John R W Stott died yesterday afternoon after listening to Handel’s Messiah and hearing 2nd Timothy. The fight well fought. The race well run. The faith well kept. Converted in 1938, ordained in 1945, promoted to glory at 90 years of age. This man was a biblical preacher par excellence. I never had the privilege of meeting him, but I’d like to share some reflections on his ministry in his honour today. One of the books I am reading at the moment is one of his lesser-known works, but well worth getting hold of – Christ the Controversialist. So for seven brief reflections:
1. A Biblical Preacher. Stott didn’t try to be the original thinker, instead he modeled being the Bible miner. His ministry was always marked by faithfulness to the sacred text, clarity in its presentation, and relevance to the situation in which he was preaching. Stott gave us the metaphor of the Bridge-Builder in his wonderful book on preaching, Between Two Worlds. Christianity Today’s editor in 1981, Kenneth Kantzer, once wrote, “When I hear him expound a text, invariably I exclaim to myself, ‘That’s exactly what it means! Why didn’t I see it before?”
2. An Evangelistic Global Preacher. Stott spent his entire career at All Souls, Langham Place, yet his influence was genuinely global. His passion for evangelism has ofted been noted, and his statesmanlike role at the 1974 Lausanne Convention was massively significant. His global ministry goes on today through Langham Partnership International, a ministry supporting leaders, publishing and preaching in the developing world. Local and global ministry are not mutually exclusive.
3. A Multiplicative Ministry. I’m not sure what word to use here, but when the story of the evangelical church in post-war Britain is told, it will always have Stott at its centre. At a time when evangelicalism seemed to have “dropped the ball,” the rebuilding seemed to occur around the humble but determined influence of Stott in the Church of England, and Lloyd-Jones in the free church. It is possible to be an intellectually rigorous evangelical. Stott proved it, and in his humble determined way, he multiplied himself.
4. A Cumulative Ministry. While taking opportunities to serve the global church, Stott demonstrated the value of cumulative ministry in his home church. He famously turned down the opportunities to climb the power pyramid and become a bishop, but instead showed what cumulative preaching can do over the decades in a single church. If only more preachers would stop pyramid climbing and playing ecclesial politics, and instead give themselves to faithfully preaching the Word!
5. A Writing Ministry. Not every preacher can write, but those that can provide a real service to others. I remember reading The Cross of Christ at a formative time in my life. I’ve turned to Stott’s commentaries numerous times. Many will attest to the help received from Stott’s clear yet profound mining of Scripture. The faithfulness, clarity and relevance of his preaching showed through in his writing. In an era of fluffy books lacking biblical substance that fail to make the cut when we need more shelf space, Stott has continually produced solid works, large and small, to serve the church.
6. A Retiring Ministry. How many great movements and churches have suffered at the hands of the power figures unable to let go? Stott seems to have had the faith, the courage and the humility to hand over the reins in the church, and in the global ministry, with a passion to see things improve. Some people have to move away to leave room for the next generation to move on. Stott has been able to remain as a sage supporting subsequent leaders, Uncle John to all who knew him personally. If only more older leaders would have the courage to not cling onto control, but know when the baton should be passed.
7. A Ministry with Integrity. Stott, apparently, was a shy man who would be happy in his own company writing for weeks on end, or enjoying his ornithology. Yet he gave himself to others, he prayed, he cared. He lived his life with a deep devotion to Christ to the end of the journey. Truly one of the most influential leaders of our time, Stott is a wonderful example of a plain ordinary Christian, mightily used by a wonderful Christ.