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There I was, sitting on the lawn tractor, stuck in the mud—again. This time it was due to my own foolishness. We’ve had a very wet spring, and there are parts of the church lawn that I know are too wet for the tractor. But I thought I could make one more pass before I hit the really wet ground. I was arrogant. I was foolish. I took a needless risk. And now I was stuck.

A few weeks earlier, the same thing had happened in a different part of the yard. That time I had been careful, not even going close to the areas I knew to be soft and soggy. I stayed away from the low spots when, much to my surprise, on a higher part of the ground I suddenly found my wheels spinning and the tractor helplessly buried in the mud. 

The first time I relied on several old farm tricks I had learned in my youth to get myself unstuck. None of them worked. I had to go home, get a log chain, hook it up to the car and the tractor, and humble myself to ask the pastor to pull me out. The second time I went straight to a neighbor who was outside, watching and laughing, and asked for help. He drove, I pushed, and we got unstuck.

I’ve thought a lot about this since it happened, aware that there are parallels to ministry. The truth is, mud happens. In life, in ministry, in churches, and in denominations, mud happens. Sometimes we see it coming and could avoid it, but our pride deludes us into thinking we can conquer it. Other times we are genuinely caught by surprise, and feel bewildered to be in the mud when we thought we had carefully steered clear. Either way, we’re in the mud.

Second, we don’t usually get out on our own. We can try to do so, but we will likely just dig ourselves in deeper and be even more humbled by the process. We’re going to need help to get unstuck and the sooner we admit this, the better off we will be.

Third, mud splatters. I got muddy. The guys helping me get out got muddy, the lawn tractor got muddy, and the lawn itself had mud all over. Mud is not easily contained. The harder we try to get out, the more the wheels spin and the mud flies everywhere. So it is with ministry. The messes we make, or find ourselves in unexpectedly, usually have plenty of collateral damage. Bystanders get caught in the flying mud, and there is lots of cleanup to do. 

Fourth, a good sense of humor helps. This is not life-threatening. Lessons can be learned. Clothes can be washed, the tractor can be hosed down and the next rain will drive the splattered mud back into the ground. Our ministry messes that seem so catastrophic in the moment do not bring down the kingdom of God.

Best of all, God continues to offer to do for us what he did for David in Psalm 40:2: He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. We may find ourselves stuck in the mud, but we don’t have to stay there!

Don Poest

Don Poest is a retired minister in the Reformed Church in America. He spent 38 years as pastor of Brunswick Reformed Church in Brunswick, Ohio, where he still lives with his wife Cathy. The Poests have two sons in pastoral ministry and three grandchildren nearby. A favorite activity is taking the grandkids for ice cream.