A 1952 treat from the Stott Archive
As part of efforts for the All Souls history I’m working on, John Stott was keen that I read his paper on Parochial Evangelism by the Laity, originally given at a London diocesan conference in 1952. Because it is out of print and the copyright has now expired, he has given explicit permission for me to publish it online. All I’ve done is simply to scan and reformat it (with the odd minute tweaks like getting rid of Roman numerals for Biblical verse references).
It is both a fascinating historical document and a classic Stott distillation of useful and practical wisdom. In many ways it gives a glimpse as to why much of what he did at All Souls in the 50s and 60s was so pioneering. But you won’t fully grasp that at first sight, since so much of what he advocates is old hat in evangelical churches these days. Which is great – and powerful evidence of the influence he has had.
But you’ve got to remember the context (and for non-Anglicans, this will feel very Anglican! But then he was addressing all the clergy in the London diocese, few of whom would have been evangelical in 1952):
- He was speaking into a Church of England full of the complacency derived from being the state church. In the 50s it was still assumed that most people went to church, whereas now of course that is unimaginable. Stott was clearly saying then that this was not enough. They had to be much more proactive.
- He was speaking into a Church of England where ministry was all too often a matter of what clergy did. To be so deliberate and determined in training and delegating ministry to ‘the laity’ was fairly revolutionary. In so doing it anticipated later calls for every-member ministry.
- In advocating such work, it was clearly important to train people. This paper outlines the elements that he regarded as essential. It is pretty extensive and rigourous – showing how seriously this was taken. It’s hard to know what other things one would add, if any.
- Furthermore, a huge number of churches have training courses of all sorts, these days. In 1952, very few did.
- Church planting is very fashionable these days – and it is absolutely right to be investing in it. But in 1952 it was practically unheard of in Anglican circles. In the paper, Stott describes one or two attempts – more church grafts than full plants, but it is fascinating to see him thinking on these lines even then.
You could argue that much of this was not particularly new – he was merely taking cues from the New Testament in particular, lessons that had been rediscovered at various points in church history. But post-war Anglicanism had forgotten many of them. Nearly 60 years on, there are scores of Anglican churches that are putting nearly all of this into practice.
So, all in all, this is a treat. Thank you Uncle John for letting us have renewed access to it!