Those puzzling words about the man described as the architect of the evangelical movement in the 20th century make sense when you talk to more people who knew him. One of the most popular words used to describe Stott, who passed away Wednesday at age 90, is humble.
“Over and over again as people have described their interactions with John Stott, it is one of humility, and one of not pointing people to himself but to Jesus,” Homan said from Colorado. “The ministries that he began were never about promoting his works or his teachings. They have been about drawing the Church’s attention to the work of Christ around the world, how the Church is growing and how it needs to grow in depth and maturity around the world. I think he will be remembered as a global Christian.”
The English Anglican clergyman was born and raised and lived within eight blocks of a church in central London. It was the only church he served in his entire life, but his books and ministries have impacted millions of people worldwide. The prolific writer, who authored over 50 books, was a theologian who could explain the core beliefs of Christianity, the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in a clear and powerful way.
His 1958 classic, Basic Christianity, has been translated into 63 languages.
InterVarsity Press Publisher Bob Fryling said of Stott in a statement: “He was a pastor-teacher whose books and preaching not only became the gold standard for expository teaching, but his Christian character was a model of truth and godliness.”
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IVP is Stott’s main publisher in the United States.
Homan shared that Stott considered the books he wrote his children. Several years ago, Homan recalled, Stott spoke at a church in the United States and the person who introduced him piled his more than 50 books on stage. Stott looked at the pile of books and said they were his children.
“Then he looked at the congregation and said, ‘I see you sitting with your spouses and your children and I think sometimes what a sorry exchange,’” Homan shared.
Stott never married in order to allow himself more time for ministry, and apparently he did not regret his decision.
The Rev. Dr. Chris Wright, the international director of London-based Langham Partnership International and the so-called “successor” of Stott, said his mentor will be remembered as a “humble servant of God. He was a deeply humble man.”
Stott founded Langham Partnership International with the mission to equip the Majority World churches, also known as the Global South or the developing world, for mission. Langham Partnership is known as John Stott Ministries in the United States.
“He always spoke of himself as just an ordinary follower of Jesus. He once said we should not get used to adulation … he never reveled in being famous. I think he would want to be remembered as a disciple of Jesus,” Wright said from his London home on Thursday evening.
Wright highlighted that Stott’s final book, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling, is a fitting end to his writing because that was what the evangelical leader strived to be his entire life.
“He was a very disciplined man. He was a single man so he did not have a wife and family. He was extremely devoted. Until his later life, he usually rose between 5 and 6 each day and spent a lot of time in prayer,” said Wright, who has personally known Stott since 1978. “He has a long list of people he prayed for, and that is one reason why he remembered people so well, because he was regularly praying for hundreds of people. For that reason also, he tended not to stay up very late.”
Not only was Stott’s daily routine strict, but his year was structured with a razor-sharp focus on maximizing his effectiveness in various ministries. For 25 years, Stott spent three months out of the year in international travels, speaking at conferences and preaching around the world; three months in writing; and six months in ministry.
“He was extremely disciplined in his personal life and very simple in his habits. He lived in a one bedroom, one living room with a small kitchenette, and that was his life. He did not have any great wealth or style. He was very simple and frugal,” Wright recalled.
His mentor taught him how to engage in ministry publicly as well as in a pastoral capacity while maintaining equal integrity in both.
“I find him to be a man of genuine humility, not just fake humility, but genuine, through and through humility. He was able to mix with what we might call the rich and famous on one hand, or with the poorest of poor in other parts of the world, and do so with equal integrity and simply be himself.”
Stott died peacefully at 3:15 p.m. local time on July 27, 2011, at his Christian assisted living home at St. Barnabas College in Lingfield, Surrey, England. At his bedside was his niece and close friends, who read 2 Timothy 2 to him and also listened to Handel’s “Messiah” with him in his final moments on earth.
In 2006, Stott had broken his hip and had since increasingly become incapacitated. Wright said the elderly clergyman did not suffer dementia, but was weak and in pain in the time leading up to his death.
Stott will perhaps be best known for being the chief drafter of the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, the evangelical manifesto on evangelism and theology.
He also was the primary author of the Preamble to the 1951 constitution of the World Evangelical Alliance, the world’s largest evangelical organization, now representing some 600 million evangelicals in 128 countries.
“I can’t think of another evangelical theologian who would come close to Stott in both the depth of his diligent scholarship and the breadth of his unifying work in the global body of Christ – especially through the Lausanne Movement,” said Greg Parsons, global director of the U.S. Center for World Mission, in an email.
“It is probably his involvement in guiding and crafting the masterful document known as the Lausanne Covenant that will be the best single thing for which he is known,” remarked Parsons, who was a member of the Statement Working Group at Lausanne III in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2010.
Parsons shared that Stott’s talk at the Urbana Student Missions Conference in 1976, titled, “The Loving God is a Missionary God,” became the first chapter of USCWM’s Perspectives reader.
John Robert Walmsley Stott was born to Sir Arnold W. Stott, an accomplished physician and an agnostic, and Emily, a Lutheran who took her youngest son to All Souls Church in Langham Place, London, as a young boy. Stott later became rector of All Souls in 1950, then rector emeritus in 1975.
In 1959, Stott was appointed chaplain to the queen and served in that position until 1991. He retired from public ministry in 2007 at the age of 86, two years after being named by Time magazine as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People.”
Fond memories of Stott included his passion for bird watching and that he was very fond of chocolates.
John Stott Ministries President Benjamin Homan recalled that the month before Stott passed away, a friend had visited and told Stott that a black bird was outside his window. Stott, who had lost much of his eye sight by then, corrected his friend, saying that it was a nightingale, which he knew by hearing the bird chirp.
Several memorials for John Stott, including ones in England, the United States, and Australia, are being planned. A date has yet to be announced for the memorial services.
John Stott’s Memorial Website: www.johnstottmemorial.org