Making Camp “More Spiritual”

Several years ago, I had a conflict with some people who wanted to make my debate camps “more spiritual.” They were well-meaning people who thought spearheading daily worship songs and devotionals would add to my program and make it more spiritually exhilarating.

I would argue that training a young person to overcome their fear and speak in public is a spiritual experience.

I would argue that training a young person to overcome fear and speak in public is a spiritual experience.

I understand this. Training Minds is a Christian ministry. Since my camps were in the summer and involved youth, you’d think things like daily devotions, worship time, and corporate prayer would fit. These things aren’t bad, but they took a considerable amount of time out of the camp program.

Yeesh, I feel weird saying this. It feels spiritually dirty to suggest prayer and worship would take too much time. I want the kids to have a mountain-top experience at camp. They should go home with a feeling of euphoria, a spiritual high, with relationships that will last beyond the academic nature of the camp.

Problem is, I run a debate camp. I need to train young people to win debate rounds. Over the years, spiritual activities dropped from the schedule. A few judgments — some spoken, some hearsay — came my way:

  • Training Minds waters down their Christianity.
  • Training Minds doesn’t have devotionals or worship time.
  • Training Minds won’t be the spiritual experience you want for your kids.

We’re 12 years into this, and these criticisms still come my way now and then (typically from people who have never attended). We don’t hide our faith — we pray and we share our faith openly — but we don’t open the days with guitar singing or sermons. The results?

  • Training Minds campers still leave feeling like they had a mountain-top experience.
  • Training Minds campers still leave with friendships that last a lifetime.
  • Training Minds campers still leave with a foundation of purpose and vision.

Yeah, we don’t do worship or do devotions. I like to think we live them. We guide young people through busting out of their shell and overcoming their fears. We seek out their gifts and unique propose in life and train them to exploit them in their platform speeches. We train them to think, speak and persuade. 

This is spiritual. This is the mandate Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 1:13, “Train the mind for action.” Is strapping a guitar to a singer for campers to watch on stage spiritual? I suppose you can say it is, but years ago we dropped things like that from the schedule. Instead, we train young people to walk their walk, to overcome their fears, to construct topics and develop skills to stand in front of their peers and deliver champion speeches.

Here’s what we don’t do: proselytize. We don’t require Christianity — or faking its sincerity — to participate. And though we are a Christian ministry, we don’t lead children through spiritual formulas that help secure their theological future. Kids witness and experience the coaching from Christian leaders, and we talk of faith and even have an apologetics track, but Training Minds Camp is not a Bible camp. You’ll have to send your kids elsewhere for an experience like that.

The absence of songs and sermons isn’t evidence that we water down our faith. We don’t need songs and sermons to add to the spiritual experience of Training Minds Camp. I believe this is evidence that we’re living it.

Hypocrite? Maybe…

I was asked to lead a devotional at my very own camp the morning I published this. I took this as an opportunity to explain myself deeper. Enjoy…

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Arden Sleadd

    Hi Chris. Sorry, friend, but you haven’t convinced me. When we held our first speech/debate tournament and I was the co-director with my husband, I at first advocated for no worship openers for each day, in the interest of saving time. I was voted down by the board and my husband very quickly–and I’m glad I was, now. God made time multiply for us, and we ran tournaments consistently on-schedule, even with worship to start each day. The argument “we’re living it” falls flat. You can certainly find five or ten minutes in the daily schedule to read a scriptural passage without comment, or sing one song a cappella. It sets the tone, and it is very important to overtly give praise to Whom it is due. Re-consider, my friend. Naming and proclaiming the Savior is the most important thing we do as Christians. Make it happen, with intentionality, or the opportunities will slip through your fingers. And as for proselityzing: what is more important than sharing the gospel if you find you have a non-believing camper on your hands?? I HOPE YOU DO! His eternal destiny hangs in the balance! How can you hope to teach him to reason and think clearly without the Holy Spirit opening the students’ minds to the truth?

    • Good thoughts, Arden, but I’m not convinced I’m off the mark on this one. The Gospel is threaded throughout the camp, and taking time out to “worship” is awkward at times. I will reconsider, especially if the Sleadds came to lead.

      • Arden Sleadd

        Haha! That is tempting :). I’m glad the gospel is “threaded throughout”; I hope that means scripture gets threaded throughout, and that would be worship too :). I know worship is something we should do all the time, in all our activities; it’s not limited to the singing of worship songs. Our goal as Christian educators is to show how God is threaded throughout all the subjects; how we can’t even pretend to think or reason clearly without Him as our Source; how logic is really just thinking God’s thoughts after Him, etc. In Him we live and move and have our being. So if you have made that seamless connection in your curriculum, I applaud you.

  • Amanda Ozaki

    I love this. I’ve taught at certain debate camps that do have devotions/worship at the start of every day and it feels very cookie-cutter and formulaic. Additionally, kids need their rest when they’re going through the stress of cutting cards and speaking in public for the first time! It’s very stressful and mentally grueling, yet some camps force kids to be up and paying attention and praying at 8am every morning, and then attend a bible study that goes until 9pm at night. To me, that doesn’t seem practical…especially with crammed lecture times.

    I also feel awkward expressing this opinion…I mean, it’s the Bible. But if I was a 14 year old girl going to bed around 11 or 12am at night who was then expected to answer spiritual questions and pray aloud in a group at 8am, it would feel forced and not genuine (my brain still doesn’t wake up fully until around 10am).

    This isn’t meant to condemn camps that offer devotionals and worship at their debate camps at all. However, I think there is a very overly judgmental sect of homeschool debate that sets fire to Spirit-led camp hosts over a measly few minutes of guitar playing. We worship God with our lives, words, everything we say and do. Who is able to define the ONLY RIGHT way to worship? Who is to say that God can ONLY be glorified and reflected if you have devotions open up your camp day? No one. 🙂 Love your writing, Mr. Jeub.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Amanda. They are encouraging.

  • Joe Laughon

    Organic Christian fellowship and conversation throughout the day, combined with prayer is 100 times more spiritually edifying to the body than a one size fits all devotional that is mandatory at the beginning of the day, or a 35 minute rambling sermon or purity lecture.

    Great piece.

  • Pamela Church

    My family and I were first-time attendees of your Speech and Debate Camp and we never felt God was not with us or that we were squelching Holy Spirit by not enough prayer and singing. We heard plenty of scripture while we were there, and we were not enrolled in the Apologetics class. Our relationship with God is personal and He put the desire in us to be at your camp. The camp gave us tools to build character in ourselves, speak up about what is important and do it politely all the while seeking God for guidance because we need Him to grow. Thankfully, Holy Spirit is always praying on our behalf!

    I love that you share your vision for the future of our children through Speech and Debate. God will strengthen them through Speech and Debate because it is a matter of self-improvement, maturing, and growth that students become effective in life for the Kingdom. We need Jesus in all of those things and the goal of the camp was not to be a structured Church, so thank you for your focus! I heard many conversations about God and I am thrilled that the camp is teaching children to be effective communicators for Him! That is wonderful to me!! By the way, I feel there was plenty of time before the general session where if I chose to gather my friends, and sing to Jesus, and I could have done it with no worries about feeling out of place.

    Thank you Chris for encouraging me when I came to you about my son and concerns for his being there at a young age. The first three days of camp were intense for him, but he walked away from camp a changed person and excited about Speech and Debate. I was praying for him every day, and I got to experience the rewards of what God had for us at your camp and my the joy is still with me today! I have been encouraging everyone I know to get involved.

    Another thing, I remember Michael Hyatt talking about adversity and that we are on the right path to something big when it is present! We will be praying for you and we look forward to learning more from you and your family!

    • You are very encouraging, indeed! Thank you, Pam.

  • Chris,

    I agree with you. I am a Christian. I teach a Leadership
    Seminar because I want to share tools and techniques for attendees to become better supervisors, managers, leaders and people. I do not conduct this seminar to bring people to Christ.

    I was recently called out on an anonymous feedback sheet because of a story I tell of doing CPR on my dad. The doctor said I saved my dad’s life. Five months later my dad passed away of a blood clot. In those five months, my dad became a Christian. The moral of the story is that I was forced to take CPR by my company. I thought it was a waste of my time. I have since changed my view of learning ANYTHING new. I never know when I will need it. The feedback said I should quit telling that story about my dad becoming a Christian. They had other choice words.

    My initial reaction was, it’s my seminar, I’m thankful my dad became a Christian and I will continue telling the story. That’s how arrogant and holier than thou we can be at times. After visiting with a mentor, I changed my approach.

    You see, this story was in the middle of my seminar and I know without a doubt that I lost that attendee after that story. They may have missed a lesson that could change their life. I’m not there to bring them to Christ or even advertise that I am a Christian. I’m teaching leadership.

    Here’s the way I looked at it. Every Christian has to take full responsibility for the word Christian turning people off. I look at the only one I can change; me.

    I still tell the story. I just say that in those five months, my dad accepted his faith. I still get the head nods and amen every once in awhile but I don’t lose anyone.

    I keep the main thing the main thing. (Those of you that are through saying BUT GOD IS THE MAIN THING can begin reading again now.) He IS the main thing and he has allowed you and I to share lessons of debate and leadership.

    We’ve never met but I can bet that no one could leave your camp and not see that you are a Christian. They could see this without one prayer or devotional.

    I wrote a song last year titled “Wouldn’t That Be Something”.
    The last verse is:

    Before I headed off to work,

    And the kids went on to school.

    We said a prayer, ate together

    And discussed the Golden Rule.

    As I walked into my building, Ten Commandments on the wall.

    And at the school to start the day, prayer echoed down the

    The bridge is:

    Well first you poke your neighbor,

    And then you nod your head.

    You agree with the prayers in school

    And the other things I said.

    Well here’s a question for us, because we are not alone.

    How can we ask that school to pray?

    I said How can we ask that school to pray?

    When we don’t pray at home?

    Many people want to outsource child development.

    I guess I said all that to say I agree with you.

    Greg L. Gilbert