(Photo: The Gospel Coalition via The Christian Post)
How would it feel to replace an influential preacher like John Piper in the pulpit? Jason Meyer admitted he did not want to be the man carrying on the baton that Piper carried faithfully for 32 years.
"I was the guy saying 'who would want that?'" he said in an interview featured on The Gospel Coalition. "Who would want the comparison?"
Despite his fear, Meyer went on to become the official candidate to succeed Piper as pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He was approved overwhelmingly by the 3,000-member Minneapolis church and its elders earlier this month.
For the first time, Meyer and Piper opened up to talk about the succession in an interview with Justin Taylor of Crossway. The interview took place just a few days after the May 20 vote but was released this week.
Piper revealed that he had discussed with his wife, Noel, as well as several other pastors what the right time would be to leave the leadership of the church.
Even though he felt he could preach "another 10 years, easy," Piper said the church needed "fresh vision" and "fresh blood." Moreover, since he had been taking part in more projects such as The Gospel Coalition, writing and traveling, he felt it wasn't healthy for the church to have its leader absent so often.
Bethlehem leaders had to figure out how to go about finding a successor and they did not set a timeline. Toward the end of 2011, they formed a search team and narrowed the candidates to two men, including Meyer who had been serving as assistant professor at Bethlehem College & Seminary at the time.
When Piper, 66, first approached Meyer last November about whether he was open to becoming his successor, the young father of four remembered saying, "Nothing scares me more than that."
While he did not want to aspire to replacing Piper, he couldn't deny what God was stirring in him for months ahead of that meeting.
"I reached a point where ... I broke down and started weeping. 'OK God, I trust you but you know I don't want to do this. Why?'" Meyer recalled. "It was just this powerful moment of the Lord seemingly saying to my soul 'What if you'll have more of Me through this?'"
Piper removed himself from the process of selecting his successor after that one meeting with Meyer. The decision was left entirely to the elders, staff and congregation.
There was no coaching as Piper sought to have Bethlehem see the "uncoached, unfiltered Jason" when making a decision.
The process was "grueling" as Meyer went through a series of interviews and preached several times in front of the congregation.
Knowing how weighty and significant a succession was, Piper wanted to see "total acclamation" from the church – meaning a 90 percent approval would not be enough.
By what could only be explained by divine intervention, Piper believes, Meyer was approved by 99 percent of the members and leaders.
Meyer, who will be serving as associate pastor for Preaching & Vision for a year before completely succeeding Piper, doesn't expect the transition to be easy. He is aware of the many "train wrecks" that have occurred during such periods at other churches.
But he feels confident of where God has led him.
"I know God's voice. I've seen God's hand. If the Lord is my helper, why should I be afraid?"
And while he may be replacing a pastor whose preaching and books have influenced countless lives, Meyer said he is comforted by the Old Testament account of Joshua when he was not called to become Moses. Rather, God told Joshua He will be with him as He was with Moses.
"It's not a continuity of personality, it's not a continuity of giftings ... it's a continuity of God's presence. And if it's God's presence, then our website is not hope in John or hope in Jason, it's hope in God and that feels life-giving to a congregation to say our hope is in God," said Meyer.
"I'm going to disappoint but Scripture teaches hope does not disappoint because it's put into a God who cannot disappoint."
As for Piper, he does not feel sorrow – at least not yet – as he prepares to leave the Bethlehem pulpit. In fact, he's "bubbling with happiness."
"I'm sure that in this next year there's going to be those tears ... I'll be there listening to him preach and I'm going to be thinking 'I'm not going to be doing this anymore,'" the long-time preacher said.
But one woman at Bethlehem "captured the paradox" best to Piper, he noted. "She said 'you may not understand what I'm about to say ... I heard you preach this morning and everything in me said I cannot let him go and he cannot go fast enough.'"
As for the future, Piper hopes to continue writing and encouraging other pastors.
"I've always wondered, am I a writer who preaches or a preacher who writes? I don't know. I love them both."