Mentors of Mine – Ray Stedman (1917-1992)

Ray Stedman & assoc Pastor 1982 - Copy                           Rod with Ray Stedman & his associate pastor Ron Ritchie
                                                    Palo Alto, California 1982 

In the early 1970s, I heard of a visit to Adelaide by Pastor Ray Stedman from Palo Alto in California. He had recently written a book called Body Life, described as “the ground breaking book that inspired a return to the principles of the New Testament Church.”   I was hungry for reality and went to hear him speak and came away deeply stirred as he spoke of his journey to restore the church’s real meaning and mission.

I was not disappointed. So much so that I went back to the church where I was worshipping and designed a course (the first of many) called Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts. Eight people signed up and during the next few weeks we came together to share our life stories, while I made an attempt to describe each spiritual gift and give illustrations from the Bible of each spiritual gift in action. At the same time we studied the book, Body Life. Following this, we were all asked to write down the name of each person in the group and list up to 3 spiritual gifts that each had been given. Each person was then required to find a ministry in or beyond the church that complemented their spiritual gifts.

I thought that would be the end. But it was just the beginning. Another group of people requested that another course begin, and then another and another. It would not be an understatement to say that the impact of Ray Stedman’s teaching was causing new life to flow into our church and through the church into the community.

“The church is primarily and fundamentally a body designed to express through each individual member the life of an indwelling Lord and is equipped by the Holy Spirit with gifts designed to express that life…….”
“The incarnation is still going on. The life of Jesus is still being manifest among people, but now no longer through an individual physical body, limited to one place on earth, but through a complex, corporate body called the church.”
“It is very significant that in each place where the gifts of the spirit are described in Scripture the emphasis is placed on the fact that each Christian has at least one. That gift may be lying dormant, inchoate, unused. You may not know what it is, but it is there; for the Holy Spirit makes no exceptions to this basic equipping of each believer. It is vitally essential that you discover the gift or gifts which you possess, for the value of your life as a Christian will be determined by the degree to which you use that which God has provided you.”
“When the ministry was left to the professionals there was nothing left for the people to do other than come to church and listen. They were told that it was their responsibility to bring the world into the church building to hear the pastor preach the gospel. Soon Christianity became nothing but a spectator sport, very much like football- 2 teams down on the field, desperately in need of rest, and 20,000 in the grandstands, desperately in need of exercise! This unbiblical distortion has placed pastors under an unbelievable burden. They have proved completely unequal to the task of evangelising the world, counselling the distressed and brokenhearted, ministering to the poor and needy, relieving the oppressed and afflicted, expounding the scriptures, and challenging the entrenched forces of evil in an increasingly darkened world. They were never meant to do it. Nothing is more desperately needed than to return to the dynamic of the early church. Pastors, particularly, must restore to the people the ministry which was taken from them with the best of intentions. Again it is the entire body of believers who must attempt the work of the ministry, equipped and guided by gifted people who are able to expound and apply the Scriptures with such wisdom that even the least of believers discover and begin to exercise the gift or gifts the Holy Spirit has given them. The whole body then stirs with resurrection power. Boldness and power again become the trademarks of the church of Jesus Christ.”

Ray Stedman’s preaching skills were highly regarded and each sermon was printed for distribution worldwide. In particular, he had a wonderful skill in preaching series of expository sermons that would extend through many books of the Bible. I was one of those who subscribed to the regular distribution of his printed sermons for quite a few years. However, his whole sermon library is now available online and you can have the privilege of downloading his sermons by googling Ray Stedman’s Sermons.

In 1980, I joined the pastoral team of the Blackburn Baptist Church (now Crossway) in Victoria and one of my early goals was to travel to America with Sue and spend some time at Ray Stedman’s church, Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. He pastored the church for 40 years. During our time in America in 1982 we lived with one of his pastors for 4 days and spent hours of intense conversation on ministry with the pastors and the church.

Ray Stedman, at critical times in my life, shaped my thinking and contributed to the philosophy I developed for my life and ministry. I will forever be thankful for his impact on my life.

Ray Stedman’s teaching ministry was a wonderful gift to the worldwide church in his time. Interestingly, I believe that it is just as needed today as it was years ago. I commend the book Body Life (still available) to you and also his library of sermon printouts.

Rod Denton