A consummate communicator: lessons in PR from John Stott.

30 April 2021  |  Insights
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It may be the centenary of his birth, but John Stott’s vision for how the Church should engage with the public is as relevant for communicators today as it was 100 years ago.

The theologian, preacher and chaplain to the Queen was described by Time Magazine in 2005 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Others on that list included Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama and Bill Gates.

Here are three of his principles that are incredibly valuable – not least for the Christian audience he was speaking to, but also for anyone seeking to communicate authentically and effectively with the world around them.

  1. Be relevant

Stott believed that Christians often make the damaging mistake of neglecting to listen and understand the people they are talking to – thus rendering themselves utterly irrelevant.

“The contemporary world is positively reverberating with cries of anger, frustration and pain,” he said.

“Too often, however, we turn a deaf ear to these anguished voices . . . The better way is to listen before we speak.”

As noted in the The Guardian’s obituary of Stott, he called Christians to practise ‘double listening’ to both the voices of God through the Bible and those around them; “with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.”

  1. Be credible

Stott didn’t just pay lip service to listening to those anguished voices; hearing them spurred him on to action.

A 20th century pioneer of Christian social activism, he urged Christians to get involved in issues from the environment to poverty, women’s rights to responding to the AIDs crisis.

This gave his communications authenticity and impact, evidence that while it’s easier than ever to speak out, the most credible communicators live by their words and focus on the issues that matter to them.

  1. Be clear

When the BBC marked Stott's death in 2011, the then religious correspondent noted that he had: "been good at simply expressing ‘the complexities of theology’” - an ability that had contributed to his wide appeal.

He knew that clarity is vital for good communications: if people have to work hard to understand what you’re trying to say to them, or if you bombard them with jargon, they will switch off.

But Stott was keen to emphasise that clarity shouldn’t mean losing confidence in your message.

“Clarity without courage is like sunshine in the desert: plenty of light but nothing worth looking at,” he wrote.

“Courage without clarity is like a beautiful landscape at night time: plenty to see, but no light by which to enjoy it.”

This month saw the launch of the centenary celebrations of John Stott’s birth, which have been marked by several events and will continue throughout the year.

The centenary has been covered in several media, including The Times, the Church Times, the Spectator, Christianity Today, the BBC and Eternity.

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