What is the goal of pastoral ministry? For those of you who are not pastors yourselves, how would you answer this question? Do you think there are multifarious goals for those who are in ministry? In my opinion, I believe there are many non-sequiturs brought up when pastoral goals are brought to the table.1
I want to use one man’s story to introduce what I believe the one goal of pastors should be, and his name is William Still.
The son of an Aberdeen fish merchant, the Rev. William Still was the longest serving minister in the Church of Scotland when he retired from his charge at Gilcomston South Church earlier this year (1997) on his 87th birthday.
A leading evangelical minister in 1970 he was a founder member of the Crieff Brotherhood, a group of ministers who campaigned for the retention of traditional values and beliefs within the Kirk and who became known as the ”Stillites.”
Mr Still was born into a Salvation Army family and was self-educated from the age of 13 when illness forced him to leave school.
As a teenager he followed his father into the family business but lasted only a few months claiming he couldn’t stand the smell of fish.
After a period as a piano teacher and then as an organist at a Methodist Church he planned to become an officer in the Salvation Army but once again ill health struck and he was forced to leave the Salvation Army training College in London.
When they refused to admit him a second time he decided instead, at the age of 29, to train for the ministry at Christ’s College in Aberdeen which he was able to attend while remaining at home. During a spell as an assistant at Springburn Hill Church in Glasgow he was badly injured when he fell between the platform and a train at a station in the city.
It was while convalescing he underwent what he described as a ”second conversion” and was ”all aflame with the Gospel in a new way.”
He said he was a ”fire and brimstone preacher in his early days” and it caused him a lot of upset but he did gain a reputation for filling the pews and in 1945 he was invited to become the minister at Gilcomston South Church.
When he arrived it was run down and the Presbytery had twice tried to close it down, but within months the church was so packed he was inviting people to sit a little closer together and share a hymn book.
It has grown to be a major force for evangelism in the Kirk.
Mr Still was no stranger to controversy and the declining standard of dress of young people attending church wearing ”drab rags and bags” was one of the subjects on which he voiced his opinion.
He also attacked TV soap opera EastEnders for portraying religion inaccurately.
In spite of poor health he insisted on preaching twice every Sunday until his retirement in May. In his retirement speech he described falling church attendance and subsequent church closures as ”scandalous”.
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland the Rt Rev Sandy McDonald said: ”The death of William Still marks the end of a very distinguished and dedicated ministry in the Church of Scotland.
”A great bible teacher and a much loved father in the faith to countless ministers over the last 53 years, I believe he will be remembered as a good and faithful servant of Christ and the Church.”
Mr Still remained unmarried and is survived by his sisters Barbara and Rene and youngest brother David.Author unknown, “The Rev. William Still” The Herald, accessed September 13, 2020, https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12310996.the-rev-william-still/#:~:text=Mr%20Still%20was%20born%20into,stand%20the%20smell%20of%20fish.
No, the goal is not celibacy. As you read, Still was a faithful pastor who stayed the course through his faithful life and study. Still viewed the pastorate as the most important task one could take in his life, so much that he woke up at 6 am every day and would work till nearly 6 pm with just a small nap after lunch. Still’s legacy was not marked by a mega-church boom or a large audience like Spurgeon’s at Metropolitan Tabernacle.2 Instead, Still’s legacy is marked by one element: faithfulness.
The Need for More William Stills
You see, I’m deeply persuaded that what many of Christianity’s pastors today want is the big crowds and the instantaneous growth of their local congregations. Pastors want to see God do amazing things in and through their people. They want God to grow His Kingdom. Or so they think. Is a niche for instant growth and satisfaction growing our kingdom or God’s Kingdom? Is our negligence of Scriptural warrants and our fight for cultural norms waging the war on culture or the war against doing ministry in God’s church God’s way? I think there’s more to this which we must unpack.
The more I become immersed into the depths of pastoral ministry (I’m two years in), the more I’m convinced we need to simply give up our feebly ideas and weak attempts to grow God’s church. Friends – brothers in the ministry – God doesn’t need our help in advancing His kingdom. His kingdom is forevermore and will advance regardless of who is filling pulpits. Maybe, just maybe, we need a new perspective on who we are and who God is!
I was recently conversing with some pastors and found myself nearly mute while I watched and listened to the other pastors talk about their churches. I wasn’t unable to speak because I’m embarrassed of where I pastor or because our church is not growing (honestly, I think it is). Instead, I was dumbfounded because what I was hearing was a bunch of jargon about remodels, difficult members, and the current struggle amid a worldwide pandemic. Hear me – NOTHING even remotely spiritual was mentioned. NOTHING.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when churches need remodeling, and there are times when members get under our skin. I’m not against a remodel, nor am I against pastors being able to confidentially “vent” to one another about the difficulties of ministry. Yet, when I’m around fellow men in the ministry, this is often where conversations end up. So I ask us again, friends, what is the goal of pastoral ministry?
The Ultimate Goal?
You see, if the goal of pastoral ministry IS more people, bigger buildings, heftier budgets, then by all means, bring people in with remodeled sanctuaries, lackadaisical membership processes, and negligent ecclesiology. If the goal is more bodies, buildings, and bucks, we can rest assured that if we would simply give people what they want with “a little bit of Jesus,” they’ll keep coming. There’s just one problem: this is not pastoral ministry. This “little bit of Jesus” is what Christian Smith has labeled moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD).3 MTD asserts the basic ideas that man is good, God wants man to be happy, and God is available when man needs a problem fixed.
I am profoundly sorrowed to admit that most of what I’ve seen as pastoral ministry throughout the last 8 years of full-time ministry is nothing short of MTD. In fact, it’s not pastoral ministry at all – it’s a career in the church with “a little bit of Jesus” as a crutch if we need it.
And it must stop.
Friends, brother pastors, our ministries in the church have one purpose: faithfulness to the Lord and His Word. It is not enough to simply have good ideas and implement them in the church and call it “ministry.” It’s not enough to look at the secular world and aim to implement corporate America’s latest business model from forbes.com. God has given us the manual for ministry and it is Holy Scripture. And until we conform our philosophies and methodologies to the normative of Scripture, we will continue down this road of declination and, ultimately, destruction.
Thoughts to ponder: Could it be that many churches are declining because we’ve neglected to minister the way the church was designed to minister in the New Testament? Or, could it be that churches are in declination because their pastor is more focused on leadership development than being a godly under-shepherd in Christ’s church?
Back to William Still
As an onlooker toward today’s church, I sincerely believe William Still would lament over the state of the Church in the world. Much to his (or our) chagrin, Still would see churches looking more like Fortune 500 companies than the early church in Acts 2.
So, then, what’s the solution?
I think the solution is Still’s goal: faithfulness. Notice what William Still did in over eight decades of life – He remained faithful to Jesus Christ. Through many health struggles and a few near life-ending tragedies, Still chose to get back up and serve Christ again. He died two months after preaching his last sermon at Gilcomston South Church.
Did William Still ever see droves come to Christ in one setting? No.
Did William Still ever preach to thousands at one place? No.
Did William Still ever become famous for his preaching and oratory skills? No.
Did William Still earn recognition in his presbytery? Maybe some.
Did William Still receive a reward of faithfulness and crown of righteousness from Jesus Christ? YES.
Jesus Christ proclaimed to Still as he entered heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.”
May our goal be faithfulness to our Lord and His Word.
1 If you’d like to discuss this more, please feel free to message me through email here.
2 Spurgeon would average around 6,000+ people on a given Sunday, according to Jason K. Allen. Letters to My Students: On Preaching (Nashville: B&H, 2019).
3 See Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford, 2005).