As most evangelicals know, pastor John Piper recently retired after more than 30 years of service at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Our family has been there for less than nine of them. But in that time much good has been done in our family because of how he preaches and interacts with those under his shepherding.
But Pastor John is not unique in any of these traits. Or to put it as he might, they are not his distinctives. Many pastors would fit this full description. Nevertheless, these traits are all important tools by which Pastor John worked toward his ultimate goal—spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
So here are six reasons I’m glad John Piper has been my family’s pastor. All quotes come from his sermons.
1. He is funny.
Pastor John once said that he’d never told a joke in 30 years of giving sermons. I’ll admit that I’ve never heard him tell one. But this is not to say that he never tries to get people to laugh. He does, often and successfully. This makes me glad, because humor is part of life.
I’ve heard that Pastor John has a reputation as being very serious, and some believe him to be too sober. To these people I suggest that they listen to a sermon or two. Anyone who reads the Gospels can imagine Jesus smiling after speaking some of his declarations and a child giggling with him. It’s a good thing to see a son or daughter laugh in the middle of a sermon.
“I’ve told that story a hundred times and people always laugh. You almost didn’t laugh.”
“Pride never falls out of a chair in laughter,” he would say.
2. He is an actor.
Just to be clear, when I say Pastor John acts, I don’t mean that he is in any way fake or false. I mean he doesn’t read his sermons straight. He puts much emotion into what he is saying. In a single sermon he might emote anger, sadness, exasperation, confusion, dread, and joy. And much has been said about Pastor John’s sermon gestures. It all makes for an interesting experience.
“God can’t be boring. The world is boring! Avatar is boring! . . . That’s not in the manuscript. It must be of God. You decide.”
“I don’t want to live in this body for the rest of eternity. I can’t see. My wife thinks I can’t hear. I can hear, but my wife thinks I can’t. It’s the fan! It’s the fan!”
“I’m scared out of my wits at being a millionaire. That’s a weakness. Some people can handle it. I don’t have that gift. Like I chew a whole pack of gum immediately. . . Why wouldn’t you?”
3. He uses an outline.
When Pastor John preached on the first chapter of John, he said, “It’s not wrong to write a story with suspense. This one just doesn’t have it.” This can be said of Pastor John’s sermons as well.
Pastor John not only has an outline when he preaches, he often makes those elements clear from the first paragraphs. And he makes it clear which point he’s on, sometimes repeating the previous points. As a dad, I’m grateful for this; it gives my kids an easier way to get a sense of bearing.
“Now, these are going to be a little bit longer. This is going to go up on the Web on Monday afternoon, so you can just relax, you don’t need to write this stuff down. If it sounds like it’s going to be helpful, just go get it . . . Don’t panic.”
4. His heart is visible.
We’d been attending Bethlehem about a six months when my nearly 2-year-old son lost part of his pinky in a construction accident. This was a difficult time for our family, and we brought Erik to see Pastor John, who prayed for our son and kissed his bandaged hand. And he told us about a time when his son had been injured.
He can be seen after each sermon ministering, one by one, family by family, to a line of people, some heartbroken, some praising God, some angry, some confused, some questioning. He is unfailingly helpful, gracious, and pleasant.
And when he speaks at our campus there are two young elementary school girls who run to give him a hug right after he gives the benediction. He always greets them joyfully, even when they almost knock him over.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy,” he would say. “I don’t have any promises about ease, except that it gets worse. I do have huge promises about joy.”
“We want to fly away and be like angels. But we live here, and we change diapers.”
“I don’t know about you, but I was really helped by my sermon last week.”
“Don’t think that Jesus is into crowds. Jesus is into individuals. Big time. Like you.”
5. He is Bible-centered.
If you listen to a Piper sermon, you can expect to hear the biblical text read right before he begins and at least once more (in parts) during the sermon. He takes apart the Scripture phrase by phrase and word by word and makes it clear that he has wrestled with its meaning. He tries to find texts from the Bible to corroborate what he’s saying (starting with the book from which the sermon text is found and going outward), and he makes it clear that we shouldn’t trust him if what he’s saying can’t be found in the Bible.
“In fact, so much is here in verse 31 that I never got to verse 32, from which I took the title to the message.”
“When I read things like this in the Bible they jar me. I really love to be jarred by the Bible.”
“I don’t know what kind of sentimental ideas you have about Jesus. Just read your Bibles and they’ll go away.”
“Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obediah, Jonah, Micah . . . just struggle around until you find it. The minor prophets are the hardest books to find in the bible. Even for me after 64 years.”
“This is what preachers do at 5:30 on Friday afternoon—we pound our heads on the desk and say, ‘What does this say?’”
6. He is gospel-centered.
The gospel can be broken down into many parts: Jesus is sinless; you can’t make it to God on your own; hell is very, very bad; coming to faith is coming to life; you want to be on God’s side; every human is deeply sinful; you must accept the gift; heaven is very, very good (because God is there); God has made a way; salvation is a result of grace; the fact that Christ died for you and me is a good that transcends all other goods.
I defy you to listen to any Piper sermon and not find at least two or three of these ideas highlighted. In this respect he is relentless, he is repetitive, he is predictable.
“I came to Christ when I was 6; I’m 64. I’m not optimistic about getting out of sin.”
“The problem is, it doesn’t do any good to nudge a corpse. If you do that, you can get a corpse to church, but you can’t make it alive.”
“We’re fondling our little roaches, our little scorpions, our little tarantulas. ‘They’re so fuzzy and warm’ . . . and then the light goes on!”
“That’s what it’s going to be like in heaven. Skin and bouncing balls and lions and lambs lying down together. Dogs. No cats! Well, I guess the lion’s a cat.”
Pastor Jason Meyer, the man called to replace Pastor John, recently said that a boring mind is the birthplace of a boring sermon. It’s clear that John Piper doesn’t have a boring mind. It’s also clear that he has an intentional mind. And he intends to glorify God.
My family, along with so many others, are eternally grateful. May God bless Pastor John and his family in retirement. All the way to heaven.