You could say I’ve pretty much always been empowered. My mom has seven older brothers, and she taught my sisters and me what it meant to be strong. We attended a local church that saw a few pastors throughout my childhood, but my favorite pastor was Pastor Candace. She had a really cool bob – jet-black hair with a gray streak – and she pretty much killed it in her pastoral robes. She preached, she led, she loved, she shepherded, and she modeled what it meant to be a woman in ministry. When I was 13, I distinctly remember receiving that same call to ministry. Fast-forward 10 years, and there I was, a woman in ministry in my own right. I remember getting my very first business cards and feeling like I had arrived.
But growing up, I was one of those girls who usually ran with the boys. They were my friends and they ‘got’ me. I was the best friend and the younger sister and the test case for the romantic high school poem so they could get that date. I always felt like I was enough when I was with ‘the guys’. In high school and college, I always felt empowered, intelligent, and like the playing field was level. Even when I was a summer intern at a church with two other summer interns – both male – I felt the ground was completely level. For me, things changed when I entered ‘the real world’ with my first full-time ministry position.
At my first church, I was part of a youth ministry network of all men, but they were all from smaller churches than where I served. They were older, had more experience, and over time made me feel welcome at the table. Our church was part of a yearly metro-Boston gathering of large churches. The first year I attended, I remember sitting at the ‘youth ministry’ table, a table full of men. At that point, I was familiar with being the token female. Unlike my network friends, I felt small, unprepared, unqualified, and distinctly female. Reflecting about the experience afterward, I was kicking myself. I had more experience than half of the men at the table – why should I feel that my words, my opinions, my experiences were worth less than theirs? I let the patriarchal, men-in-ministry stereotype overwhelm me.
I was sabotaging myself for no good reason. I withheld my thoughts, opinions, and contributions to the conversation because I was afraid that any misstep would be held against all of womankind, not just the 20-something woman in ministry sitting at the table. I was afraid of being judged or dismissed, when really, I was projecting my own fears onto the men with whom I shared a table. My 13-year-old self would have given me a talking to! Leaving that day, I realized I never wanted to feel that way again.
Part of that experience may have stemmed from times when well-meaning women of the church would tell me that I am intimidating. I was told I was intimidating because I knew my own mind, had a solid Biblical education, and saw my calling, knowledge, experience, and worth as equal to that of any man.,/span>
Thankfully, the following year, things changed. I sat at the table full of men (and one other woman!) feeling empowered. I had the most ministry experience at the table, and I was ready to own it. Instead of downplaying what I had to contribute, I offered freely. I wish I could say that I’m no longer concerned about whether or not what I have to offer intimidates those around me. With God’s help, I’m still working on it. The awesome thing about being a Christ-follower, regardless of occupation, is that we are works in progress. Perfection is never attainable, but progress is always the goal.
Recently, I had the chance to be on an alumni panel during orientation at my alma mater. The panel was for all incoming freshmen and their parents. I was honored to be asked, but I sat there kind of scratching my head at how I had even been invited in the first place. Here I was, sitting with the CEO of a cabinet company who had helped expand the brand new physics lab, a woman who had worked in the White House, and a physician who sits on boards of nonprofits and has an Emmy-award winning wife. I felt like saying, ‘Hi, I’m Kori. I just love Jesus and work at church, and I want others to love Jesus, too.’ I felt inferior. Again, I was projecting my own insecurities. No one treated me that way. My opinion and input was valued. My calling to ministry is no less worthy, important, valid, or legitimate.
As a woman in ministry, I’ve gotten so used to people underestimating me that I would almost live up to their expectations. The little girl inside of me who ran with the boys and believed anything was possible still lives inside of me, and sometimes she needs to remind me of who I really am. It’s not about what well-meaning church people expect from you. It’s not about other people valuing your opinion less, or having to work twice as hard to get credit. It’s about being the person God inherently made you to be. I was letting other people’s thoughts, opinions, or perceived judgment change my behavior. That isn’t helpful to God, either.
I’ve had years of working on overcoming my own self-sabotage because I felt I wasn’t good enough. But I am enough. My calling is enough. My experience is enough. My feelings are enough. The person God made me to be is enough. I am enough, and my place at the table matters.
Kori North loves Jesus and people and wants everyone to love Jesus, too. She serves as the Director of Family Life Ministries at Grace Fellowship Church and has been in full time ministry with kids, youth, and families for over a decade. Kori has been married to an awesome guy named Mike for 11 years. They make each other better people, and they have two pugs – George and Elinor. They dream of living on a catamaran one day.
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