Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Courtney Willis. Courtney IS what a minister looks like!

Courtney, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.  

I am so fortunate to have been raised in two churches who readily and regularly affirmed women in ministry both in word and in deed. I saw women in the pulpit, serving in the diaconate, and leading our congregation in a myriad of ways. I saw myself in those women. I learned about scripture and church and loving God’s people from the women and men of those congregations. I knew, as a child, that I too was called to vocational ministry. Both congregations my family was part of were filled with former missionaries, ordained pastors, and seminary professors who saw my calling, affirmed it, and encouraged me to seek out God’s intention for my life. 

In college I sought opportunities to work in the local church. I was hired to be a youth ministry intern at the church in my college town, but the pastors on that staff gave me far more experience than simply being a youth minister. I was taught about pastoral care. I made my first hospital visit. I preached my first sermon in a church that was not my “home church.” I was given wise counsel about what life in ministry looks like. I was given opportunities to be creative, to stretch myself and to take ownership of aspects of church ministry beyond the youth ministry to which I’d be hired.

During my seminary years, I served in another local church, and I spent a summer serving in a congregation in Kenya, East Africa. My time in Kenya offered me the opportunity to evaluate if God’s calling was to career missions or to church ministry. Preaching and teaching in a small Kenyan village gave me incredible clarity and certainty that I would return to the United States and serve in churches here. But it also gave me a new sense of cultural sensitivity, global understanding, and compassion for the world that has informed my ministry every day since.

After seminary, I served in two churches in associate pastor roles. In the first I was an associate on a small-staff church where I truly got a taste of all aspects of the church from children to senior adults, from finances to building maintenance. The second position found me back in full-time youth ministry in a multi-staff church where I learned a great deal about who I am and who I want to be as a minister.

I took a break from full-time church ministry for several years to be a stay-at-home mom (a calling in and of itself).  While staying home, I also worked for Passport, Inc. as a camp coordinator, special events contractor, and curriculum writer/editor. It was a joy and blessing to be able to be a full-time mom and have my hands in ministry at the same time.

Over the last three years, my work has evolved as I’ve joined the ministry team at First Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. I am now the associate pastor for spiritual formation, and find every day to be a delight and fulfillment of the calling God put in my heart decades ago. My job varies from day to day, but it is a blessing to be able to use my gifts of teaching, creativity, pastoral care and counseling on a regular basis.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry? 

My greatest sources of joy most often stem from helping open someone’s mind and heart to a new way of thinking. Teaching and counseling are the most common ways that I might be given the opportunity to watch someone learn and grow in the ways that God is guiding them. I love to see people read an old Bible story with fresh eyes and glean something new from verses they’ve heard their whole lives. I find joy in offering guidance so that folks can understand their faith in a new way that leads them to love God, themselves, and others more deeply and more fully. 

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?

It was once made clear to me that I was not the right minister for a particular church. In spite of my best efforts and intentions, I was simply not a good fit theologically or practically. This experience was incredibly painful and led me to years spent questioning my calling and doubting my place in the church.

I’ve since discerned that I cannot be the perfect minister for any church.  And yet, I can remain true to my calling, true to the scripture on which I depend, and true to the God whom I serve. This is both the greatest challenge, and the greatest freedom that I’ve found in ministry.

What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is discerning a call to ministry?   

I would encourage any girl to seek out wisdom from those around her. Ask her Sunday school teachers to point out characteristics of church leadership that they see in her. Ask her pastors to give her opportunities to lead. While that might be uncomfortable or require some amount of boldness, receiving affirmation of those who best know your faith journey can be one of the most inspiring votes of confidence along a path of discernment. 

I would also encourage her to seek out opportunities to serve in the area to which she might feel called. Try a summer serving in a church. Spend a few afternoons a week shadowing a hospital chaplain. Explore a myriad of ministry opportunities so that you might see more clearly where God is leading.

Finally, the greatest piece of advice I’ve ever received was from my own youth minister when I was a teenager. He told me that it doesn’t matter what my business card says. I am a beloved child of God. I am a minister called by God. And I will honor God best simply by listening for God’s call and responding, regardless of what the job might be.