In this picture from September 1, 2015, John Piper has his arm around Tom Steller. They are in a staff meeting for Bethlehem Baptist Church, and John Piper is praising God for Tom Steller’s serving Bethlehem for 35 years. Here’s a transcript of what Piper said:
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, full-time. 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.
Tom Steller explains some of what undergirds this story in “Afterword: The Supremacy of God in Going and Sending,” in John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 261–64. But the fullest account I’m aware of online is from October 3–4, 2015 when Tom glorified God by telling the story of Bethlehem and the nations:
God lit the flame in 1983, and it’s still spreading.
Tom Steller is the most kind and gentle man I know. Not everyone can say that about their boss! (He’s my dean.) It’s my delight to serve with him in order to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.