When the French set foot on the island that is now São Luís, Maranhão, they were met by a native tribe known as the “Tupinambás”. Daniel de la Touche, the French (Huguenot) leader of the expedition had the wisdom to make friends with the Tupinambás, and was successful in enlisting their help in several projects–such as fighting against the Portuguese and building the rudimentary fortifications that formed the embryonic nucleus of modern São Luís.
A map of São Luís and surrounding areas made by early explorers
Accompanying La Touche on this expedition was a priest named Yves de Evereux, who has left for us a detailed account of the events that transpired during São Luís’ brief French period. De Evereux was fascinated by the Tupinambá culture, and much of his tome is taken up with descriptions of their life-style, put in the most admiring terms.
Tupinambá village under attack
At one point, he describes how the Tupinambás turned out in droves to help with the construction of the fort. The work gangs consisted not just of men, but of women and children. Curious, Yves asked one of the chieftains why children were included in the task. After all, they impeded the progress of the work, and were more susceptible to injury.
The chieftain responded:
We have great pleasure in seeing our children with us working on this fort. One day, when they are old, they will tell their children–and their children will tell their descendants–“Behold, the fortifications that we and our fathers built for the Frenchmen!”
And that–as I told our congregation last night–is an often overlooked, but critically essential aspect of discipleship. Namely, discipleship is doing.
Two mentalities militate against this in our churches. First, we seem to have a knee-jerk tendency to solve issues with a didactic approach. Is there an area where the church needs to grow? There’s a class for that! (or seminar, or conference, or series of sermons, etc)
Second, there is a tendency to leave church matters to trained professionals. The idea is that if we give young people responsibility, they will just mess it up and get in the way, so it is much better to do things ourselves.
Both of these mentalities spell death for a church. Of course there is a place for the didactic approach. Christ used it…a lot (see Matthew 5-7, for example). Yet, Christ also set his disciples to work, as seen in Mark 6:7-13.
And in reading the above passage, let us bear in mind that these were the immature, uneducated, infighting, blustering, pre-resurrection disciples, not the mature, informed, united post-resurrection apostles. Yet Christ put them to work, giving them hands-on experience. And when Christ told us to make disciples, I firmly believe he had the same thing in mind.
One of the most exciting aspects of our ministry at the Kerigma Congregation is how the young people are eagerly seeking out opportunities for ministry–and how the leadership is encouraging this. In the last two months we have had three of our young people preach in the youth group, and one in the Wednesday night service. Two more are scheduled to preach in the youth group next month.
Several young men have approached us (Pastor Francisco and myself) for preaching tips. Pastor Francisco has been working with eight of them (some of them elementary age) on some basic hermeneutics and homiletics.
Alex, one of our young men interested in preaching
Other examples of this principle at work in our congregation are the Carnaval retreat (where the church family worked together as a whole, instead of the retreat being organized and administered by the pastors), the youth group sessions (totally planned and carried out by the young people), and Itacyara’s Sunday School class (all the lessons for the last semester were prepared and given by the students).
Itacyara’s Sunday School class
In a very real sense we are practicing “Tupinambá Discipleship–that is, we are letting the children help build the fortress–so that future generations will know that the fortress is theirs.