By Douglas Lamp, Sepal missionary in the area of shepherds’ grazing
[email protected]

Before the pandemic, a group of five shepherds met weekly on Wednesdays for two hours in a cozy house in Natal-RN. The format of the meeting was simple and informal. Starting with a snack, with fruit, bread and coffee in a thermos (no sugar, please). Participants previously communicated by WhatsApp to make sure that the coffee ingredients would not be duplicated, or missing something. Someone took responsibility for organizing the time of the meeting, bringing a biblical reflection or some excerpt from a chapter of a book that was chosen by everyone to begin the time of conversation.

The events of the meetings followed the creativity of each participant, sometimes with music, sometimes with an intense intercession provoked by a family or ministerial situation. Over time, pastors felt increasingly comfortable sharing their lives and the challenges of their ministries. The confidentiality and privacy of the conversations were always reiterated by the members of the group. Sometimes a brother shared a situation so delicate or difficult to solve that the group gathered in a circle for a special time of intercession for him. Other encounters were injected with humor, or such ridiculous and bizarre accounts, that laughter and laughter were inevitable and took over the meeting.

These were some of the typical scenarios of grazing groups of pastors and women in ministry that were and continue to be part of a movement that took place in several cities in Brazil. The difference now is what is called the “new normal”, due to the covid-19 pandemic. Each grazing group has been challenged to find new ways to graze pastors in the second half of 2020.

They are leaders of different denominations and traditions who are discovering that ministry can be shared. One comment we often hear from pastors is that, for the first time, they are discovering that it is possible to find friends in the ministry, and also with pastors from other theological perspectives! It’s amazing to think that leaders, especially men, recognize the lack of having a real friend. They are discovering that a common vision of the Kingdom of God and its expansion here on earth is important, and goes beyond the denominational tracks.

Grazing groups are not programmed to create more ministerial activities, although this happens naturally when two or three pastors begin to dream together about the evangelization of their city, or to meet a need in their neighborhood. Just before the pandemic, there were shepherds doing exercises and walks together and even picnics with their families on the beach.

At each meeting, we want to give participants opportunities to answer simple questions. Some like, “What is the experience that is encouraging your life?”. Or, “What are you learning again to put into practice in your ministry?”. Naturally, some afflictions were perceived, so someone asked, “How can we pray for you?”. In a group of eight to ten leaders, it is common to hear a variety of challenges and even frustrations. There’s something therapeutic about being in an environment where we feel safe, it’s even challenging, sharing with others the most important things in our lives.

In our training for grazing group leaders, we talked about four simple elements in the meetings. In fact, we were already happy if we could get two or three of these elements in a typical meeting. We introduce them as an acrostic: CARE (in English, the word means care) which corresponds to the words: Care, Evaluation, Reflection and Study.

Pastoral care (C) is a time to listen carefully to each other, allowing participants to answer simple questions about how they are in their personal lives and in ministry. Advice (A) is when each leader has the opportunity to be intentionally mentored in strategic areas of his life. Mentoring requires some additional skills to really work well, and when it does, it’s a meeting high point for many pastors. The “R” refers to a brief moment of reflection, in particular a bible-based thought or devotional. There is no need to preach to shepherds. Agree. However, we all need to be challenged to have an encounter with the truths of God’s Word. True personal transformation takes place in an encounter with the power of God’s Word.Study (E) means taking the time to discuss a chapter of a book or presenting a new tool for our ministries. Leaders who believe in pastorship understand the importance of continuous and intentional learning for their lives.

Some of these ELEMENTS of CARE happen to all the participants involved. Care and advice are more personalized when practiced with two or three leaders gathered for 30-40 minutes during the meeting.What is important in any grazing meeting is that each participant has an opportunity to be heard, to receive or give encouragement, to perceive God’s action and move over their lives. It seems a high demand for any meeting, but this is the experience of many leaders who discover the importance of participating in a grazing group!

Several Sepal missionaries have dedicated their lives to forming and encouraging pastorpastor groups and mentoring. There are colleagues in Sepal (my wife, for example, among others) who are dedicated to the formation of these groups exclusively for wives of pastors, pastors and missionaries. With increasing complexities and demands in pastoral ministry, a lone leader is an easy target for discouragement, depression, or disqualification in ministry.

The period of social isolation and social distancing is changing the way leaders resume their activities. It is time for pastors, missionaries, and leaders to accept the challenge of engaging in a pastorio group. For more information about Pastorio de Pastores in Sepal, please contact one of our missionaries.

Douglas and Barbara Lamp