FURTHER tributes have been paid to the Revd Dr John Stott, the Evangelical leader who died in July last year — among them one from the woman who knew him best.
A memorial service takes place at St Paul’s Cathedral today. The preacher will be the Rt Revd Timothy Dudley Smith, a former Bishop of Dunwich and John Stott’s biographer (Obituary, 5 August 2011).
Frances Whitehead became John Stott’s secretary in 1956, after he had been Rector of All Souls’, Langham Place, in London, for six years. In a collection of essays to be published on 9 February by the Langham Partnership, she writes: “So many tributes from all over the world have been paid to John Stott. I have asked myself what could I say that has not already been said, by way of thanks to God for John’s life, and what it has meant to me and so many others?
“Let me simply express my gratitude for John himself, his godly example, and his faithful preaching through which the light of Christ first dawned on me.
“Because I worked alongside him as his secretary for 55 years, perhaps I more than anybody can testify to the fact that, in his case, familiarity, far from breeding contempt, bred the very opposite — a deep respect, and one which inspired belief in God.
“The more I observed his life and shared it with him, the more I appreciated the genuineness of his faith in Christ.” Such a faith, she says, “gave him a servant heart and a deep compassion for all those in need, one that moved him to keep looking for ways in which he might be of encouragement and support to others”.
To work with Dr Stott, says Ms Whitehead, was to watch “a hard-working man of great discipline and self-denial, but at the same time to see a life full of grace and warmth.
“His standards were high and he took trouble over all that he did; nothing was ever slapdash. He was consistent in every way and always kept his word. Although so gifted himself, he never made me feel inferior or unimportant.”
Other tributes come from Chris Wright, another colleague, who now runs the Langham Partnership. He describes Dr Stott’s ministry as “apostolic”, in that it combined evangelism and teaching.
“Like the Apostle Paul, he longed to see Christians and churches growing up to maturity in Christ. . . He saw and rejoiced in the numerical growth of the church in the Majority World. But he lamented the lack of teaching, discipline, and pastoral leadership that left new churches weak and vulnerable, plagued by spiritual extremism and moral laxity, and at the mercy of self-appointed leaders, exploiting the flock with more greed than grace.
“Like the Apostle John, he longed for Christians and churches to live in love and unity, and saw our chronic dividedness (particularly among some Evangelicals) as visible evidence of immaturity.”