Thursday, November 18, 2010

Leadership: Imitation, climbing the coconut tree

Photo by Robbie Pruitt

"pye kokoye"—What climbing coconut trees can teach us about leadership and discipleship.

In Haiti coconut trees are abundant. These tall trees present a challenge if you want to enjoy the delicious coconuts that 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 the Haitian people, or anyone else, to enjoy coconuts, someone has to climb the coconut tree. This can be a dangerous and daunting task.

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 that an ordinary or average American possesses. How does someone learn a skill like this? There is hardly room for error forty to ninety feet up in a tree slinging a two 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 can often observe a young Haitian boy or girl watching their parents or neighbors as they work. There is as much education going on in the normal day to day activities as there is during regular school hours. Young Haitian boys study their fathers as they climb the coconut tree; they watch and observe, they stand closely and study every move, they imitate their fathers.

Photo by Robbie Pruitt

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 look like what we want them to 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 same 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 also imitates Christ.” He goes 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 that the head of every man is Christ.”

Paul is exhorting the Corinthian church to do what he does as he imitates Jesus. This is effective only as long as Paul is imitating Jesus. His desire for the Corinthian Church and for us is that we remember the entirety of all he has taught us and that we recognize Jesus as the “head” or the leader that we should all be ultimately following and imitating.

May we "climb the coconut tree of leadership,” imitating Jesus, recognizing that 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. And 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.”


The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Jn 5:19-20

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. 1 Co 11:1-3

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Heb 6:9-12

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