“Don’t say yes to something just because you can…”

Josh Utley (Alumni), Pastoral Leadership

10 min readAug 15, 2019

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with Gabriella De Jesus

OSL Pastoral Leadership alumnus, Josh Utley, sat down with me and shared who he was before entering OSL and how OSL affected the man he is after graduation.

Can you tell me about your life growing up?

I have always been in church. My dad was a pastor growing up and even still today. I have seen a lot of different ways that the church can be done. My grandparents were in a very traditionalist kind of church, where a lot of things are pretty black and white.

I’ve seen a lot of pain from leadership and I’ve seen a lot of healing from leadership.

My dad started a church in 2007 that he still pastors. I helped out a lot with the church plant. I was able to be there and be a jack of all trades, as most pastors’ kids are. I learned everything from website development to worship to working with kids to helping out in youth ministry. I had a good handle on the inner workings of the church. I helped out a lot, but I wasn’t really fully committed. There were also struggles that all pastors’ kids go through. There was a pressure of not knowing what the balance between family and ministry was. We were the family that was sacrificed on the altar of ministry. I felt like a lot of what I did was because it was what my dad did. It was the fight of what I felt I had to do versus what I wanted to do. I had to learn the difference between doing things for God and doing things with God.

Do you have any major impactful moments that affected your life at that time?

There was one time at the end of my junior year of high school. We had this teacher sponsor who offered up her classroom for our bible study. She took a lot of issue with me leading things because she thought someone else should lead. She compared me to others and we did not have the best relationship. It led to me ultimately explaining to her that the other bible study leaders and I had agreed upon going in a different direction with teacher sponsors. She was not happy with that and just let me have it. She told me that I didn’t know what humility was and continued to tell me about all the things I didn’t know. That was impactful because I was able to learn how to take harsh criticism or criticism that is not really justified. Although it was hurtful, it was really insightful to know that in leadership you will have people that don’t like you, just because you don’t fit the standard of what they think you should be. It helped me learn the difference between what leadership should and shouldn’t be at the same time.

Can you tell me about any individuals in that season of your life that mentored you? How did they help you?

There were three people that I identify as my mentors. The first is my dad because when I first started to really help out in the church he gave me a lot of responsibility. He was able to walk with me through what I was doing as well as equip me with what I needed. The second would be my youth pastor. He was like a second dad to me. His home was my second home. He and his wife didn’t have any kids when I was in the youth group, so I became like their son. He walked with me through a lot of things that I felt I couldn’t share with my own dad. He gave me a lot of freedom and the ability to learn everything about being a disciple of Christ. The third was the second teacher sponsor we had during my senior year of high school. I became his student assistant that year and was given the ability to walk with him and learn under him. He just poured into me as a leader, encouraged me to learn more about the Bible, and helped kindle the fire of knowledge within me. If there was anyone to help me heal from the hurt of the initial teacher sponsor, it was him because he was always there.

How did you come to Christ?

I gave my life to Christ when I was young, but it never stuck. It wasn’t until high school that I really gave my life to Christ. I viewed myself as a whitewashed tomb. Everything looked great on the outside. It wasn’t until the summer after my sophomore year of high school that I really gave my life to Christ. It was a radical transformation for me. On a Monday night at youth camp, God basically told me that I could either choose to serve Him completely or not at all. I told Him I was all in and that He could do whatever He wanted with me. That night I really got saved and was baptized in the Holy Spirit. God did a huge work in me that whole week.

Was there a specific moment that you can remember where you realized the call God has on your life?

Being called into ministry for me wasn’t like what other people in my life had experienced. On the last night of camp, the speaker came up to me after service. He pulled me aside to talk with me and proceeded to speak the word “pastor” over me. From that point on, I started to work in that thinking. That fall of my junior year, I did whatever I could to be in leadership. I took over leadership of a bible study at my school and was able to do a lot with that. Even at church, I was all in.

Can you tell me about any struggles you had regarding your calling?

I think the biggest struggle for me was trying to understand people’s expectations. At the time, I wasn’t the only leader around. I may have been in charge of those in our bible study, but I was also leading other leaders as well. It was finding the balance between their expectations and where God was leading us. I was met with pushback because of differentiating perspectives and I had to learn that my viewpoint isn’t the only viewpoint.

How did your story bring you to OSL?

During my senior year, I had been looking at a few different colleges for ministry. My brother had gone to SAGU for a few years leading up until then. One day, he texted me to tell me about this program called OSL. I thought it was awesome and asked for more information. That’s how I heard about everything. Then the moment I read about the program, I just knew I had to be a part of it.

What internships were you a part of? How did you choose those internships?

In my first year, I interned with the Connections internship. I helped a lot with baptisms. Honestly, I got into that internship because all the friends I had in OSL had also chosen that internship. My mentality was that I wasn’t sure where to go so I might as well join my friends. At the end of my first year, we were picking through the internships we would want to be a part of. Again, I picked the same department my friends were going to. After we had picked, I got a call from Kolby Kissinger. He asked me if I would be interested in transitioning into the Pastoral Leadership Internship. He told me what it all would entail and I ended up saying yes. I was a part of Pastoral Leadership for the rest of the time I was in the program.

Were there any difficulties you went through while in OSL?

My senior year was probably one of the worst years of my life. I had stretched myself way too thin. I was trying to pull 20–30 hours interning, as well as going to class. I had said yes to too many things that I should not have agreed to. I wasn’t on a good path when that year started. In the spring before, I had agreed to be the Regents RA at SAGU. Although the scholarship was good, and it didn’t interfere with my schedule much, in reality, I had already said yes to too many things. It really drove me into a severe depression that I didn’t know I was getting myself into. I didn’t know what was happening. For about two months, I felt really tumultuous inside and I didn’t know why. One day I was in a meeting and it just clicked within me:

I hate myself.

The second I thought that I was confused but not surprised. Then I just got deeper and deeper into that self-hatred. Even being in Pastoral Leadership, I knew what I was going through and I even knew how to get out of it, but I didn’t want to. I just kept letting myself do what I was doing and it continued to get worse. Around late November-early December, I started dealing with dangerous thoughts but I kept it to myself. It was a weird and awful time. It was all because I didn’t have my identity set in Christ. I didn’t have that grasp that Jesus loves me and He died for me. He is the Prince of Peace.

How did you get through this dark time in your life?

It wasn’t until that March that I started to reach out for help. I began to go to the free counseling center offered at SAGU. There is such a bad stigma around counseling in our society. At the Oaks, and in OSL, we don’t follow that stigma. Counseling is actually encouraged. In fact, many people on staff take time to go through counseling. It took a while to get that healing process. Honestly, it wasn’t until this past July that the healing really solidified and I was ready to come out of that season. But counseling is amazing and now I am able to help people that are going through that season that I was once in.

Down the line, during your time in OSL, where did you see yourself after graduation?

I had always thought I would have jumped into full-time ministry right after I graduated.

Going off the last question, what have you been up to since graduating from OSL?

I have worked at a few different places. I have stayed at the church in Pastoral Leadership and Facilities. I have also worked at a local coffee shop, White Rhino, for about a year to make some extra income. I just left in March, and now I’m actually moving to Indiana. I will be working up there, as well as helping out Radiant Life Church in leadership development. Even though I’m not in full-time ministry, God lines everything up just as it needs to. My thinking was that I would be in full-time ministry after graduation but that wasn’t the case. Of course, that is my calling, but it’s not where God has me right now. I think that the greatest thing that I have come to learn is that it’s okay to be patient with where God wants you to be.

Was the experience what you had imagined it to be? Did it meet your expectations?

In some ways, it exceeded my expectations. In other ways, I didn’t know what expectations to have. In community and being poured into, it exceeded my expectations greatly. We had meetings every week and I was able to be poured into by so many great speakers. I was able to learn so much from them. In my later years in the program, I came to realize a lot of the program, in that time specifically, was catered to first and second years. Although upperclassmen were invited to many events, personally I had so much on my plate I wasn’t really able to participate. I wished there was more for people like me and because of that, it didn’t quite live up to those expectations. However, it wasn’t anything OSL did wrong. It was just how things had been in my personal life.

Lastly, do you have any advice for students currently going through OSL and those looking into it?

You can say yes to a lot of things. Don’t do it. Don’t say yes to something just because you can. Only do what God is asking you to do. Only go where He is leading you to go. Only say what He is asking you to say. It is something Pastor Scott, and those in leadership, encourage us to do all the time. If you say yes to something outside of God’s calling, you will ultimately say no to something inside his calling. Another thing is to let yourself fail well. For me, the greatest teacher has been the ability to fail and fail well. I don’t mean to fail intentionally but having grace available for myself that even when I fail, everything will still be okay.

The Oaks School of Leadership (OSL) at Oaks Church was founded in 2009 and since then more than 600 students have gone through OSL. Many serve in high-caliber leadership positions throughout our nation and around the world. OSL exists to position students for effective leadership in a variety of capacities, including ministry, non-profit and business leadership, by providing students with hands-on leadership training combined with a degree from an accredited university.

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The mission of the Oaks College is to develop Spirit-led leaders to transform communities for the Kingdom of God.