Learning from coconuts
A summary of Pastor Glenn Townend’s keynote address at the South Pacific Division’s advisory meetings, Fulton College, Fiji.
During my years as a pastor we’ve focused a lot of energy on convincing people about 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 in making new disciples. 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.
The Church does not always follow Jesus’ methods. Christ said don’t throw pearls to swine. Sometimes we preach at people and if they agree with our message we baptise them. And in a couple of years 40 per cent of them have left the Church. Where is our process of making disciples? Where is the care? The nurture? The teaching people to love, to pray, to read the Bible for themselves, to use their spiritual gifts? Discipleship is not just about preaching.
Christ’s model is to prepare the soil, sow the seed, cultivate the crop and then, and only then, harvest the crop and then multiply the crop. 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 hearts.
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 alone.
Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.”
There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonising, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen.1
That’s preparing people’s hearts to receive the gospel but once prepared the gospel seed must be sown. Then let’s sow seeds under the power of the Holy Spirit. Only then can we harvest the crop He prepares and cultivate it. And like the humble coconut, let’s multiply until the South Pacific is full of strong Adventist Christians who are also active disciples following Christ’s example of a vibrant Christian life of active discipleship.
1. Ellen G White, Ministry of Healing p 143.
Pastor Glenn Townend is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific.