The death of John Stott last Friday elicited a broad range of tributes from Christian leaders throughout North America. But acknowledging the influence of Stott's ministry on North American Christians does not accurately portray the scope of his work. Stott's contributions to discipleship, biblical scholarship, and the equipping of leaders spanned the world, invigorating hundreds of nascent ministries in previously unchurched regions.
N.T. Wright, professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, said Stott's personal approach helped forge a new landscape in British and global Christianity during the 20th century. "To say that we thank God for him is putting it much too gently … we have all benefited enormously; may we be worthy of that legacy," he said.
Stott's global legacy, Wright said, was manifest in his humble relationships and capacity for thorough thinking. He recalls a lunch gathering with Stott at Oxford in the 1980s:
"John invited himself to lunch one Saturday and I was flattered and delighted—I didn't know him very well then—and though it was clear in retrospect that this was a kind of 'mentoring' moment, he treated me as an equal, a partner in the gospel, throughout. He was of course the soul of courtesy. When it was time to go and he proposed that we pray together I was surprised and delighted when this great low-churchman proceeded to get up from his chair, turn round, and kneel down. He clearly knew, what many evangelicals have forgotten, a point C. S. Lewis makes: that what you do with your body both expresses and affects what you are doing with your heart and soul."
Stott's transparent, personal approach extended deep into Africa, where David Zac Niringiye, assistant bishop for the Church of Uganda, met Stott during ministry training in the 80s. "When I think of my mentors, John Stott was very significant in encouraging me from the very beginning," said Niringiye.
"I had just started working in Uganda when I met him at a conference in Nairobi, and a week later I went to hear him speak at the cathedral in Kampala. I was amazed when, upon greeting him, he not only remembered what ministry I worked for, but also my name."
Niringiye also recalls a conversation in which he and Stott discussed the challenges of singleness and celibacy. "I remember being very moved when he told me that singleness is fulfilling, but hard. I was surprised, but very touched by his honesty when he told me he would be dishonest if he didn't admit he wished he had someone to make tea for him, to comfort him and welcome him home in the evening."
But ultimately what Niringiye remembers was not Stott's singleness, but his single-mindedness, he said.
"Stott's ability to focus on completing God's work in a specific area and then move to the next without shortchanging previous work was just amazing. His influence on African pastors was unparalleled, but I am always amazed when I hear of his other work and remember, that was just Africa."
Emily Choge, lecturer in philosophy and religion at Moi University in neighboring Kenya, agreed that Stott's ability to run a global ministry without sidelining the local ministries that composed it was impressive. "Even though he knew many people, he had a personal touch for every one of them, and I am one of them."
Choge received a scholarship from John Stott Ministries to pursue a doctorate in ethics in the U.S. and return to Kenya to teach. She remembers Stott visited her at school and took time to catch up with her amid his travels.
"I remember giving him a Safari hat from Kenya so that it could help shield him as he went bird watching all over the world. I just liked his simplicity. He always carried with him a simple cloth bag for his books. He was so easy to talk to. So now I teach ethics to many Kenyan students and I am able to share his story of how one life could touch so many lives."
Stott's international leadership was not simply through the distant influence of curriculum and books shipped across the world, but a personal involvement and commitment to ministers serving in places where the church had no prior history.
Mark Noll, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, said Stott was a bridge between the West and the rising church of Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, adding, "Stott was a patron, mentor, friend and encourager of so many from the newer parts of the Christian world."
All Souls Church, Langham Place in London will commemorate Stott with a funeral service on August 8 at 12:15 p.m. A memorial service is also planned for later this year.
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