Last Sunday, John Piper updated the congregation of Bethlehem Baptist Church on his plans to transition in three years—June 30, 2014—from pastor for preaching and vision to focus on writing, speaking, mentoring, and teaching at Bethlehem College and Seminary. Back in April, Piper, 65, called for six weeks of prayer and fasting at Bethlehem to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit about what to do after he relinquishes day-to-day leadership and preaching at the church.
Two days after making this original call, Piper sat down with two other 60-somethings, Don Carson and Tim Keller, to talk about growing old and passing on responsibility for the churches and ministries they lead. The Bible prizes age, Piper says, but "getting old is a series of losses." Wise, aging leaders don't multitask as they did in their youth, because if they try to do everything, they'll do it all badly, even if they maintain a "ridiculous amount of energy," as Carson does. But Keller cautions that driven leaders often take on too much responsibility out of bad motivations and should have made these changes sooner.
While Piper admits Bethlehem is still seeking for the best way to transition, Keller explains Redeemer Presbyterian's plans to divide into four congregations over the next decade with the hope that the church's appeal will broaden with a new crop of lead pastors.
"It's something that makes me not feel like I'm in my 60s playing out the string," Keller says of the transition. "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."
The Gospel Coalition previously explored these issues last fall in an article, "Gospel Integrity and Pastoral Succession."
Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of of Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists, and co-author with John Woodbridge of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. He earned an MDiv at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and an undergraduate degree in journalism and history from Northwestern University. He previously worked as an associate editor for Christianity Today magazine, co-edited Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, and co-edits the Cultural Renewal series with Tim Keller. He and his wife belong to Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves on the advisory board of Beeson Divinity School. You can follow him on Twitter.