My experience​ at the TEDx Johannesburg 2018

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On November 30th, 2018, I attended my first ever TEDx talk in Johannesburg. It had been a desire of mine for many years to attend the famed conference. When I got the opportunity, I took it.

The TEDx is a meeting where great minds share their ideas on a specific theme. This year’s theme was Decoding Greatness. The theme was centered on Nelson Mandela and others like him. As you know, Nelson Mandela is an international icon who amongst others brought an end to apartheid. 18 speakers from diverse fields shared their own ideas on greatness using Nelson Mandela’s life as a prop. It was exciting, inspiring, and enlightening.

An international expert in the neuroscience of learning spoke about how you can rewire your brain using positive thinking to attain to greatness. 

A journalist spoke on how you need character and credibility to stay at the top of your game. 

A noted photographer showed us photographs of his life’s work and how he made it to the top of his field. 

A photojournalist showed pictures and spoke on child sexual abuse. Her photographs stilled the room. 

A young budding African chef spoke on how she has modernized African cuisine. She shared with us some food she had prepared using local ingredients. The food was sumptuous. 

A conservationist shared with us the need for wildlife conservation and the technology he uses in that regard. 

An entrepreneur spoke on how he set up a business to trap rats in Johannesburg and he used his idea as a metaphor on the rat race of life. 

A woman’s rights advocate talked about how sports could be used to advance the rights of women around the world. 

Another spoke on how arts could teach us to be empathetic and humane.

I could go on and on. The talks were inspiring and enlightening.

The premise of the TEDx is to inspire all of us to go out and change the world. There is no negativity at these events. Everyone comes expecting to be inspired and sent out to the world to make a difference. At least that’s what I felt. I left the conference with a renewed sense of hope in humanity. As the talks continued, ideas filled my mind on what I could do to make the world a better place.

Throughout the conference, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the gospel – the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done for us has a place within TEDx.

How could the gospel add to the discussion about greatness? If I were to listen to the gospel on the TEDx platform, what would be the gospel’s uniqueness?

On this particular theme of Decoding Greatness, I think the gospel would have offered an upside down, strange view.

how Jesus decodes greatness

This is how Jesus decodes greatness. This is Jesus to his disciples

Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven… He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take the last place and be the servant of everyone else.”… Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”

(Matthew 18:1-5, Mark 9:33-37, Luke 9:46-48) 

Two things Jesus uses to decode greatness

  • A child

Why a child? A child is lowly, inexperienced, unqualified, naïve, foolish, and weak. The gospel’s idea of greatness is this – if you want to be great you have to be lowly, inexperienced, unqualified, naïve, foolish, and weak. Jesus’ notion of greatness is that you lower yourself to the state of a little child. Only in lowering yourself will you attain to greatness.

  • A servant

The Greek word used for servant is diakonos, which means an attendant, a waiter (at a table or in other menial duties), ‘to kick up dust,’ as one running an errand, one who sustains a permanent servile relation to another, and subordinate. 

Jesus’ idea of greatness means serving others. It means putting yourself last. It means having no significance at all. It means leading from behind. It means no name badges, titles or reserved seating. It’s serving others, serving humanity. 

The gospel and some of the speakers at the TEDx might share this same view. One speaker remarked that Nelson Mandela’s life was one of service to his people. Jesus makes the same claim here. Service and greatness are synonymous. No one becomes great unless they serve. 

What the gospel offers is so counterintuitive that most of the people in that room who I surmise are intellectuals, would deem it offensive or overly simplistic, I think. They would dismiss it as strange and not at all practical. They would insist that the world is changed by brave, confident, learned, strong, and experienced people. And guess what? They are right. The world does not have time and space for the lowly, inexperienced, unqualified, naïve, foolish, and weak.

It’s possible to read this post and wonder, then, what is unique about the gospel, after all, we agree on some key points. 

What is unique to the gospel is grace. No other religion or worldview apart from Christianity lays a claim to this belief called grace. 


The unique thing that the gospel would offer TEDx is grace. After listening to these great ideas, you are sent out to do what you learnt, on your own. You will have to rely on your own resources or connections to make these ideas come to life.

But not so with Jesus. Jesus inspires us with great ideas and then imparts his grace on us that enables us to go and change the world. Jesus, by his Holy Spirit, empowers us to live out these world-changing ideas in the world. You are never left to depend on your finite resources and connections. All of heaven and its resources are working for you, through you, and for your good.

I plan on attending the TEDx talks as long as the opportunity avails itself. I would advise gospel ministers to sign up and attend. At the TEDx space, you get to interact with your members and potential members. You get to listen to what shapes their minds and drives their affections. This, in turn, helps you in presenting the gospel of grace – an unusual and surreal idea that could capture their imaginations and change their hearts, forever.

That’s what grace looks like