Pastor, are you having fun?


“I have a little and earnest peeve,” John Piper said last night in his second message at DG’s 2015 Conference for Pastors, “Make War: The Pastor and His People in the Battle Against Sin” (2/3/15).

“‘Fun’ has become an adjective, and is the most common word used today, I think, among pastors to describe their happiness in ministry. That’s very telling. All of you do it. I hear it everywhere. ‘Having a blast in the work.’ ‘Oh, we’re having fun!’ Lots of people who say that are not superficial people, they have just absorbed the language from superficial people. If any word is superficial, the word ‘fun’ is superficial.”

He went on to explain:

I think one of the reasons so many worship services in America are so playful and amusing and entertaining and casual and flippant and jokey and trifling and downright silly is that there is so little sense that anything ominous is really at stake in this service. This service is for secure believers to have fun and for unbelievers to see them have fun; so they will know Christianity is fun. And “fun” has become the most common word among pastors to describe their happiness in ministry. It’s very telling. . . .

In Romans 8:13 Paul says, “If you live according to the flesh you will die.” How could he talk that way to the “saints” at Rome?

Thousands of pastors today would never talk that way to their people. Which is one reason why people don’t feel anything huge, eternal, life-shaking, awesome is at stake in this service or this message. Paul could talk that way because his understanding was that the way people receive and respond to the word of God confirms what kind of person they are: truly born of God, or not. . . .

Then he closed:

In the end, the warfare [against sin] doesn’t sound so bleak. It is serious. Every Sunday. Everyday. But it is a profoundly happy business, because our main work is, by the Spirit of God, with the word of God, to portray the glories of God as more beautiful and more satisfying than anything in the world. We pastors, we people, are a seriously happy band because we aim to kill sin that kills joy in God.

Piper and #Passion2015

Passion 2015 is happening right now in a packed out Philips Arena in Atlanta and John Piper is again slated to preach. These huge gatherings of college students are special, but the massive size of these annual venues also remind me of a little story about John Piper I stumbled over in an interview and recounted in a book. Here’s the story.

all-consumingFriday morning, January 11, 2013 dawned frigid and dark in Minneapolis. John Piper finished his devotions, slid on his boots, bundled in his coat, and stepped outside to the remnants of an overnight ice storm to walk 600 slippery steps from his Minneapolis home to the door of Bethlehem Baptist Church for a weekly prayer gathering.

Especially after winter storms, those Friday morning gatherings were small (often only a few would attend), but two or three is enough of an audience to pray for the congregation’s needs and the gospel’s advance.

Just one week earlier, Piper took a different walk. Under the warm spotlight of Atlanta’s Georgia Dome for Passion 2013, Piper climbed the stairs and walked on stage to plead with 60,000 college students to embrace the beauty of Christ as they face a future of inevitable suffering and persecution in various forms. His bold voice echoed through the dome, reiterating the point of the conference. “This is what Passion is about,” he said, “the glorification of the infinite worth of Jesus so that he remains our joy when everything around our soul gives way” (Heb. 10:34). It was more than a message, it was a sobered theme of the conference, a theme of all the Passion Conferences.

Piper has now preached at every major Passion conference since 1997. With annual waves of new students, the Passion Conference crowd is never the same, but Piper’s messages build on one another. And to get a sense of this development, we created this book to collect four of his pivotal messages from the conference, including his first Passion message, a two-part message: “Passion for the Supremacy of God” (1997), his message to 40,000 students: “Boasting Only in the Cross” (2000), along with “Getting to the Bottom of Your Joy” (2011), and his message to the 60,000 students: “Joy as the Power to Suffer in the Path of Love for the Sake of Liberation” (2013).

But first I asked Pastor John to explain his history with Passion and what makes him so eager to speak at Louie Giglio’s conferences, questions he was eager to answer on that icy January day in 2013 after he returned home from the small prayer meeting. Here’s what he said.

Read on in the free book here.

Piper: Racial Reconciliation Will Require Bold, Biblical, and Patient Pastors


Very grateful for the conversation tonight on race, “A Time to Speak,” at the Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

Late in the conversation, Bryan Loritts, offered up this challenge: “White evangelicals will attack the issue of abortion voraciously, systemically. I want to see that same passion for issues of racial injustice. I want to see that same passion. It’s disingenuous to attack abortion systemically and all of the sudden go mute when it comes to issues of racial injustice.”

A few minutes later, moderator Ed Stetzer turned the conversation to John Piper, saying, “All the polls point that we’re in a time of racial polarization, that we’ve made less racial progress, or we’ve lost ground even. Most polls say this, even with President Obama being the first African American president. But I haven’t seen this much talk about this [race] maybe since Promise Keepers. So John, I wonder, as an Anglo pastor, in a predominately Anglo church, are you encouraged about the tone and tenor of racial reconciliation conversations now?”

Which set up Piper’s closing response:

It’s mixed. There’s discouraging things to see, and there’s encouraging things to see. This [panel] is encouraging. I told a brother I was having lunch with today that the number of young, black, theologically-rich, socially-aware, men feels fresh to me. It feels new to me — didn’t see it a generation ago. That feels really hopeful.

I think the last thing I’d want to say is to speak to pastors, if I could, for just one minute.

Bryan, I wish there were more pastors passionate and courageous about abortion. You make it sound like it’s a lot, and perhaps comparatively it is. But there are cowards in the pulpit, cowards in the pulpit who are looking at their pocketbooks and looking at their membership lists, who won’t touch that issue with a 10–foot pole — abortion they won’t touch, and how much less racism. So my first plea for pastors is, be bold. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

Second, I would say: Preempt the issues on abortion, on racism, and others, biblically. Go there first, and capture the vocabulary. Otherwise you’ll inherit all the Fox News vocabulary or another a-theological vocabulary if you haven’t provided your people with a biblical vocabulary to talk about the issues.

Third, and last, I would say, don’t think of this as dealing with a crisis for the moment, that will soon be gone and over. Think of it as marriage. Nobody who has been married 30, 40, 50 years, has a blowup and says, “Ah, a golden moment for fixing it!” Nobody thinks that way. You work it through and hope you make a few increments of progress, and you go on and take whatever joys you can get.

And that’s the way it’s going to be until Jesus comes.

So I don’t want pastors to walk away from this. I want them to stay at the table and just keep hammering away. If they get clobbered for doing it wrong, come back and do it better.

Learning Reformed Theology

John Piper, at an event Tuesday night at Westminster Theological Seminary, recounting his seminary days at Fuller (1968–71):

I didn’t learn my reformed theology mainly from John Calvin, or even from Jonathan Edwards (whom I esteem as highly as one can possibly esteem a non-divine being). I learned it from Romans 9 and Romans 1–8 and Galatians and the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians with Dan Fuller pushing my nose down in the nitty-gritty of the conjunctions and the connectors [of the biblical text]. To this day, I find the theology inescapable in the Bible. . . . In my early days, Romans was the key watershed document to turn my word upside-down. And you know who it was who guided me through Romans? John Murray. That is the most beautifully written commentary on the planet.

HT: @JaredOliphint

Goers and Senders

How can a Christian live out his obedient, quiet life in suburban America (1 Thessalonians 4:9–12), and also participate in radical, global, cross-cultural missions (Luke 24:45–47)?

This is an important question, but it’s also a question loaded with tensions — healthy tensions I think. It seems to me the best answer is found in the trinitiarian categories of sender and sent, or goer and sender.

Here’s how the point was articulated back in the late 1990s at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and published as an appendix in the book, A Holy Ambition: To Preach Where Christ Has Not Been Named (2011), page 159:

Driving Convictions Behind Cross-Cultural Missions

John Piper
January 1, 1996

… Conviction #13 — Our Aim Is Not to Persuade Everyone to Become a Missionary, But to Help Everyone Become a World Christian.

There are only three kinds of people: goers, senders, and the disobedient. It’s not God’s will for everyone to be a “goer.” Only some are called to go out for the sake of the name to a foreign culture (e.g., Mark 5:18–19).

Those who are not called to go out for the sake of the name are called to stay for the sake of the name, to be salt and light right where God has placed them, and to join others in sending those who are called to be cross-cultural missionaries.

In God’s eyes both the goers and the senders are crucial. There are no first and second class Christians in God’s hierarchy of values. Together the goers and the senders are “fellow-workers with the truth” (3 John 8).

So whether you are a goer or a sender is a secondary issue. That your heart beats with God’s in his pursuit of worshipers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation is the primary issue. This is what it means to be a World Christian.

Of course this all assumes (1) a commitment to a local church, and (2) a local church’s commitment to the global advance of the gospel. When those are in place, the goer and sender categories help make sense of it all.