“We were made for community. It’s not a defect,” Pastor D shares candidly as he reflects on his own personal struggles with discouragement and depression.
Do you remember when God first called you to train pastors? For some, it may have been a Damascus Road encounter … for others, it may have been a real need you experienced personally, as it was for Pastor D. In the painful desert seasons, Pastor D was surrounded by fellow pastors who took the time to walk alongside him in the healing process as he endured years of depression. Today, he has authored training materials that have helped strengthen pastors through a focus on the pastoring of pastors, discipling and multiplying leaders and developing healthy small groups.
We interviewed this servant of God as he shared candidly about how to help pastors become healthy, as well as a pastor’s need for community. Pastor D’s transparency is both humbling and inspiring as he recounts personal battles and how the pastors who surrounded him helped to shape his ministry and training goals today. May you be encouraged as you watch!
Read on for email interview with Pastor D below:
Interview with Pastor D, pastoral trainer and author
GProCommission:What is your definition of a healthy pastor?
Pastor D: Healthy pastor, pastored pastor! Alone, no!
Bigger definition: healthy relationally, living fully in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
In my book The Leader that Shines, the subtitle is “Seven Relationships That Lead to Excellence.” The seven relationships are with 1) God; 2) oneself; 3) one’s family; 4) a pastoral group; 5) a ministry team; 6) a mentor, pastoral leader or discipler; and 7) intimate friends.
GProCommission:What three things does a pastor need to be healthy?
Pastor D: All seven of those relationships are key to a pastor’s health. We particularly highlight three of them as being where a Kingdom or discipling culture is established. Culture flows in small groups and three of those relationships have to do with small groups:
A pastoral group, or for a pastor, a Pastoring of Pastors (PoP) group.
A healthy family. For a pastor, having support and input for overcoming the huge stressors his or her family faces because of his or her vocation.
A healthy pastoral team leading the local church. This is usually a lay pastoral team.
GProCommission:What is your greatest challenge in training pastors?
Pastor D: A.Establishing a movement. This begins with a work of God’s Spirit on the divine side and with finding the movement leader on the human side. So on the divine side, discerning what God is doing and not trying to move ahead if He is not moving. On the human side, finding this John Knox with the passion of “Give me Scotland, or I die.”
A second step as we find this person is to help them build a team of people who together will model being healthy pastors and a healthy team. Part of this is helping them develop their own vision and project so as not to depend on me or other external inputs.
A third major challenge is finding financial resources to free up the leaders. PoP leaders are pastors who are basically serving other pastors in their free time. They are limited in what they can do by having to prioritize their source of income, usually the church they pastor.
GProCommission:What happened when God called you to train the pastors in Brazil?
Pastor D: I was born and raised in Bolivia with missionary parents. I grew up having a missionary calling. It was, however, a dramatic surprise to be called to Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking country. That calling happened in June 1984. What happened after that was threefold:
The calling was confirmed both by Brazilians and internationally. Brazilians embraced and asked for help in three major areas: pastoring of pastors, discipling and multiplying leaders, and healthy small groups. Internationally, the World Evangelical Alliance and CONELA, the Latin American Evangelical Alliance, asked me to take leadership in the area of healthy churches or church renewal. This included a significant aspect of pastoring of pastors since my vision even back then was that the pastor’s health was key to the church’s health.
Second, we had to wait on the Lord for our one-year old daughter Karis to either die (as the doctors expected) or be healed.
Third, I needed to find the mission or movement under which I could work, being convinced through painful experience that I didn’t want to be a lone ranger or on my own. We found two missions that emphasized team and one of them also emphasized discipling, working with the whole body of Christ and reaching the whole nation – which were deep values I held in the mid-eighties as a thirty-some year old. We joined OC International. Their motto at that time was “Mobilizing the whole church to disciple the whole nation.”
GProCommission:When did you realize it was your personal calling to help pastors become healthy?
Pastor D: A.My first experience was as a one-year short-term missionary in Bolivia when I was 21. Since I had a master’s, I was asked to teach in our Bible Seminary and help on retreats for pastors and elders in different cities. My principal passion was discipling, due to spending three days with Howard Hendricks as he ministered on that subject a year earlier.
My second experience was back in the States. My pastor invited me to join a group of about eight pastors who met one Monday a month. In the mornings we worked on the question, “If we were going to start a perfect church, what would it look like?” The afternoons focused on personal sharing and caring. I experienced what PoP was. When I was later ordained, I began my life as a pastor already in a movement and model of being pastored.
My third very formative experience was having three days to minister to Brazilian pastors in June of 1984. I gave them a list of topics that could perhaps help them and they chose pastoring of pastors, discipling and multiplying leaders, and developing healthy small groups. Those three themes ended up weaving together in everything I did over the twenty years I lived in Brazil. I published over twenty books or booklets, all of them having to do with small groups in one way or another: discipling groups, support groups, home cell groups, evangelistic groups and ministry teams.
GProCommission:What is your role currently in making pastors healthy?
Pastor D: A.It’s probably worth commenting that no one makes pastors healthy, not even God. It is a deep choice on each pastor’s part to choose to be healthy, choose to be a genuine disciple who is ever-learning and growing and choose to disciple others.
Having said that, my current role is leading the World Evangelical Alliance’s Pastoring of Pastors Task Force. The Task Force is small, with just a few representatives in Latin America, in Africa and in Europe. But the invitation and challenge is great: to help the 129 evangelical alliances around the world enable their pastors to be healthy, starting or encouraging PoP movements. In my experience, this normally begins as a movement that grows and spreads to the point that the Evangelical Alliance takes note of it and bridges are built between the movement and the Alliance. Brazil is a case in point. The PoP movement grew to having 35 denominations or movements with written PoP projects and leaders. The Brazilian Evangelical Alliance asked the PoP movement to become its arm for serving the pastors of the country. I hope and dream of seeing a worldwide PoP movement that in any given country mobilizes the whole church to disciple the whole nation.
GProCommission:Share who it was that was instrumental in the healing process for you when you had been hurt by church leadership and were struggling with depression.
Pastor D: A.God used a number of people, but two stand out right now. The first is Brother N who was the leader of a movement called the Alliance for Renewal Churches out of Mansfield, Ohio. I came home from a trip to find my wife weeping, handing me a ten-page type-written prophecy denouncing what a terrible person I was, written by one of our church members and distributed in my absence to a number of people in the church. By God’s providence, Brother N was bringing his daughter to see Wheaton College and stayed with us the next night. As a pastor of pastors, God used Ray to carry us in those first agonizing moments. I lost my pastorate and the church of my dreams that I had helped found and went into a five-year depression. A year and a half later, Ray oversaw my moving to be a member of one of the ARC churches in Port Huron, Michigan.
Brother N asked Pastor B, the pastor of the Port Huron church, to visit us in Wheaton and talk about our moving there. Pastor B became our pastor. Both Debbie and I were going through a very hard time. Stu met with me biweekly to mentor and counsel me for a number of years. Deb also met with two ladies from the church who had experience in inner healing for a year and a half. I wasn’t in any shape to help her at that time, but God used those two ladies in life-changing ways for Debbie, even as he used Stu in my life.
GProCommission:Describe your personal path to becoming a healthier pastor.
Pastor D: I am a visionary and a dreamer. As a result, I am especially vulnerable to depression. I have had five major depressions, each triggered by my dreams failing. In the darkness of those times, God had some major breaking to do in me, taking out my pride and building His character and heart and mind. The last of these was a year long depression that began in December 2008. My daughter Karis came out of the hospital and went back in the next day. That had happened countless times, but this time something broke inside of me. I realized she would always be dependent on the transplant hospital and the doctors there. My wife Debbie would not be returning to Brazil as I always thought she would and I would have to leave Brazil to live with Karis and Debbie in Pittsburgh, the world center for intestinal transplants.
Let me briefly comment on three special moments in that year.
March 2009 with my Brazilian PoP team ministering to me. They did what they were trained to do. They took an hour to hear my heart and then the second hour to minister God’s heart to me.
October 2009 with God confronting me with my idolatry. He showed me that Brazil, my PoP team and the PoP ministry had become an idol. I was convinced I couldn’t be happy unless I was in Brazil doing PoP.
God bringing back a prophecy given in the context of a group of pastors and elders laying hand on me in the late eighties in the middle of my five-year depression: “You are so dangerous that Satan is trying to destroy you before your ministry can begin.” In 2009, with a very successful and growing nation-wide ministry in Brazil and twenty plus books published, it might seem hard to say that my ministry was yet to begin. Now, some years later, most of my time and effort is spent in Spanish-speaking countries and with the WEA beginning to extend to English and French-speaking countries in West Africa. God really did have to deal with the Brazil idol in my heart to allow something deeper and greater to emerge.