José Carlos Pezini - March 2019 Update
Portuguese-Language Ministries Coordinator
I believe that it is a good time to look back, consider, and evaluate our ministry. Let us see what God has done, using our lives as instruments in his hands, and reflect on what has been accomplished since we returned to Brazil seven years ago. We glorify God for his faithfulness and providence.
From the time that Odete and I arrived back in Brazil in May 2012, we sought to understand God's will and to discern the reason he was bringing us back to our country. We hoped that he would use us for the expansion of the Kingdom of God. God has done this, but in a different way from what we had expected.
Throughout these years we have seen so many pastors disheartened and discouraged. Several have thought of leaving pastoral ministry, or they have simply seen ministry as a means to support their family. A few of them have committed suicide.
Today, however, those with whom we work are excited and motivated. They are able to dream again of carrying out an effective and fruitful ministry. Pastors who were sick now enjoy good health. Others facing family problems have seen their families smile again. Because of what has happened in the lives of these men and women of God, they testify that their churches have been tremendously impacted and have experienced growth, thus fulfilling the mission for which they exist.
In 2013 the Rev. Mario de Góis and I led an experimental mentoring retreat in the city of São José do Rio Preto using material on pastoral care translated from English. From the lessons we learned on this retreat, we started a mentoring group in Curitiba that consisted of nine pastors. The number of mentoring groups grew, and the number of participants multiplied, so that we now have thirteen regional mentoring groups throughout Brazil.
Each regional group holds two retreats per year. In 2019 we hope to start four more groups. The pastors who participate in these retreats have witnessed to the transformation that has taken place in their lives. In each retreat we suggest that the pastors seek and walk with a mentor who supports them and prays for them daily. Pastors are challenged in three different areas in their lives: 1) to take time with God daily, 2) to engage in some type of physical exercise each day, and 3) to read daily. We believe that these three areas are of great importance in pastoral ministry.
In response to the growing demand for mentors, we have invested time in training new mentors. We challenge men and women to understand that it is worth investing their lives in other’s lives, sharing their experiences of ministry, and rejoicing to see what God is able to do when we become available to serve him. We also train coordinators to lead regional mentoring retreats. We realize that the key to the development of a regional mentoring group lies in the dedication of a coordinator who sees the task of coordination as part of his or her vocation and has a passion for it. We are convinced that if we want to see the church of Christ grow and fulfill its mission, it is necessary to invest in the lives of pastors. If pastors are not revitalized, the church will not be revitalized.
We approach our mentoring ministry in the way described above because we realized that so many pastors in Brazil, after ten years or so of pastoral ministry, had given up their devotional life. Prayer and Bible reading for them became the means of ministry – praying for the sick, preparing for a sermon, and the like. They no longer saw it as a means of grace to feed their souls. As a result, ministry for them was “running on autopilot.”
Thanks be to God that the mentoring retreats and ongoing mentoring relationships have restored the soul of ministry for many pastors in many denominations throughout Brazil. Today, we work with pastors from 14 different denominations, and we have expanded beyond Brazil. We held a retreat in Orlando, Florida- U.S.A. last year for Portuguese- speaking pastors, and in March 2019 we began activities in Mexico, holding a retreat for pastors in the city of Mérida in the State of Yucatan.
"Soul Friends" Group
In addition to the general mentoring ministry, God placed in my heart a couple of years ago a desire to invite ten young pastors in their 40s into a mentoring relationship. I plan to spend the rest of my life walking with them and their wives/families with the goal of helping them to strengthen their life with God and their ministry by sharing my experiences over 35 years of pastoral ministry.
I prayed about this with Odete and sought discernment. Then I began to choose those whom God had placed on my heart. They are intelligent young people from five different denominations. Among them there are psychologists, psychoanalysts, and those who have other training in addition to theological formation. Last year Odete and I began working with these ten pastors and their wives. With the pastors, our journey includes weekly contact via video conferencing. In our meetings I challenge each of them to seek the Kingdom of God first and to develop intimacy with God through a life of prayer and obedience to the Lord.
In addition to the weekly gatherings, we all meet together (with the wives) once a year at a hotel for three days to strengthen our friendship, to have fellowship, and to learn together. We have become a real family. They are free to seek me out to talk about anything they want.
This strategy of personal discipleship of younger pastors arose from my personal reflection. I am 62 years old and have been in ministry for 35 years. What legacy will I leave for the next generation of pastors? The vision that God has given me is that after about five years of walking with them, each one of them will be challenged to choose 10 new pastors, under 40 years old, and to do the same thing with their group of 10 that I am doing with them. If that happens, we will see 100 shepherds being cared for and discipled. Those 100 in turn will be challenged to invite 10 more pastors into this kind of discipling and mentoring relationship. In this way there will be continuous multiplication that will impact the church of Christ for future generations.
Let me give some background on my decision to focus on mentoring younger pastors. Following my return to Brazil, I saw that many pastors over the age of 50 who had been in ministry for many years were no longer open to learning and no longer believed that change – for themselves or their churches – was possible. They were so frustrated that they chose to continue performing their ministries in “maintenance” mode until their retirement.
In contrast, I saw younger pastors who already felt lost in ministry but still had hope that something could be different, and they were willing to seek help. This is the reason why I decided to invest the rest of my life in this group of young pastors.
Part of the work of mentoring has been to introduce pastors to the traditional spiritual disciplines carried on by the church over the centuries. As a result, pastors want to know more about spiritual formation. So, we decided to create a master's degree in spiritual formation in partnership with a Lutheran seminary in Curitiba. This course lasts two years and is composed of eight modules. The first group of 22 students completed the course in 2018.
These graduates in spiritual formation have taken what they learned in the classroom back to their churches and have introduced their members to the spiritual disciplines. Many of our students have shared that their members enjoy greater intimacy with God and are motivated to make new disciples of Jesus Christ.
A second group, started in August 2018, has 18 students from various denominations. This second group has lay persons enrolled in addition to pastors, and the lay people are excited to discover that life with God goes far beyond attending church on Sunday.
Revitalization of Churches
Throughout the Western world, the traditional or historic churches have been losing members and are unable to attract new people or integrate them into their faith communities. Such churches are either dying or stagnant. At the congregational level, most of these churches are small, with less than 100 members and can no longer survive financially.
In our travels around the country offering courses and lectures and leading mentoring retreats, we hear the cry of presbyteries and pastors who ask us for help in order to reverse this situation. Because of our experience in revitalization, we believe that it is possible to turn things around and see a church grow again, to regain life, and to produce fruit that glorifies God. Our conviction is that the reason the church exists is to make disciples among all nations, and for that, it must have life to produce life.
To respond to this demand and to help these churches and presbyteries, we have created a church revitalization course. It has eight modules, each with a classroom and an online component. The lessons are practical, and in each module pastors and leaders commit to applying the principles they have learned in the churches they serve. We stay in touch with those who participate in this course, listen to their questions and observe the results of their work of revitalization in their churches.
We know revitalization is possible because we have already seen it take place in churches we have helped in recent years. Not only have these churches grown in numbers, but they have also involved a significant number of lay people in the ministry of the church and in the discipling of new converts. People in revitalized churches are discovering the joy of serving in the Kingdom of God.
After a number of meetings and training events in the city of Rio de Janeiro, we noticed a phenomenon among the Presbyterian pastors with whom we work. Seminary-educated pastors, even those who originally come from the favelas (slums), are not able to communicate the gospel with the poorer and less educated communities that inhabit the favelas of Rio de Janeiro!
So, one of the presbyteries of Rio de Janeiro which has an organization called “Mission in the City” has requested the help of the SARA Institute to develop a course of training for lay people for evangelization and discipleship. At the moment, we are in the preparatory phase, but we have already defined that the course will be 100% online. It will last six months and be inexpensive. We are working to make this course available by June 2019.
In addition to the above, we are pleased to report that the first national SARA Pastors’ Conference is at hand. We are bringing the pastors who are involved in the regional mentoring groups and committed to the ministry of mentoring together May 1-4, 2019. It will be a time of fellowship and learning and the conference is also open to other pastors and leaders in general who wish to be with us. For this conference we have as the main preachers the Rev. Glenn MacDonald and Mr. John Terech who will explore the themes of spiritual formation and discipleship. We will also have thematic workshops. The event will take place in the city of São Paulo at the Independent Presbyterian Church Cathedral.
Dear brothers and sisters, God has transformed the lives of many pastors through our ministry and because of this transformation, their churches have been impacted. However, this has only been possible because of your faithfulness. Without you none of this can happen. God is wonderful; he chooses people like me and you to fulfill his purposes.
Thank you very much for being our partner. Your generosity has helped this ministry grow and multiply. Odete and I will continue to pray for you all, praising God for the life of each one of you.
Rev. Dr. Pezini
The Outreach Foundation is seeking gifts totaling $95,000 for support and ministry funds for Pezini and $5,000 to defray costs of attending SARA retreats for pastors who cannot afford them.