Interview with SPD leadership team: Leading a disciple-making movement 

Pastor Glenn Townend, Pastor Mike Sikuri and Francois Keet.

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At the recent General Conference session, the leadership team for the South Pacific Division (SPD) were re-elected until 2025. Adventist Record sits down (virtually) with Pastor Glenn Townend (president), Pastor Mike Sikuri (secretary) and Francois Keet (chief financial officer, CFO) to chat about their view of the Church and where they see God leading.

Adventist Record (AR): You were recently re-elected at GC session. How did you find that experience?

Glenn Townend (GT): The shock and awe of first being elected to serve as SPD president was not there this time, but I now understand in more detail the immense responsibility and the importance of developing trust in my role.

Mike Sikuri (MS): In the lead-up to session I prayed that the Lord’s will be done. I’ve been in this situation a number of times throughout my ministry. When I accepted the call to follow Jesus many years ago I decided to follow God’s will whatever that looked like.

Francois Keet (FK): This was the first GC session I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. With my birthday celebration falling at session, and the effort of our SPD delegation to welcome us to the role by making the most noise of all divisions (many much larger than ours), it was such a humbling and tear-filled experience. I had a strong sense of affirmation that this was truly God’s calling.

AR: What are some of the things your role is responsible for?

GT: The SPD president’s role has huge scope. I am the lead shepherd for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific. This means I chair the executive committee for the SPD and oversee the leadership and governance of the Church. I work most closely with the four union presidents (PNG, Australia, New Zealand Pacific and Trans Pacific), the five SPD institutional leaders (Sanitarium, Adventist HealthCare, Adventist Media, Avondale University and Pacific Adventist University), and the ministry-focused departmental directors at the SPD office.

MS: My role is to oversee the SPD’s operations, policies and procedures to spiritually and operationally support the delivery of the SPD-wide strategic plan so the Church can continue to become a disciple-making movement.

FK: The CFO provides strategic financial leadership to the four unions and five institutions. In addition to that, the Division delivers centralised services through separate companies, which includes services like insurance, centralised banking, technology, corporate secretarial services and property, which all sit under the portfolio of the CFO.

AR: What excites you about your role?

GT: I get excited when I meet Adventist people all over the Pacific who are naturally becoming better disciple makers. I listen to their stories, take photos and share the stories because they inspire me, and I hope to inspire others to make a difference like Jesus.

MS: I’m excited about the opportunities for growth and development. We thank God and celebrate the Church with its systems and processes we’ve inherited to date and recognise those who made a difference before us. 

FK: To see first-hand how God is leading His Church and how many lives are transformed in a miraculous way.

AR: What excites you about what is happening in the SPD at the moment? 

GT: The Church in the SPD pivoted well despite the challenges of COVID-19 travel and meeting restrictions.

The World Changers Bible and the Bible Discovery Reading method were used extensively in groups. Now there are new gatherings of disciples meeting in smaller groups and churches in most countries of the SPD. 

10,000 Toes—the lifestyle medicine strategy to stop type 2 diabetes and other non-communicable diseases in the Pacific is already changing lives. Pacific governments are partnering with us because they recognise our contribution to changing health in the village, workplace and home. 

Media is having a huge impact. The Church has television presence via Hope Channel in Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, American Samoa, Tahiti and much of the Pacific. Faith FM radio in Australia and Hope FM in PNG, Fiji, Honiara and Kiribati. Also digital media ministries online such as Mums At The Table.

There are many local community programs that are having an impact in everyday lives—community gardens, soup kitchens, food pantries and other social justice care ministries.

Various leadership development programs and processes throughout the SPD.

There is much more! We have vision, plans, people and other resources to make a difference if we really focus.

MS: I love the clear focus on discipleship, embracing the fact that we are a priesthood of all believers. We all have a unique part to play. It’s amazing to see how God is leading His last-day movement. It’s always exciting when each of us follow Jesus and focus on His mission/agenda together.

FK: We are looking at new and better ways of doing discipleship, with an emphasis on innovation. It excites me to see how the Church came out of COVID-19 stronger in some ways—where small groups are now converted into churches, how our giving patterns have gone up beyond expectation and how agile we were.

AR: What are you looking forward to achieving in your role?

GT: Expanding the disciple-making movement with the end-time message and seeing real progress in the biggest mission challenges we have—the cities of Australia and New Zealand. 

MS: Given the significant membership growth in our Division, we must ensure that we have a strong pool of competent leaders to help fulfil the mission of the Church. 

FK: For the past 10 years, the SPD has underinvested in technology. Recently we voted a Digital Transformation Roadmap that will bring technology in our local churches, conferences, unions and Division up to date. This not only includes systems to cater for much-needed business processes, but also disciple-making systems. This will provide us with further data for decision making that we don’t currently have.

What challenges will the SPD face in the next three years? 

GT: The SPD contains a very diverse cultural mix—Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, Aboriginal, Maori, European and many more. We need to keep talking and listening to each other so we can claim the unity we have in Jesus. 

Structures in church entities will need to be assessed again to see if they are really meeting our mission and purpose effectively. The way we do our church business in a changing world has to adapt because we don’t want to be irrelevant; we want to be agile and really fulfilling our vision.

MS: I see challenges to the unity of the Church. The world is becoming increasingly divisive on many levels. If we aren’t careful, we can mirror and incorporate certain prevailing negative traits. Before Calvary, Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church as He was concerned about it. Let us maintain the spirit of Isaiah where we can come and reason together. Our diversity adds complexity to us moving forward together but the reality is we are much better off as one body of Christ with many unique and equal parts. 

I also see regulatory requirements increasing: while we strive to be good citizens, collectively compliance is requiring more and more time and resources.

FK: There is a continued growth in anti-Christian sentiment in society that will make it more difficult to operate our Church companies. Employment, in general, will be a major issue for us. There is a decline in Avondale University enrolments which will place major stress on our school system to find staff. In areas like accounting and IT, many times we advertise roles with not a single applicant. Many of our senior staff will retire in the next three years for which we need to plan. Two of our institutions have really struggled during the COVID-19 period, so the next three years will be critical for getting these institutions back on track. Pray for us as we work through these challenges and that God might intervene.

AR: What do you hope to see happen in the SPD during the next three years? 

GT: Jesus will come! 

We hope to see more and more people know who they are in Jesus; be excited by Jesus’ soon return; and do all that they can, personally and with their church, to make more and better disciples with Jesus.

MS: I hope that we continue to allow God the Holy Spirit to help us take discipleship to a whole new level. I pray this starts with each of us making the best decision we can ever make and that is to follow Jesus and I pray that we allow Him to be the Lord of all aspects of life. 

FK: We long for the Holy Spirit to be poured out in a mighty way so we as a Church might experience revival and reformation as never before; and that the Church unites in taking God’s end-time message to a dying world so we can see Jesus return to take us home.

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