Ignite Your Calling: Jacob Kirby Discovers Ministry, Purpose at GWU

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As children and teens, we’ve all heard that question a million times. Some students just know. They know what they want to major in, what internships they want to pursue, even where they want to work when they graduate.

So what if you don’t know? What if you change your mind? For many students, the uncertainty can be scary.

Fortunately, Gardner-Webb University’s curriculum is intentionally designed to help students find their passion and purpose, and our faculty is committed to mentoring you along the way.

Take Jacob Kirby’s story, for example.

A talented singer and self-described “school nerd,” Jacob always imagined he’d be a teacher, so he entered Gardner-Webb as a music education major with a vocal concentration. He planned to teach music and direct a high school choir, much like the choir directors who had inspired him. But after launching into coursework both inside and outside his major, Jacob began realizing that his passions were pulling him in a new direction.

“I adore the music department,” Jacob says. “The faculty—especially Dr. Patricia Sparti and Dr. Paul Etter—are unbelievable.” Still, he wasn’t clicking with the music courses in the way he had originally envisioned.

Meanwhile, a seed planted in high school was beginning to take root in Jacob’s mind. “During my senior year, my youth pastor invited me to start leading youth worship at our church,” Jacob remembers. “That experience helped me realize I was called into some form of ministry. That’s actually one of the reasons I chose Gardner-Webb, because I knew I could participate in a bunch of student ministries even as a music major. ”

As a sophomore, though, Jacob decided he wanted to change his major to discipleship studies. Still, telling Dr. Etter that he wanted to change direction seemed a bit scary. After all, the music department had invested a lot of time and attention into helping him grow and develop, and Dr. Etter had become a personal mentor.

“I was nervous about talking to Dr. Etter, for sure. When I came to Gardner-Webb, I literally didn’t know a soul. Dr. Etter and the choir gave me a community right away, and I didn’t want to lose that,” Jacob says. “I wasn’t sure, honestly, how he’d react.”

Jacob was soon to learn the extent to which Gardner-Webb professors really care.

“I just told him about my passion for ministry, and even though it meant potentially losing me as his student, he didn’t try to talk me out of switching majors. He actually prayed for me, right there in his office, that God would guide me along the right path for me. That’s the kind of people these professors are. To this day, Dr. Etter is still one of my closest mentors even though I’m not a music major anymore.”

Looking back, Jacob says his change of direction exemplifies what Jacob says is one of his favorite parts of the Gardner-Webb experience: the liberal arts curriculum taught by professors who put students first.

“Gardner-Webb is just so well-rounded in terms of the variety of courses students can take, both in the core curriculum and in electives. I mean, if I hadn’t experienced what it was like to study other courses besides music, like English courses and history and religious studies, I may never have known what paths were available for me to pursue,” Jacob says.

Having grown spiritually and academically, and having discerned more clearly his own spiritual gifts, Jacob says Gardner-Webb’s religious studies and philosophy department is now immersing him deeply in the ministerial preparation he’ll need to minister faithfully and responsibly.

“I’ve got friends studying religion at other schools and there’s really nowhere else that offers the blend of academic rigor and practical preparation for ministry that Gardner-Webb does,” he says. “In a couple of years, I’ll be proud to say I’ve graduated from Gardner-Webb’s religious studies and philosophy department.”

Jacob is unsure exactly what specific ministerial path he will take, but given his broad educational foundation, he says the uncertainty is exciting.

“I have the opportunity to expand my mind and to study a variety of different subjects rather than focus just on one subject my entire college experience,” he says. “That gives me a chance to do a lot of different cool things. Who knows? I may still end up doing something that blends my passion for music and education with my calling to ministry. We’ll see.”

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