Competing on my high school speech and debate team forged my development and maturity more than any other pursuits in my meager academic career. It had a greater impact than math classes, or English classes, or social studies classes, or P.E. classes. By far, it was of greater value to my growth than any class I personally paid for at university, or even in my professional career. This isn’t because debate forced good critical thinking skills, though it did that. It isn’t because it exposed me to diverse philosophies, though it did that, too. It isn’t because I had to learn to argue effectively for positions with which I fervently disagreed. Believe me, that was just part of the deal. And it isn’t because it gave me confidence to develop and defend my own arguments. It did. Those are all comparatively small extras relative to what it actually gave me. High school debate gave me a taste of two things that I find exceedingly rare in my adult life: camaraderie and discipleship.
Those two things are really inseparable. Camaraderie is a friendship and mutual trust formed when a group of people spend a lot of time together, usually for a common purpose. On long debate trips across the state of Texas, I ate, slept, studied, argued, and laughed with friends who became like family. Initial awkward relationships evolved into a camaraderie that was natural, and sweet. Discipleship is having someone teach you the way. Debate gave me both. Superior debaters and speakers taught me the ropes. They then honed my skills and provided me with both criticism and encouragement. When I won something, they gave me praise. The warmth of this camaraderie didn’t stay in the sterile academic confines of Mr. Harwell’s debate room, but flowed out into our experience of young life. If you have camaraderie, you’ll have a kind of discipleship, and if you have discipleship, you’ll have camaraderie. You should want both.
The true Christian experience is one saturated in discipleship. If you know anything about Jesus, you should be shepherding and discipling someone else who hasn’t experienced what you have, so that they can follow Jesus more effectively. If you are wise, you will recognize that you need discipleship too, and should seek to be shepherded by someone a little further along than you, so that you can better walk in the way that Jesus walked. Doing this will produce more fruit for you than anything you’ve learned or done in school, or at work. Not because it will give you spiritual wisdom. It will. Not because it will expose you to the diverse richness of God’s word. You’ll get that too. Not because you’ll gain confidence to evangelize. That will certainly come. But because it will strengthen your friendship with Jesus, and his family, and you’ll be discipled in the way you should go.