A candidate to succeed influential pastor John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church was announced by the church's elders Tuesday. Piper said he is "overjoyed" at the selection while he continues to be a part of the succession process.
The leaders of the church, based in the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota, nominated Jason Meyer, who is currently assistant professor of New Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary.
The congregation will first vote on May 20 in order to approve Meyer as an associate pastor for the church. His starting date to fall under Piper's pastoral mentorship and an "overlap" period between the two would be Aug. 1 if the church votes in favor of the decision.
A decision on when Meyer takes Piper's lead position as Pastor for Preaching & Vision will not be made until the church's Council of Elders makes sure Bethlehem's congregation has time to interact with his "preaching and other visible avenues of leadership/grooming that he will take on before the second congregational vote."
Elders state that Meyer "is both a product of Bethlehem and clearly reflective of its 'DNA' in his convictions and activities."
Piper, 66, who is a well-known evangelical theologian, responded to the decision in a statement posted on the church's website as "Questions and Answers from John Piper."
He was asked how he feels about Meyer's candidacy.
"I am overjoyed. Both at the process and the person. As I heard the results emerging from the various meetings there were times when I wept for joy. I thought, 'God was actually doing this. God is loving Bethlehem. God is giving unity. God is anointing Jason. His hand is on him for this. This is no mere human process. God has been at work in this for over 12 years. (Yes, and in eternity!).'"
Piper has openly talked about how churches should handle succession, including how his is being handled at his own church. Last year, Piper sat down with fellow theologians D.A. Carson and Tim Keller to discuss and compare notes on their succession for their churches and ministries.
He updated his congregation about his succession plan last June, 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.
In Piper's statement released Tuesday, he said he had an initial conversation with Meyer last November and when he asked him if he was open to be considered "there was an astonishing sense of his readiness for this. It was beyond what I had expected. From that moment on the sense of his calling has grown."
Piper said he was involved in the process until the field was narrowed to two candidates.
"At that point I stepped away. I was not part of the meeting or the vote to narrow the field to one candidate. From that point on, I withdrew from all interviews and discussions and votes," he stated.
Piper gave a rather lengthy answer to the question posed in the church's Q&A as to why he is stepping down in his pastoral role.
He began his answer with four bullet-pointed reasons he is not leaving the position:
• Not because I am weary of preaching. O how I love to herald the greatest truths in the world! I hope to be doing it to the end.
• Not because any staff or elders have urged me to. On the contrary. There has been significant push-back over the several years we have been talking about this.
• Not because I love you any less. Or love any less what this church stands for.
• Not because I want to leave the church or leave Minneapolis. I hope to be part of the church and launch my life from this urban home till I need skilled care.
He then wrote, "The reason we are moving forward with the succession plan now has to do with a strong conviction that good pastoring is more than preaching. I could still preach. Some have encouraged me to do just that. Just preach. Hand off other leadership responsibilities to others. I do not believe such an arrangement would make Bethlehem a healthy, thriving, mission-driven, aggressively visionary, growing church-which is what she should be!"
There were at least four factors that led him to the conclusion that his time of leadership at the church is a "chapter [that] is almost over." The first reason he listed was primarily about Bethlehem's growing complexity and his perceived diminishing ability to focus on the church's needs.
"Most important, I am less competent at leading Bethlehem structurally and organizationally than I used to be. For about 30 years I was usually able to see through the complexities, and formulate feasible and exciting plans-always with the help of incredibly devoted and gifted partners in ministry. This is no longer the case. For two reasons: One is that Bethlehem is more complex than it used to be; and the other is that my energies and abilities for this kind of organizational and structural planning are diminished," he explained.
"If I were younger and more focused I might be able to do what I used to do. But I am not younger or more focused. This is a glorious moment in the history of Bethlehem, and it is not a time for less focus and energy for planning, but for more."
When asked about what he would do once the overlap period with Meyer was over, he said he plans to be with his family and together "leave town for a year or so and find a place for writing and reflection."
"There are several writing projects I want to make headway on. And I want some time and distance before I lock in to any pattern of ministry too quickly. I need to get some perspective and pray and think about the next 10 years," he wrote.
"In general I can say that, if God gives me life and health, these years will involve my role as Chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, and my role as founder and teacher for Desiring God. I love to teach seminary students, and I love to encourage and strengthen the God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated vision of pastors. And I love to write. So some configuration of those loves is what I expect to see.
"My life's calling remains the same: I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. Pray that I will spend and be spent for this till I can speak and write no more."
On the Web, for a full transcript of "Questions and Answers from John Piper" go here: http://www.hopeingod.org/questions-and-answers-john-piper