Who was John Stott?

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It was over twelve years ago now that Randy and I attended a conference in Eastbourne, England called the International Consultation on Discipleship. At that conference John Stott offered the keynote address. The thrust of what he said during that talk can be captured by his quote of J.I. Packer that  evening: “The church is a 1000 miles wide and 1/2 inch deep.” This address provided a bit of our “marching-orders” as a ministry, to be a small part of helping the church deepen its efforts in the face of the prevalent superficiality of the culture and the church. Stott’s words continue to echo in our minds and hearts.

His words particularly came to mind when I learned in late July that he had passed away. Few people have had a greater influence on the evangelical world over the past century than John Stott. We quote him a good deal in Stage 1: Biblical Foundations of The Emerging Journey. His thoughts on calling are woven throughout Session 4: Understanding God’s Specific Calling.  

Who was John Stott? In order to get a good context for Stott’s life and influence I would highly recommend reading through Christianity Today’s obituary entitled, John Stott has died written by Tim Stafford. I came across this link last week and found it very thoughtful.  For those of you facilitating The Emerging Journey, this context of Stott’s life might help enhance your groups conversation. For everyone Stott’s life offers an inspiring portrait of what God can be up to in a person’s life (Ephesians 2:10) Stafford quotes theologian David Wells who spent a good bit of time with Stott.  Of Stott’s leadership Wells writes,

“His leadership was effective,” Wells says, “because of his personal integrity and his Christian life. People who knew him always came back to these points. He was known all over the world, but when you met him he was a most devout, humble Christian man. His private life was no different from his public life. It was the same person. That’s another way to say that he had integrity. There was no posing.”

Here is one of my favorite extended quotes of Stott on calling which can be found on page 52 of The Emerging Journey Stage 1. Stott writes,

We often give the impression that if a young Christian [person] is really keen for Christ he will undoubtedly become a foreign missionary, that if he is not quite as keen he will stay at home and become a pastor, that if he lacks the dedication to be a pastor, he will no doubt serve as a doctor or a teacher, while those who end up in social work or the media or (worst of all) in politics are not far removed from serious backsliding!  It seems to me urgent to gain a truer perspective in this matter of vocation. Jesus Christ calls his disciples to ‘ministry’, that is, to service.  He himself is the Servant par excellence, and he calls us to be servants, too.  This much then is certain: if we are Christians we must spend our lives in the service of God and man.  The only difference between us lies in the nature of the service we are called to render.

…it is possible for Christians to interpret their life-work Christianly, and to see it neither as a necessary evil (necessary, that is, for survival), nor even as a useful place in which to evangelize or make money for evangelism, but as their Christian vocation, as the way Christ has called them to spend their lives in his service.[i]

I am thankful for Stott’s life and ministry.


[i] John R. W. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World: What the church should be doing now! (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1975), 31-32.

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