Dozens of district pastors from across the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Southeast Mexican Union recently met to take part in a first ever spiritual retreat, where they could dialogue and share their experiences with church administrators, as well as stay grounded in the Word of God while staying focused on fulfilling the mission of sharing the Gospel and shepherding hundreds of members amid the numerous challenges they face in their ministry.
The 196 pastors throughout the seven local fields in the southeastern part of Mexico met at the church’s Tekax Campgrounds in El Trébol on April 16–19, 2023.
“We want to facilitate a personal encounter with our Savior and use the opportunity to talk, to analyze the biblical and Spirit of Prophecy definition about the pastoral gift, and pray to understand what our tasks in ministering to the membership,” said Pastor David Celis, president of the Southeast Mexican Union. “It’s essential we seek the Holy Spirit to understand what being a pastor means and our impact on the church and the community.”
Pastor Celis, who, prior to being elected as union president, served for many years as its executive secretary, said it was important to learn how the pastors felt, what they faced, what their pressing needs and concerns are, and encourage their heartfelt commitment to the mission and discipleship.
“The most important task of the pastor is to promote and facilitate discipleship, visitation, and teaching members in the church,” said Celis.
A Christ-Centered Ministry
Pastor Elie Henry, Inter-American Division president, during one of several keynote messages to the pastoral group, said, “The pastoral ministry needs to be a ministry centered in Christ—a ministry that can make the Bible and prayer its main tool.” Pastors must focus on proclaiming the kingdom of God, reminded Pastor Henry. “Our Adventist message comes from the three angels’ messages and leads us to the most glorious event: the second coming of Jesus.”
The meetings were about pastors using every space as an opportunity to reflect on fulfilling their ministry more effectively and promoting more integration among the ministerial body of the union, said Pastor Breyner Roblero, ministerial secretary for the union and one of the main organizers of the event.
Pastors participated in breakout sessions to discuss ways of working together among the different local fields and come up with better ways of addressing the needs of the church, explained Roblero. Although ministerial retreats had been held in the past, this retreat was designed to shape a new paradigm for pastoral ministry throughout the union, he added.
“With so many responsibilities, preaching sermons, organizing evangelism programs, leading church boards, visiting members, keeping up with events and activities on the calendar of the local church, plus the local fields, the union, and the division, many times, pastors get home at midnight every night,” said Roblero.
Pastoring More than 12 Churches
A pastor in the Southeast Mexican Union can have an average of 14–16 churches, with a total of more than 800–1,000 church members, said Roblero.
For many of the pastors, the ministerial gathering served as a new commitment to the call to ministry, like in the case of Darío Ocampo, age 52, who pastors 12 churches in his district in Chetumal, Quintana Roo. “God gave me a wonderful call where I should learn to love the body of Christ, which is His church, be patient with each member while feeling that I am part of a mission that we have so the end will come soon,” said Ocampo.
For Benjamin Vargas, who pastors the Central Adventist Church of more than 600 members in Cancun, “Being a pastor in 2023 is being passionate about the mission—someone who has a close relationship with God, who loves, cares, heals, renews, and researches. As a pastor, you have to go beyond the daily routine, enter into the innovation of faith based on the Holy Scriptures to be like Jesus in a changing world.”
Pastor Neftaly Vázquez, who has nearly 40 years of service and currently leads 12 churches in the Juan Aldama district in Teapa, Tabasco, discovered that what is more important is to understand your ministry. “I learned that in these meetings, when we learn more about our vision in the ministry with the youth, it helps us focus on the mission.”
Experiences in the ministry have marked the purpose God has in his life, shared Vázquez. “God had a purpose for me when I was called to the ministry. The reason for my existence was very clear when I was freed along with another pastor from being lynched,” he said. “God saved my life in 1999 when I was in Chiapas, where there was religious intolerance in a community, and that experience reaffirmed to me that I am a pastor to reach others.” Today, there are three Adventist churches in that community, he added.
Vázquez’s experience as a pastor has included witnessing an entire Pentecostal church convert to the Adventist faith, said Vázquez. “There are many evidences of my call to the ministry, and I am delighted to serve a living God.” Currently, Vázquez has recently led a series of evangelistic campaigns that saw more than 20 people join the church.
Refocusing on Mission in Pastoral Ministry
The pastors drew their own new personal declarations of their ministry and shared them with their groups, engaged in fellowship activities, and took part in a communion service at the end of the ministerial event.
The pastoral gathering was an integral part of drawing up strategic plans and initiatives that will take effect throughout the churches and their communities over the next several years, said Roblero. “We will be restudying what was discussed and suggested and create pilot plans to merge what we heard from our ministerial group and bring it together with the pastoral vision across the territory.”
There are more than 92,000 Seventh-day Adventists worshiping in 1,261 churches and congregations in 141 pastoral districts. The church operates seven local fields, a university, a hospital, and 14 primary and secondary schools.