John Piper has faithfully modeled “a lifetime of obedience in the same direction.”
Recently Bethlehem Baptist Church hosted a celebration event to honor Dr. John Piper, who retired from the pulpit after more than 32 years of faithful service. I was genuinely saddened that I was unable to attend, as I needed to serve at Mars Hill Church.
While much can be learned from John’s life, I wanted to share seven lessons I’ve learned from his example that are especially helpful for younger leaders. This may seem basic, but it’s a lifetime commitment to some basic things, faithfully pursued day after day, year after year, and decade after decade, that makes a difference. It’s what Eugene Peterson called “a long obedience in the same direction.”
1. Study the Bible
Bible study will help deepen your conviction and clarify your confusion. But don’t just study to have great sermons or a great ministry—study to experience the love of God and grow in love for God. Out of that experience comes family and ministry.
2. Stay in one place
Many leaders, particularly young leaders, are like a husband with a wandering eye. They are never really married to a church or ministry, but rather only sleeping with one while they keep their options open, constantly looking for a potentially bigger and better opportunity. I recently spoke with a young leader and he asked me how you know which ministry opportunity is the best. I told him the best ministry is the one you marry. The family of God is like our own families. There is never an easy way to have a great family. It takes a covenantal commitment and lifetime investment.
3. Teach the Bible
The Holy Spirit, who wrote the Scriptures, is glad to anoint the man who opens the Scriptures to teach about Jesus. John was originally on a path toward a lifetime of professorship at a seminary when Jesus rerouted his life journey into a local church. And he’s been teaching the Bible ever since. A life spent teaching the Bible is not a wasted life but rather an invested life. Having a bit of passion never hurts either.
4. Care about young leaders
I first met John when I was a young man. I have seen him demonstrate a constant concern and commitment to young leaders. His care for them explains in large part why a generation of young leaders appreciates him.
5. If you can write, write
Very few are prolific enough to publish 50 books, but when we write down what we learn, we are forced to sharpen our understanding and we are blessed to share it with others. The first book I read by John was Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which he edited with Dr. Wayne Grudem. I was a newer Christian in college, and my pastor recommended it. It’s a big book. But I read it, and it was foundational to the rest of my life, influencing how I read the Bible, how I lead our family, and how we govern our church. Another one of my favorite books from John is Finally Alive. In simple, readable language, he explores the new birth that happens when the Holy Spirit regenerates believers.
Writing is a way to serve more people than you will ever know, possibly beyond your lifetime, even if the writing is something simple, like position papers and blog posts for your own church.
6. You never really retire
While John is transitioning from leadership as the preaching and vision pastor at Bethlehem, he will still be serving Jesus and not playing shuffleboard for the rest of his life. Teaching and writing will be occupying much of his time, as he’s committed to investing—not wasting—his final years in God’s kingdom.
7. Glorify God by enjoying him forever
John once quipped in a conversation that he had only one sermon message and everything he’s ever taught was a variation of that big idea: God is greater than anyone or anything, and living for his glory in all things, by his grace, is why we were made and where we find our joy.
In this season, let us thank God for John and learn from his example to walk in God’s grace and invest our lives in what Jesus invested his life in, the people who are the church. Let us pray for Bethlehem Baptist as they enter a new season with their new preaching pastor. And let us pray for John as he still has a lot of tread on the tires for the coming years.