Update on Bethlehem's Antioch Moment

John Piper addressed Bethlehem Baptist Church this Spring about the elders' hope for clarity regarding his succession as the Pastor for Preaching and Vision. As many of our readers have been prayerfully observing this process, below is the update Pastor John gave in last weekend's sermon.

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Update on the Antioch Moment
June 11, 2011
John Piper

On April 9, I said that the elders would be praying every Thursday for six weeks seeking the Lord’s mind on three issues facing us at this moment in the 140-year life of our church: succession (when should a new pastor for preaching and vision take my place and I move over to teach and write and mentor), structure (one church on multiple campuses or multiple churches or some other configuration), and funding (the “Building One People” campaign and the purchase of a South Campus and the paying down of the debt we have).

We started those six weeks asking for clarity on those three things, and to our surprise, God gave us clarity on three other things. He gave us clarity on two processes for moving toward greater staff harmony, and personal flourishing, and ministry fruitfulness. One of those processes is relational, and one is organizational. That is, one has to do with how the pastoral staff and wives are interconnected personally, and the other is how the pastoral staff understands their roles and the lines of accountability in the organization called Bethlehem. We think God led us to engage Paul Tripp to help us with the first process—the relational one—and to engage Tom Lutz (one of our elders) with the second process—the organizational one.

These feel incredibly hopeful and life-giving to me. And the third answer was to continue praying as a council of elders on the first Thursday of every month with nothing but prayer as our agenda. And we think the Lord led us to ask Pastor Bud Burk to lead us in this.

With regard to the other three issues (succession, structure, and funding), in addition to the focus on prayer for God’s leading, there has been countless meetings and conversations to think through the options before us. Here’s where we are. I pulled together the pieces that I was hearing and wrote a succession proposal and laid it before seven staff and elders over lunch today. From there it will go to the succession committee led by Bruce Power and to the elders. Since it has not been approved or even seen by most of the elders yet, I can’t present it as the plan. But I can at least say one piece of it, because it reflects my heart’s desire to serve Bethlehem really well in the process of transition to a new leader.

My proposal to the elders—and it comes from Noël and me, not just me (we have talked  a lot about this, as you can imagine)—is that I transition from pastor for preaching and vision to a fulltime writing and BCS teaching and mentoring and wider speaking role on June 30, 2014—three years from now. And that we be very intentional and prayerful and thoughtful about a successor in those years.

That’s not the plan yet, because the elders have to think through all the implications and come to a mind. We will give you a fuller update at the quarterly strategy meeting on July 24.

But here is my request to you all as I am away for the next several weeks on writing leave and then vacation. Be faithful to your church. If this is your church love her. Support her with your prayers and your giving (we are within $5,000 of where we were last year at this time, but $200,000 below our $9.7 million dollar budget). People come and go during summer. That’s good. God loves to see his people getting the rest and recreation they need. But don’t go on vacation from Jesus and his people. Keep worshiping wherever you are, keep giving, keep praying, keep loving. God has amazing things in mind for us as we enter this next chapter together.

Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.