Trey Phillips

The program didn’t give me all the answers, but it did give me the curiosity to look for the answers myself: to research, to actively make change and to study the Bible. The program plants the seeds and from there you just grow. 


Why did you attend the program?

I attended ENGAGE: Youth Theology Initiative because I have an elder and family friend at my church who mentioned the  program to me. He and my dad thought I had good leadership potential and that I would benefit from learning more about racial injustice and reconciliation with the church. They also thought it was important for me to interact with different theologies at a young age. At first, I thought it was just going to be another church camp and I wasn’t excited to go, but I’m so glad I did.

I had just gotten baptized prior to my first time at the program, and as a new Christian I was struggling with being thrown into something so important so soon. I felt I had more work to do on myself and needed to work on speaking up more and learning about racial reconciliation. I felt it would be hard for me to jump into something like Engage so early on. I also thought about going into ministry and still do now. I grew up as an elder’s kid and I’ve always had a talent for speaking publicly about God. I thought about turning that into a career and the program really helped me explore more of that and answer those questions.


How was your experience during the event? 

The experience is a rollercoaster. The people there are amazing and the friends you make while you’re there become lifelong friendships, even though you’re only with each other for ten days. I still talk to people from my first time at Engage, which was two years ago. We get serious and learn about what’s going on in the world, which can be a shock. It was definitely beneficial for me to have a dialogue and interact with others about these things. It’s fun, but it can get heavy and you have to be prepared for that. This is serious stuff they are preparing you for.

The staff is also amazing. Clare has been very helpful, especially with my decision about Lipscomb. Attending the program was my first time on Lipscomb’s campus, and I wasn’t even thinking about college at the time as I was in 10th grade, so she really helped me make that decision. I still keep in touch with all of the staff and still look to them as mentors and friends. I know that they have my back with anything that I choose.


What were some of the changes you noticed after? 

I became even more vocal about my faith after the program. It also helped me to be more vocal about things I knew weren’t right and reassured me that I’m on the side of justice. I became more comfortable with the fact that not everyone is going to agree with me when I say something is wrong, but there are other people in my corner to help me know I’m not alone. These were big changes that happened as a result of the program.


What did you learn about yourself, the world, or ministry at this time?

About myself, I learned that I have to take in what I believe and not just something my parents or elders believe. I have to create my own theology and be comfortable in doing that. At the time, it was difficult because of the church I grew up in. I had to learn how to be accepting of other denominations and religions and learn how to be inclusive of people who are different from me. I also confirmed that my theology is following the greatest two commandments in the Bible, loving God and loving others as yourself. That solidified how I want to go about conveying the Gospel to people.

About the world, I learned a lot about the history of the church, its background and how it has been exclusive of people who are different. I learned more about the inequalities in the church, especially regarding women, people of color and minorities and LGBTQ people. I learned about the church’s role in that and where it can improve.

Regarding ministry, the program opened my eyes to the fact that you don’t have to be a preacher to be involved with ministry. That’s not the only role there is. You’re actively participating in ministry just by being a child of God and telling other people about that. 


Do you feel better equipped for the future? 

Yes, I do feel better equipped for the future. The program didn’t give me all the answers, but it did give me the curiosity to look for the answers myself: to research, to actively make change and to study the Bible. The program plants the seeds and from there you just grow. 


What was the best thing about attending?

The best thing about attending were the other campers. Everyone was so respectful of others, even if they had different opinions. We all listened to each other. It was awkward the first few days because no one knew each other, but after those first days we all became best friends. The people there were definitely the best part.


How have you engaged in ministry since the program, or how do you plan to be engaged in ministry in the future? 

I’ve attended a few protests and have been more involved in social justice since the program. I’ve also been getting more involved on Lipscomb’s campus and in trying to make it more inclusive for people of color. I joined the Black Student Union and Collegiate 100 and participating in things like that on campus has helped me show people of color that this is a place that can welcome them.

In the future, I definitely want to see whether divinity school is the right fit for me. Otherwise, I will try to take on more of a leadership role in church. I also might plant a church somewhere and am considering that.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to attend?

Be willing to hear out all problems. Be open minded and don’t react to everything you hear immediately. Really listen to what you’re hearing and wrestle with it. I think every kid should go through a program like Engage. That way, they’ll be able to see people that are different from them and be ok with that. I loved the program.


Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge to have and a good problem to run into. Sometimes you’ll cause trouble, but like John Lewis said, “Get into good trouble.” So get into that good trouble!

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