Introduction to The work of the pastor

Sinclair Ferguson once said “Every Pastor should read this book at least once a year” If you wonder why, then read what Thabiti Anyabwile have to say about his experience below. In this post I will post the introduction to this book written by William Still, and in the next post, the First chapter of the book which is also freely available on the Internet as an advertisement to buy the book.  After that then go ahead and order the book from Focus publishers.

This is what Thabiti Anyabwile said:

On the plane ride to the New Life Bible Conference, I began reading William Still’s The Work of the Pastor.  I’ve had the book for a few years, but had yet to pick it up.  In recent conversations with some pastor friends, I was strongly encouraged to take up and read.  And boy am I glad I did!

William Still was minister of the Gilcomstom Church of Scotland from 1945 until 1997. His ministry placed strong emphasis on Biblically based expository preaching, and over the years the Lord used this man labouring in his small field to impact the lives of many who entered the ministry and the mission field.  Still recounts his life and labour in his autobiography, Dying to Live.

I couldn’t put this short but powerful little book down.  Based on addresses that Still gave to IVCF meetings in England and Northern Ireland in 1864 and 1965, the book is plain, direct, filled with conviction, and soaked with pastoral observation and wisdom that nourishes the soul.  One of the great values of the book is Still’s ability to trace out before the reader both the blessings of a ministry of the Word and the attending problems or side effects.  So, he gives the pastor a view of both success and challenge, and he disabuses us of the unspoken assumption that “good preaching” will always meet with the approval of all Christians. The book has one main idea: Feed the sheep the Word of God.  If you need encouragement to do that, or a vision for doing that, then read this book and be challenged.

This book meets the vigorous endorsements it receives

What follows is an introduction to the book
“The Work of the Pastor” by William Still

The author:

William Still was minister of Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen, Scotland for over fifty years, from 1945 until shortly before his death in 1997. The central task of his life, to which he devoted both his love and his energy, was pastoring his congregation through what he called ‘a series of ministries: His care for his people was clearly evident in his preaching, in his public praying, in the diligence of his private visiting, and in the time he devoted to them when they came to see him for help. His tenderheartedness was perhaps most poignantly expressed in the gracious obituary notices of members that appeared over the years in the Gilcomston Monthly Record. There, too, could be found the Bible Study Notes which he faithfully wrote over the years for the congregation. He followed in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd who knew his sheep and cared for them.

Through his influence on many students for the ministry, his frequent speaking to student groups, and perhaps especially through the way he quietly trained his people by example and encouragement to pray for the work of pastors throughout the world, William Still also became a pastor pastorum a pastor of other pastors. He maintained an extraordinary national and international correspondence with those who looked to him for guidance, sought encouragement, or simply needed to open their hearts to somebody. All of this brought him to a point in life in which he did virtually two days work every day. Day one lasted from around 6.00am until 1pm. This was followed by lunch, often with his sister. Convinced of the idea that we were created for what he called ‘rhythms of rest and work’ he would then usually take an extended rest—not infrequently extending between the hours of two and four in the afternoon. From that point until around midnight day two was lived, and he would be active again. Thus he managed to maintain his productivity and an unusual freshness of spirit throughout the years.

Several characteristics stood out in Mr Still’s life and ministry He had a deep sense of calling to the ministry of the Word, and an intense conviction that this was the key to everything in the life of the church. He had particular burdens which he sought to discharge in terms of the emphases of his ministry He was deeply committed to building Christian character in his flock believing this was essential if Christ and his saving grace were to be evident to the world. He was convinced that the best church life is relatively uncluttered and ‘unstarched.’ In order to effect this he was radically committed to the apostolic principle, ‘We will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:4) and lived it out day by day.

While there is much practical wisdom to be found in these pages, The Work of the Pastor is not a book to turn to primarily to learn the nuts and bolts of ‘how to be a minister’ Other fine books perform that service admirably. Rather this is an inspirational, not an instructional book. It throbs with a passion to keep the central things central. It takes us to the heartbeat rather than the hand actions of pastoral life. It belongs to that smaller category of books on the work of the ministry that stir the affections, challenge the motivations, and produce a change in the affections.

Like many others I owe an incalculable debt to William Still for the way in which he invested himself in me from my earliest encounter with him in my teenage years until his death in 1997. Particular conversations with him return to the front of my memory as I think of him now—and with respect to the work of the pastor none more clearly than the occasion on which he said to me, quietly: ‘I never preach now without believing that something will be done that will last for eternity’ With some sense of the extent to which his ministry had that kind of effect on my own life, I recall thinking ‘That is the measure of faith I too need to have: The words have lingered with me now for four decades and been a constant reminder to me of Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s wise comment that it is not ‘many words’ but ‘words spoken in faith’ that God blesses.

Since its first publication, The Work of the Pastor has been a source of widespread inspiration and encouragement to several generations of younger ministers. May it continue to be that for the rising generation of pastors, challenging them to serve the Lord with the very best of their energy. And may some older men, who may have grown a little weary in the work, find themselves refreshed and recommitted to ‘fan into flame the gift of God’ that is in them.

Author’s Preface:

These five addresses were given, two at the Inter-Varsity Theological Students’ Conference in Swanwick, England, in December, 1964, and three, a sequel to the two, at the Inter-Varsity Theological Students’ Conference in Northern Ireland, in December, 1965; the latter under the title, The Ministry in1966. The connection between the two sets of addresses is that some Irish theological students at the Swanwick Conference of 1964 invited the speaker to come to Lame the following year and repeat these addresses; but the title subsequently given called for new material. Some may think the Irish addresses scarcely deal with the pastoral side of the ministry, but it depends on what is meant by the pastoral ministry. 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.

These five addresses on the work of the pastor have been around for a long time. The book of them has gone through several editions and has been reproduced in different publications, and I believe it is still valued. I knew when these addresses were given to me by the Spirit that they contained some of the best insights the Lord has afforded me, and I am glad that their message is abidingly relevant to the greatest work ever given to man, the work of the pastor.

William Still, Aberdeen


On 7 June 1945 William Still was inducted to the charge of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen, Scotland. It was the start of fifty-two years of ministry in that single congregation which was to have immense effects on the Church of Scotland, the church in Scotland, and beyond. He retired in May 1997 at the age of eighty-six and died two months later. Many ministers owe much to his counsel and example. Many ‘lay’ people received their grounding in the faith through him, and many world-wide retain their links with ‘Gilc established during their time in Aberdeen.

The son of a Salvation Army fish-merchant, William Still entered the ministry of the Church of Scotland after training at the University of Aberdeen where, during the early years of the War, he found time to act as musical director of the annual Students Show and to organise and take part in musical recitals in the town. Under the rules he was not able to graduate, but left with a qualification acceptable to the Kirk. After a year as Assistant to William Fitch at Springburnhill, Glasgow. WS accepted the call to Gilcomston South. The congregation was then in such a parlous financial and spiritual state that the Presbytery had attempted to close it. One local minister of the time had suggested that not even St Paul could do anything with it. In later years Mr Still recalled musing that ‘maybe less than Paul will do.’

Mid-week Bible study and a meeting for prayer on Saturday evening were soon introduced, and have continued without a break since. In the earliest months of his ministry William Still was fiercely evangelistic, Billy Graham coming as one of a team of four for meetings in 1946. In 1947, however, he began an expository ministry taking himself and the congregation through the Bible, book by book, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. Progress through the books was not linear, but usually each of the morning and evening Sunday services respectively dealt with a book from the Old or New Testament. The mid-week Bible Study would concentrate on yet another drawn from either Testament. That systematic coverage of the whole Bible, verse by verse and chapter by chapter, was an innovation in the Church of Scotland of the time and formed a pattern which many have since fruitfully followed. In addition, he wrote daily Bible Notes for the Gilcomston Congregational Record in which he covered the entire Bible — and some books several times.

Gilcomston South developed in various ways, but, in the early years, not without pain. His friendship with the Revs. James and George Philip, and staunch office-bearers such as William Leslie, John Smith and John Hardie, sustained him through awkward times. Convinced that the core of the Kirk should be worship, prayer and the preaching of the Word, WS sought the simplification of church structures. He passionately believed that the congregation should worship as a family, and deplored the way in which well-intentioned small groups in churches often declined into mere social clubs. Many traditional activities therefore ceased in Gilcomston — the Women’s Guild, Boys’ Brigade, Youth Fellowship, even the Sunday School for those over seven. Such a concentration on the basics of church life was attractive to many. These fell into two groups: the long-term members of Gilcomston who saw to running its affairs, and others who, in Aberdeen for a period, often in higher education and latterly in the oil industry, attended for several years before moving on to responsibilities throughout Scotland and, indeed, the world. Large numbers of the latter group kept and keep in touch with Gilcomston. The former group learned to work as a family rather than as part of an organisation. Mr Still was not a man for the tedium of meetings and agenda, and he knew it, keeping formality to a minimum. Thus, although it was at the time misunderstood by some, it was a blessing that he several times declined nomination as Moderator of the Presbytery of Aberdeen.

For him the essential matter was that many were converted. Many ministers owe their calling, or their reinvigoration to the Still ministry. In the 1970s, he initiated a meeting of like-minded ministers in order to discuss common problems and share expertise. This developed into the informal Crieff Fellowship, which still meets three times a year and is attended by men and women from many denominations in the UK and beyond. Rutherford House, established as an evangelical charity in Edinburgh, sterns partly from the need, perceived in the Crieff Fellowship, to provide a resource by way of discussion groups, publications and conferences through which evangelical views can be properly articulated in Scotland. Of course this has been viewed with alarm by some in the Kirk who fear an organised ‘evangelical party’ but their fears are misplaced. William Still was loyal to the Kirk, opposed schism, strove to maintain unity and surely cannot reasonably be faulted for standing firmly on the Kirk’s basic beliefs. Until ageing overtook him in his latter years, Mr Still was in demand as a speaker throughout the UK. Many of his conference addresses, sermons and the Bible-reading notes and Minister’s Letters in the Record have been reworked into publications. Sometimes indeed, the impact of a WS text can be enhanced by attempting to deliver it (‘deliver it not just ‘read it’) out loud. The Work of the Pastor comes within that group. Recordings of his sermons are available in several tape-libraries in the UK and the USA. But this recital of facts and events masks the most important element of his ministry. Living a life of prayer, close to Christ, Mr Still was a sympathetic friend, listener, and guide to many. His correspondence was immense. He rarely failed to recall even small encounters with this individual and that, and his concern for each, without being directory in his advice, resulted in his helpful friendship being sought even during his last period of weakness. The Work of the Pastor reflects much practical experience. When William Still’s ministry began in the closing months of the War, there were few evangelical ministers and fewer prayer meetings in the Church of Scotland. That the picture is now very different is in large measure the result of a life rich in spirituality, and in devotion to his Lord.

  1. Lyall.

Read more in the next post, about the first chaper, which is available for free, about How to feed God’s sheep.