Monday, March 12, 2018

The Samuels Among Us: Darci Utt

Darci Utt with daughter, Adah.

During March, I will be interviewing four persons who entered into vocational ministry under the age of 25 and remained in that same position for at least 5 years.   

My prayer is that their stories will encourage you who are hearing the faint whispers of the Holy Spirit. And if you are currently in the tough trenches of ministerial work, know that The Call will sustain you--no matter what! You got this because God's got this! 💪✌❤

I want to thank Kelly Lindsley for naming this month's blog series. He is the husband of my favorite teacher, Catherine Lindsley. He is an amazing contemporary Christain artist, and his lyrics are nearly sacramental. (Can I say that?😆)

Darci Utt has the swagger of a quarterback at a pep rally and everyone, in her mind, is a valuable part of the team. Over the last six years, she has served in #KidMin, #YouthMin, and #CampMin. She is a dynamic force who leads fiercely while intentionally nurturing those in her care. I learned much from her wisdom below, and I hope you do too, friend.

As one who entered into a full-time ministerial career at a young age, is there something about this profession that makes it weird? If not weird, what makes this type of work unique when compared to other professions? 

It is often hard to describe what we do all day. People automatically assume that if you work at the church you are either a pastor who preaches or the secretary. Many other denominations categorize all of their ministry staff as pastors. So to tell someone you are in ministry they assume automatically that means you preach and visit people in the hospital. Youth ministry is a different job altogether and people often can’t believe we get paid full time to do what we do.

I find youth ministry to be unique in that we don’t have students all of the time. Teachers teach all week and have very little time to plan. Youth ministry is almost the opposite, it is a lot of office hours and a few hours of programming and then the rest is spent out in the community supporting our students and connecting with them where they are. Teachers don’t get to do all of that, and yet we are paid often salaries that are comparable to a teacher salary.

What is one common misconception of those who serve in full-time ministry settings that you would like to correct? 

We really are busy all year. There are weeks that might be calmer than others, but our calendars are full. We often work way more than a 40 hour week. And just because we enjoy it doesn’t mean it isn’t work. I often felt like I had to justify to people that I really was working and my job mattered as much as other people’s jobs that people understand.

What was it about this ministerial “gig” that made you feel called to it? What parts were most in line with your gifts/talents? 

As a student, I fell in love with the Bible. Nothing, in school, made me more excited than learning about the Bible and sharing that excitement with others. I didn’t know until college that there were full-time paid ministry positions other than the pastor, so for a long time I knew I was called to ministry but didn’t know it could be my vocation. I knew I wanted to spend my life sharing the Bible with other people. After a season in camping ministry, I knew I wanted to work with youth on a regular basis, I wanted to keep ministering to my campers after they went home at the end of the week, so I went into church youth ministry to be able to work with the same students on a long-term basis.

I loved to teach the Bible, it was my favorite part of the job!

By your 5th year, what percent of your job involved these pieces that brought you there in the first place? 

By my 5th year in Hesston, I was working with an incredible group of High School students who were incredibly in tune to their call to ministry. Over my 5 years there, cultivating a call to ministry in my students was a part of my calling that I didn’t know before I started. Our youth group time was spent deeply diving into scripture and answering the tough real-world questions they were asking on a weekly basis. This was exactly why I got into ministry and working with them each week was an incredible blessing.

During your first year on the job, who was your mentor? What made him/her a good mentor?

During my first year of ministry, I didn’t really have a mentor so I went seeking other’s who do the same job. There is a group of United Methodist youth directors that meet monthly for worship, communion, and support. This group became my lifeline and the place I ran to for support. It is always a blessing to meet with this group and just love on each other!

What did your day of Sabbath (rest) look like during the first year? What does it look like now? 

I didn’t have one. I didn’t know what that meant and after the first nine months I was incredibly exhausted and didn’t realize it. I went to Perkins School of Youth Ministry in January and took a class on Self Care, taught by Ben Wheeler. His view on Sabbath changed my life. He said that he schedules it as a meeting in his calendar so no one can argue that he has free day. And then he spends that day only doing things that fuel him. I adopted that idea when I got back home and kept a weekly Sabbath from that point on.

Did you ever have a moment when you wanted to “throw in the towel” (quit)? Sharing as much as you feel comfortable--what all occurred? 

Weekly! Ministry is an all in kind of job. It isn’t a job that you work 9-5 and go home and be with your family and don’t think about again. Students have real lives that they want your help navigating. There are times when their issues are so large that it is easy to get lost in them and wonder if you and they will ever survive. Other times the church politics makes ministry difficult and you just want to leave and go somewhere where you can be done at the end of the day. And sometimes your students just want to play dodgeball and want nothing to do with your lesson and this can be disheartening if it happens on a regular basis, and you wonder, “why am I here, and am I even making a difference.”

What changed your mind and kept you in the game/ in line with your vocational calling? 

In order to be in ministry for the long game, you have to really discern what it is God has called you to do, learn to separate your family time from your ministry time, even when ministry is your life, and your life is ministry, there still has to be some separation.

Over time I learned that church politics and students not caring were way harder for me to get over than the crazy chaos that students lives would bring to my door. At the end of a day when I wanted to leave, I would sit myself down and spend time in prayer. Usually, during that prayer time, God would bring back to me the names and faces of the students I was called to be in ministry with, and that would fuel my flame again, and I would march on.

What lesson(s) did you learn from the experience of question 7? 

I think one of the biggest lessons I learned was not to feel guilty about receiving a paycheck. I worked at a church that was struggling financially and I would find myself feeling guilty for getting paid. Paul addresses in his letters in the Bible, the need to pay the people who lead the church. I took comfort in these scriptures, and then made sure I was doing everything I was called to do, and earning that paycheck.

I learned a lot of tools for dealing with the real world issues that students face, from running away, boyfriends/girlfriends, to self-harm. I spent time working with these issues a lot and learned how to navigate them.

I also learned how to discern when God is calling you to leave. This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. I was completely in love with Hesston UMC and when God called me to leave I was heartbroken. I drug my feet on this one, I did NOT want to go. And God finally pulled me away at what felt like the worst time possible. I left behind a senior class in their last semester. A senior class called to ministry, that gave life and fueled my calling in so many ways, and yet God said it was time to go.

The hardest part of this shift was it didn’t include a job for my husband. I moved my family 45 minutes away, to a church filled with students who just wanted to play dodgeball. My husband didn’t have a job for the first two months we were there, and then it was only part-time for a few months after that. We spent a year struggling financially and I struggled with these amazing students who loved God differently than the ones I left behind.

I definitely struggled feeling like I was making a difference. But what I gained was a strength in my marriage that can fight through the desert times, friendships that were deep and life-changing, and the realization that my calling had actually changed from full-time youth ministry to camping ministry.

For those youngsters out there who are feeling a Divine Nudge to enter into full-time ministry, what advice would you offer them? 

Honor your Sabbath and find a support system!

Wish to know more about Darci's ministry at Camp Horizon

Have you also thrived the trenches of full-time ministry and wish to encourage others with your story? What are you waiting for--email me! 😊