Yesterday John Stott died surrounded by his loved ones and listening to Handel’s Messiah. He was 90 years old. Stott’s ministry has been a great blessing to many, myself included. Stott’s The Living Church was one of the first books on pastoral ministry that I’d ever read (although I’m not certain why I even picked it up initially). Looking back, it was one of the books God used to send me along the path I currently travel in terms of ministry.
One of the things I love about Stott is the importance he places on humility in the life of the preacher and his preaching. Between Two Worlds, his classic work on preaching, offers this wonderful insight. At this point, I am going to take the advice given and “get out of the way” to let his words speak for themselves:
Humility of mind is to be accompanied by humility of motive. Why do we preach? What do we hope to accomplish by our preaching? What incentive impels us to persevere? I fear that too often our motives are selfish. We desire the praise and the congratulations of men. We stand at the door after the Sunday services and feast our ears on the commendatory remarks which some church members seem to have been schooled to make, ‘Fine sermon, pastor!’ ‘You really blessed my heart today!’ To be sure, genuine words of appreciation can do much to boost a discouraged preacher’s morale. But idle flattery, and the hypocritical repetition of stock phrases . . . are damaging to the preacher and repugnant to God. . .
The true preacher is a witness; he is incessantly testifying to Christ. But without humility he neither can nor wants to do so. . . . ‘No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and Christ is mighty to save.’ . . .
The most privileged and moving experience a preacher can ever has is when, in the middle of the sermon, a strange hush descends upon the congregation. The sleepers have woken up, the coughers have stopped coughing, and the fidgeters are sitting still. No eyes or minds are wandering. Everybody is attending, though not to the preacher. For the preacher is forgotten, and the people are face to face with the living God, listening to his still, small voice. Dr. Billy Graham has often described this experience. I remember hearing him address about 2,400 ministers in the Central Hall, Westminster, on 20 May 1954, at the conclusion of the Greater London Crusade. The third of his twelve points emphasized the power of the Holy Spirit, and the liberty in preaching which he had felt as a result. ‘I have often felt like a spectator,’ he said, ‘standing on the side, watching God at work. I have felt detached from it. I wanted to get our of the way as much as I could, and let the Holy Spirit take over . . .’ It is precisely here that humility of motive comes in. ‘I wanted to get out of the way.’ For it is all to easy to get in the way, to intrude ourselves between the people and their Lord.
John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, pp. 324- 326