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Surprise and admiration have characterized the response so far to news that Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor John Piper will take an eight-month leave of absence from public ministry between May 1 and December 31, 2010. Explaining the move to his Minneapolis congregation, Piper said his soul, marriage, family, and ministry pattern "need a reality check from the Holy Spirit." Piper, widely known for his prodigious book output and intense speaking schedule, will abstain from all such activity during this unexpected sabbatical.

"I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with [my wife] Noël and others who are dear to me," Piper wrote. "How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I'll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I'm sorry. Since I don't have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins."

Thousands of ministers who have learned from Piper through his books, sermons, and conference talks will now have opportunity to learn from his silence. Pastors, even if they do not aspire to Piper's level of influence, easily fall into exhausting patterns of study, counseling, meetings, and visitation that jeopardize time alone with God and with their families. A 2008 Lifeway survey found that 65 percent of pastors work 50 or more hours per week, including 8 percent who work 70 or more hours. E-mail and meetings cut into time for visiting church and family members. Congregational emergencies cut short precious ...

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