The Humility of John Stott: Two Preachers Recall How Gently He Corrected Them

david at virtueonline.org david at virtueonline.org
Fri Aug 12 10:41:43 EDT 2011


The Humility of John Stott: Two International Preachers Recall How Gently He Corrected Them 

By David W. Virtue 
www.virtueonline.org 
August 6, 2011

Dr. John Stott's humility as the world's premier Evangelical Anglican preacher has been commented on by VOL. As a result, VOL received a number of testimonies to his humility. Both men went on to have significant ministries. With permission, we are printing two of them for readers.

By Michael Lawson 

John Stott - a personal appreciation

>From 1960, John Stott played a key role in founding and chairing the Church of England Evangelical Council. Even in those days he was a leading Evangelical, and had already made a most significant impact for the gospel in his central London ministry at All Souls Langham Place where he had been Rector since 1950, and before that curate since 1945.

I am now quite recently privileged to inhabit that same seat as chairman at the CEEC that John once chaired, but our actual personal connection goes back to 1981 when I arrived at All Souls as a curate that Autumn. 

I remember at the evening service that October the occasion of my first ever sermon at the church. I did my best, but unfortunately, the sermon was not especially good. Just before the service, and feeling very nervous, I was horrified to discover that the great John Stott, who I had been told would be abroad, was actually present. There he was seated on the bench behind me as I meekly walked up to the famous All Souls pulpit ready to display my youthful homiletical inadequacies.  

As I say, the sermon was not brilliant. But John came up to me afterwards, introduced himself most warmly, and said kindly and I believe sincerely, "Let me help you next time. We can meet up." So in this way John became my mentor, in particular as my sermon coach. He was very good at it, always encouraging, and constructive. 

I remember one occasion when he'd spent several minutes encouraging me by extolling the virtues of my voice, bearing, and communication, he then added gently and with just a hint of an amused smile, "You didn't really understand the passage, did you." 

He was so nice about it, and proceeded in the kindest fashion to explain what I had missed about the text. I say this because some people may have formed the impression that John Stott was aloof or austere, and so dazzlingly capable that he wasn't interest in ordinary mortals. 

He was nothing of the sort. Not a bit of it, though he was one of the most brilliantly capable leaders of the Church of England and beyond. John had a great sense of humor, and was a man capable of enormous warmth and kindness. He was just extremely well focused on the tasks in hands, and did not let himself get easily distracted. 

How else would he have achieved the fifty and more books he wrote which have sold in excess of 8 million copies? How else would he have made the many important contributions as a major leader of the worldwide Evangelical movement, as a principal author the Lausanne Covenant in 1974, as the inspiration behind the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion, the Eclectics group, the major strategic National Evangelical Anglican conferences at Keele and Nottingham, and his passion to help the church and pastors of the developing world? 

Much of John's ministry took him abroad to at least twelve African countries, and South America, Eastern Europe, the USA and Canada, China, Croatia, Russia, Korea and Thailand. Of course he loved bird watching, and was an excellent photographer, so he usually took his camera with him. 

The photography was spectacular, but the ministry was always enormously fruitful too of course. I knew John Stott to be a man of deep reliance on God. He was very prayerful, and a great example to me and to many of us. 

Over the years, he was wonderfully supported, especially by Frances Whitehead, his utterly outstanding secretary for around 50 years, and by his curates and later his many devoted study assistants. 

John had a hard and demanding concluding period to his life, and I felt that his death on the 27th July was, as we sometimes say, a merciful release. 

But on that day, when I heard he had gone to heaven to be with the Lord he loved and served with all his devotion and strength, I had the strongest sense of the words of the Lord Jesus waiting to greet him: "Well done my good and faithful servant." 


---Michael Lawson is Chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council.

*****

By Dr. Guy Saffold

Guy was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the 70s when Dr. Stott came to teach. This was his experience with the world's greatest preacher.   

My most personal memory of him is from an occasion when he came to TEDS to teach a preaching course in, I think, 1971. I rushed to register for the opportunity to learn from John Stott. Who would want to miss that chance.   He had the most remarkably humble nature. 

He invited the class in groups to his small apartment on campus, welcomed and waited on us hand and foot as if we were the important guests and he was only a friendly servant. It was so disarming that it was hard to grasp what we'd experienced, and we had conversations for days afterward trying to understand what had happened.   

We, of course, labored mightily to prepare the best possible practice sermons we could and it was an anxious moment indeed for each of us when the time came for our preaching assignment. I worked for many days on mine sermon.   So the day came, and I preached it, sat down, and waited for his critique.   

"That was a very good sermon, Mr. Saffold," he said, "excellent organization, well-articulated, insightful illustrations." And so on through a number of other encouraging points. Then he said gently but directly, "There was one problem I noted. You missed the point of the text. In truth, you have actually gotten it quite backwards."   

He then explained the point of the text is his astonishingly lucid manner, and I recall thinking, "Well, yes. How could I possibly have missed something that is so incredibly simple and clear."   I could have been quite crestfallen, but he very quickly said something quite humorous (I don't recall what), asked the class to give me some applause, and said that I had a talent for communication that I should develop.   

It was, again, a somewhat puzzling moment. I'd just been told that my sermon had not only missed the point of the text but had actually reversed it. But he'd taken us through it in such a way that I went away encouraged. As with the evening at his apartment I often thought about "How did he do that?" 

And I remember concluding that his manner must have been very similar to Jesus who was humble and strong, direct but gentle, and altogether kind and joyful. He was certainly very skilled as a teacher, but I think the "magic" was really a divine quality flowing from the Spirit of God in him with such a degree of transparency that you could not help but be influenced by it.   

And what a lesson he'd given me. 

On a thousand occasions since I've remembered that day. 

The less was this: "More than anything else-more than your outline, more than your illustrations, more than your efforts to be impressive or inspiring or anything else-don't miss the point of the text. Be the servant of God's message not your own."   

All in all I probably spent no more than 24 hours with John Stott one fall quarter in 1971. Those hours have had a lifelong impact. Truly unforgettable.  


---Dr. Guy S. Saffold, Ed.D is Executive Director of Ministries with Power to Change (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ, Canada) in Langley, B.C. In this role he guides the ministry activities of Power to Change across Canada and worldwide. Prior to joining Power to Change he was Executive Vice President of TWU and as Chief Executive of the ACTS Seminary Consortium. He is the author of Strategic Planning for Christian Organizations and he is widely sought by Christian organizations as a strategic consultant. Dr. Saffold holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Seattle University and a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 




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