Taking Care of God's Servants in Brazil
by Jeff Ritchie
Whether one is a parish minister or a person working in full-time ministry in a mission, one feels the need to care for others with 100% of one’s efforts. Without support and encouragement from others, dedicated servants of God can become fatigued, discouraged, and depressed. Their cry goes up, “Who cares for those who care for others?” This is a universal challenge for the church of Jesus Christ.
I am currently in Brazil where I am seeing the beginning of a movement to address this need. The movement is a relational and grass-roots movement, and it is beginning to impact four denominations. At the center of the movement is the Rev. Dr. José Carlos Pezini, The Outreach Foundation’s staff for Portuguese-language ministries.
Pezini, as he is called, worked in the U.S. helping start Portuguese-language fellowships and churches for 10 years with The Outreach Foundation. In 2012 he and his wife returned to their native Brazil where Pezini continued his ministry of coaching, mentoring, and teaching pastors of new churches. He found, however, that a large number of these pastors were facing burnout and needed long-term accompaniment to restore their hearts and souls for their ministry.
He built a team of pastors who had a similar heart to care for those who care for others, and within a year this team developed a retreat ministry called “SARA,” an acronym meaning “a service of friendship, refreshment, and support” for pastors. At its core, the leaders of this ministry treat pastors holistically. Through periodic retreats and bimonthly phone calls, Pezini and his team mentor pastors in ways that bring health of body and soul; they coach pastors in the progress of their ministry; and they invite them to coach and mentor others.
I am currently on a trip to Brazil to meet some of the people who have been impacted by Pezini’s ministry of coaching and mentoring. In Curitiba, where Pezini lives, I met pastors from Presbyterian and Congregational churches as well as a lay pastor from a non-denominational church whom Pezini mentors. In Rio de Janeiro I had an encounter with twelve pastors with whom Pezini has been working for over two years. Now I am in Campinas where Pezini and his colleague Casso are leading a Mentoring track in a conference on church growth for over 1,000 persons. Their session is full of those are interested in being mentored within the SARA ministry.
As I listened to the stories of those whom Pezini and his colleagues are mentoring and coaching, I am struck by the need for soul care in the Brazilian church and by the impact that this ministry has had in only three years of existence.
David, from Curitiba, was a new church development pastor who had a stroke when he was in his early 30s – and that was right at the time when his new church was growing. He entered into a mentoring relationship with Pezini and began to take care of his body. “In our mentoring ministry, we treat the pastor as a whole person,” Pezini explains.
Marcelo (first row, center), from Rio de Janeiro, is also a new church development pastor. To paraphrase his testimony, he was “making it up as he went along.” He got connected with CTPI, the church-planting training institute of which Pezini is a part, and began to learn how to “do it right.” While the church was growing, he still needed some coaching. Pezini agreed to do that for a year and helped Marcelo with the management of his time. Marcelo shared that his personal life, his family life, and the church life have all been impacted by getting some organization into his life. The church is now ready to charter as a self-supporting church.
Others share that the mentoring ministry has helped them change their understanding about prayer and God. Prayer has become for them an opportunity to listen to God. Ministry now is not something they do for God, but it is their joining God in partnership with what he is doing in the lives of the people they serve inside and outside the church.
The ministry of SARA has grown so fast in three years that there will be groups meeting regularly (2x/year) in seven regions throughout Brazil. They are multiplying the number of those who can mentor others, and the demand still exceeds the supply.
This ministry of coming alongside pastors started with new church development pastors. However, Pezini sees more and more that pastors who want to see their churches revitalized, or transformed, from maintenance to missional churches, also need this help in a huge way.
So the leadership of SARA has determined to focus on three areas of ministry in the coming years: mentoring, spiritual formation, and revitalization. They expect to start a continuing education program in the coming year that will deal with these three areas of ministry. They have also been invited to come alongside the Pastoral Ministry Department of the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil, the major partner of The Outreach Foundation, as that Department tries to serve its constituency in “caring for those who care for others.”
Associate Director for Mission
The Outreach Foundation