The Reverend Dr John Stott (1921–2011) was sometimes known as “the evangelical pope.” A prolific author from his days as Rector of All Souls’ Langham Place in London, to his later global ministry, he influenced generations of Christians from all cultures, and clergy of all traditions. Regarding evangelism in our very secularised world he remained an optimist, as can be seen from this gem, part of an interview with him by Tim Stafford published in Christianity Today Current Issues Study Series “The Future of the Church” 2008, pp. 17-18.
Stafford: What about what some call the greatest mission field, which is our own secularizing or secularized culture? What do we need to do to reach this increasingly pagan society?
Stott: I think we need to say to one another that it’s not so secular as it looks. I believe that these so-called secular people are engaged in a quest for at least three things. The first is TRANSCENDENCE. It’s interesting in a so-called secular culture how many people are looking for something beyond. I find that a great challenge to the quality of our Christian worship. Does it offer people what they are instinctively looking for, which is transcendence, the reality of God?
The second is SIGNIFICANCE. Almost everybody is looking for his or her own personal identity. Who am I, where do I come from, where am I going to, what is it all about? That is a challenge to the quality of our Christian teaching. We need to teach people who they are. They don’t know who they are. We do. They are human beings made in the image of God, although that image has been defaced.
And third is their quest for COMMUNITY. Everywhere, people are looking for community, for relationships of love. This is a challenge to our fellowship. I’m very fond of 1 John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.” The invisibility of God is a great problem to people. The question is how has God solved the problem of his own invisibility? First, Christ has made the invisible God visible. That’s John’s Gospel 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
People say that’s wonderful, but it was 2,000 years ago. So in 1 John 4:12, he begins with exactly the same formula, nobody has ever seen God. But here John goes on, “If we love one another, God abides in us.” The same invisible God who once made himself visible in Jesus now makes himself visible in the Christian community, if we love one another. And all the verbal proclamation of the gospel is of little value unless it is made by a community of love.
These three things about our humanity are on our side in our evangelism, because people are looking for the very things we have to offer them.
Stafford: And therefore you’re not despairing of the West?
Stott: I’m not despairing. But I believe that evangelism is specially through the local church, through the community, rather than through the individual. That the church should be an alternative society, a visible sign of the kingdom. And the tragedy is that our local churches often don’t seem to manifest community.
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Here is John Stott's well-known morning prayer to the Holy Trinity:
I pray that I may live this day in your presence
and please you more and more.
I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself
and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness,
Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity,
three persons in one God,
have mercy upon me Almighty God.
Creator and sustainer of the universe,
I worship you.
Lord Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord of the World,
I worship you.
Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the people of God,
I worship you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever.