The Nigerian church, most especially the religious leaders who oversee them are not quite known for being in the spotlight. It is therefore, surprising to have witnessed in the last couple of weeks and most recently, series of disturbing news emanating from both local and foreign tabloids on some Nigerian religious leaders and the church they control.
Not too long ago, a news published by the UK Daily Mail accused a reknowned Nigerian church owned by a multi-millionaire African preacher and believed to be the largest church in the world of exploiting their worshippers and receiving over £16 million in donations from them. The news went further by accusing the preacher of ‘cynical exploitation’ after its British branch received £16.7 million in donations from followers who were told that God would give them riches in return. Further investigation revealed that followers are ferried in double-decker shuttle buses to the church, handed slips inviting them to make debit card payments, and are even told obeying the ministry’s teachings will make them immune from illness.
Such news are not what religious adherents need to be hearing at this time when christians and the church are faced with threats of bombings and senseless killings from the dreaded sect, Boko Haram in the Northern part of the country. It therefore, behoves religious leaders in the country to begin the process of living above board and playing the proper role of God's faithful vicegerent on earth.
It is, however, quite an irony that many of our churches today have strayed away from its original purpose of pursuing righteousness, exchanging such with vanity. A church is supposed to be the house of God with religious leaders following the examples of Christ and denying themselves the luxury of life which of course would necessarily and naturally lead them astray. The church is founded on virtue and sacrifice for the sake of Christ, it is founded on the threshold of propagating Christ's teachings. The church was founded to win souls, to call people closer to their Lord, to help bring those who have gone astray into the fold of Christ and most importantly to earn salvation.
The church was founded on the premise that 'nothing shall profit a man if he gained the whole world and in return loses his life' and therefore, must live within his means. Lastly, the church was founded and given leaders who are strong willed, men of faith with courage, discipline and the fear of God to stand for what is right and eschew all vices. Men who would deny themselves the vanities of this world to win souls for Christ and men who would against all odds stand firm in faith even in the face of earthly trials and tribulations.
Today, what is witnessed in the church is a far cry to it's real purpose on the body of Christ. The Nigerian church has turned into a business empire for religious leaders to make huge wealth, keep body and soul together, flaunt wealth and frolic with the timbre and calibre of the society. The church has become a place where religious leaders own choice properties worldwide, have millions in fortune, fleet of private jets and even a Rolls-Royce. As if that is not enough, these religious leaders in a bid to join the political train have suddenly made friends with politicians at the corridor of power and who they cannot even criticise for their obnoxious policies and inept style of leadrship upon the vast majority of the people.
In a bid to satisfy their earthly urge for wealth, fame and power, these churches and their leaders target vulnerable people such as the lonely, the sick, the homeless and the suicidal as potential candidates for conversion. This huge recruitment drive is centred on one major purpose -- to get congregants who would in turn make regular donations and pay tithes and therefore, assured by doing this, God would reward them financially.
It is quite appaling to know how some religious leaders go quite far to make clearly spurious claims which appear as a cynical exploitation of the gullible. Many of these gullible worshippers attend these churches in a bid to get the next available miracle which is non-existent. Miracles do not fall from heaven. They are not cheap neither are they gotten on a platter of gold. Miracles are worked for through faith in God, constant prayers and the belief that there is a supernatural being above willing to send down one's miracle.
Simply because quite a number of worshippers suddenly fall into a problem, they quickly wish for such problems to wither away, hence, their visit to churches which promises empty salvation and miracles. At the end, it is the religious leaders who smile home after several unjustified financial obligations, covered in the name of tithes, have been met by the miracle finding worshipper.
Having said this, the recent news that the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor recently bought a private jet is quite disturbing. Disturbing in the sense that the jet was presented to him as a gift at a lavish party, marking the 40th anniversary of his work as a pastor in Warri. This writer begs to know why a pastor of 40 years in the vineyard of the Lord suddenly decided to accept a gift such as a private jet, when more than half of his members at the Word of Life Bible Church in Warri, Delta State live below a dollar? How does he intend to maintain such a private acquisition? And even if the money exists, where would it come from? Who donated the jet as a gift to him? And where did the individual(s) get the money from?
These are questions that need quick answers and it is high time Nigerians started asking these questions, most especially when it comes to those responsible for leading us towards salvation. The fast growing number of high-flying Nigerian pastors who own private jets smacks of nothing but sheer ignorance of how a man of God should live in the body of Christ.
When religious leaders compete among themseves to own fleet of aircraft, travel in expensive Jeeps flanked by convoys of siren-blaring vehicles or have business interests spanning manufacturing, petrol stations, bakeries, water purification factories, recruitment agencies, universities, restaurants, supermarkets, real estate, commercial airline to mention a few, it simply calls to question who really is serving the purpose of Christ on earth .
At this critical period in the country where insecurity pervades everywhere, poverty bites hard and unemployment is on the high side, religious leaders who would give succour like Jesus Christ gave to his followers is what the people need. The mad rush for the vanities of life and a life of comfort without bodily sacrifice is not part of the embodiments of the Biblical teachings.
This is not the time to argue, like many are wont to, that one should not judge so as not to be judged. As christians we must not suffer simply because we lack understanding. Now is the time for our religious leaders to practice what they preach, face the duties assigned to them by God, further Christ’s message of love and compassion for the poor, stop placing materialism above Christ's teachings and put a halt to the undue emphasis on prosperity preaching.