Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hurt and Fruit: The Work of the Pastor

William Still. The Work of the Pastor. Geanies House, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2010. 152 pages.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw 

As a pastor, I am convinced that this little book is one of the most powerful and vital studies available, not only with respect to the work of the pastor, but to the relation of the pastor to the Church and of the Church as a whole to the world. Part of my responsibility as a minister is not only to remind my congregation of the great truths of Scripture, but to ensure that they will have a continual reminder of these things after my departure from this world (2 Pet. 1). William Still teaches us what kind of ministry we should pray that the Lord would sustain until He returns.

In a sense, it is difficult for me to recommend this book. This is partially due to the fact that its contents are almost entirely unique and that the book easily stands out from dozens of other books on the ministry. It is not that the duties Still presents are unique, but it is the Jeremiah-like spirit and fervor with which he refocuses the task and mission of the Church in relation to an unbelieving world that makes this study “a rare find.” It is also partially due to the fact that you will not understand exactly why this book is so gripping and one that you will struggle to put down until you actually begin reading it.

This short book is neither a technical nor detailed work on pastoral theology. Rather, it is the product of a pastor speaking from the depths of his soul in order to describe the driving force behind a long-standing ministry of over 50 years. Still presents the task of the minister (and of the Church) in simple terms: to preach the whole gospel of God, from the whole counsel of God, from the whole Word of God. His other major emphases are fervent and persistent congregational prayer, and equipping the saints for service in every sphere of life.

I still feel at a loss in my attempt adequately to press you to read this book. Many have already benefited tremendously from the work of William Still without realizing it. Still (and his congregation) was involved in the training and discipleship of future ministers for several decades. It may interest you to know that he personally mentored men such as Sinclair Ferguson, Eric Alexander, and a countless host of others who have been used tremendously for the building of the kingdom. On the cover of the book, Dr. Ferguson is quoted as saying that every minister should read this book at least once per year. This relatively unknown pastor has had, and continues to have, an international importance, by the blessing of God upon his ministry.

It will not take you long to read this book. If you do not yet have an appetite for it, I shall leave you by quoting one section from the book that may pique your interest. After beginning his ministry with an aggressive “evangelistic” that detached the most basic truths of the gospel from the whole teaching of Scripture, Still reversed his policy and sought to convert and disciple people by teaching the whole Word of God. Commenting on the effects of the change, he wrote:

After a year and a half of eye- and ear-catching ministry that hit the headlines, at divine behest I turned to minister the Word to Christians; and the work began to dwindle, as far as numbers were concerned. It has been dwindling ever since, until for many years now we have seemed to be on our last legs, and all and sundry have been prophesying our end. We have worked with increasingly small numbers. While we have a congregation of active and fruitful servants of God scattered about the whole earth who would fill our ample church several times over if they were all in one place at one hour (they never will be, on earth), the handful of people we are working with at one time is so small that people who come into our midst from afar say, “Is this all?” A couple from Canada once almost left our church before the service when they saw how few were present. This couldn’t be the place they had heard about! After the service went on a little, they thought perhaps it was! You can see what a death this is to die to those who think you are nothing if not popular. If we are not prepared to suffer (and suffering is not fun, nor is meant to be fun), we shall not reign. The two belong together, as Peter says over and over again in his first epistle. Hurt and fruit, death and life, sorrow and joy. They belong together as manure belongs to a fruitful garden (pages 118-120).
I believe that there are few things that speak to the contemporary (and desperate) needs of the church than this little book. May you read it to the profit of your souls.

This review was originally published in the Puritan Reformed Journal, July 2011.