Pastors grow, share in weekly Zoom discussion

By Johanna Willett, Photos by Nancy Patton | Jul 13, 2022

Using Zoom, Keith Durham, Arizona Southern Baptist Mission Network church health facilitator, meets with pastors in a Practical Shepherding cohort.

Every week, seven or eight pastors from around Arizona log onto Zoom for an hour-long discussion about all things pastoral ministry.

They talk about church operations, family life, physical rest and many other topics pertinent to the life of a pastor. This is the Practical Shepherding cohort, a yearlong commitment to meet weekly to discuss common readings and videos from Brian Croft’s Practical Shepherding resources.

“The purpose is to get a group of pastors together, ask them to read books on topics of pastoral ministry and to create some peer-to-peer learning,” said Keith Durham, Arizona Southern Baptist Mission Network church health facilitator.

So far, this first cohort is more than halfway through the year, and the pastors involved have found it helpful.

Jason Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Show Low for about a year and a half, joined the cohort for the opportunity to learn from other pastors.

“Before coming to this church, I had only conducted two [memorial services],” Stanley said. “I was kind of thrown right in. The cohort helped me understand how to prepare and to minister to the family through those difficult times.”

Pastor Aaron Petre of Enchanted Hills Baptist Church in Tucson said the cohort and accompanying materials reminded him of what the job of pastor entails — a reminder often needed amid the busyness of day-to-day ministry. It’s also a resource he plans to use to train others.

“Right away, I was excited to go through this so I could take what I learned and teach my new elders, to impart wisdom to them,” said Petre, who was able to participate in the cohort through a scholarship funded by the Cooperative Program.

Even for pastors who have gone through seminary, the cohort is a helpful tool, Durham said.

“We talk about practical things that you don’t necessarily talk about in seminary,” Stanley said, “such as what does a visit to the sick look like, what does it look like to plan a funeral or memorial service, what does a pastor and his family look like. It’s a wide variety of topics, but all very helpful.”

Petre said the wisdom shared during the weekly Zoom calls often adds more value to the week’s reading materials, as each pastor shares how he processed the topic or how his church approaches it.

“Just yesterday we were talking about church membership,” Petre said. “I heard so many times on that call, ‘I like how you said this. I like how you guys are doing that.’ We are learning from each other, for sure.”

And then there’s the personal encouragement that comes from connecting with others who understand the uniqueness of a pastor’s role.

“We get to spur each other on with encouragement, to say, ‘It’s worth it. It will get better. That was the right decision. You did the right thing,’” said Bryan Jerry, pastor of Light in the Desert Church in Mesa. Jerry has been part of this cohort since the beginning.

Hearing from others who understand both the joys and challenges of a pastoral calling helps these pastors continue to serve God in their churches and communities.

“I’ve been blessed by the program and the cohort,” Stanley said. “I would recommend it to any pastor, especially those who are just getting started.”

Next Steps

  • If you’re a pastor, contact Keith Durham about joining a future cohort, likely to start this fall. You may email him at kdurham@azsbc.org.
  • Check out Brian Croft’s Practical Shepherding resources at practicalshepherding.com.
  • Pray for the pastors who serve at your church and in your city.

Johanna Willett, a freelance writer living in Tucson, is a member of Mountain View Baptist Church, Tucson.
Nancy Patton, a freelance photographer living in Peoria, is a member of Mountain Ridge Baptist Church, Glendale.

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