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Pastor Emeritus

A Covenant Between
Bethlehem Baptist Church Council of Elders and John Piper

September 2021–August 2022


The Spirit of this covenant is one of prayerful reliance on the blood-bought, New Covenant work of the Holy Spirit to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We promise to seek each other’s greatest spiritual fruitfulness and Christ-exalting joy. Our expectations are high that God will so fill us and purify us and humble us and guide us that these guidelines will be experienced as pathways of joyful freedom, not begrudging constraints.


By calling the relationship between Bethlehem Baptist Church and John Piper a covenant, we distinguish it from a legal contract or employment agreement. It is a mutual agreement of what seems wise and fruitful for both parties. It is an expression of promises to guide the relationship until death intervenes, the specified timeframe lapses, or mutual agreement replaces it. It is not a job description, but a relational roadmap with a view to guiding our mutual expectations and commitments.


Emeritus is an Anglicized Latin word referring to one who has earned his discharge by faithful service. It is the opposite, one might say, of a dishonorable discharge. In our context the title may be seen as an expression of 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” We look back on Pastor John’s 33 years of pastoral leadership at Bethlehem with respect and thankfulness. That is the first meaning of the title.

Alongside this acclamation, the title also signifies limitation. As the Levites in the Old Testament stepped away from their duties after faithful service (Numbers 8:25), the Pastor Emeritus is not a member of the official pastoral staff of Bethlehem Baptist Church or of the Council of Elders. This is not because of a biblical requirement, but because of a mutual sense of wisdom expressed in this covenant.


This Covenant seems wise because, when a long-tenured pastor remains in a congregation after the succession of a new leader, the potential for both good and ill are great. The good is the possible blessing of his unofficial service in various ways, approved by the leadership. The ill is the possible curse of his intrusiveness in ways that undermine the leadership of the church. This covenant is a way of maximizing the hope for the former and minimizing the risk of the latter. Our expectations are for a mutually joyful and life-giving relationship.


This covenant shall be reaffirmed or revised annually, by the mutual agreement of both parties. The reason for this is that we cannot foresee all the possible changes that may be wise in the years to come. If God gives Pastor John life and health and usefulness for years to come, expectations may be different as time goes by.

Covenant Agreements

We agree that John and Noël will remain members of Bethlehem Baptist Church and will fulfill the expectations of the Church Covenant that apply to all members in good standing. We agree that Bethlehem will provide pastoral care and accountability for John and Noël and fulfill the expectations of the Church Covenant as with respect to any member.

We agree that Pastor Emeritus is not a financially compensated role. Pastor John expects no additional income from the church beyond what he has already been given for his service in the past.

We agree that the familiar and affectionate title, “Pastor John,” by which thousands of people, at home and afar, have come to call John Piper, is warranted by the title “Pastor Emeritus.” “Pastor John” does not signify an official pastoral staff position at Bethlehem.

We agree that Pastor John will not exercise an official pastoral role or an official role as a member of the Council of Elders. As with any other member in good standing, he may be sought out for input, as the leaders deem wise, but he will not intrude his voice into the pastoral or elder discussions without invitation. We acknowledge an ambiguity in this provision because of Pastor John’s appropriate participation in Bethlehem College and Seminary faculty discussions of policies and issues. The discussions sometimes overlap with policies and issues being discussed by the elders. Moreover there are elders on the faculty. We agree that Pastor John’s role as Chancellor and Professor make input into faculty discussions fitting. In view of the ambiguity of what the “intrusion” of the Chancellor’s voice into elder discussions might mean, and in view of the charge of the Pastor for Strategic Implementation to “facilitate synergistic collaboration ... with ... the Leadership of Bethlehem College & Seminary,” we agree that Ken Currie serve as John Piper’s counselor and confidant in relation to elder matters. That is, Ken will be a sounding board for John and a representative of the elders in discerning what is an appropriate intrusion into elder discussions.

We agree that Pastor John will not attend all-church strategy meetings. Unusual exceptions could be made by the explicit invitation of the Pastor for Strategic Implementation or the Chairman of the Council of Elders (or their designees) for the fulfillment of a specific role. It is understood that this is a limitation on what an ordinary member in good standing may be expected to do. But the fact that Pastor John led the church for 33 years means he is not an ordinary member in that sense, and it would be wise to preserve the ordinary governance processes of the church from any restraints or influences people may feel because of his presence.

We agree that, given Pastor John’s full-time commitment to his role as Founder and Teacher at Desiring God, and his part-time role as Professor and Chancellor at Bethlehem College & Seminary, his availability for performing pastoral duties, such as weddings, funerals, counseling, baptisms, and visitation, should not be assumed. For his sake, and for the sake of the integrity of the pastoral leadership of the church, it should be assumed that he is not available for these roles. Any exceptions will be explicitly approved by the Pastor for Strategic Implementation, or one of the Pastors for Preaching & Vision, or the Chairman of the Council of Elders (or their designees).

We agree that there is no assumption Pastor John will preach in the worship services at Bethlehem. The pulpit is the voice of God’s called and anointed leaders in the local church. It is the central place for trumpeting the God-given vision of the leadership, and for uniting the people in the corporate exaltation of the Lord Jesus. The Pastors for Preaching & Vision are called and anointed for that crucial role. Exceptions are made at their discretion in consultation with appropriate pastoral staff and campus elders.

We agree that Pastor John will not accept speaking opportunities in church-sponsored gatherings such as Sunday school classes, appreciation dinners, midweek gatherings, women’s circles, retreats, etc. Occasional exceptions will be approved by the Pastor for Strategic Implementation or campus-appropriate Pastor for Preaching & Vision. We understand that as Chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary and Professor of New Testament he will teach in the classroom and speak at a variety of functions officially representing Bethlehem Baptist Church’s institution of higher learning as God leads Pastor John and the leadership of Bethlehem College & Seminary.

We agree that Pastor John will not serve on any church boards or committees. As Chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary he will serve ex officio on the Bethlehem College & Seminary Board.

We agree that in Pastor John’s travels and wider speaking, he will not be an official voice of Bethlehem Baptist Church. During his days as Lead Pastor for Preaching & Vision, this was the expectation: he represented the church officially. This role now belongs to the official leaders of the church. As with any other member, the leadership of the church can bless and send Pastor John on any mission that he and they agree on. As a member of Bethlehem he will be a representative of the church and an extension of the ministry of the church and will be expected to use his words in a way that advances the cherishing of the truths of the Bethlehem Elder Affirmation of Faith and to live his life in a way that accords with the Church Covenant.

We agree that we will revisit these agreements yearly with a view of preserving the ultimate intent of glorifying God through a humble, mutually upbuilding relationship.