Minneapolis pastor John Piper preached his last sermon at Bethlehem Baptist Church Easter Sunday after 33 years as its pastor.
“It’s the end of an era—the era of Piper as local-church pastor—but God willing, just the beginning of a new season of ministry,” David Mathis wrote on Desiring God’s blog. Piper announced in 2011 that he would leave pastoral ministry to invest his time in his wider Desiring God ministry and continue as chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary.
In an open letter to the church, he announced that he, his wife and his adopted daughter, Talitha, will spend a year in Tennessee starting in May to allow the new leadership to plan the church’s direction. He also plans to use his time working on a few writing projects and figuring out how to divide his time between “speaking at conferences, international ministry, teaching through Desiring God, and life on the family front.”
Jason Meyer, an assistant professor at Bethlehem College and Seminary, will take over the pulpit. In the summer of 2014, Piper plans to return to Bethlehem to sit under Meyer’s preaching.
“I have always said I hope to die at Bethlehem,” 67-year-old Piper wrote. “Well, it didn’t happen in the pulpit, so maybe it will happen in the pew.”
Piper began his ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980 after leaving his teaching job at Bethel College in St. Paul. The church is located in the most racially diverse neighborhood in the nation, which Piper said has impacted his views on racial reconciliation. He grew up in the segregated South.
In his first sermon 33 years ago, he called for the church to be known for its adherence to the Bible: “My deep conviction about preaching is that a pastor must show the people that what he is saying was already said or implied in the Bible. If it cannot be shown it has no special authority.”
Over the years, the church grew from 500 members to 5,000, with three sites and eight services. It also provided classes and seminars to train members, which lead to the creation of Bethlehem College and Seminary in 2009. At the same time, Piper became a renowned speaker and author, focusing on “Christian hedonism,” which says that “God is most glorified in me, when I am most satisfied in him.”
On Sunday, he preached an Easter sermon on Hebrews 13:20-21 that looked at different attributes of God and how He has been faithful to Bethlehem Baptist Church.
“My aim and my prayer was to be a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated pastor,” Piper said. “My closing word now is ‘To him—to Jesus Christ—be glory forever and ever. Amen.’”