September 25, 2020

Open Mic: Pastoral Succession

John Piper has announced his intention to step down as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, a position he has filled for 32 years. Piper is not ill, and admits he still has the energy to pastor the church for at least another 10 years. But, he says, he feels his church is ready for “fresh vision.” Thus he proposed, and the church accepted by a vote, to prepare Jason Meyer to succeed Piper as pastor at a yet-to-be-determined date. Piper will mentor Meyer for the position, and when Piper and Meyer think the time is right, a second vote will be held by the congregation to formally accept Jason Meyer as their new pastor. (You can read a more thorough explanation of the process here.)

This seems to be a sensible, well-planned manner to replace a longstanding leader. I (and, no doubt, you as well) have seen pastoral changes split many churches into pieces, whether it be a personality-based church or a mainline denominational church. Of course, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have methods of replacing church leaders that don’t involve congregational input, yet still the transition from one man to the next can lead to some rather turbulent times.

So this morning I thought I would hand the microphone to you for you to share your thoughts on the good—and not so good—examples of pastor succession you have experienced. Also, what do you think is the proper way of handling such a transition? We have very few examples from the Bible to employ here. There is Paul mentoring Timothy, and then there is Elijah throwing his cloak over Elisha and walking away. Is one method better than the other?

Share with us your thoughts. Hold the mic close to your mouth so we can hear you clearly. And please, no popping your “P”s…


  1. Transitioning from one pastor to another in a one-pastor church is a different situation from a large church with the senior position changing hands, while the church has other staff.

    A leader should always be seeking to raise up other leaders and ultimately to do himself out of a job. At my church, our retirement-age pastor will be doing just that, acting as mentor to a young pastor still in training.

    • Excellent point. Jesus spent his ministry developing and passing the baton to his disciples.

      Sadly we see way too many pastors that hold a death grip on power. It appears to be the very antithesis of God’s plan. Who knows if it is pride and ego, the misperception that “no one else can do it as well as I can”, or “God annointed me to stay in the pulpit until I keel over”, or for what other imagined reason.

      John the Baptist was a great counter example. When his disciples complained that Jesus was grabbing all the support and attention, he was happy to grow smaller in the shadow of something greater. May we all become nothing so that our Lord can become everything.

  2. Brian Roden says

    I attend a large, multi-staff church. The pastors on staff with the least tenure are youth and children’s pastors, who actually grew up in this congregation and returned to be on staff after Bible college.

    In 2001, when our pastor of 15 years was elected district superintendent upon the retirement of the previous superintendent, the church board nominated the executive pastor (who had started out in the early 90s as the children’s pastor) based on his long-standing ministry in the church and the thought that you go with someone who already has the church’s DNA. It was nerve-wracking for him, following a successful long-term pastor (who is now the national assistant superintendent), but the church has continued to grow in attendance and impact, mothering one church in a town about 45 minutes away, revitalizing another small-town church a half-hour away, and funding over 1200 church plants overseas.

    Now, if a church is in decline and there is a vacancy in the senior pastor slot, I’d say look outside for someone to turn it around. But when a church is healthy, develop leaders and hire from within.

  3. “hire from within”

    The last time I looked, sheep don’t hire a shepherd.

    • “The last time I looked, sheep don’t hire a shepherd.” Would that be a hireling?

    • No they don’t. Fellow shepherds choose a chief shepherd. The elders, not the congregation, should do the choosing.

      I absolutely don’t believe vox populi, vox Dei. Our Congress proves daily how false that idea is. There are far too many people who’ve been made members, yet whose lives don’t reflect the character of Christ, and who are not at all qualified to judge their spiritual leaders. They only want someone who suits their own selfish needs best, not someone who will present hard truth, however lovingly.

      However, if the vote is left in the hands of elders—trustworthy, qualified, longime Christians, longtime servants of the church, whose works and character we know about—then I have fewer qualms about it. Yeah, that can go wrong too, but it’s less likely to.

      • flatrocker says

        Sounds like Peter leading the Eleven to bring Matthias into sanctioned Apostolic Leadership.
        Or maybe the Pope with the College of Cardinals.

        • BriantheDad says

          Dumb question, but one I’ve never been able to get answered: did Peter and the 10 jump the gun with matthias? In God’s time, didn’t He add Paul to make the 12? Peter noted the need for twelve in quoting the scriptures regarding letting one take the place of the betrayer. But Peter was known for his ability to get out in front of things. Just something I get a blank expression on when I’ve asked our pastor. Am I way off base?

    • sowarrior says

      Don’t stretch the analogy too far.

      The last time I checked sheep never become shepherds.

      In reality every shepherd begins as a sheep.

      • flatrocker says

        Funny, I thought shepherds began as children.

      • Wasn’t Peter a sheep and a shepherd? Aren’t we all if in the priesthood? We shepherd someone at some point if we teach, have kids, etc.

    • Brian Roden says

      OK, so rake me over the coals for falling into corporate terminology (I’ve worked in IT for the past 21 years). I just love how people on blogs take one word in what a person says and give it meanings that person never intended.

      The church I attend and wrote about above “hires from within” (or appoints from within, if you want a more episcopal term) based on people already being actively involved in ministry (Sunday School teachers, children and youth workers, etc.) So we’re not talking about “hirelings” in the sense of them just doing the job because they get paid. It’s more an issue of bringing someone on paid staff so they can devote themselves full-time to the ministry (with the worker being worthy of his wage).

      The denominational polity is a hybrid of presbyterian and congregational. Ministers are credentialed (certified, licensed, and ordained) through a process of tests on biblical knowledge, interviews with district presbyters, and being already active in church ministry as lay people (demonstration of effective volunteer ministry). Each church’s lead/senior pastor must hold credentials with the denomination, but each congregation has the freedom to call their own pastor from among those holding credentials. So in a sense the pastors are chosen by other pastors (through credentialing) and by the membership (by voting to call a particular pastor to lead the congregation).

  4. Five years ago, Bill, the pastor of a smaller (by American standards) church in our town had been looking for someone to succeed him and found a man who had completed Bible college, apprenticed in another church, done mission work; but then had been working in private industry for nearly a decade. He put the plan into place and Jeff, the current pastor, began attending the church.

    On the last Sunday in February Bill completed his ministry, and on the first Sunday in March Jeff began already knowing the church, and knowing everyone in it by name. Seamless! Five years later, Jeff is still there.

    The problem isn’t succession itself, but the long transition times that churches are put through where everything comes to a grinding halt, “until we get our new pastor.” In one church in our area, this was a two-year process. In another church in our area there have been six pastors in twenty years with one-year interim pastors in between.

    I guess that’s why I love the Bill and Jeff story. Bill moved on to an interim position in another church and tried to find a suitable candidate where he could repeat the process, but was unable. Still, it represents an ideal.

    The Salvation Army simply appoints new people from a district office, not unlike moving chess pieces on a board. I’m told the moving van for the new pastor is often already at the parsonage with the engine running waiting for the departing pastor’s moving van to back out of the driveway.

  5. David Cornwell says

    Most of my life, and all of my pastoral experience was in the UMC with its strong episcopacy. Pastors are appointed by the bishops after much consultation and negotiation. Local churches make their wishes known through the pastoral relations committee (or whatever the recent iteration might be). These committees do the negotiation with District Superintendents and Bishops. The final decision is usually based on consensus, and although there might be local complaining, normally the new pastor is given a gracious welcome.

    For the most part I like this model. As with every system is has its shortcomings and strengths. As a critic of the Methodist system, my concern isn’t with the method of appointment, but with the longevity of a pastor’s stay, the length of an appointment. They are year to year, and many times not enough time is spent for a pastor to truly know the congregation and community. After 4 or 5 years the pastor or congregation decides its time for a change. The pastor usually wants a new “opportunity” meaning a larger church and salary. The church may become disenchanted over some little issue of program or personality. So, the process of change is started once again. In my mind short pastorates have become the bane of the UMC. It isn’t good for churches, communities, parishioners, or pastor’s families.

  6. A. It is a bit nauseating to have to read Piper’s self-congratulatory praises about how to hand off the baton. Churches do this all the time, quite successfully. It is as if he seeks credit for shedding his diaper. Forgive my cynicism but it is warranted in my view. Piper’s Jekyll/Hyde habit of exampling and talking about himself in premium manners while announcing self-effacement, simply is a constant and glaring contradiction which undermines the platform upon which he seeks to gain an audience.

    B. I believe there is a bit more going on than has been disclosed and not necessarily that it should or must be. I believe it has more to do with Piper’s personal life and less about a new vision, in and of itself. The new vision is the devised escape but not the original impetus, that is my view. I am sure you charismatics will understand my license here with a “word of knowledge” or whatever charismatic incantation I am suppose to call upon. Heh.

    C. However, with each men my prayer and desire is that they are enlightened, always, as to God’s truth.

    D. I believe the new Pastor will find “Christian Hedonism” part of the mantle, at some point, he is less willing to claim. However, (prediction) if he insists on furthering this nonsensical doctrine, he will find managing it much more difficult than Piper since Piper wrote and rewrote all the rules to keep it afloat. Let’s hope Pastor Meyer learns to shut this door, at least substantially enough not find himself wandering far from the reservation. He might not be as skilled at doublespeak on the topic and its arguments as John.

    As to passing the baton – sound doctrine in the Pastor first and all of the qualifications in Scripture to follow. Don’t do a dog and pony show. Consider one man at a time do not make it a beauty pageant.

    • I was wondering how long it would take for someone to take a post about passing the baton to going off topic and start bashing Piper. Sure didn’t take long.

      • Eagle, where are you? 🙂

        • Busy day! I saw this post about Pope John Piper I (or is it Lord Piper?) and it got my brain cells in motion.

          I saw one “mega- pastoral transition abortion”…(Unique to fundies BTW…) play out at the mega church McLean Bible when I was there. I felt sorry for the guy as he was kind of railroaded. The senior pastor there Lon Solomon was grooming a gentleman named Todd Philips to take his place. Philips was involved with different parts of MCB and was scheduled to take over the main duties at MCB. Well….the Senior Pastor had a brain fart decided to stay longer and it put Todd Philips in a difficult position. He ended up leaving McLean Bible for a church in Texas. Now it makes me wonder when people say…”God wants to me to ________________” and then someone gets screwed…who’s wrong? God or the Senior Pastor? (rolls eyes) Kind of reminds me of the Mormons and the revelation allowing blacks to hold the Melchezdiak Priesthood. After close to 100 years…who was wrong..? God or Brigham Young?

          I feel a little sorry for Meyer because he’s going to be under his shadow. And everything he says and does will be compared to Piper. That’s why Piper should step away. But in this case (as with many Neo-Facists…oops Calvinists) they crave attention and their narcissism shows through. They need the attention, and are drunk with it. If John Piper had Bethlehem Baptist’s best interest in mind he’d step away so the Meyer and the church can operate in peace. And not be under his shadow.

          Now can you imagine if Piper is there and Meyer has “divine inspiration” 😯 that challenges some of Piper’s teaching? Or say he becomes golfing buddies with Roger Olson or Greg Boyd? Then what? Will Piper sit aside and let that play out? Or will he intervene? Or even worse!! What happens if there is another tornado in Minneapolis and Meyer sees it just as a natural disaster with no eternal significance? Nothing to do with the ELCA and gays. Or worse…nothing to do with Piper’s recent teaching clarifying the fact that women can use the restroom without their husband’s permission. I mean can you imagine the Desiring God bog entry…”God stretched his fingers and was upset that a women used Charmin instead of Scott toilet tissue….”

          • ‘as with many Neo-Facists…oops Calvinists’

            Charming. Just charming.

          • Speaking of this what about Piper’s kid(s) who work for him? I know at least one does. Do they work for DG or the church? Is DG seperate entity? There is always some dynasty thing to consider with these guys. They always have jobs for their kids who are now part of the elite we are supposed to think are wise and discerning.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            They always have jobs for their kids who are now part of the elite we are supposed to think are wise and discerning.

            And a church throne for the kid to inherit.

            Back when I was in RCIA, I heard one of the practical reasons for priestly celibacy was to prevent episcopal dynasties. In an age where whole nations and their people were inherited father-to-son like any other personal property, making sure priests and bishops could not have legitimate heirs headed off the situation. And headed off inheritance blood feuds such as convulse Islam to this day (Shia vs Sunni is a feud over the true heir of Mohammed and his Caliphate — the descendants of Ali or those of Fatima? And the Arab-Israeli wars are another, older inheritance fight — Is Isaac or Ishmael the heir to God’s promises to Abraham?)

      • Ummm…yeah, bash someone for daring to criticize John Piper’s methods or doctrine and then call it bashing. I believe Newsweek and MSNBC are looking for thinkers like you.

        • The post was about pastoral succession, not Piper’s doctrine. I am not even a big fan of Piper. Sorry if that messed up your day and reasoning.

          By the way, hope you have a great day!

    • Alex, I agree with you. And to add to this, what sometimes looks like a great opportunity can be very oppressive. EVerything he does will be compared to Piper after the honeymoon period. And if Piper goes to church there and stays on as an elder or something, it will be another Criswell/Joel Gregory situation.Althought I think Meyer is probably subordinate enough it won’t turn out the same way. Take a look at FoF where Dobson retired but never really left.

      • Lydia…

        Agreeed, agreed, and agreed to your postings! Since doctrine for this crowd is their idol they will continue to worship it during and after the transition. It will factor into their transition. But good catch!

    • Put on my Marine hat here:

      Don’t some of you eight balls see that before the foundation of the world it was decided who would take over after Mr. Piper?

      Hmmm, Oh, I’m in trouble! Whats a good Arminian like me doing talking like that

  7. All this reminds me of a popular local restaurant whose owner / chef (does one still say “chef” if the restaurant primarily serves barbeque?) retired. The old crowd continued to attend out of habit, and gave the new owner (does the fact that he bought the place ruin the ecclesiastical metaphor?) a chance, to see whether the food measured up. Then each of us quietly decided, individually or in groups, whether to keep coming back, or whether to patronize another restaurant down the street.

    This must sound very mercenary when applied to churches, but what alternative is there for a church like this? If there is neither an outside hierarchy (as in most denominations) nor democratic governance (as in most Protestant churches), then the leadership must be assumed to be acting in its own best interest as well (or at least, attempting to do so–perhaps very feebly). Another possible model would be that of a TV show like the Tonight Show, which has to replace its host from time to time.

    Whose church is it, anyway? The owner / leader’s? The audience’s? God’s (presumably through some sort of hand’s-off, absentee-ownership arrangement)?

  8. Well, I could certainly write you a nice little pamphlet on what NOT to do when changing a pastor. I appreciate when the process is thought through so that it winds up a bit less turbulent.

  9. I just counted–I have been involved, either actively or peripherly, in seven churches and a house church setting. In all of those experiences, only ONE time have I ever been part of a church where the reason the minister resigned was because he retired . . . and that is at my current church. We hired a new minister from the “outside”. The former minister still attends our church and is one of our elders. That was back in 1997. In most of the other cases where a minister resigned, we ended up losing a good chunk of the membership.

  10. Some denoms have vicor or intern programs to train up the next generation of pastors. I think the evangelical cult of personality has neglected this practice. It’s like between NFL quarterbacks viewing the newly drafted rookie as a career-ending rival. The vacuum being left by retiring and dying evangelical leaders is disturbing. Many of the next generation have imploded. (where’s HUG with his reference to the attrition of the old-guard Soviet leadership?)

  11. The church where I am a member went through a change of Senior Pastors about 7 years ago. The previous Sr. Pastor had made it known that he wanted to cut back with an eye towards retirement. We had a guest speaker one weekend who was in charge of a fairly well known international aid parachurch organization. He didn’t want to stay with the organization. The new Pastor was put through the normal candidate process, only there was only one candidate.

    Unlike what is going on with Piper, our old Sr Pastor handed in a retirement when the new Pastor was selected. If I remember correctly, there was a 3-4 month transition.

    A couple of comments:

    If Piper has decided to retire then he should get out. There is someone there, in place to take over. The longer he takes, the harder the transition will ultimately be.

    During any transition of Pastors, there will be those who stay, those who leave, and those who will investigate the new pastor and join the church. The longer the change process is drawn out, the more likely people will leave and not come back.

  12. Before I read all the comments, wanted to get on the mic so as not to get waylaid reading and enjoying everyone else’s input. The Episcopal Church in America has extremely (and sometimes overly) defined the process of hiring our priests. As a side note, our deaconate is still deployed via the bishop, but priests are hired by the individual churches. Our church has just gone through 2 search processes within the past 10 years. Both priests left in a bit of controversy. One left because he needed a more conservative congregation. Here in the Pacific Northwest, things are pretty liberal and even more so in the Episcopal church. The next one left because he just wasn’t a good fit for us.

    First, I will say that not every diocese does things the same way. I have been through 2 search committees under 2 different bishops and am in close contact with someone who is currently on a search committee in their parish. I am going to describe an overview of what I’ve experienced, others in the Episcopate may have had slightly different experiences.

    Let me start at the beginning of the search process for a medium/large sized church. First, if there is no assistant rector (and sometimes even if you do), the bishop may, at his/her discretion appoint an interim rector. These people are specially trained to bring a parish through what might be a difficult transition. They allow the parish to grieve, if necessary, for the loss of the previous rector whether through death or other stressful circumstances. They then help the parish prepare to search, assist in the search process through spiritual direction and finally help transition the parish to the new priest when a call is accepted.

    Next, most parishes perform a parish inventory/assessment/profile. Where are we? Where do we want to go? What would we like to continue without change? What would we like to change about our parish? What does the candidate look like who will accomplish these things? This assessment helps to create the call announcement and aligns the search committee with the desires and goals of the parish as a whole. This initial process generally takes several months to complete – sometimes as much as 6 months. This, IMHO is the single most important piece and shortcutting this step ends up with a candidate who does not match the parish at all. Been there…done that.

    After that, the call is advertised through church channels and applications begin to arrive. Here, some diocese’s bishop’s staff get involved (Canon to the Ordinary) by doing a first cull of the applications by verifying the candidate is a valid candidate (do they have the necessary ordination? Do they have a criminal record? Regular background check stuff). Some dioceses let the search committee do the first cull and they only check out the remainders. Either way, both search committee and the bishop’s staff perform a first cull of the candidates and then determine who they will interview.

    Generally, the first interview is via phone with the entire search committee as available, although I do know of someone who served on a search committee where they used skype for this first contact. After that, another cull happens and the semi-finalists are visited in their home parishes. Several search committee members fly to the candidate’s home parish to conduct a face-to-face interview and assess the candidate “in action”. In smaller churches, this step is sometimes skipped. The visit occurs in total secrecy since the committee must respect the privacy of the candidate – their congregation is unlikely to be aware they are involved in a search. This visit allows the search committee an opportunity to see the candidate in their home parish. What are their sermons like? How well do they seem to relate to their parish? Have they been there 10 years and still only know the names of 5 people?

    Another cull generally takes place before the finalists are invited to visit the searching parish. The search committee sets up this interview with key members of the staff (if any) and the priest also generally meets with diocesan staff (and maybe a housing search).

    The candidate the search committee picks to call to the parish is notified after all deliberations have taken place and the vestry (governing body in the parish) and the bishop make final approval. The parish then works to help welcome the new priest to the church.

    As far as the bishop’s involvement, some bishops like to have a lot of input into the candidate selection, sometimes conducting private interviews with each candidate. Some bishops have the search committee do all the work and then they merely rubber-stamp the candidate slated to be called. And everything in between is represented – in my experience, I’ve seen a lot of degrees of involvement. Also in wide variation is how much support is given by the bishopric to settling each new priest into their parish. Some do monthly check in meetings solely with the new pastor and some just see the new priests through the course of regular diocesan visits and meetings.

    It still feels very “Anglican/British” to me, having been through 2 search committees myself. But it’s far preferable, it seems to me, than the RC method of just plopping new priests down where they think they should go – generally without consultation with the parishioners. There seems to be no continuity in that model. When I was younger and still in the RC church, they had a “money-raising priest” who would get transferred into the churches that had some kind of capital fundraising thing going on. Boy, could he collect the money!! As soon as the capital fundraising was done, he’d be on to the next assignment…that just seemed very disingenuous. People actually called him “The Money Priest”.

    I don’t know if there are any other Episcopalians who regularly lurk here, maybe y’all have different experiences. I find this to be a highly organized, but deeply discerning process and while not every fit is perfect, it certainly seems to work well most of the time.

  13. I got put on the Pulpit Committee because of my buddy being named preacher. We didn’t do much usually, except for when he left for another church, and then we had to hire his replacement. There was this one guy that the Elders wanted, except his ex-wife spread some nasty rumors about how he had a crushed testicle, which if true would have disqualified him according to Leviticus 21. I thought it wasn’t fair at all to exclude somebody for being wounded while serving our country (just as an example–in his case it was football). Besides, the same verse also mentions weak eyesight, and I can’t recall a preacher who DIDN’T wear glasses. Anyway, they kept bringing up that darn verse, but the other guy said it was a lie. So I called up my Catholic sister-in-law to ask about borrowing one of those chairs–you know, like the ones they use to check the candidates for pope. Well she made a number of suggestions, none of them quite in the spirit of what I was looking for. In the end they made him drop trou in the meeting room (no women on the committee, thank God), and we all had to squeeze them a little bit–not enough to hurt, but just to check it wasn’t some kind of implant.

  14. Richard Hershberger says

    “I (and, no doubt, you as well) have seen pastoral changes split many churches into pieces, whether it be a personality-based church or a mainline denominational church.”

    Well, yes and no. Mainline denominational churches can be personality-based too. This is always a problem, because some percentage, often a very large percentage, of the people attending a personality-based church are there to see that guy, not to go to that church. The church is just the auditorium where that guy is talking. Once he is gone, they will naturally go looking for some other guy, regardless of what auditorium he is talking in.

    The question to me is does this church have an institutional existence as a body apart from whoever happens to be in the pulpit? If the answer is no, then you don’t have a congregation. You have a fan club.

    Unlike some previous commenters, I believe that periodic change is healthy, both for the congregation and the clergy. I don’t hold to any particular time frame, but five years of so is healthy. The pastor doesn’t get too ensconced, turning the church into his personal fiefdom, and the members know that the church exists apart from the pastor.

    I could be accused of hypocrisy here, since my church has had the same pastor for ten years and is likely to keep him in place indefinitely. But what I wrote earlier is a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule. My church is peculiar in that it is a bilingual German/English congregation. Finding Americans whose German is up to grade is nearly hopeless. Finding Germans whose English is good is easier, and it will get better as they live here, but finding Germans who are willing to move is difficult. So having a good pastor in place, we are going to hold onto him. That being said, when the time comes for him to retire the transition will be very difficult indeed.

    Quite notoriously, the replacement for a beloved pastor who served in one church for decades it set up to fail, and will be lucky to last a year. The next guy after that has a chance, as the members come to accept that the new guy won’t be the old guy. This actually is a very good argument for having an interim pastor, as he can take the fall without the drama of a failed pastorate.

  15. There is another danger in this I witnessed up close and personal during my mega consulting days. One mega chose a successor early on. A very young guy they would “groom” to take over in about 20 years. This was communicated to the congregation of 10,000 as showing how wise the elders were. The problem is that the young guy “grew up” in the isolated, insulated mega world of body guards and high salary and by that time 20,000 people. He became insufferable to staff and elders even demanding a large raise when his wife became pregnant among other demands. He had NO clue how the real world worked. As time went on he became more insufferable but their hands were tied. He looked good and sounded good on stage. They could not tell the congregation they weren’t so wise so they hide his problems and carried on. Before the sr pastor retired, they brought on a well connected through his parents young guy who had acutally planted a church in another state. He was self confident and less impressed with the seniors. He is now competing with the guy who is now a senior but all is kept from the congregation and presented like everything is fine. But the church has turned into factions of those who miss the retired guy, those who grudgingly support the now sr guy and the young who love the newest guy.

    I am just trying to figure out all this is the Body of Christ and not some Fortune 100 intrigue.

    The question for the Piper situation and all other ones is whose church is it? Piper’s or Christs?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The problem is that the young guy “grew up” in the isolated, insulated mega world of body guards and high salary and by that time 20,000 people.

      As in a Crown Prince who grew up in the Palace, surrounded by Courtiers and yes-men?

      Before the sr pastor retired, they brought on a well connected through his parents young guy who had acutally planted a church in another state. He was self confident and less impressed with the seniors. He is now competing with the guy who is now a senior but all is kept from the congregation and presented like everything is fine.

      Ever read Game of Thrones, I, Claudius, or Dune?

      “When he invites you for dinner, bring your own food, wine, and tasters…” — I, Claudius (?)

  16. There is another danger in this I witnessed up close and personal during my mega consulting days. One mega chose a successor early on. A very young guy they would “groom” to take over in about 20 years. This was communicated to the congregation of 10,000 as showing how wise the elders were. The problem is that the young guy “grew up” in the isolated, insulated mega world of body guards and high salary and by that time 20,000 people. He became insufferable to staff and elders even demanding a large raise when his wife became pregnant among other demands. He had NO clue how the real world worked. As time went on he became more insufferable but their hands were tied. He looked good and sounded good on stage. They could not tell the congregation they weren’t so wise so they hide his problems and carried on. Before the sr pastor retired, they brought on a well connected through his parents young guy who had acutally planted a church in another state. He was self confident and less impressed with the seniors. He is now competing with the guy who is now a senior but all is kept from the congregation and presented like everything is fine. But the church has turned into factions of those who miss the retired guy, those who grudgingly support the now sr guy and the young who love the newest guy.

    I am just trying to figure out all this is the Body of Christ and not some Fortune 100 intrigue.

    The question for the Piper situation and all other ones is whose church is it? Piper’s or Christs?

    I totally agree with the idea of an interium pastor. I have seen that model work every time. It is usally some retired guy who has some wisdom. People need time for the change. But that does not work well in mega churches where it is usually cult of personality based.

  17. Most of my church background has been in evangelical/pentecostal churches with congregational polity. I’ve seen some pretty dysfunctional things. One of the best pastoral transitions I’ve observed took place at a moderately large evangelical church with close geographical and ministerial ties to Piper’s. The senior (and founding) pastor, who had been with the church from its inception a couple decades before, took a position with the denomination in another state. The congregation was saddened to see him go, but the church already had a broad and transparent leadership team with strong visible presence in the church and the transition was made with openness and preparation. The long-term associate pastor stepped in, first as interim, then as senior pastor. Last I heard, he had retired and a pastor who had been the youth pastor, then an associate stepped in. New leadership was continually being adopted and developed, with consistent ties to the congregation.

    • Brian Roden says

      Yes, I think a lot fewer people leave during a transition when the new pastor is someone already on staff, whom the congregtaion has heard preach regularly, and who already knows the people. Even if he has new ideas for changing some things, he is already trusted, not an unknown quantity from the outside.

  18. Those of you being critical of Piper- Not sure how many of you have read the article Jeff linked to from his article, but within THAT article there is a link to a video interview with Meyer and Piper discussing how they came about the decision of choosing a successor. I know many of you are Catholics (I understand well your Catholic doctrines), and since Catholics are so quick to call evangelicals “brother” I would encourage you AS brothers (and sisters if there are any reading) who are united with us in seeking Christ and His glory, to put your doctrinal differences aside for about a half hour and try your best (we all fail from time to time to be objective) to objectively watch this video to get to know the hearts of 2 men who desire nothing else than to see God glorified through them and through this ministry (despite themselves).

    I look forward to any respectful critique or agreements. Here is a shortcut to the video to save you an extra step:

    • And what Matt do fundageliclas say to Catholics? Do they treat them as “brothers?” Look at some of the teachings by John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, etc…

      I know damn well what John MacArthur has taught. I went through a funeral service thinking of his teaching and what many fundagelicals say. Besides how do these guys glorify God? You’re the fundy? I’m the agnositc…let’s explore this…

      1. CJ Mahaney blackmailed and extortred Larry Tomczak using his son’s confessed sin. He forced Larry Tomczak away from PDI (now Sovereign Grace) and seized ocntrol of the “denomintion. Is that a Godly transition? Maybe if you worked for the mob.
      2. Look at how Mark Driscoll slandered and drove Brent Meyer and Paul Petry from Mars Hill Seattle to seize control of the church and put strawmen in place? Was that a Godly transition?
      3. Since we are talking about John Piper and his control and narcissim. Consider what he tried to do in terms of destroying and removing Greg Boyd and Roger Olson from minsitry positions. Was that Godly?

      These men don;t give a rat’s ass about glroifying God. What they care about is power, control, and the spotlight. They are drunk with power who run theri own fiefdoms in the same way that Kim Jong Il ran North Korea. PERIOD. If they wanted to glorify God none of the above that I mentionned would have transpired.

  19. Pastoral succession is a myth. The whole idea assumes a static office of authority over a group of people. This is a contradiction to Jesus clear teaching regarding leadership. Who is John Piper or any other man to lord over the flock? We have replaced Popes with pastors and are no better off spiritually than ignorant peasants of the dark ages. Unlike peasants, we do get to vote on who will be our king.

    • Hi Bob,

      So you don’t support the idea of popes or pastors… how do you suggest a church function? What are your sources on Jesus’ teaching on leadership? What do you mean by “king” (the president or are you referring to what the more Pentacostal brothers call “King Jesus”)?

      Please explain yourself more, I do not want to jump to conclusions here about what you are saying.

      BTW, in evangelical circles, pastors are voted on by their congregation. Even if from a choice of a couple candidates. Also, I don’t believe Piper is trying to “lord” anything over anyone. He has always consistently pointed to Jesus as Lord.

      • Hey Matt,

        Thanks for asking me to clarify.

        True, I don’t support the idea of popes or pastors as the CEO of an assembly of believers. I believe that the functioning of the church should be based on a family model where leadership is shared within a plurality.
        – the disciples were sent out by Jesus to preach in teams of two.
        – the apostles choose a replacement for Judas in consensus.
        – when there was an issue with the feeding of widows the apostles looked to the people to select those who could attend to it.
        – the question of whether the gentiles should keep the law as settled after discussion and input from the Apostles, elders and brothers.
        -when Paul left a church he would leave them in the care of a plurality of elders.

        Jesus taught that we should treat each other as brothers and not to act as lords over each other as the gentiles do.

        My reference to voting on a king was rather vague. I was referring to Israels request for a king. God wanted to be the king over them but they wanted a man. In the same way, Christ is the head of the church yet we insist on having a man over us.

        As for my comment about “lording over” I’m not sure what to call it when we put men on pedestals, when we elect one brother to do most of the talking. Isn’t it a form of lording over when we look to one guy to be first among equals?

        I did not intend to question Mr. Pipers motives and I can see how my comments could sound that way. My criticism is directed at our current system of one pastor rule.

        Peace to you.

  20. Karen Peck says

    My husband and I were members of Bethlehem Baptist back in the early days of John Piper. We sat in gatherings at his home, he baptized us when we were college students and married us. We’ve known him as a friend and pastor and mentor and advisor. When we moved away, we were welcomed back at visits with hugs. In 24 years of being away from Bethlehem, we still consider it our home church. Those were early days for us in our faith and solid days in a solid church. A great deal of Christian service and church life 1000 miles away still has Bethlhem shine for us as the best you can get in this world. It was also all the people, not just Piper. But the church has changed so much in these years. Much as it should, some as will happen in human institutions.

    I am still wrestling with my feelings of a successor. My humanity wants to hold on to the familiar and the safe place. I know that Piper’s theology has set off some firestorms in many circles, but I am always floored when I hear the anger and vehemence that some write with here. Seems there are some deep wounds that are still quite raw.

    I do know the staff at Bethlehem. They are flawed, sinful people, just like the rest of us, trying to move the church forward in the most thoughtful and prayer manner they can. I will not question the judgements of those who are on the inside of these decisions, and I will not second guess or make nasty, gossipy, comments as to the whys and wherefores of all this. I already do miss the Bethlehem that was for us. But the future comes and everything moves on. I want to HOPE IN GOD for what is to come.

    • You know my critique to John Piper is centered around to how brainwashed I was when I consumed his material. One of the sickest things I did was give me Mom John Piper’s pamphlet in which he said that cancer was a gift from God. My Mom had dealt with chemotherapy and radiation for pancretaic cancer. Since they caught it early it’s why she still is with us today. But it was an incrediblly tense and nerve wrecking time. So I gave my Mom that pamphlet off the “Desiring God” website. And later she sat down with me and explained that no Eagle, Pancretaic cancer is not a gift from God. My Mom talked about her fears. What would happen to her husband. What would happen to her daughters, etc… She knows she will die one day, and my Mom is strong in her Catholic faith. But she had to tell me that pancretaic cancer is not a gift. After I lost my faith I apologized to her for giving her such a thing. It still bothers me that I would give someone such a piece of trash, as John Piper’s writing on cancer.

      Today the tables have turned and now it’s my Dad. My father has dealt with a brain tumor since January. He’s had major surgery. chemo, radiation, etc… He’s having his MRI scan today and the doctors are going to gauge the success of the treatment. While I hate agnosticism…at this stage of life I think it’s healthier and here’s why. I was able to show my father much more love, compassion, and grace during this ordeal than I was able to do with my Mom when she dealt with pancreatic cancer.

      But I storngly disagree with your take on John Piper. He’s not out to glorify God. He’s out to glorify himself.