It’s been a great privilege to be involved in giving a new lease of life to John Stott’s great book, The Contemporary Christian, which is being reissued as a series of five short books on 20 June 2019. I was asked to provide a light edit of Stott’s work (removing dated references and discussions) and to add reflection questions to help readers think through the application today. The five books are:
(Also look out for my volume on John Stott in Crossway’s Theologians of the Christian Lifeseries which is coming out in June 2020.)
Introducing The Disciple: A Calling to be Christlike
In The Disciple Stott argues that discipleship begins with listening – listening first and foremost to God, but also to one another and to the world around. In the second chapter Stott expounds one of the characteristic features of his theology – the importance of the mind. He also speaks of the importance of the emotions in spiritual experience, public worship, gospel preaching, and social and pastoral ministry. Nevertheless he maintains the priority of the mind for ‘the mind controls the emotions’. Chapter 3 on guidance, vocation and ministry summarises a common theme in Stott’s ministry, namely the need to bring our faith to bear on every aspect of life and especially for Christians to see their careers as a context in which they serve Christ. This volume ends with a delightful meditation on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Stott says this is a ‘biblical text that has come to mean much to me’. It is one which he recited every morning.
Here’s an extract in which Stott laments the restriction of the term ‘ministry’ to pastoral ministry when it should refer to the work of every Christian (with footnotes and citations removed).
All Christians without exception are called to ministry. Indeed, we are to give our lives in ministry. Ministry is not the privilege of a small elite, but of all the disciples of Jesus. You will have noticed that I did not say that all Christians are called to the ministry, but to ministry, diakonia, service. We do a great dis- service to the Christian cause whenever we refer to being a pastor as being in ‘the ministry’. For we give the impression that pastoral ministry is the only ministry there is, much as medieval churchmen regarded the priesthood as the only (or at least the most ‘spiritual’) vocation there is. Whenever somebody says in my presence that ‘so-and-so is going into the ministry’, I always ask innocently, ‘Oh really? Which ministry do you mean?’ If they reply, as they often do, ‘The pastoral ministry’, then I come back with the gentle complaint, ‘Then why didn’t you say so?!’ The fact is that the word ‘ministry’ is a generic term which lacks specificity until we add an adjective.
I come back to my first proposition that all Christians without exception are called to ministry. How can I make such a dogmatic statement? Because of Jesus Christ. His lordship over us has a vocational dimension. Since he is ‘the servant’ par excellence, who gave himself without reserve to the service of God and human beings, it would be impossible to be his disciple without seeking to follow his example of service. He preached the kingdom, healed the sick, fed the hungry, befriended the friendless, championed the oppressed, comforted the bereaved, sought the lost and washed his apostles’ feet. No task was too demanding, and no ministry too menial, for him to undertake. He lived his life and died his death in complete self-forgetful service. Shall we not imitate him? The world measures greatness by success; Jesus measures it by service …
I was brought up as a young Christian to think of different vocations or ministries as forming a hierarchy or pyramid. Perched precariously at the top of the pyramid was the cross-cultural mis- sonar. They were our heroes. I was taught that if I was really out and out for Christ, then I would undoubtedly join their ranks overseas. If I was not as keen as that, I would stay at home and be a pastor. If I did not aspire even to that, I would probably become a doctor or a teacher. But if I were to go into business, politics or the media, then I would not be far from backsliding! Please do not misunderstand me. It is a wonderful privilege to be a missionary or a pastor, if God calls us to it. But it is equally wonderful to be a Christian lawyer, industrialist, politician, manager, social worker, television script-writer, journalist or home-maker, if God calls us to it. According to Romans 13:4 an official of the state (whether legislator, magistrate or police officer) is just as much a ‘minister of God’ (diakonos theou) as a pastor. It is the hierarchy we have to reject; the pyramid we have to demolish.
There is still, of course, an urgent need for missionaries – people who are characterized above all by humility. We need missionaries with the humility to repent of cultural imperialism and identify with another culture, the humility to work under national church leader- ship, the humility to serve people’s felt needs (social as well as evangelistic), and the humility to rely on the Holy Spirit as the chief communicator.World evangelization remains at the top of the church’s agenda. Pastors also are greatly needed to teach the Word of God.
At the same time, there is a crying need for Christians who see their daily work as their primary Christian ministry and who are determined to penetrate their secular environment for Christ.
Christians are needed in business and industry who see ‘service to the public’ as the first goal on their ‘mission’ statement, who make bold experiments in working relations, worker participation and profit-sharing, and who accept their responsibility to produce an annual ‘social audit’ alongside their annual financial audit.
Christian politicians are needed to identify the major injustices in their society, refuse to come to terms with them, and determine to secure legislative change, however long it takes. And Christian economists are needed to find ways of both creating and sharing wealth.
Christian film-makers are needed to produce not only overtly Christian or evangelistic films, but also wholesome films which indirectly commend Christian values, and so honour Christ.
More Christian doctors are needed who, in co-operation with moral theologians, face the contemporary challenges of medical ethics and develop ways of maintaining the uniquely Christian vision of the human person and the human family.
Dedicated Christian teachers are needed, in both Christian and secular schools, who count it a privilege to serve their students and help them develop their full God-given potential.
And more Christian social workers are needed who, in their concern for those with mental and physical disabilities, abused children, drug-abusers, Aids victims and others, combine the latest medical treatment and social care with Christian love, believing prayer and church support.