!Please Note!

You are using an outdated browser that may impact your experience on FCA.org.
Please upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer here or download another browser like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.
Once you upgrade, this notice will no longer appear.

Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Published on September 01, 2021

Danielle Ripley-Burgess
This article appears in the Fall 2021 issue of the FCA Donor Publication. The FCA publication is a gift from our FCA staff to all donors giving $50 or more annually. For more information about giving, visit here.

Ask anyone who has spent time with Darlene Johnson, FCA’s Board Chair, and you’ll quickly find she’s as encouraging as she is inspirational.

When she stepped into her position January 1, 2020, she found herself navigating some of the hardest conversations the ministry had ever faced.

If serving as the first African American woman to lead the 65-year organization as Board Chair wasn’t heavy enough, a global pandemic disrupting how FCA had always done ministry added even more pressure. However, Johnson clung to a phrase the Holy Spirit gave her in 2011 before her husband took a different coaching position in the NFL, leading them away from their beloved community: Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

“I honestly believe that when you are serving the Lord in whatever he has called you to do, you have to check yourself and make sure you're not relying on self,” Johnson said. “You must leave yourself completely open to the work of the Holy Spirit. It's good to feel a little uncomfortable.”

Leading a global sports ministry through the past year could be described as anything but comfortable, but Johnson can see that just like during her difficult relocation, the Lord uniquely, divinely, met her. The year before she stepped in as Chair, she was supporting her team chaplain’s wife at a Bible study and serving as a mentor. She sensed their study—the armor of God from Ephesians 6—was training material.

OJWXRqJE - pixlr“I was thinking, ‘Lord, you're spiritually preparing me for this role,’” she recalled. “Anytime we are doing the Lord's work, the enemy will do his very best to thwart our efforts, and he will use any means necessary. I knew there would be spiritual attacks of the enemy as I was stepping into the Chair role.”

Looking back over her first year as Chair, she can see the enemy’s attempts, but she points to the Word of God as the source preparing her, keeping her mind centered on Christ, and supplying her with wisdom and discernment to lead.

Anchored in Truth
Disciples making disciples is how Johnson, at 12 years old, came to know the Lord. Her teenage cousin was eager to share her faith and invited Johnson and her brother to walk through Scripture at the dining room table. Hearing God’s story “quickened my heart,” Johnson said, and she made a decision to follow Jesus all her life.

While working for her alma mater, Rutgers University, she met coach Craig Johnson and
the two hit it off. They married in 1988 and committed to raising a family of “God-fearing little people who’d grow up to be Jesus-loving adults.”

As a coaches’ family, the Johnsons faced many moves, but the Word of God kept her anchored. She discovered Bible Study Fellowship (BSF), an international, interdenominational ministry leading men and women into deep-dive studies of the Bible, in the late 1990s. God used BSF to feed her deep spiritual hunger and reveal her leadership and teaching gifts.

Connecting to FCA
“It wasn’t common in the early years for wives to accompany their husbands to the conventions, but it was important to my husband and me that I go,” Darlene explained while painting the picture of how she and FCA first crossed paths.
In 1989, a group of women created the American Football Coaches' Wives Association (AFCWA) and several years later while at a convention, the Johnsons met Les and Chris Steckel; Les was serving as FCA President at the time.

“We got to know Darlene and we were so impressed,” said Steckel. “We heard she was leading wives at the convention and we saw something special in her. Darlene and Craig have an incredibly strong marriage. She is first-class and such a joy to be around.”

Looking for more female representation, Steckel asked Johnson to consider joining the FCA board in 2007. She initially sensed the Lord say no; however, when Steckel asked again in 2014, Johnson sensed the Lord say yes—it was time. She became a full trustee in January 2015.

Leading FCA
“When I look over my early life, I was always the kid that stuck up and stood up for other people, the one who spoke out and spoke into certain situations,” said Johnson.

As a trustee, she prayerfully discerned and stewarded what God had for FCA. Since becoming Chair, she’s taken on even more responsibilities and feels her leadership has been refined.

“There are some hard decisions that have to be made and you don't know what that's like until you're in that role and they come,” she said. “I came in spiritually prepared, and I’ve just trusted the Lord to guide me and to use me as He sees fit.”

God’s preparation in her life, and His providential appointment for her to lead FCA in this season, has been evident to those serving alongside her.

“One would be hard pressed to find a season in which an FCA Trustee Chair has had to lead through more challenging and unprecedented“Darlene Johnson led her two years as Chair with incredible spirit-led wisdom, humility and determination...FCA is different and better today due to her service." 
-Shane Williamson, FCA President/CEO
times,” said FCA President/CEO Shane Williamson. “Darlene Johnson has led her two years as Chair with incredible spirit-led wisdom, humility and determination. She has involved herself deeply in nearly every aspect of this ministry and FCA is different and better today due to her service. She is a prayer warrior and has been an amazing teammate to walk beside in this Kingdom work.”

In addition to overseeing and onboarding trustees and discerning who the Lord is calling to serve FCA, she provides financial oversight.

“I can’t stress enough how important financial support is to our staff,” she said.

What does she hope all donors understand?

“I sense an urgency to be intentional with our time, treasures and talents,” she said, while adding, “There's not a penny wasted, and everything that is given to FCA is used wisely to support the ministry and those who are doing the work in the field.”

The Johnsons are personally committed and excited to support those in the field and say their giving philosophy can be summed up by 2 Corinthians 8:7: “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving,” (2 Corinthians 8:7, NIV).

FCA Board Chairs serve a term of two years. As Johnson considers what’s ahead for FCA during her final year and beyond, she’s excited about the ministry’s global growth and disciple-making possibilities.

“Our global impact is centered on discipleship,” she said. “It's got to start there—we have to raise up Bible-literate men and women. When we do that, the impact we can have in the world of sports ministry and beyond is going to be profound.”

Photos courtesy of Darlene Johnson