But what’s the takeaway?
Leaders from across the South Pacific Division (SPD) gathered yesterday at the new Fulton College Campus located 10 minutes from Nadi Airport in Fiji for a week of advisory meetings.
But what exactly will be the takeaway from the meetings? Participants opined in advance. “The take way? How about a curry?” quipped one traveller. Another joked that it might be heat rash—there is no air-conditioning in the dorm rooms where the participants are staying. One conference president said, “In candour, this is a really tough time to be away as we’re just getting into the swing of things in the new year. So I hope something important is accomplished.”
As so often happens, it was a woman who was able to enunciate the point: “We’re getting together to ensure all our institutions, and every level of our Church, are pulling in the same direction to make disciples. Of course everyone agrees with that idea. But on a very practical level, how do we make disciples, how do we mentor them, and how can we ensure we live authentic lives as active, growing disciples ourselves? That’s the point of spending a week in prayer, study and discussion—it's to clarify, plan and inspire.”
Pastor Glenn Townend speaks on the first night of the weeklong SPD advisory.
And, sure enough, at the first meeting at 7pm, SPD president Pastor Glenn Townend announced the “game changer” for our church is discipleship. “During my years as a pastor, we’ve focused a lot of energy on convincing people of a set of beliefs—which are very important—but we haven’t focused on living the authentic Christian life of disciples . . . Our goal is to make more and better disciples. We have huge challenges in cities like Sydney and Auckland, where there are areas where we only have one member in 10,000 people . . .
“Jesus sees a multiplying movement making new disciples,” continued Pastor Townend, speaking on the parable on the sower. “As Ellen White said, ‘Christ doesn’t see people as who they were, but what they could become if they let Him into their lives.’ We may be in leadership and have all this responsibility, but where is our heart—have we let Christ have His way in us? Because we can’t make disciples if we aren’t disciples ourselves.
“How do we capture the vision of Jesus? Think of the humble coconut. Just one coconut grows a tree. And each tree grows hundreds of coconuts. Look near any coconut tree in the wild and what do you see? Lots of other coconut trees thriving. And each tree is laden with coconuts of its own. Jesus sees the gospel seed like a coconut that can multiply over and over and over again.
“I see a lot of what the church does is not following Christ’s methods. Christ said don’t throw pearls to swine. Sometimes we just get up and shout at people and if they agree to agree, we baptise them. And in a couple of years 40 per cent of them have dropped out. But where is our preparing the soil? Christ gave us a process of how to reach people. It isn’t just about hanging up a sign and preaching at people.
“Christ’s model is to prepare the soil, sow the seed, cultivate the crop, and then, and only them, harvest the crop, and then multiply. How did Christ prepare the soil? Jesus got to know people—He ate with them, He served their needs. I like to get to know people when I’m dressed in lycra, riding bikes. Just being with people. Real relationships—that’s preparing the soil of people’s heart.
“I want us to begin thinking again as a movement—not just institutions or organisations. Jesus created a movement. In Acts we’re told 12 followers of Christ turned the world upside down in just one generation. We need to get back into movement thinking. And that starts with refocusing our attention and energies on following Christ’s methods! I’m calling us to be obedient—obedient to Christ’s methods.”
Will this week of meetings be a spark that lights the fire of a new, authentic discipleship movement across the SPD? A movement that follows Christ’s methods? Or will it just be a week of sweating it out in the humidity, dreaming of Indian takeaway? That, it would appear, is very much up to how open we are individually and collectively to the moving of the Holy Spirit.