By now, you may have heard the news that Christian author and evangelist John Stott passed away earlier today. While we rejoice for a life well lived, we also grieve at its conclusion. Stott was truly one of the greatest Christian teachers of the 20th century.
I was given a copy of his book Basic Christianity in college, at a time when I was doubting much of the faith I had been raised in. Stott’s simple and direct approach provided answers to questions I had thought unanswerable.
Pastor and author Mel Lawrenz (who partners with Bible Gateway to produce the “Everything New” devotional) has written a moving reflection on John Stott’s life and influence. He’s graciously given us permission to share his essay below:
One day New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a piece called “Who Is John Stott?” Brooks was bemoaning the fact that the media always choose the wrong people to represent evangelical Christianity, putting the microphone in front of people who are, in his opinion, “buffoons.” If reporters were smart, Brooks said, they’d look to John R. W. Stott as the voice of evangelical Christianity. It is a voice that is “friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic.” Brooks went on to reflect on why this evangelical preacher is so compelling to him, a Jew. It has to do with Stott’s uncompromising “thoughtful allegiance to scripture.” Brooks concluded: “most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed.”
John Stott was a pastor in London for many years and gradually became a friend to dozens of countries he visited in his itinerant speaking ministry. He never tried to invent something new, but was driven by his conviction that the truth of God in Christ is at the core of the mission that believers share. He never flaunted the fact that he served as chaplain to the Queen of England, or basked in the multitudes of accolades he received. He lived as simply as possible, writing books in a simple cabin in Wales, never married, called “Uncle John” by hundreds of younger people to whom he was mentor.
Stott always stood erect at the podium from which he spoke, turning small-sized pages in a notebook to march steadily through his talk. He did not walk around. Hardly gestured. But in his voice was a firm conviction that punctuated the words and phrases that really mattered. Sacrifice, truth, crucifixion, mission, world, redemption—and especially, Christ. He did not arrest your attention with fancy illustrations, but with the substance of the truth. He did not speak on topics, but about reality. The orderliness of his analysis showed respect toward his listeners. An authentic longing to help people. And underlying it all was an irenic spirit. He was polite not because he was an Englishman, but because the grace of Christ required it. Grace and peace—the keywords of Pauline salutations—were the values that opened the door of credibility to untold thousands of people.
Stott demonstrated spiritual leadership not because he built an organization or led an institution. He led by planting the seeds of truth—widely, deeply, continually, over a period of decades. In John Stott’s final public address he raised the question: what are we trying to do in the mission? In his mind the answer was unambiguous: to help people become more like Christ.
The core elements of Stott’s leadership-by-truth-telling are within our grasp immediately, and Stott would probably be the first to say so. We must…
- Make personal devotion to God in Christ our highest priority.
- Live consistently, with integrity. Resist the temptation to develop a public persona.
- Develop core disciplines like Scripture reading and mediation, prayer, work and rest.
- Trust in the unchangeable truth of Scripture. Go deep in our study of it.
- Prepare public talks with a focus on substance. Look for the connections and orders of our ideas.
- Value relationships with other leaders. Be a mentor without having to be called a mentor. Follow natural patterns. Don’t turn discipleship into a program.
“Read” the truth of God written in the natural world. Stott was an avid ornithologist. His cumulative knowledge made him a world expert. This was both an avocation and an act of worship. Like many other Christian leaders, Stott practiced a full awareness of God’s presence and work, and that included participating in the Creation with a developing sense of awe and wonder.
Rest in peace, John Stott.
Mel’s reflection was originally published on The Brook Network website. You can learn more about John Stott at the John Stott Ministries website. The Wikipedia article on John Stott outlines his life and ongoing influence.