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Leadership: Imitation, Climbing the Coconut Tree

By Robbie Pruitt | High School Bible Teacher in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. In youth ministry more than 17 years; Trinity School for Ministry, degree in Christian Ministry; Columbia International University, B.A. in Bible and General Studies, minor in Youth Ministry. | May 7 2012

In Haiti, coconut trees are abundant. These tall trees present a challenge if you want to enjoy the delicious coconuts they produce. Coconut trees can grow up to 30 meters tall or about 98 feet. This makes getting to the coconuts at the top of the tree a very difficult and arduous task. In order for anyone to enjoy coconuts, someone has to climb the coconut tree. This can be a dangerous and daunting task.

Some Haitians are skilled climbers and can shimmy up a coconut tree barefooted with machete in tow with ease, skill and precision. This is not a skill an ordinary or average American possesses. How does someone learn a skill such as this? There is hardly room for error 40 to 90 feet up in a tree slinging a 2-foot blade at a cluster of coconuts.

If you visit Haiti, an answer to how one learns to climb coconut trees comes into focus and clarity can be gained. The Haitian people take great pride in learning and teaching, and you often can observe a young Haitian boy or girl watching his or her parents or neighbors as they work. There is as much education going on in the normal daily activities as there is during regular school hours. Young Haitian boys study their fathers as they climb coconut trees; they watch and observe as they stand closely and study every move; then they imitate their fathers.

Leadership and discipleship have everything to do with imitation. As leaders, we are to be what we want to see in others so that in imitating us, people resemble what we hope they become. As leaders, we reproduce in others who we are. If we want to see in others what we would have them become, then we must exhibit these traits ourselves. We must "climb the coconut tree of leadership" to develop leaders who can "climb the coconut tree of leadership."

Jesus models this imitation for us in John 5:19-20 when He said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel." Jesus imitates the Father. He does what He sees the Father doing. If we are to make disciples, develop leaders and help lead others to Jesus, we must be doing what we see Jesus doing through His power, work and grace in us.

The apostle Paul modeled this imitation, as well, and imitated Jesus' imitation in the above verses in his ministry with the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 11:1-3, Paul asked the Corinthians to imitate him, just as he imitated Christ. He went on to say, "Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you; but I want you to know the head of every man is Christ."

Paul was exhorting the Corinthian church to do what he did as he imitated Jesus. This is effective only as long as Paul was imitating Jesus. His desire for the Corinthian church and for us is that we remember the entirety of all he taught us and that we recognize Jesus as the head or the leader whom we all should be following and imitating.

May we "climb the coconut tree of leadership," imitating Jesus, recognizing others are watching us follow Jesus as we lead and that they are eager to learn to follow Jesus and to lead, as well.

Finally, may we rest in this blessing from Hebrews 6:9-12 as we imitate our Lord: "Beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you...For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints and do minister. We desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."

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