Mott, John Raleigh
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3/25/1865  - 1/31/1955
Although he was neither a clergyman nor theologian, John Raleigh Mott (1865-1955) became one of the most influential Protestant figures at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Early in his career, he helped promote foreign missions among young people by founding the Student Volunteer Movement and World Student Christian Federation.

But as an evangelical ecumenical, he is best remembered for his efforts toward Christian unity across denominational divides. He was the principle organizer of the International Missionary Council and World Council of Churches. Due to his ecumenical efforts, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946.

In his eighties, Mott reflected, "God desires that we rise above ourselves and our petty ecclesiastical concern until we are united even as Christ prayed. This unity must not be affirmed only at the end of the world but immediately, so that all will recognize the power of the gospel."
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John Raleigh Mott, "Father of the modern ecumenical movement," was an American Methodist layperson and leader of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), founder of the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) and World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), principle organizer of the International Missionary Council (IMC) and World Council of Churches (WCC), and a United States counselor of international affairs who became one of Protestantism’s leading statespersons in the early 20th century.

Born on May 25, 1865, at Livingston Manor, Sullivan County, New York, and raised in Postville, Iowa, Mott was the son of a prosperous timber merchant with a strong
Methodist Episcopal Church family tradition. He studied at Upper Iowa University, yet graduated from Cornell University in 1887 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy, planning a career in public life. In 1886, as a member of the YMCA at Cornell, Mott was challenged by J. E. Kynaston Studd, the former Cambridge cricketer (brother of C. T. Studd, missionary to the Belgium Congo), to make a "life-investment decision," and subsequently dedicated his life to the cause of world evangelization.

During Mott’s college years, he was active in the YMCA, and went on to serve the organization in many different roles for 43 years. In 1888, he was student secretary of the American national committee until 1915. He was secretary of the Foreign Department of the International YMCA and chair of the American Council of the YMCA in 1898, as well as the associate general secretary of the International Committee (1901). In 1915, Mott chaired the American YMCAs National War Work Council, which enlisted 20,000 volunteers for relief work and service to soldiers and prisoners. He then became the general secretary until 1928. In 1926, he accepted the role of president of the World Alliance of YMCAs reaching out to Catholics and Orthodox Christians to join membership.

Significant Contributions to Christianity in the United States

At the 1888 Mount Hermon Student Conference under Dwight L. Moody’s leadership, Mott was one of the original "Mount Hermon Hundred" to sign the student volunteer declaration for missionary service promoted by Robert P. Wilder that launched the Student Volunteer Movement. He became the co-founder and Chair (1888-1920) of the new organization dedicating his life to fulfilling the SVM watchword, “The evangelization of the world in this generation.” In his role as Chair, Mott traveled extensively throughout the world with his wife Leila, establishing a strong rapport and network with students, church leaders, and heads of state, in addition to building close relations with the Christian missionary programs. For example, in 1890-1891, he traveled 31,000 miles within North America alone. When he spoke for the last time at the SVM’s 1951 convention, over 20,000 volunteers had gone to the mission field under his auspices.

In 1895, Mott founded the World Student Christian Federation, and from 1895 to 1920, he was the general secretary of the WSCF and chair of that body (1920-1928). Mott traveled nearly two million miles sharing his motto, "With God anywhere, without Him, not over the threshold." Strongly evangelistic and a zealous evangelist, Mott’s energy and vision eventually shaped the WSCF into an organization that included over three thousand universities and colleges on five continents. For instance, on his first trip to China, some 3,500 intellectuals heard him in Canton and some 150 of them received baptism.

After many years of dedicated service to world evangelization, John Mott, at age 45 became chair of the 1910 World’s Missionary Conference at Edinburgh. Afterward he steered its Continuation Committee, which developed into the International Missionary Council (IMC). In 1921, Mott relinquished and lessened his positions with the SVM and WSCF respectively, which enabled him to cofound the IMC with J.H. Oldham. He was chair of the IMC from 1921 to 1941, and orchestrated the IMC conferences at Jerusalem (1928) and Tambaram, Madras (1938).

Because Mott saw the division of the Church as an obstacle to mission, he worked resolutely to create the World Council of Churches. For this reason, he played a key role in the first world conferences of Faith and Order (Lausanne, 1927; Edinburgh, 1938) and the Life and Work Movement (Stockholm, 1925; Oxford, 1937) eventually becoming the vice-chair of the Provisional Committee of the WCC. In 1948, Mott was the first speaker at the Amsterdam Assembly and made honorary president of the newly formed WCC. In his eighties he reflected, "God desires that we rise above ourselves and our petty ecclesiastical concern until we are united even as Christ prayed. This unity must not be affirmed only at the end of the world but immediately, so that all will recognize the power of the gospel" (Valloton, 1951, 172).

John Mott also was a counselor of international affairs during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. He once spoke to three United States presidents in one day (Taft, Coolidge, and Wilson). Mott served on President Wilson’s peace commissions to Mexico (1916) and Russia (the Root Mission in 1917 immediately after the Russian revolutionary), and for his diplomacy received the American Distinguished Service medal of the United States from the president. He worked tirelessly for prisoners of war and orphanage mission work, yet declined an offer by Wilson to become the ambassador to China. In 1946, he was co-recipient of the Nobel Peace prize for his contributions to the ecumenical movement.

Mott was neither a missionary nor the president of a mission society, yet he was one of the most influential Protestant figures at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, whereby the majority of mission societies benefited from his global contribution. An evangelical ecumenical with a social gospel, he was one of the most distinctive international persons of the church, efficient in promoting foreign missions among young people, and organizing some of the most influential church and mission gatherings from regional to international that advanced world missions. Throughout his life, he maintained that the conversion of the non-Christians to Jesus Christ was the primary task of mission. His ultimate contribution was strengthening mission structures that displayed Christian cooperation and united Christian witness.

Mott did not see himself as a theologian, yet American Protestantism tried to involve him in the fundamental-liberal debates of the early twentieth century. In response, he saw two sets within the gospel: social problems and individual concerns, with only one Christ who lived, died, and was resurrected who is both the Savior of the individual and has the power to change the social environment. John Mott’s roots of holiness evangelicalism in the late nineteenth century provided the guide rails of his spirituality, in which he devoted himself to the task of making "Jesus Christ known, trusted, loved, and obeyed, in the whole range of one’s individual life and in all relationships" (Hopkins, 1980, 629).

Remembered as an evangelist, Mott died on January 31, 1955, in Evanston, Illinois.


Hopkins, C. Howard. 1980. John R. Mott, 1865-1955: A Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Hopkins, C. Howard 1981. "The Legacy of John R. Mott." International Bulletin of Missionary Research: 70-73.

Matthews, Basil. 1934. John R. Mott, World Citizen. New York, NY: Harper & Bros.

Valloton, B. 1951. Un homme: John R. Mott. Paris, France: UCJG.
Religious Groups
Methodist/Pietist Family: Other ARDA Links

John R. Mott Awarded Nobel Peace Prize
Ecumenical Movement

John Mott portrait- Wikimedia Commons

John Mott receiving distinguished service medal- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-hec-12204

John Mott younger- Wikimedia Commons
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Robert L. Gallagher

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