Deep Roots

by | Jun 25, 2021 | Uncategorized

Wilshire and Darren DeMent celebrate 25 years of ministry, mentoring and music

On Sunday, June 27, Wilshire will celebrate Associate Pastor Darren DeMent’s 25th anniversary on the church staff. Both worship services will include a time of recognition for Darren, and after each service the DeMent family will greet congregants in James Gallery.

Darren started at Wilshire in 1996 as a student ministry intern and became full-time minister to students three years later. He was named one of three associate pastors, with Heather Mustain and Doug Haney, in 2020.

Senior Pastor George Mason says, “It’s rare, rare that a student minister remains a student minister in one church for 25 years. But Darren is a rare treasure. He has raised up a generation of youth who have been nourished on solid spiritual food.”

Darren first came to Wilshire through John Brashier, Wilshire’s minister to students from 1993 to 1998. Brashier’s previous job was as youth minister at Florida Boulevard Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Darren was one of his students. Soon after Brashier came to Dallas, he started bringing in Darren, by then a student at Louisiana State University, to work with the Wilshire youth group. 

“I was 20 when I first heard of Wilshire,” Darren says. “It was 1994 when I first went to [Wilshire] youth camp.” That year, Darren and two Baton Rouge friends were chaperones for the seventh grade boys cabin. “We did a terrible job,” he says. Darren was a camp chaperone again in 1995 and also led a Disciple Now weekend at Wilshire around the same time.

Darren originally planned to attend medical school, but felt a call to ministry and ultimately decided to pursue a seminary education. He chose Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary largely because of its proximity to Dallas, Brashier and Wilshire. By the summer of 1996, Darren was living in Dallas, commuting to Fort Worth for school and working as a Wilshire intern.

When Brashier left Wilshire in 1998, Darren was named interim student minister. After finishing seminary in 1999, he was officially named minister to students. His role expanded over the years to include college and young adult ministry, and as associate pastor his portfolio now includes education and spiritual formation for all ages. 

“I’m supremely grateful for the opportunity to have been in one place for this long,” Darren says. “It’s not unusual for Wilshire to have long-tenured staff, and I think maybe it doesn’t seem weird to us because we’re used to it. But it’s weird.

“I was never able to identify any good reason go anywhere else because I was able to do what I wanted to do here. There’s always a group graduating, there’s always a group coming in. So it’s never the same thing year to year.”

Darren says he enjoys being part of kids’ lives during the crucial adolescent years: “The amount of change that goes on between entering as a seventh grader and coming out the other end as a senior … a lot of development happens. It’s a privilege to be involved in that process to help them figure out who it is they’re going to be as an adult.”

Wilshire members Judy and Charles Yarbrough had multiple kids who were part of the youth group under Darren. Judy says of Darren, “He’ll say to the kids, ‘you’re old enough, you need to be going deeper in your spiritual life.’” Charles adds that Darren “has a depth of spirituality that most youth ministers don’t have.”

One testament to the culture of continuity Darren has built is the number of former youth group kids who return as adults to serve as volunteers and teachers in student ministry. “The last time we did camp,” Darren says, “I think all but two or three of the chaperones were people who had been to youth camp before as campers, which I think helps the overall continuity of the ministry.”

Mary Lu Hare is one adult leader who went through the program as a teen. She says “Darren has created a safe space to exist fully as you are. I get to reaffirm to kids that ‘You were created in God’s image. You are right, exactly how you are.’ Darren has been instrumental in creating that message and allowing students an opportunity to exist in a way that is truly authentic.”

In keeping with Wilshire’s identity as a teaching congregation and his own history as an intern, Darren has employed interns throughout his tenure — every summer and often during the school year. “I’ve always enjoyed the mentoring aspect,” Darren says. “It’s real ‘circle of life’ kind of stuff.” Several student ministry interns have have gone on to become Wilshire pastoral residents, including Anne Jernberg-Scalfaro, Garrett Vickrey, Scott Dickison, Kevin Gardner-Sinclair, Jared Jaggers and Leigh Curl.

George Mason says, “We have lost count of how many youth who grew up under Darren’s spiritual care have gone into church work or the work of the church. It’s not too much to say that Darren’s leadership has strengthened our church generationally.”

To many at Wilshire, Darren may be known as much for his music as anything else. Whether performing solo on guitar or mandolin or with frequent collaborators like Molly Shepard, Amanda Mintz and Michael Prysock, Darren’s brand of Americana or roots music has expanded the sonic palette of Wilshire’s worship and was highlighted on the Wilshire Roots album released last year.

Judy Yarbrough says, “Darren’s music has been a gift to Wilshire,” Mary Lu Hare notes that music is intrinsic to Darren’s work with the youth: “The way he ties music in to spirituality and faith is really cool. He uses secular music just as much as he uses hymns … that’s really impactful for students.”

Reflecting on his long tenure, Darren says, “George has always talked about, do you need to go be a minister at a different church, or a different minister at the church where you already are? I always held out hope that I could expand my role at Wilshire, and I got lucky enough that’s what actually happened.” 

George says, “Now that Darren has stepped up to an associate pastor role, we have seen his calm and quiet leadership blossom for the church as a whole.”

Darren’s mentor and predecessor John Brashier says, “He’s made a difference in a lot of people’s lives, and as ministers that’s what we’re called to do.”