Tribute to Pastor Tom—and Missions at Bethlehem

Published by: John Piper
October 15, 2015

From John Piper, Pastor Emeritus

The following excerpts were transcribed from the September 1, 2015, Staff Lunch, at which Pastor John honored Pastor Tom Steller on the 35th anniversary of his pastorate at Bethlehem. In light of this season of Global Focus, the excerpts included pertain to Pastor Tom’s contribution to encouraging Bethlehem to be a missions-loving church.

I taught Bible at Bethel for six years, 1974–1980. Tom took six of my courses, four in Greek and two exegesis courses. (I know that because it’s in my journal.) And at the end of those six courses the die was cast for a lifetime of partnership in Christian Hedonism, and the Piper-Steller fabric began to be woven. We have loved and praised and served the same glorious God on the same basis of glorious Scripture for 40 years together.

Tom went from Bethel to Fuller Seminary to study with Dan Fuller so that he could go right to the spring from which so much had flowed in those days.

When I came to Bethlehem in 1980, I asked Tom if he would come and do whatever he could do and think toward a staff position. So the Stellers moved back here and moved in with us. We lived together for three years while Tom was working with students.

In January 1982, at the Annual Meeting, the church voted and called Tom to be Pastor for Student and Educational Ministries, fulltime. I wrote in my journal that night, “My heart leaps up to God for opening this door—what a gift to me and to Bethlehem. Smile on, smile on, gracious Father.”

He was ordained here August 29, 1982. We were both very, very green when we came here, with no pastoral experience, either one of us, in any church setting. And God went to work on us to make us pastors. Green lovers of Greek—and God going to work on us.

In 1983 Tom and I both had remarkable awakenings to world missions. In the Fall of ’83 I had to preach the first missions message I’d ever preached because the church asked me to preach it as part of Missions Week. I remember Tom telling me that he was awakened, couldn’t sleep, and in the middle of the night put John Michael Talbot on his cassette player, singing about the glory of God and the nations and wept for a long time. 

God put the pieces together—him in that way and me in another way—between our love of the glory of God and our love for the nations. We just hadn’t seen “the click.” And it clicked so profoundly that nothing at Bethlehem stayed the same after that.

The next year, 1984, Tom’s job description was changed to Pastor for Students and Missions. And in 1989, it was Pastor for Missions and Leadership Development. In 1990–91, Tom took a year to teach in Cameroon and was a decisive mover and encourager among our missionaries. I have records from Kazakhstan, for example, where he was such an encouragement back in those days. And his engagement with the folks in Myanmar was decisive.

So that season of life where Tom gave himself to missions was born—not because Tom came to Bethlehem with any of that—God just touched us stunningly in the Fall of 1983.

Pastors Tom Steller and John Piper

Pastor Tom shared highlights on Bethlehem’s involvement in missions in the sermon on October 3/4, Worship and Missions: The Great Connection.




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