tell when someone is flattering someone.

    Being overdosed with nice comments can lead people to have an unhealthy view of oneself. It is good to step back from ministry, re-evaluate oneself, stand strong on humility, and come back anchored on who you
    know you are – not what others say you are.

  13. John Piper books “Christian HEDONIST” and “Desiring God” have been a benefit to me. I would sugguest you give them a read.

    MRWBBIII, you are the eldest son standing from afar when the Father throws a party when the lost son returns. Rest, relax and enjoy the Father and stop working so hard to please him. God is more pleased with us when we enjoy him and rest in his love.

    What is wrong with enjoying God and getting pleasure out of doing Good?

    Yes, Piper has some holes in his theology, but shite we all do.

    John Piper is human as the next person and maybe he needs to deal with some issues (who doesn’t). I hope and pray that his relationship with his wife will be strenghten.

  14. Hey MRWBBIII, what is so Heretic about the definition of “Christian Hedonism”?

    Piper advocates Christian hedonism and teaches that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”[14] and that God’s highest pursuit (“his glory”) and man’s deepest and most durable happiness come together in one pursuit – namely, the pursuit of joy in God.

    MRWBBIII, why are you so anti this way of thinking? Isn’t you goal in life is to enjoy the Fathers Love or is it to get your theolody right.

  15. s&p, I think you’re confusing pride and self-elevation with flattery. People who are given an overdose of nice comments, as you put it, are not stepping over the line because of flattery, but because they believe their own press.

    I’ve seen pride rise in otherwise great ministers, who think that they are having a degree of success in ministry because they are the bees knees at something, until they have it pointed out that there are a number of factors at play in the success, chief of which is the anointing and call of God, and the fact that the Word of God works where it is correctly applied in the Spirit, or that success in the ministry usually has little to do with the vessel, and all to do with God. or that success isn’t always measured by God in the same way it is measured by people.

    I have seen the unwise step out and begin their own ministries based solely on the consideration that they are so good at what they do under the leadership and guidance of another ministry under Christ. I have seen them steel sheep and ruin lives because pride told them they could do it better than God’s appointed Pastoral team.

    The danger signs usually arise when a person stops being teachable, and starts becoming hypercritical of everything he or she sees in their local church. They convince themselves that their leaders are not as good at what they do as they would be if they were given the job, and start the process of telling a select group of ‘friends’ of their ‘concerns’. Then they begin to subtly put out remarks which indicate they could do things better than the prevailing leadership, and begin to draw disciples to themselves.

    These things, sadly, happen all the time, and the main constituent is pride, which often stems from envy, and always leads to strife. The result of this is that every evil work is given place in ministries.

    Little wonder Paul warns that people like this occasionally come from the very heart of the flock, so that overseers must be vigilant. The painful thing is that it’s not always possible to do anything to prevent the loss or hurt to some of the flock when pride enters, and the unrepentant, prideful ex-sheep causes havoc.

    If a person allows pride to rise within them from a simple dose of flattery, then they really don’t have Christ in them. I think self-flattery is just as dangerous.

    I know there are senior leaders who suffer from pride also, but they should be submitted to others who can correct them, and theirs is the greater condemnation, for they will have to give account for the people they were called to lead, which is why we should allow them to lead us with joy, not regret, that is, those who serve well and lead well.

    Apart from this, we should all be submitted to one another in the fear of the Lord. And guard our heart above all things, for out of it come all the issues of life.

    James warns us to approach with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save our souls. If we read and study enough of the Word on a regular basis we will spend time in passages which will bring correction to any pride or envy we may have. Just discerning the Body correctly in communion should serve somewhat in this. Judging ourselves daily. Taking up our cross daily.

    When we start thinking more of ourselves than we should, we are on the way to a disaster.

  16. “I know there are senior leaders who suffer from pride also, but they should be submitted to others who can correct them…” (FL)

    Who are the ‘others’ that they should be submitted to?

    Often it is people who aren’t in their own congregation, and who don’t see them on a day to day basis. How would these ‘others’ even know if there is a cause for concern in an area such as pride, which doesn’t always reveal itself unless you do see a person in their regular daily setting?

    If there is a good eldership in a congregation, one that is not solely chosen by the senior minister perhaps, then that could suit.

    But really, the crunch I think is “we should all be submitted to one another” (FL, above), which effectively means an attitude of submission towards members of the congregation, rather than an attitude of lordship over them. If a leader has an issue with that, then perhaps it is worth examining themselves for pride. We are all called to ‘wash feet’.

    But what does ‘submission’ mean? Is it, ‘do what you are told to do’ by the one you are submitted to? I think it is more along the lines of giving precedence to the needs of others, which is a more relational approach and less hierarchical. This might also involve discussing needs at times, and agreeing on an approach, while not putting our own needs in front of anothers.

    As a result you will have the strong and obviously talented at times giving way to the weak; the strong serving the weak. Just as we serve our kids as parents (even discipline when they need it is a form of service). We do many things for them because we love them. We don’t insist that they serve us, though there are things they think are service that will equip them to live in the world.

    Father came and served us in Christ. He showed us how to live and serve. So a church leader is serving their congregation without insisting on service to themselves. If the leader is called to that position, then the congregation is also wise to serve the leader, to make their job easier, and we all benefit. Very relational rather than hierarchical. Not because of pride or entitlement to some form of treatment.

    The strongest ends up giving way to the weak in ways that will help them and serve them. Not demanding from them. One example might be not drinking alcohol in the presence of alcoholics. Leadership is by example, and someone whose heart is turned towards God will see Christ in that service and grow to follow Him more. All of that, to me, is to do with submission, both wo one another, and ultimately to God. In living this out, the knowledge that God, the strongest of all, came as a Servant, rather than a King – despite being a King – should mitigate pride.

    It is good to remember the victory that came out of that ultimate act of humility and service. He is Risen!

  17. I agree with you on this Facelift:

    “The danger signs usually arise when a person stops being teachable, and starts becoming hypercritical of everything he or she sees in their local church. They convince themselves that their leaders are not as good at what they do as they would be if they were given the job, and start the process of telling a select group of ‘friends’ of their ‘concerns’. Then they begin to subtly put out remarks which indicate they could do things better than the prevailing leadership, and begin to draw disciples to themselves.”

  18. Wazza said on the ‘Engaging with Imperfection’ thread:

    “Well I suppose those early Protestants like Luther stopped being teachable and then started to become hypercritical of everything he saw in the local church. Then started to tell a select group of his ‘friends’ his ‘concerns’. Then began to subtly put out remarks that indicate he could do better, and draw disciples to himself.

    In the case of the early Protestants you fully support this process and say that to remain silent on it is dangerous. But in the case of the modern reformers you count it only as pride, causing division and say that we should be submitted.

    There are modern equivalents to some of the things you mention, occuring within the Pentecostal movements. Some of the names you call the Catholic church smack of fanaticism and extreme religious intolerance. I’m all for looking critically at an institution and a belief system but that is just name calling.” – wazza

  19. What FL describes (quoted above by S&P) sounds really bad, but as wazza points out, if we looked at every person’s behaviour in that way, we’d have condemned the leaders of some very important movements.

    Churches have split for a variety of reasons over time, some very understandable. You can’t dictate what people think or make everyone think the same way, so sometimes it is inevitable that a charismatic individual will gather followers around themselves with a different point of view.

  20. A rephrasing of what FL wrote above, but given a context, could read:

    A person who in their ‘secular’ setting is a leader of some kind, is attending a local church where their senior leader has gone off the deep end. They have misgivings about what they see happening, and search the scriptures. Convinced there are issues, they approach the existing leadership team privately. No one gives any credence to anything they say. They brush off any concerning incidents, and instead, bring up things from the person’s past. These things weren’t an issue at the time, and weren’t ‘sin’, but were perhaps not the social norm in that church setting. Now they are used to undermine the person’s credibility, and to suggest that the real reason for their concerns is personal issues that they need to go away and deal with.

    The person shares their concerns with trusted friends in the congregation, including the issues that were raised to undermine their credibility which also indicate that the leadership team are unwilling to discuss the merits of the original concerns. The leadership team goes further off the deep end, having been unwilling to listen, and even becomes more extreme, being worried now about dissenters. Their more extreme behaviour gives more people cause for concern; the original person who is a natural leader, becomes the focus for their expression of this. Again they get nowhere with leadership, and they leave that church, starting their own study group somewhere else. People at the church are banned from attending that study group, so if they want to do so, they have to leave.

    The original church becomes a cult, with all those who could have provided a balance having left; the new study group becomes a new congregation or a staging post for people while they look for other existing congregations to join.

  21. Very good portrayal of what happens with a church split RP.

    I’m feeling a rant coming on…
    I will do my best not to express myself on here.

  22. I’m just in favour of looking at each situation on its merits, rather than assuming things that look the same always are the same. Things are rarely black and white.

  23. Yes, the scenario you describe rings true to me, RP.

    I think it is because people have an inbuilt tendency to side with an institution – particularly those that have a stake or an interest in it. A paid position is obviously a stake, but an unpaid one may also be an interest.

    When a person is seen to be outside of the institution and potentially a threat to it, then people circle the wagons. It dosent matter what the outsider says – they may have legitimate claims or rational and scriptural arguments. There may even be great and obvious wrong done to them, however to the people inside the institution it will seem as if their arguments are confused, illogical and they are solely motivated by malice and conflict.

    The leadership will reflect this back to the outsider, and it will be the honest opinion of the leadership. They arent doing this conciously out of self-protection or spite. They will honestly think they are the rational ones and that the outsider has suddenly gone off the rails. Others in the institution will back their judgement and as unlikely as it seems, their explanation that the outsider has gone crazy will seem like the only reasonable explanation.

    I have seen this process occur in both work and in church. I have seen a whole church including two Pastors confront their senior Pastor with his sin, only to have that senior Pastor be exonerated by the higher authorities in the denomination. They would rather believe that a whole church suddenly went crazy than that their boy had a problem.

    Organisations and institutions can be a means to an end, or they can become an end in themselves. Given human-nature, there’s always a danger that they become an end in themselves and cause great damage to the people affected by them.

  24. In my experience, what tends to happen is leaders listen to what has been said, and never mention it again.

    Very often, language gets toned down and sometimes things a clarified from the pulpit, although the overall impression is of brushing things under the carpet!

    I remember hearing about Todd Bentley from a favourable Pulpit … only for him to be completely blanked out after his notorious fall from grace.

    Leaders don’t continue to go off the deep end, in my experience. They merely pretend like it never happened and that they were always “sound”. As such, nothing is ever acknowledged.


  25. At least when a leader goes off the deep end, it usually becomes obvious to many people. Then they get the opportunity to consider what they are really looking for in a church community, and why they are where they are.

  26. Most splits split and any movement that is formed in reaction against church abuses became even or worse abusing.

    Classic example is the Brethren movement. After 10 years breaking from the Church of England, Darby broke away and formed the Exclusive Brethren.

  27. Yes, that seems to be the problem with reacting to any institution by forming another institution. (Any gathering can be institution like depending on how it is set up.) You can end up becoming just like what you left behind if you start something else up but don’t shed all the false beliefs and habits associated with that culture.

    When you first leave, you might be reacting against specific events or even a particular value. But the rest of that culture looks OK to you. Then you go on, start a ‘new thing’ but repeat the bits you don’t realise are a problem.

    An example could be someone who realises that the ‘covering’ doctrines are wrong. That’s good, but they may still believe in submission to leaders/elders in a hierarchical sense, for the sake of order, rather than in the sense of mutual submission, love and service to one another. So they start a new group without ‘covering’, but seek to ‘rule over’ their flock. Then it could become very abusive, due to their misunderstanding of submission. But they will think they are more true to scripture than the group they left behind. Or another might leave because they strongly disagree with ‘tithing’ doctrines, but start a group with communal ownership of all possessions, and ultimately end up exploiting vulnerable individuals in a far worse fashion, when people lose not only their possessions to the group, but any say in what is done with things, and a leader directs use for his personal gain (framed as his vision from God).

    A good reason sometimes to leave and either join another place that’s less extreme, or just do nothing for some considerable time while you get sorted out.

  28. Often people think the problem is with the leader of their church, and don’t identify the inherent problems with beliefs that lead to that culture. So they may change churches or leaders, but ultimately just find more of the same.

Comments are closed.