John Stott’s Impact

[Rev. John R. W. Stott, one of the greatest Bible teachers, pastors, and evangelical statesmen of all time, passed away this morning. Here are some reflections I had written a few weeks back…]

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 did not flaunt the fact that he served as chaplain to the Queen of England, and he did not bask 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 primarily 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…

1. Make personal devotion to God in Christ our highest priority.

2. Live consistently, with integrity. Resist the temptation to develop a public persona.

3. Develop core disciplines like Scripture reading and mediation, prayer, work and rest.

4. Trust in the unchangeable truth of Scripture. Go deep in our study of it.

5. Prepare public talks with a focus on substance. Look for the connections and order of our ideas.

6. Value relationships with other leaders. Be a mentor without having to be called a mentor. Follow natural patterns. Don’t reduce discipleship to a program.

7. “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.

So much more could be said, and will be said. Rest in peace, John Stott.

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34 thoughts on “John Stott’s Impact

  1. I remember so clearly the weekend he spent with us at elmbrook in… 97? 98? He preached for our weekend services with no fuss, no fanfare… The people in the pew in large measure had no idea of the gift they were receiving, and it was no more crowded than usual. Mel, do you remember that it was Reggie White who preached the following weekend to a standing-room-only crowd?? He was also wonderful. But the contrast was surreal. I loved dr Stott and his work had helped to shape my soul for the sake of the glory of God. –Steph

    • I remember it exactly that way, Steph. That’s the thing about seed-planters. They come in with no fanfare. They faithfully do their work. They actually believe what Jesus said about the way the kingdom of God works. And later on, the fruit is enormous!

  2. Lovely article. So much to learn from his example… especially the part about “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.” A much needed corrective for some of the shock jock pastoring and Facebook/Twitter updates I seem to read on a regular basis. Thanks for writing a lovely tribute about a lovely man.

  3. I remember the ‘Bringing Truth Home’ conference that we did together, Mel. He was so very gracious, thanking me for the courteous, everyday things you do for a guest. I also watched as he exhibited that same, calm grace as he was faced with some very harsh criticism over a statement misunderstood. I consider it a great privilege to have spent time with him…Nancy

  4. My precious mom would quote him all the time. I remember, and I paraphrase, ” we should not ask what is wrong with the world because that diagnosis has already been given. But we should ask, whatever happened to the salt and light?” Also, “before we see the cross as something done for us, we must see it as something done by us!” Penetrating words I will never forget. And now he’s before the King of Kings…and with my mom, as well, who I am sure rushed to welcome him home.

  5. John Stott was an incredible man of God who had a great impact on my life.
    During my junior year of college (1987), I studied in London and attended John’s church
    All Souls – Langham Place regularly. Rev. Stott’s preaching and the people of his church changed my understanding of Christianity and placed a passion for Christ in my life. I have been in ministry ever since seeking to follow Christ while passionately living for Christ in a public university environment.
    Ironically, I return to London for the first time since 1987 tomorrow and I hope to honor Rev. Stott’s life in person. I am grateful to him for his faithful exposition of the heart and beauty of the Christian faith.

  6. I am greatly sadden by John Stott’s recent death. I have purchased several of his books. By my reading of them I have learned and understood and adopted more depth of my personal relationship with my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. John Stott was uncompromising in what he said and what he wrote of our Saviour and encourage others to read his books.

  7. What a loss on the passing of J.R.W.Stott. Currently reading possibly his finest book “the Cross’. To date it looks like it will be my favourite book. It’s so good to have his works left behind. What a gift God gave us while he was here! It’s a sadness he’s gone, but a joy looking forward to that time to meet him then.

  8. Blessings to all whose lives he touched through his teachings of Christ…he will clearly be missed from this side…but truly rejoicing for his ultimate accomplishment into the eternal life with God.

  9. I remember him when he came to India and spent a week teaching at our church there- the depth of his teaching, but also how very humble and approachable he was.

    • Shanthini – your anecdote should be a reminder to us of how important it is to have a ministry of presence. Stott dropped in on so many groups and lingered with them over the years.

  10. I was never the same after reading his book, Caught Between Two Worlds; The Art Of Preaching In The 20th Century. I respected him abov e all other writers. I feel a great sense of loss and grief. Heaven is richer and we are poorer.

    • A small correction, William, for those who will take your book recommendation seriously (and I agree!). The title is Between Two Worlds. Not Caught Between Two Worlds. All preachers should read this. I’ve read it at least three times.

  11. Having studied with John Stott in 15 separate annual Spring sessions in London, UK, I can only say every moment was an enriching experience. It was John’s book Basic Christianity that brought me to the surface of what I was missing in my intellect. He taught me how to think biblically. When I found out I could learn from John at the London Institute it became my mind restorer and heart builder. Everything before that was being a kind of chaplain in an upper class denominational manor. The cushion of seminary theology and being the likeable ‘manor priest’ was my buoy.
    Floundering as a chaplain in a New England prep school I was at a point in my life when I had found my bearings as an Episcopal priest were meaningless. But in the Spring of 1969 it was John’s writings, a spiritual confrontation on Martha’s Vineyard and the decision to accept Jesus that brought me to the Lord Jesus. Before Him in my life I was an institutional functionary. Then I discovered living was all about Jesus Christ and being in relationship with Him and being opened to the light of His Word. My mind, my heart and my spirit began a trek of restoration in His Spirit that is still very much a work in progress.
    There will be many other similar personal responses in the next days and weeks from all over the world. I am so thankful to the Lord for those moments with John Stott and the part he played in my being born from above. I look forward to that day when we meet in the Kingdom. >Whitey Haugan

    • Whitney – Thanks for the up close reflections on John Stott. I noticed several things. Like you, so many people would say that Basic Christianity was very important to them. That should tell us how important a simple, straightforward description of the faith is important in getting us grounded. Basic Christianity–a good thing for anyone to read! Also, you say “he taught me how to think biblically.” Many would say that as well. This is so important! We should not depend on leaders to spoon feed us everything we need to know, but who teach us how to feed ourselves on the word. You have other interesting things to say, too. Thanks for enlightening us.

  12. When I prayed God for guidance, wisdom and alignment, I was led to John Stott’s books
    He inspired for a deeper reading of the Scripture… and the I could inspire others
    A mentor, in the distance, thru his books… John Stott has been a great inspiration, a model, a real true genuine pastor, full of love for Jesus… full of love for people… a man of the Gospel… Thanks God for John Stott, ad John, well done, enter the joy of the Lord…
    As the Lord leads, we continue, amen

  13. Being invited to refer to John Stott as”Uncle John” on our first visit to All Souls church in London affirmed to this young believer that he had indeed joined a wonderful family.
    The Cross of Christ, Between Two Worlds and the commentary on Romans remain treasures.
    Thanks much for the remembrances of his visit to Elmbrook.

  14. I remember him best as an author of several Inter-Varsity books. He was also the Bible teacher during Urbana ’79. I remember he did a daily exposition of Romans that I still think back to as I re-study it. Well done, good and faithful servant!

  15. I am so grateful to this Anglican teacher and write, who knew what was primary and what was secondary in Christian thought and life. He will be missed.
    A traditional Anglicn evangelical Catholic

  16. mel, sorry for the length of the post, but i wrote this on steph’s facebook page, and i thought i’d share it here:

    i went to meet him 4 years ago in his london flat. i was traveling with my friend dave, and our friend chris was his study/personal assistant. we had tea and cookies and he asked me how i thought he dealt with the new perspective on paul in his romans commentary. he talked about the book he had just finished, and then asked us to help him down the stairs to his bedroom so he could fetch books to give us. when he found out dave was from texas, he asked him if he knew any texas jokes. dave told a bad one, and john replied, “well, that’s a joke.”

    i read his acts, romans, and other commentaries and some of his other books (i read cross of christ over spring break in high school and the contemporary christian was the first book i read when i moved in to my dorm in college) at a very important time in my formation. he nurtured a set of important theological, intellectual, and ecclesial transitions (i still remember feeling freed intellectually by his reconciliation of romans 5 with Darwin, emotionally by his thoughts on annihilation, and and theologically by his more moderate reformed sensibilities). i believe that if it weren’t for his indirect influence (through his influencing the moderate, generous, and capacious evangelicalism of stuart briscoe) and his direct influence through his books, i would have turned out to be a very different kind of christian (and person), and perhaps not a christian at all.

    i think of the influence this way: it’s like having a parent who frees you to be you, against whom you have no need to rebel, who helps you mature without trying to control the outcome of the process. john stott patiently and confidently relied in the power of reasons to move his hearers and readers. (miroslav volf has told me on multiple occasions that stott is his favorite preacher “bar none” partially because of the simple power of reason-giving in his preaching). stott could therefore eschew all types of emotional manipulation and “techniques” so typical of the anxious and authoritarian desire to reproduce that either automates development or produces profound resentment.

    so many people i know have had to reject their past. i feel very grateful that stott, briscoe allowed me to integrate it rather than defining myself against it. doubtless they wouldn’t be happy with some of the conclusions i’ve come to, but i haven’t needed to reject them to come to those conclusions. when you’re formed by people who aren’t afraid of the questions “why?” and “how do you know?”, no question needs to cut you off from those who came before when you pursue it.

    stott was also the first person who introduced me to the idea (alongside nt wright) that traditional christian beliefs ought to produce something of a christian socialism–an advocacy for economically progressive/non-libertaria​n economic and welfare policies. in some ways, that has influenced the direction of my writing, research, and career as a theologian who writes about political theology.

  17. Thanks for taking the time to write with some detail, Sean. I found this particularly striking: “it’s like having a parent who frees you to be you, against whom you have no need to rebel, who helps you mature without trying to control the outcome of the process.” Your comments about Stott and Stuart Briscoe should make all of us pause and think about how that can happen in the future.

  18. I have read John Stott’s writings and his messages, the mesagge about the simplicity of the Gospel and the seriousness about becoming a follower of Jesus Christ still rings in my mind. Praise God for the life of Rev. Stott and his impact in our lives.

  19. Thanks for this Mel. I’m about to go out for a day retreat for vision and prayer, and am going to print this and take it. I could do no better than pattern my philosophy of life and ministry after this man.

  20. I thank God for the life of Uncle John and for the privilege of reading some of his writings and finally meeting him in person at All Soul’s Church in Langham Place, London. Indeed he is a gifted minister of the Word of God and he is one of God’s many gifts to the Body of Christ at the time when the Invisible Body needs to be rooted and strengthened in His Eternal Truth. A life well lived and shared, Uncle John, now be in the glory and joy of the eternal presence of your and my Heavenly Father.

  21. Mel, thanks for a thoughtful rememberance of this towering figure who was so influential and yet so genuinely humble. One of the great memories of my ministry was meeting and having some time with Dr. Stott when he spoke for our first International Congress on Preaching at Westminster Chapel in London in 1997. His books have helped us in so many ways, and Between Two Worlds is certainly one of the classic preaching books of the 20th century. He is one of those giants on whose shoulders we all stand.

  22. After reading and studying Mr. Stott’s work for years, we were privileged to meet him at Elmbrook Church years ago. What a gentle and embracing man. We thank God for John Stott’s life and commitment to teaching. At the time we were first introduced to his work we had just become born again. Mr. Stott helped us on our journey. Thank you John Stott.

    He will be missed, but he is receiving his heavenly rewards resting in the arms of our Savior. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family. Until we prayerfully meet again, rest in peace.

  23. What a gifted and outstanding man of God! He is greatly missed and will long be remembered. I have read and re-read his books, much to my edification. He will be counted among the great teachers of evangelical Christianity.

  24. W

    What an outstanding scholar and communicator of God’s word. He is greatly mssed and will long br remembered. I have read and re-read his many books. much to my edification.

    George Hanson
    Port Townsend, WA
    USA