At 18, Jillian Brookshire already knows she wants to pursue a career in law, maybe even politics.
What the Raleigh, N.C., resident didn’t know until more recently is that her professional interests may also represent a calling on her life. Brookshire said she was clued into that reality by attending the Campbell Youth Theological Institute hosted by Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C.
“They helped me figure out how faith and vocation are intertwined,” she said. “It was really cool to hear that no matter what your field, you can be doing God’s ministry without being an ordained minister.”
That sums up the purpose of the institute, said Colin Kroll, its director.
Launched with a Lilly Endowment grant in 2016, the two-week-per-summer residential program aims to guide high school students to the “intersection of faith and vocation,” he said.
The young Christians who attend are exposed, often for the first time, to the notion that budding career interests may also be spiritually inspired. By engaging with leaders in a variety of occupations, “they can flesh out what participation in Christ’s work looks like outside church ministry,” Kroll explained.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the institute included two-week stays on the Campbell campus. Participants attended daily theological workshops, worship services, small-group sessions and classes taught by professionals from fields ranging from medicine and business to law, among others.
Due to the pandemic, the 2020 institute will be offered virtually only, with registration open and orientation scheduled for July 6-8. The program runs July 13-24.
But a curriculum specially designed for online participation is aimed at delivering the same impact, namely that God is at work far beyond the walls of religious institutions, Kroll added. “There is a strong theological study of the redemptive mission of Christ in the world.”
Pre-pandemic, students were matched with professionals to shadow in their fields of interest. Even virtually, students will be exposed to professionals who live with calling in mind.
“We want to break down the standard imagination barrier that if God is calling someone it is only to be a pastor or missionary,” Kroll said. “We want students to see that the work they do 40 hours a week can be a way of living into their calling.”
The institute also caters to those feeling the draw into church-based ministry.
“I felt a calling into ministry when I was 16,” said Houston Blake, 20, a Chester, Va., resident who attended the institute in 2017 and 2018.
Blake, who serves in the Army Reserve, said the theological and vocational immersion she experienced at Campbell helped pinpoint a more specific focus on youth ministry. “As a churchgoer I knew I wanted to be part of something more in church, and (the institute) really helped me see what that looked like for me.”
That epiphany inspired an internship at her home congregation, Chester Baptist Church, last summer and a Student.Church internship — focused on youth — currently at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a partner of the institute.
But the courses and seminars she attended at Campbell did more than direct her in a specific ministry, she said. The sessions, together with exposure to non-church ministries serving the poor, helped her realize that congregation extends beyond four walls. “It’s about the church within the context of the community.”
Brookshire said she picked up those lessons volunteering at A Place at the Table, a pay-what-you-can restaurant in Raleigh, and at homeless shelters — all part of the institute’s curriculum. “It made me feel super-connected to my city.”
And the job-shadowing opportunity the program arranged for her in 2019 with an assistant district attorney was just as helpful, she added. “It solidified that I want to go that route in my studies. I feel like I’m being called to do something in that field.”
The spiritual nature of any occupation has to do with motivation, she said. “If you have the mentality that your position can be used to help other people, that’s just a different take on everything. You are not just doing things to benefit you, but to serve people in your community who are in need.”
Registration information for the Campbell University Youth Theological Institute is available online.