Remember Your Leaders: John Stott (1921-2011)

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” These words might seem odd to a culture that (1) evidences a robust suspicion of authority in general and (2) is regularly inflicted with news of Christian leaders falling from grace.

And yet, originating as it does from Hebrews 13, the command is one that remains appropriate for the believing Church. That it does so is a testimony to the grace of God. Pyrotechnic human failures occur with far more regularity than any of us would like. But God, as he always will, still regularly calls and equips leaders to live lives in his service that are worthy of imitation.

One such man was John Stott. Long-time pastor at All Souls Anglican Church in London and prolific author, Stott passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 90. Over the course of his long and productive life, Stott was channel of grace literally to millions of evangelical believers, whether they knew him or not.

Unashamedly committed to authority and trustworthiness of the Scriptures, Stott also insisted that effectively communicating the biblical gospel and expounding its implications for all of life demanded a thoroughgoing engagement with the surrounding world. Understanding the church as truly global, he championed its development in what he called “the majority world,” where training and resources have historically been scarce. In fact, he reportedly channeled the royalties received for his many books toward that end.

Asked a few years ago how he most wanted to be remembered, Stott replied, “As an ordinary Christian who has struggled in his desire to understand, to expound, and to…apply the word of God.” This he did through decades of preaching and writing. As a pastor, I’ve always particularly appreciated Stott’s numerous biblical commentaries. His work always reflects profoundly on the text, yet remains accessible and applicable enough for other “ordinary Christians.” Additionally, The Cross of Christ—a biblical exposition of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and what many consider to be Stott’s finest work—is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. His Basic Christianity rates as a classic introduction to the faith.

In his multifaceted ministry, Stott conducted himself with a widely acknowledged humility. This brief anecdote, chronicled by Tim Stafford in Christianity Today’s obituary, underscores that assertion:

Latin American theologian Rene Padilla remembers vividly one of his early encounters with Stott. “On the previous night we had arrived in Bariloche, Argentina, in the middle of heavy rain. The street was muddy and, as a result, by the time we got to the room that had been assigned to us our shoes were covered with mud. In the morning, as I woke up, I heard the sound of a brush—John was busy, brushing my shoes. ‘John!,’ I exclaimed full of surprise, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘My dear René,’ he responded, ‘Jesus taught us to wash each other’s feet. You do not need me to wash your feet, but I can brush your shoes.’

Scanning my bookshelves for his name while writing this, I was mildly surprised to count up as many as seven or eight books bearing his authorship. In a way, this act of inventory was an apt metaphor for Stott’s life and ministry: a steady labor that, rather than attracting a great deal of attention to himself, faithfully and effectively encouraged others to know Christ and grow in their faith.

John Stott would be the first to insist that he was a deeply flawed sinner. And he’d undoubtedly be right. Still, by the grace of God, Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 serve as a fitting epitaph for Stott’s own life:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

He will be missed.

For more on John Stott:

The New York Times

Justin Taylor

Check out several of his books in The Crossing Bookstore.

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