Review: “The Work of the Pastor” by William Still

Sinclair Ferguson, a disciple of Still, says of this book “Every minister should read this book once a year –at least!” I heartily echo his sentiment.

My list of “must have” books is very short, and becoming shorter as I age. I love books, and think ministers should have lots of them, but I have come to realize that not all people profit from the same sorts of books. The Work of the Pastor, however, is at the top of my “must have” books for every pastor. There are precious few good works on the subject of pastoral theology. This book, together with Lloyd-Jones’s Preaching and Preachers are books that ought to be owned and read through regularly by every pastor.

William Still was a legendary figure. He was remarkable for many reasons, not least of which that he was pastor of the same congregation for over four decades. His ministry was productive, sending pastors and missionaries forth all over the world out of his pews. He speaks with authority and credibility on his subject, therefore.

Unlike so many pastoral theology books, Still’s work is not a “how to” manual. It is centered on the very things that pastoral theology ought to be centered upon. It does not present an unrealistic portrait of what a pastor ought to be, but rather encourages him with the faithfulness of God, who never fails to honor his faithful laborers.

In the preface, Still writes “The thesis is that the pastor, being the shepherd of the flock, feeds the flock upon God’s Word; the bulk of pastoral work is therefore through the ministry of the Word. Only the residue of problems and difficulties remaining require to be dealt with thereafter.” In a world where pastors are expected to be CEO’s, cheerleaders, counselors, administrators and PR representatives, this is a refreshing reminder that our sole duty to God is to minister his word to his people.

Before Still begins his discussion of what the pastor does, he focuses attention on who the pastor is: an evangelist, teacher and preacher whose chief job is to move men to give up their whole lives in service to God. The pastor brings sheep into the fold and he feeds them. His chief goal is to move them on to maturity in Christ. Therefore, his task is to proclaim to them both the simple gospel and the whole counsel of God, which presses them on to maturity in Christ. The sum and substance of the minister’s calling is to proclaim the Word of God to his flock.

Still never fails to encourage his reader out of his own experience. He relates that many of the pastoral problems that plagued his early ministry began to be solved as the word saturated the lives of his congregation. The lesson is plain: God honors the preaching of his word.

Yet, Still is also realistic: he understands that the vibrant proclamation of the Word of God may divide a congregation into those that are willing to hear it, and those that are hardened against it. The strife may intensify as the Word searches the hearts of its hearers, and reveals itself to be the sweet aroma of life to those who are saved and the stench of death to those who perish.

The end result, however, is a group of Christians who are growing in knowledge, grace and love and who in turn pour themselves out for the sake of the kingdom. This encourages the pastor too –there will be much opposition to a true Biblical ministry, and withstanding withering criticism can be very difficult. Yet, God honors his Word and will accomplish his work through it.

The little book covers a myriad of practical issues as well, with advice drawn out of Still’s own vast pastoral experience. He gives advice for handling “problem people,” those with deep psychological problems, with nominal believers and many other issues that are scarcely mentioned in seminary classes. This is what makes the work so valuable –pastoral candidates often have to learn the hard way about the joys and hardships of ministry. They make many mistakes because no experienced pastor bothered to relate to them his hard-won wisdom. Still’s concise work is very plainspoken about the challenges all pastors face, and this is why it is so helpful.

Sinclair Ferguson, a disciple of Still, says of this book “Every minister should read this book once a year –at least!” I heartily echo his sentiment.

Pastors, read this book on Mondays when your body is weary and your soul discouraged. It will remind you that God honors his word, and encourage you to give yourself all the more diligently to the work, as you work, not for the praise of men but the great well-done of the great shepherd of the sheep and overseer of our souls.

Ken Pierce is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS.