I remember sitting in a classroom in Bible College and watching a professor, write the letters, J – O – Y on the board. He said something like, “this acrostic is how you do ministry.” The letters stood for Jesus – Others – Yourself. I wrote it down and thought “that’s how I’m going to do ministry.” Three years later, I found myself serving as a senior pastor of a small church in western Pennsylvania (yes, I used the senior pastorate as a steppingstone into youth ministry) and I did my best to live out the JOY ministry model.

A few years later, on a flight to Atlanta, I remember the flight attendant going through the safety instructions. There was something about, exit doors and a flotation device if we have a watery crash, but the one instruction that stood out was about the air mask. I remember her telling us that if the plane loses cabin pressure, masks will fall from the ceiling. If you’ve been on the plane, you’ve heard the same speech and you know what you’re supposed to do – put your mask on before attempting to help someone else. I remember sitting there and thinking that goes against the JOY model.

I wish I could tell you that I got off the plane with a renewed outlook on ministry. I wish I could tell you that was the day I made taking care of my soul a higher priority. But I didn’t.

Learn To Cheat

It wasn’t until a few years later at a Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention, that I heard Andy Stanley speak on “Choosing To Cheat“. He said something like, ‘If you’re a youth pastor, chances are your church had a youth pastor before you got there, and I can almost guarantee they’ll find another youth pastor when you’re gone.’ He continued, “but your spouse only gets one of you, your kids only get one of you.” We all know there is always going to be more ministry to do, so you’re always going to cheat someone – you’ll either cheat your church, your family, or yourself.

That was a true ah-ha moment for me. His words made a significant impact on me, on my family and on my ministry. I would do my job well, but my family and myself would come before the ministry. It marked the beginning of my journey to healthier ministry, but I knew it was not a journey to go on alone.

Find A Guide

The path of healthy ministry has two very dangerous sides – narcissism and burn out. Veer too far to the left and you can easily become selfish and arrogant. Veer too far to the right and you can overwork yourself right out of a ministry or even worse out of your family. Over the years, I have found the best solution for staying on the path have been the guides who are ahead of me on the journey. Those who could speak into my life when they see me start to veer off the path. Those who can spot warning signs and lovingly point out my blind spots.

Be A Guide

Finally, let me encourage you to find a guide and to be a guide for others. It doesn’t mean you have all the answers, or even the most advice to give. But be willing to humbly share your wisdom, experiences and your mistakes with others.

My Final Thought

After 26 years in full-time ministry, I now get to be a full-time guide. It is an incredible privilege to be invited to help the navigate church hurt, burnout and more.

As I look back to that day that Bible College classroom. I don’t believe my professor was trying to set us up to fail, or hurt us in anyway. I truly believe his intentions were pure, but maybe a philosophy of ministry shouldn’t be reduced to an acrostic. So love God, love others, but make sure you also take care of yourself, because if you’re healthy, you can lead a healthy ministry.

Todd is an author who contributed to our January Gold Member’s Perk package! His resource, One Must Go: Event Bundle got delivered FREE to all our Gold Members! Want to get free stuff? Become a Gold Member today!

This One Must Go bundle includes a version for your Winter Retreat, Summer Camp, and Fall Retreat!! The game is best played on the last day of camp and there is a bonus devotional that challenges students to think about the fact that they must go home and fulfill their God-given mission.

Check out the resource here!