Pastor John Piper began his eight-month leave this past weekend.
Now filling the empty pulpit at Bethlehem Baptist Church is Kenny Stokes, who had been on a sabbatical these past several months.
Stokes, who previously served as the church's Downtown Campus pastor, was approved unanimously by the elders at the Minneapolis church last week to serve as Interim Pastor for Preaching while Piper is away.
The elders determined that continuity, consistency and stability were most important and thus decided to have one primary preacher – rather than a rotation of varied speakers – to serve as the temporary shepherd.
"Few things are more important in the life of a church than the faithful preaching of the word of God," said Piper in his final written commentary to his church of some 9,000 attendees. "I trust Kenny."
"Under Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, I am happy to leave you under his preaching," he added.
Piper, 64, announced late March that he would be taking his first-ever leave of absence from ministry this year to focus on his marriage, his family and his soul. His break was not prompted by a particular sin but by "ongoing character flaws" – including pride – and the stresses they have caused to others.
He told his congregation that he felt his marriage, soul and ministry pattern needed a reality check from the Holy Spirit.
The renowned preacher and author stopped tweeting just after making the announcement and has also let go of other forms of online communication, including Facebook and blogging. During his leave, Piper will also disengage from book writing, preaching and speaking at events (with a few exceptions).
In his last sermon on April 25 to Bethlehem, Piper cited Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a 19th century minister in the Church of Scotland who also took eight months away from his parish in 1839.
M'Cheyne asked William Burns to take over the pulpit and wrote to him: "I hope you may be a thousand times more blessed among them than I ever was. Perhaps there are many souls that would never have been saved under my ministry, who may be touched under yours; and God has taken this method of bringing you into my place. His name is Wonderful."
Revival did come to St. Peter's Church while he was away.
With that, Piper left the Bethlehem pulpit with the same hope and prayer:
"O Lord ... show your great power in my absence. Send a remarkable awakening that results in hundreds of people coming to Christ, ... wayward children coming home, long-standing slavery to sin being conquered, spiritual dullness being replaced by vibrant joy, weak faith being replaced by bold witness, disinterest in prayer being replaced by fervent intercession, boring Bible reading being replaced by passion for the Word, disinterest in global missions being replaced by energy for Christ’s name among the nations, and lukewarm worship being replaced by zeal for the greatness of God’s glory.
"[B]less this church beyond anything we have ever dreamed."
Just as M'Cheyne returned to his flock and served nearly four more years before he died at the age of 29, Piper hopes to return to the Minneapolis church to preach for at least five more years.