Pastoral Counseling: Teaching People How to Think

My pastoral work of personal dealing, considerable though it is, has been greatly reduced through the years because the building up of people’s faith, by the ministry of the Word of God, solves so much in their lives. It enables those who receive it and seek to live by it to understand and solve so much in other lives, that instead of becoming a liability on my time and energy, they become pastors themselves. Indeed, one of the features of such a radical and total ministry of the Word is that it thrusts so many into spiritual and social work that I can hardly keep a congregation together on account of their scattering throughout the land, and indeed, the earth.

– William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 323

All this has to be faced in the ministry of the Word: nevertheless, it is that ministry which makes Christian character, so that healthy feeders need the pastor less and less. At last they need him no more as clinician or nurse. They have found the solution to their problems and, much more important, have learned to live with those which will only be fully solved in heaven. Now they are able to become, as I said before, pastors to others, to help them solve their problems through the Word (Loc. 448).

The goal for Still is to teach people how to apply the Word to themselves so that they can learn to counsel themselves and thus become less dependent upon you. The end result is that they will begin to counsel others effectively as well.




As Manure Belongs to a Fruitful Garden

Another thing: to minister fruitfully (and God does not call us to anything else) we must minister as those who have died. This is really the same point as the last, but it has total ramifications in the life. It is only out of a life that is dead not only to sin (obvious) but to self in all its various and subtle aspects, that God will bring resurrection to others. Death works in us, but life in others (2 Cor. 4:12). That is the profoundest and most practical principle in the Bible. Every time we essay to minister there must be a new death. ‘Deaths oft…I die daily,’ said Paul. It is the glorious agony of those who are used of God amidst the oppositions of the world, the church, and certainly the devil, that we are ever dying men and women…

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 it 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.

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 1191, 1210

That’s great use of imagery. Suffering and joy, etc. go together as manure and a fruitful garden go together.



Pastoral Visitation

1) Be what you are in Christ

As a pastor, will you be merely trying to do a job and fulfill a duty, or will you be letting Christ in human flesh through to the people you are mixing with? If the latter, then it is the easiest thing in the world. You simply be what you are in Christ, no more, and no less, and let that speak. If Christ is not concerned to be sanctimonious (and He certainly was not sanctimonious with the woman of Samaria), do you think you can do better by being self-consciously unctuous? If Christ has given you a love for people (and what are you doing in this work if He has not?), then the fact of it is the important thing, not the showing off of it. People have misunderstood me for years because I would not dance their evangelistic jigs and utter their clichés and shibboleths, and observe all their polite conventions. But when they were in real need, it was not a matter then of showing what was in me, or what I was made of, but of responding to their need as distinct from their conventional repartee, and being seen for what I was. Far better, surely, than being thought to be such a nice man, and then being found out! Grace and truth come by Jesus Christ.

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 606

2) Do not force Bible reading or prayer; Don’t hesitate to read or pray when asked

Far better that someone should ask for a word of prayer, or a reading, than that one should leave a trail of forced readings and prayers in a number of homes where it was not convenient, or where people were sorely embarrassed, or annoyed, and didn’t want them…I am never put out, although some who ask me hope that I may, by being asked to pray in a home. (Loc. 614-616).

3) Be conscience of whether or not your presence is desired

It goes without saying that one takes in the situation in any home when one arrives, and does not force oneself on people at an inconvenient moment, or stay on if one senses that one is interrupting plans or is really in the way (Loc. 623).

4) Ask questions that get to the heart of the situation

You must learn the art of asking leading, direct, even shock questions, perhaps catching the over-composed ones off their guard, and then, greatly daring, but with a sure, unerring touch, barging right in and cracking them open, as if to say ‘Come off it. There’s a bit of a muddle here. Why don’t you admit it, and let’s get on with the clearing up’ (Loc. 629).

5) Like a doctor, uncover the wounds and get to work

In certain company you dare not let people know what you are, but amongst Jesus-folk, within reason and in degree according to how Jesus-minded they are, you can and must. A true Christian fellowship is a place where stray cats and dogs can find a home. It is a hospital, where the only sin is to hide your wounds from the doctor and nurse. And the true pastor’s job is to strip all the fearful ones, however gently, patiently, faithfully, and all the hypocritical ones of their camouflage and cloaks (Loc. 642).



Pastoral Ministry and the Paradox of Books

We must not live in the world of books, but in the world of real people. Yet, all that is worth saying to them of lasting value comes from books. But it is all summed up in One who was a real person; and the end is never propositions, theories, precepts, doctrines, but a certain kind of flesh and blood.

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 1229

We are called to be in the world but not of the world. The reverse is true about reading: we are to be of books but not in books. Our reading informs everything we do, yet we must actually be doing.

Don’t be so busy fighting off the world that you forget to feed the sheep (Saved to Starve)

To put it otherwise and more simply: a shepherd is no mere warder-off of wild beasts. To save the sheep from wild beasts and all other dangers is not to feed them; and if they are not fed, what matters whether they are safe or not? What is the good of being saved to starve?

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 1361

Don’t be so busy fighting off the world that you forget to feed the sheep actual food.

Contemporary Issues as Sidetracks

People who are too easily intimidated by the wickedness of any one generation and who panic over things which go wrong, are living so near their own day that they have lost the message of the ages which is full of such seeming disasters. It is they who run with their poultices and eyewash to meet the needs of the hour instead of abiding by the radical measures of the Word of God which gets down to the elements of the case. It is like trying to purify foul water at the tap, instead of at the reservoir or the poisoned stream. There is an application of the Word of God for even the most urgent contemporary situations, but if we get all hot and bothered about it, and myopically concentrate all our ministry on that, forever moaning from our pulpits about the evils of the day, what are the hungry sheep going to feed upon the while? The devil is a master of sidetrack.

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 1302

He continues,

But as a minister you cannot turn aside to deal with political or sociological questions. Who is going to perform your task of feeding the sheep if you do? What of the Kingdom of God? If all the ministers in one generation essayed the task of making our human conditions better, more decent and worthy so only a few were added to Christ, and those who were added were left as undernourished starvelings because the ministers were at the political and sociological front, what would happen to that generation’s representation in the heavenly repository? (Loc. 1312).


Although in itself it is a good thing, a little temporary alleviation of the conditions of men on the earth is as nothing compared with the task of building a house of God of human, living stones, and a Kingdom of redeemed humanity come to Christly maturity (Loc. 1318).

While I’m in the pulpit foaming at the mouth like so many 24 Hour News pundits about what happened last week, who is going to feed the sheep? I need to feed them something they can’t get from Fox News or Facebook.

Christ Gaining Our Trust, Being Present in Places He Hates

‘You must learn that Christ is no mere censor, but a Saviour who saves us by gaining our trust and confidence more and more, and letting us live our total life in Him. He is much more concerned about where we are going, than about how far on we have got.’ This chap’s Christ was a drill sergeant and he thought that was what I was advocating. No: I was thinking of a Christ who would be with him when he went off the deep end and betrayed his fallen self and made an ass of himself, and, in private, denied his own, true, holy nature. A Christ who was always kindly, always there, not to his sin, but to him. Who was willing to be dragged to places and into thoughts that He hated, because He loved him and would not let him go.

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 553

This is probably one of the best quotes in the book. An appropriate text is 1 Corinthians 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!”

Since we are united to Christ as believers, Christ is said to dwell in us, and us in him. Hence, he is ever-present with us. Hence, he goes places with us that he himself hates. This will cause you to react in one of two ways – either to run from him, or to run away from where you are trying to take him.

And all the while, says Still, he is teaching us more and more to trust him. All the while he is teaching us to confide in him – seeking our confidence. This is how he sanctifies us.

Realistic Pastoral Interaction

1) Don’t cast your pearls before swine

One’s dealings, then, with stray, casual, nominal souls, on any other basis than that of a fairly steady and solid diet of the Word of God, are bound to be on a comparatively superficial level: one gives bits of human advice here and there, trying to see life as lived on their level, and no more than challenging them to consider life on a deeper level. Do you see what I mean? You give them the Christian witness, if they will tolerate it at all, but where they don’t want it, you do the best you can for them on their own level and leave it there. The Christian minister needs a mental filing cabinet of many drawers, and he is constantly placing, replacing and rearranging people in it. While in one sense he offers only one standard of life, in another sense he can only help people on the level upon which they want help. After all, you will not convert people against their wills, and you will not make people feed their souls on the Word of God against their wills.

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 452

Jesus allowed people, when He had challenged them, to choose their level. That is why He let the rich young ruler go. You must discern what people are after, and not waste a lifetime running after those who are vain and empty, selling them a Christ they don’t want. Give them the help they ask for, if you can legitimately do so, and probably give them a spiritual dig with it, a challenge – and let them go. For you will find that the ministry of the Word of God by the Spirit not only solves many difficulties, but raises many more, and most of your time will be spent in helping those who have been faced with new problems through the Word. Many things you cannot say in public, and some things you say generally will need clarification or specific application in private afterwards to people’s personal condition or situation (Loc. 459).

2) Temper your optimism

Some meddling ministers want to sort out everybody. God is not so optimistic. There are some who will die mixed-up personalities, and they may be true believers. (In some ways perhaps I am that, and have no hope of ever sorting myself out. Indeed, my salvation is to live with my oddities and partly put up with them, not to say help other people to put up with them, and partly rise above them to show that grace is better employed wrestling resignedly, realistically, cheerfully with our problems than demanding from God heavenly solutions on earth.) Don’t try to do the impossible. Know your limitations, and know what God is seeking to do in the world and what part in it He wants you to play (Loc. 488).

3) Don’t be afraid to defer

It is most important to try to discover with difficult spiritual and psychological cases whether their problems are beyond you or not, and if they are, to leave them to others better equipped and qualified. I have spent many grueling hours through the years with those who have nearly broken me, of whom it has been said at last by better authorities than I, that they were not very hopeful cases. Not that they would be useless in society, but that their problems were too deeply ingrained, too innate for full solution on earth, at least with our present knowledge. I am far more ready now to give up with difficult people than I used to be, and hand them over to those better fitted to deal with them. And some of these are now doing good service within certain limits, although their friends may not know that they are full of problems inside, and so will be happy enough to live and work with them. But they are not what ambitious evangelical ardour had hoped they would become. With fuller understanding, and taking a leaf out of Christ’s own Book, we become more realistic about people (Loc. 502).

4) Don’t be afraid of small-talk; presence matters

In visiting, the extremes are that one may try to do too much in a visit, or too little. I think that one of the greatest mistakes Christians, and particularly Christian ministers make, is to underestimate the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in their lives. When you visit a home, God enters it, or should. This doesn’t mean that you instantly begin to pontificate or preach. When Jesus met the woman of Samaria, He asked for a drink from her, and so the conversation unfolded, and a revival followed! Christ can be known in the homeliest things, can proceed with His work and can be drawn out to do it from the homeliest beginnings. Indeed, He does not need to draw attention to Himself at all. Some people gain the strength they need from their minister by his calling to see how they are, making a few homely remarks, and going his way without any attempt at what some would call pastoral ministration. Some of you will not agree with this, but that does not disturb me (Loc. 589).


The Preacher’s Self-Counseling

Unless the Word of God works for you, and solves the problems of your own life (I do not mean perfectly, but in the sense that you know where you are in relation to them), how can you expect that you will be able to make it work for others?

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 280

Do you use the Scriptures in order to deal with your own problems? Your own pain? Your own suffering? Does that actually work in your life? Are you familiar with the Scriptures enough to allow them to work? If not, don’t be surprised if people aren’t being helped by your preaching.

  • 2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

The Work of the Pastor: Preparing Sheep for Sacrifice

The pastor by definition is a shepherd, the under-shepherd of the flock of God. His primary task is to feed the flock by leading them to green pastures. He also has to care for them when they are sick or hurt, and seek them when they go astray. The importance of the pastor depends on the value of the sheep. Pursue the pastoral metaphor a little further: Israel’s sheep were reared, fed, tended, retrieved, healed and restored – for sacrifice on the altar of God. This end of all pastoral work must never be forgotten – that its ultimate aim is to lead God’s people to offer themselves up to Him in total devotion of worship and service.

William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 142.

This book by William Still is officially the best I’ve ever read on pastoral ministry. This opening description of the life of a pastor is stunning – the pastor’s aim is to prepare sheep for slaughter – to lead God’s people toward personal sacrifice and ultimate devotion to God.