A year ago, I went to a graduation party for one of our high school seniors and I parked my wife’s car on the dirt road that was in front of this student’s house. Well, my wife and daughter got out of the car and walked in but I was convinced I could get a little farther off of the road onto the grass and that’s when it all fell apart.

I nudged the car slightly closer to the side of the road and disregarded that we had received significant rain earlier. That fact was something I became that much more aware of when my wife’s car slid into a big ditch filled with mud. And that’s when things got interesting.

I drove the car back and forth as quickly as possible as if I was trying to rock it out of being stuck in a snow drift, but that didn’t work and in fact, all it did was bury her car farther into this big old rut that I made.

Then the dad of the house came out and he guessed that I needed a tow truck to pull me out, but before that came to fruition, one of our elders came to congratulate the same student in his suburban, and fortunately he had one of those Teflon cables and he pulled me out.

Now picture me stuck in the big old mud-filled ditch unable to get out. Not a pretty sight – right?

Now, here is the thing, in ministry we can do the same exact thing. We can get ourselves stuck into deep ruts. And sometimes these pits that we dig for ourselves wind up being pits that drive us to end vocational ministry, to scale back our ministry or to have our attitudes about mission and ministry changed.

That’s what I want to write about in this post. And I think the topic lends itself in a few directions. So, consider this as two posts based on the following two ideas.

And as a side note, I think that not only do the suggestions given lend themselves to keeping us from burning out, they also foster longevity in ministry.

The FIRST half is on Preventing the Ruts

The SECOND half is on Getting out of the Ruts


So, here is to the preventing the ruts angle –

(These are in no particular order but are given as they came to me and as I read about the subject)

  1. Cherish your calling, while avoiding the temptation to compare it to others’
  2. As you age, consider how your gifts and calling are aging and maturing and evolving into new aspects and areas.
  3. Learn to adapt to new roles
  4. Capitalize on your strengths
  5. Admit and recognize your limits
  6. Endure and trust the plans that God has for you
  7. View your ministry in terms of being a missionary
  8. Recognize the fruits of longevity
    1. Added trust
    2. Added appearance from peers who will see you as a veteran and who can

      come to you

    3. Parental respect may grow
  9. Don’t believe the lie that youth workers HAVE to be, young, athletic and play the guitar
  10. Be who God has wired you to be
  11. Develop peers in ministry and seek out those who are older
  12. If you aren’t the pastor, deepen your friendship with him
  13. Seek out to work with the boards in your church
  14. Develop ministry schedules with your spouse’s blessing
  15. Practice getting rest
  16. Recognize that the task of equipping others for ministry is as significant as direct ministry to students
  17. Prayer and getting into God’s word is huge
  18. Being in the details is great but at the same time, be looking at the big picture which often lends itself to hopeful things
  19. Act your own age/don’t pretend to be young to be hip
  20. Desire a discerning heart

21. Rest in God’s strength, gifts, and grace

And here is to the angle of getting out of the ruts and pits

  1. If you haven’t, start to guard your family and spend more time with your own kids then ever before
  2. Be willing to admit as needed
  3. Endure and trust the plans that God has for you, because what might seem to be a tough season of ministry might have great fruit on the next page of the story
  4. Seek out those who can mentor you back into a healthy place
  5. Be intentional and honest with those who wish to bless you – your pastor, boards, elders and synodical helps like our regional pastors
  6. Seek out to work with the boards in your church
  7. Collaborate with your spouse on ministry goals
  8. Get rest – YM author/speaker Mike Yackonelli (deceased) used to tell youth workers who traveled from far away to attend the youth workers conventions he organized that if they came tired and beat to skip the session and sleep in and get rest.
  9. Seek God’s heart in His word and in prayer and ask others to pray for you
  10. Be reminded that one bad season of ministry might have around the corner a tremendous and enjoyable season of ministry
  11. Remember that you are not Jesus and that you need Him as much as the students that you care for need Him

I’ve seen friends in ministry get so deep into the rut or the mud or whatever you want to call it that they simply didn’t get out. Or at least if they got out of the muck, they certainly didn’t get back into vocational ministry.

My prayer for my friends in ministry is that this post might offer something that stirs their heart and reminds them of the plans that God has for them.

And I’ll say one last thing….these are mere suggestions that I believe can foster a healthier way to participate in the plans that God has for us. These things on their own outside of God’s grace are empty efforts of business.

And if I can say one last thing, if you ever find yourself in need of someone to talk to…I named folks in your own churches, people our national church family has given to us and I’ll name that I too would welcome the chance to talk and pray for you as well so please feel free to take me up on that.

As a follow up to this, my heart is to ask some veteran youth workers to participate in a panel discussion via a conference call on what they have learned and experienced in life and ministry over the years. If you are a veteran of at least 10 years of youth ministry, I’m hoping that you would reach out to me and let me know of your willingness to be a part of that panel as it is announced.



Rev. Mark Johannesen is pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Brethren Church in LeSueur, Minnesota.

Veteran Youth Workers - Lessons Learned
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