Growing up in upstate South Carolina, Austin Campbell longed for more to do than his small hometown of Campobello had to offer. Now, the 31-year-old technical director looks back on his childhood in the country with fondness, whether it was spending summers working on his grandparents’ farm or bush hogging fields with his father (that’s cutting grass for you city folk).
“It was a different childhood,” he reflected, noting that he was raised in a Southern Baptist church by parents who were driven by their faith in Jesus.
“We went to church because that’s just what you did in the South,” Austin explained. “We were at church all the time.” At 8 years old, he got baptized because he believed it was the right thing to do, though looking back he recognizes he didn’t have a grasp on what it truly means to follow Jesus.
As a teen, he participated in mission trips around the country that centered on meeting physical needs through service projects. When Austin was 15, a pastor came on stage during camp and placed an empty chair before the students. “If Jesus was sitting in this chair, what would He tell you?” he asked them. Austin remembers the moment vividly: He felt the presence of God and heard Him say that He had something more for the redheaded high-schooler, that He was calling Austin to something greater. “That meant truly giving my life to Him,” Austin recalled 16 years later.
After a couple years of pseudo-touring with a small pop punk band, Austin traversed his home state to the coast to pursue music at Charleston Southern University, a small Southern Baptist college several miles north of its historic namesake. After a discouraging course with a brutal music teacher, he decided that he “sucked terribly” at the art form and diverted his studies to becoming a youth pastor. He soon realized he lacked the passion for kids necessary to cut it as a youth leader, and Austin ultimately set his sights on a double-major, graduating with a degree in theology and psychology with a music minor.
Post-grad, he split his time between working as a behavioral therapist and “trying to become a rock star,” earning his master’s in theology while touring as a musician. Shortly after a large multisite church in South Carolina launched its Charleston campus, Austin began playing on the worship team, though he admits his church background left him skeptical of churches that size.
“I would sit in the seat and poke holes in the message theologically, find things I disagreed with,” he confessed. “Finally, God got ahold of me one day. I was on stage playing, and I remember seeing the people – like, actually seeing the people for the first time – and realizing that God was up to something there, that He was doing something incredible in the lives of this incredibly diverse group of people – which for Charleston is a new thing. I realized, ‘That’s only Jesus and I can get behind this.’”
Austin dove deeper into serving at church, arriving at 4:30 a.m. on Sundays to help set up what was at the time a portable campus. A year into his time there, he was presented with the unexpected opportunity to join staff as the Charleston campus audio coordinator. “It was a crazy journey where God brought my call into ministry and my love for music and melded them into this thing that, when I got my call into ministry, I didn’t even know existed,” he said.
Five years into the role, Austin began to feel a tug toward transition. He had done as much as he could there, and wanted to go somewhere where he could make a difference – a place that he could help elevate to the next level to expand Jesus’ reach further into the community.
Alluring locales like Southern California and Colorado topped his list of places to consider moving; Maryland, on the other hand, was not on Austin’s radar, though it turns out it topped God’s list for him. A series of interviews and a weekend visit led Austin to accept the position of technical director at Bay Area in March 2018. Today he oversees AVL, working to integrate audio, lighting and video into a seamless whole during Bay Area’s weekend gatherings.
Outside of church, the self-proclaimed food-and-wine nut spends his time cooking with his girlfriend, going to concerts, playing music and reading deep theological books. For three years now, Austin has undertaken an intense study of World War I history, a pursuit he admits is odd, even nerdy, but fascinating.
Enthusiastic about his new role and church family, and motivated by the untapped potential he sees at Bay Area, Austin shared that it’s his desire that he and his team of volunteers would be able to create transformative moments each weekend so that people can encounter Jesus.