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A Blockbuster Deal

Today is Trade Deadline day in the Major Leagues. My team, the Bluejays, are expected to be “buyers” this year, indicating a desire to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees to win their division. With less than two hours to go, they have not made a move. As I hunted around, looking for clues as to their inactivity, I began to wonder what the church would look like if it ran on a market similar to major league sports. I wonder if it would go a little something like this:

Sun Valley, CA Hot off the wires, the Associated Press reports a blockbuster trade. With the annual ecclesiastical trade deadline only hours away, Bethlehem Baptist Church and Grace Community Church have agreed to a four pastor deal. While early rumors indicated this might be a three-church trade involving Capitol Hill Baptist Church, the final deal is as follows:

Grace will send Pastor-Teacher John MacArthur, Minister of Music Clayton Erb and Associate Pastor, High School Ministry Eric Bancroft to Bethlehem in return for Pastor for Preaching and Vision John Piper, Lead Pastor for Operations Jon Grano and future considerations. MacArthur, widely regarded as the nation’s leading expositor, agreed to waive his no-trade clause in return for an expanded book allowance. Piper, world-class author and highly-regarded preacher, will assume MacArthur’s pulpit and radio duties. We are unable to confirm whether Piper will be expected to transition from the ESV translation of the Bible to the NASB.

While Piper was unavailable for comment, his agent read the following prepared statement: “While he was initially disappointed to hear of this trade, Pastor Piper is looking forward to serving the men and women of Sun Valley, California.” Author of more than 20 books, Piper has been serving Bethlehem since 1980. He is expected to join the staff of Grace Community Church this week. It is believed that Piper’s new contract stipulates that he will not be allowed to raise his hands in worship and will be limited to eight hyphenated words per sermon.

This trade, which had been the subject of rumors for several weeks, addresses pressing concerns in both churches. Sources who wished to remain anonymous indicated earlier this week that, while a deal was close, Bethlehem was unwilling to complete a trade without involving Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace To You. It appears now that Johnson, who has edited most of MacArthur’s major books, will remain with Grace To You and will edit forthcoming books by John Piper. “I am excited about supporting the God-exulting, Christ-centered ministry of John Piper,” said Johnson. Dr. Piper’s next book is expected to hit bookstore shelves later this year.

Grace spokesman Dan Dumas said, “While we are sorry to have to say goodbye to Dr. MacArthur, we know that he will be warmly received by his new church family. We look forward to many years of fruitful ministry with John Piper.” MacArthur has authored over 70 books and has been serving at Grace Church since 1969. Grano is expected to fill a newly-created position in Grace Church.

Meanwhile, in receiving Clayton Erb, Bethlehem addresses their pressing and much-publicized need for a minister of music. “We have three Associate Pastors and a Ministry Assistant, but no Minister of Music,” said spokesman Sam Crabtree. “Clayton will solidify and organize this talented staff.” The addition of a Minster of Music prepares Bethlehem for a busy Autumn and the always difficult Christmas season.

Shortly after the deal was announced, MacArthur was seen smiling as he said farewell to his former staff. He and Erb are expected to be available for duty in Bethlehem as soon as this Sunday. Bancroft, a talented and highly-rated rookie who ranks 11th in the Rookie Report’s 2006 rankings, will be groomed as a possible long-term successor to MacArthur.

Asked what would become of Piper’s decade-long series on Romans, Dumas said, “It is over. We expect Pastor Piper to begin a three-year series on Philemon beginning later this Fall.”

While this trade puts Grace near the salary cap, Bethlehem has apparently agreed to cover a portion of Piper’s salary through the 2006 season.