Pastor John Piper recently sat down with fellow theologians D.A. Carson and Tim Keller for an important discussion – it was time to compare notes on their succession for their churches and ministries.
The two pastors and professor (Carson), all in their 60s, wanted to first set something straight about aging during a videoed discussion posted on The Gospel Coalition website this week.
“The Bible prizes age. It’s not a sad thing to get old,” said Piper, who at 65 is the lead pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. “The future for the Christian is always brighter. I feel as excited about Jesus as ever and as eager to preach as ever, but transition is huge.”
Piper updated his congregation about his succession plan last Sunday, saying that he proposed to the elders that he transition from pastor for preaching and vision to full-time writing, teaching, mentoring, and speaking on June 30, 2014. The plan has yet to be approved by the elders.
Since April, elders at Bethlehem Church have been praying every Thursday for six weeks about Piper’s succession, the church’s structure, and funding.
Meanwhile, friend D.A. Carson, who is also 65, shared in the video that he wants to plan for his departure from several leadership positions he holds at various ministries. Carson, who is also the research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., said the school will determine the timing and method of his succession from his teaching position.
“It forces all of us to ask about the changing stages of life and energy levels and how the ministries that we are currently discharging get passed on to another generation,” Carson said. “It’s important to recognize the decline in strength and that means, if you’re wise, recognizing the decline in multi-tasking.”
The youngest of three, Keller, 60, said his church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is already in the process of succession. Redeemer is being divided into four congregations with each having its own lead pastor. Over 10 years, the church will take on a “collegiate model,” with Keller as the senior pastor and the others serving as associate pastors.
“We have a unified board of elders, but at the same time we have teams of elders working for each congregation. We are praying that this would prosper enough so that each of those congregations could create another one during this transition time,” Keller said.
In other words, Keller will pass Redeemer church to a group of pastors instead of just one. He is spending time mentoring each of the pastors and he thinks that Redeemer “in the future will not be a church, but a network of churches with a broader range of appeal than any one man can have.”
“It’s something that makes me not feel like I’m in my 60s playing out the string,” Keller said. “I feel like I’m doing something with my leaders which is every bit as big, in a way, and creative as starting a church.”
Among the three, Piper answered the question of succession with more questions than answers. “The answer for us is we don’t know. I don’t know, at 65, how long I should preach and I don’t know what the transition should look like and structurally,” Piper shared. “I don’t know if we should be three churches or one church.”
He shared with his congregation that he is praying for an Antioch moment.