Today is the 90th birthday of John Stott. A new book on the impact of his life has been released to celebrate the occasion. John Stott: A portrait by his friends, edited by Chris Wright, Inter-Varsity Press, contains remarks by 35 of his close acquaintances, including myself. They are characteristically very personal, and appreciative of the influence he has been on our lives and those of many, many others who could have contributed more.
I will always be grateful to John for choosing me to be his assistant minister at All Souls Langham Place in London in 1967. I was fresh out of theological graduate school and he offered me the opportunity of a lifetime to join his staff, the first, non-English person to do so. My qualification was my non-Englishness since his congregation had grown increasingly international and he wanted to diversify his team.
It was at his side that I cut my teeth on the craft of pastoral ministry. I spent three years living with him, my bedroom being next to his. My last year as a married man was spent living in a flat in the church building itself. I could not have been closer to him if I tried. Surprisingly, I find myself the only staff minister who served under him, to have contributed to this book!
The old model for learning your ministry by serving under and with a senior pastor is rare these days. Many newly minted clergy go straight to a small, mission congregation, or begin one themselves. They are on their own and have to learn the ropes by trial and error. It can be a lonely experience. Mine was quite different. John set me at tasks and gave me the tools to do them.
I started out working with several very different groups of people. There was the Wednesday Club of young (under 35) business and professional people working in central London, who gathered every Wednesday night for supper and a program at our hall in Mayfair, a very swish part of the West End of London.
In contrast to this there was the Good Companions’ Club of elderly, working class people who gathered every Monday for afternoon tea and a program at our clubhouse in the poorer part of the parish just north of Soho.
I also was responsible for the Old Peoples’ Welfare Visitors, who visited shut-ins once a week. I helped supervise their visiting and acted as their chaplain. I also visited a small nursing home we ran for the indigent elderly.
John asked me to be Chaplain to Students in the congregation. We had many of them attending the many schools and universities in London: nurses, medical students, law students, engineers, and so on. In time I became Chaplain to, what is now, the University of Westminster, whose buildings were near the church. This was at a time of student riots when Maoists were active in student circles. I had to counter the claims of Mao’s little red book with the claims of Christ!
In addition, I helped lead Sunday worship, gradually was allowed to preach, and followed up visitors, and those who showed an interest in becoming part of the congregation. That is how I met my wife. She was visiting her sister, who had been attending with her husband, who was stationed in London with the U.S. Navy.
Those four years I spent with John Stott, at All Souls Church, formed my own ministry. He influenced how I prayed, preached, related to others, administered the congregation, thought strategically, and valued the life of the mind. I can never repay the debt I owe him for placing such confidence in me and inviting me to join him on his staff.
I have known him now for nearly fifty years, for I met him and visited with him while I was at seminary before I worked alongside him. He has never disappointed me. Whenever Antoinette and I were in London we would get together for a meal. Whenever he was in our vicinity in the USA he would preach and teach for me, in Massachusetts, Florida and Texas. His subject was always the same: Jesus Christ. His source was always the Holy Scriptures. His attitude was always, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” His goal was always to proclaim the Gospel of the Cross of Christ. He was devoid of gimmicks. While wanting to relate relevantly to the culture he was in, he never embraced passing fads.
He is still teaching me: how to grow old, how to be content, how to endure physical infirmity. May I be such an example and mentor to others as he has been to me. He is ready to leave this world and go to the Father. Thank you John for all that you have meant to me and so many others. Well done, good and faithful servant.