This week, John Piper did the almost unthinkable. He confessed a growing sense of pride in his soul, and with his elders’ blessing, decided to take an extended leave of absence from his public ministry, as explained in a letter to his congregation. I’m deeply impressed that he decided to take a huge step back out of the spotlight before any egregious transgressions happened. It seems that too many of us don’t make such drastic steps until we hit rock bottom and have no other choice but to address our sins and addictions. The problem seems to be exacerbated with leaders and celebrities of all sorts – pastors, politicians, athletes, business executives, recording artists, and so forth. Whether their fame and power make them feel exempt, invincible, or irreplaceable, an admission of such shortcomings often seems utterly out of the question.
When I was in seminary, we often talked about the particular struggles for pastors, and especially pastors of wide esteem and high standing. All too often such a position can make one extremely vulnerable to enticing temptations that will eventually lead to a fall. When I ponder how Rev. Piper was able to be so honest and humble about his need to address his sin and focus on his own soul, and his wife and family, some quotes from Collin Hansen's Young, Restless, and Reformed come to mind. According to Piper’s own son, “My father has become a celebrity. He never sought this status [but] has accepted his status without reveling in it and has remained humbled and grounded” (p. 46).
A few years ago, Piper took a sabbatical to focus on his writing, and beforehand told his congregation, “The test of whether you are seeing and savoring Christ or humanly drawn to me will now be put to the test… My prayer and hope is that you will show in the next five months that your allegiance is not primarily to me” (p. 46).
These quotes confirm that Piper understands that he’s not exempt, invincible, or irreplaceable. But it shows me more than that. He apparently also demands that his congregation remembers that. We all too often make the mistake of idolizing those we look up to, whether religious leaders, athletes, actors, or something else. In Piper, I’m thankful for a leader of such integrity and humility and am hopeful that such leadership can inspire others to follow his example, even when it seems unthinkable.