Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an interview with an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are thrilled to interview, Jessica McDougald. Jessica IS what a minister looks like!

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

I first felt a calling to ministry while I was working at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Wilmington, NC. At the time, I was a mess. I’d recently quit college and was desperate for a source of income that would allow me to remain in Wilmington with my friends rather than return home to Raleigh with my tail between my legs. I took this very unglamorous minimum wage job at the treatment center that involved a lot of grunt work, but it quickly became one of the most rewarding and trajectory-changing experiences of my life. Our patients as well as Wilmington’s recovery communities had a huge impact on me; It was there, spending time with patients and recovering addicts, that I began to feel an unmistakable tug from God.

Several years later, after getting myself together and finishing my undergraduate degree, I started my MDIV at Campbell University Divinity School. I soon took my first ministry position at Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC as a children’s ministry intern. It was a formative year; I learned what it was like to work in a church and met many supportive people during my time there. In November of 2019, I was thrilled to be called to Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh as their Minister to Youth, where I continue serving today.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry? 

My time at Millbrook has been filled with brand new experiences. I have been given the opportunity to oversee Communion, take part in the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, help plan and take part in Worship services, write weekly articles for the church newsletter and even preach. I preached my very first sermon in February and, looking back, I still can’t believe I didn’t pass out from nerves. Even more surprising to me is the fact that, despite my nervousness, I absolutely loved preaching! However, of all of these great experiences, the greatest source of joy I have found in ministry is in hanging out with the Millbrook youth. They are smart and insightful and so, so funny. Their love for Jesus and for humanity has instilled in me so much hope for the future of the Church.

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

In March, our church closed its doors as North Carolina began seeing its first COVID-19 cases. When I first realized that we would not be back in church by Easter Sunday, I cried actual embarrassing tears in a virtual staff meeting – I had never not attended church on Easter, and was having a hard time dealing with being away from my church family. Added to this sadness was the disappointment in having only spent about four months in person with the Millbrook youth, and the fact that my first real vocational ministry experience was not going the way that I had envisioned. I have leaned heavily into trusting God in the uncertainty of the last few months. I have had to learn and adapt to virtual means of worship and small groups. But during these challenging times of being away from church, physically, I have been reminded of what it truly means to be a church and I am keeping my eyes peeled for the ways in which God is moving.

What is the best ministry advice you have received?   

At the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns, I called my former youth minister and long-time mentor, Andy, to ask for advice in working with youth during times of crisis. He had many great suggestions, but what has stuck with me the most was his reminder to not discount any of the student’s concerns, no matter how trivial and insignificant they might seem to an adult. The Millbrook youth were concerned about big things like the health and safety of loved ones, of course, but they were also grieving the loss of normalcy in their lives. They were having to miss driver’s ed, playing on sports teams, seeing friends, prom, and even graduation – important rites of passage for middle and high schoolers. While, in the grand scheme of things, these might have seemed like no-big-deal to an adult, they were a huge loss to these youth. Andy’s reminder has echoed many times over these past few months and made me stronger in my relationships with the students at Millbrook.

Jessica McDougald is minister to youth at Millbrook Baptist Church. Jessica was also the Month of Preaching speaker at Millbrook earlier this year. This information was regrettably not listed in our summer 2020 issue of Vocare magazine.