Piper Talks with Carson, Keller About Succession Plans at Bethlehem

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.”