At their November 1988 meeting the Council of Deacons approved a four month study leave for me in 1989. This was not based on the proposed sabbatical policy which is still under discussion. It was based on the terms of my call in 1980. Point number six in the letter of call said:
Consensus that the church initiate serious discussions with Dr. Piper concerning additional time for lectures, writing, study, and travel. This will not take place until September 1, 1981.
I want to thank you for how you have lived up to this commitment. I have taken two ministry trips: one to Africa, and one to Asia. And there have been short trips during the week to speak in various places.
I have made it a practice to be here on Sunday mornings except when out of the country or on vacation. This is my top priority in ministry—to preach at Bethlehem. I expect to maintain the priority not to speak at other churches or conferences on Sunday.
I have not yet asked for any extended time free to write. Desiring God and The Justification of God were prepared for publication during evenings and days “off” and vacations and snatches of time in the normal schedule of duties.
Now at least two other books are simmering. I have a contract with Multnomah Press to write The Pleasures of God, and with Crossway Books to edit (with Wayne Grudem) Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Besides these projects I hope to do extensive reading and study in the areas of preaching, prayer and spiritual warfare. I would also like to stand back and think through the long term goals of Bethlehem, especially as they relate, for example, to planting or “adopting” other churches.
Our plan is to take the leave in two parts. One month from February 13 to March 12 (to meet a deadline for Crossway Books). The other three months May through July, with vacation in August.
I am convinced this leave will be good for the church and that this is the best time in the next several years.
- The hardest time to raise money for a building is not while it is visibly going up, but after it is up. My absence would correspond with the easiest time to keep SPAN moving. There will be much visible excitement while I am away.
- The alternative to this year is to leave soon after we are into the new building. But that is the optimal time to catch the crest of the wave and build vision and growth for the future. To be away then would be ill-timed.
- To be away during some crucial construction decisions communicates that it is not my special building. It is yours!
- Bethlehem needs to prove its strength without me for a while. If the church cannot press on and be strong for four months without me then I have not done the job I should.
Frankly I am excited that this time will be very healthy and strengthening for the church and the staff and leadership. I will return (James 4:15!). I love it here! (Hopeless Christian Hedonist!) And I expect the next nine years to be greater for the glory of God and for the good of this city than the last nine.
Standing in the need of prayer,