Pastor Isaac Abiara is the son of well-known Prophet Samuel Abiara, former General Evangelist of Christ Apostolic Church, and founder of CAC Agbala Itura.
Isaac Abiara oversees CAC Vineyard of Comfort (Agbala Itura) in Dallas Texas, US. In this interview with Church Times, he gives his perspective of how the church should run. Excerpts:
There is a general belief that church founders strategically place their children to take over from them. What is your own experience in this regard? How did you come into ministry work. ?
Incidentally, I never wanted to be a pastor. I just did not entertain the idea. I struggled for a number of years before I gave up struggling with God. I just discovered that every other thing I wanted to do was not working until I said yes to the Lord.
Why was it difficult to say yes to God’s call. Did you have any experience while growing up that made you develop a thick skin for ministry work?
I did not want to do it because of the challenges pastors’ kids face. When we were growing up, we did not enjoy life as young children. When some of our friends were traveling to the UK and the US for holiday, we were always going to the mountain for retreats.
We could not go to parties like everybody. We could not live a normal life like everybody. There is always this expectation from the people around that you have to meet. Because of that, I made up my mind not to have anything to do with the ministry as soon as I am independent.
So as soon as I got out of the house I just forgot the idea of becoming a pastor. But then my mum played a great role in impacting us because she was always around while my father traveled around for ministry work. That early impact helped to shape my worldview later in life.
When you say you did not like the way pastors’ kids were treated, how do you mean? Were people judging you?
Yes of course. As a young boy, I was being judged along with my siblings. People scrutinize every of our actions and sometimes conclude that certain behaviours were not expected of us being pastors kids. Then I used to wonder if we were not human beings?
Now that you are fully involved in ministry work, how are you providing a synergy between the expectations of people and the life your children live?
Now that I have grown and am now in ministry, I have realised that pastoring is serious work. I have also come to understand the need for balance. I have been able to manage my family well by God’s grace. There is time for ministry and there is time for the family. It is for us to pray for the grace to manage the two. Unlike what I experienced while growing up, my children are enjoying every bit of church life because I am able to create time for them.
Is it that your father could not achieve that balance for you while growing up?
Our fathers in faith took the call as their life. Every other thing was secondary. It was easy for them to do that because our mothers were able to let our fathers face ministry work while they stayed at home. But now we live in a generation where women don’t want to stay at home. So we need to flow with the tide. That is why I don’t joke with my family. As I am talking now if my wife calls I will have to stop to give her attention. I don’t have any social life except life with my wife and children. I am not prolific on social media.
Why are you not active on social media. So many pastors are taking advantage of it to propagate the gospel.
Yes. We do that in our ministry too. But personally, I am not prolific when it comes to making posts and personal comments. I discovered that if we are not careful social media can ruin our lives. So for me, my day oscillates between the church and home.
But that should not stop you from being active on social media?
I believe we must be careful that we are not hundred percent focused on social media. The world gets to know whatever we post on social media which is very good. If after this interview we don’t write anything about it on social media or whatever media, nobody will hear about it. To that extent, it is good, because we can disseminate information fast. It is a good medium for sharing the gospel. But then we need to take a lot of care before we share whatever we want to share on social media. We should not talk glibly and loosely. We need to weigh our views and be sure we are sharing what will impact life. That is the point I am making because once the views are shared, it will be difficult to reverse them.
Have you had an untoward experience on social media you will like to share?
Not at all. But several months ago someone wrote on the blog that my father, Prophet S.K Abiara had died. And the information went viral in less than 11 minutes. I spoke to the lady who manages the blog and she said one of her staff posted and that immediately she pulled it down. She said it was only up for 11 minutes. Within those 11 minutes, the whole world was already calling. Everybody was running in a panic because of an 11-minute post. That is why I said we need to be careful with the use of the social media
Let’s talk about your experience in ministry. How has it been?
It’s been rewarding and quite challenging. In ministry work, you can be easily distracted with the drive for success. You get carried away by the success of other pastors and also want to meet up. But if you are not distracted, you will find it fulfilling. I think people should learn to remain within their calling. That is the way to lasting peace and joy.
Some people believe your father has cleared the ground for you, that you really don’t have a problem navigating through?
I have gone through some stuff that people don’t believe. It got to a point where I had no money and could not pay my bills despite being the son of Prophet Abiara. I deliberately did not go ask him for help. But then my wife has been quite supportive. She has been my backbone apart from God. One of the things baba has taught us is the value of the name he has built over the years. He has worked so hard in this country. His name stands out.
So I can’t deny that people have dealt favourably with me because of the name. I tell my children too to cherish and value the name. In the US, when they get to know my children are Abiara they enjoy special favour.
For how long have you been in ministry and what is the area of your calling?
I have been in ministry for 23 years. I am specifically in the teaching ministry. God has graced me with the ability to teach. I am at my best when teaching God’s word.
Earlier before the interview, we talked about practices in today’s Church that suggest the anointing is being merchandised. We also talked about some of the idolatrous Christian practices. What way do you think the orientation of the people can be changed?
Education is the key. We need to keep educating our people and exposing them to scriptural truth. The truth makes you free. The situation of the country has helped to create gullible Christians. People are easily deceived and they don’t like to take responsibility. But when you teach people they will be free. We need to deliberately teach people and let them see certain scriptures that will give them liberty and make them have independent minds. They need to be taught that they can have a relationship with the holy spirit.
The church can employ the teaching tool positively to re-programme the minds of the people so they would not be manipulated by anybody.
We need to teach the believer that they can pray on their own and God will answer. We should teach them to independently relate with God who is also their father. They should not contract their spiritual responsibility to the pastor. It’s like your child needs something and he has to go through another person to reach you. How does that feel? If God is our fathers we must be bold to approach the throne of grace so we can obtain mercy from him
You seem to have a different theological understanding. Some pastors prefer they dictate how their members live their lives. They give them specific instructions on when to fast and pray?
It’s unfortunate. A church can have corporate praying and fasting. There is no problem with that. Where it goes wrong is when members need approval for every spiritual step they take.
We are all responsible to God and the congregation should not be dependent on their pastors spiritually. The only thing the pastor owes the congregation is to teach them and point the way to them. They should sit back and watch their members take responsibility.
The Bible says those who believe will take up serpents, heal the sick and speak with new tongues. The Bible didn’t say only pastors will do that. Unfortunately, some pastors believe they should have control over their members. We are all children of God and we all have access to the father. All the men of God have the same access to God as church members have.
So how will you react to the way church members call the name of their pastors while praying. They say the God of so and so and then go on praying?
I think people say that because of the grace upon the lives of those servants of God. It’s like saying, if God can do it for this servant of God, he can do it for me too. But we have to be careful it does not become idolatrous. There is a thin line between mentioning pastors’ names while praying and idolizing them. If we place undue emphasis on pastors at the place of prayer, we may be at risk of idolatry.
How did you arrive at your own theological understanding?
I did some study on my own. I discovered there are several ways we can get to know God. For instance, there is the historical way of knowing him The children of Israel had such experience. They got to know the God of their fathers by experience. They were told stories about God’s dealing with their fathers. There is the providential knowledge of God. In that case, the person knows God because of the way God has been supplying his needs and intervening in his personal life.
In my case, I knew God through my father because he sort of showed us the way when we were growing up under his tutelage. But then I had to find God myself. I had to experience him personally so I can tell my own story. God deals with us differently. If you try to know God through another person’s revelation your relationship with God will be frustrating.
That is the challenge we have in Nigeria. Many of us are seeing God from the prism of Pastor Adeboye, Bishop Oyedepo, and some of the great men of God. While those men are wonderful and doing great, we need to discover God by ourselves.
The pastor should be able to show the people the word so that they can discover God by themselves. God revealed himself to Abraham as Jehovah Jireh, but then he revealed himself to Moses as I am that I am. When you know God yourself you will not be moved and carried away by every wind of doctrine. David told Solomon, know the God of your father.
So how do you go about doing this in your ministry from your pastoring experience?
We don’t permit any form of manipulation because that is a form of witchcraft. We allow people to be independent in their thinking. We only guide them with the word of God. I don’t go about imposing some things on our members.
We preach and teach the undiluted word of God without apology to anybody. God has given the church different gifts for the edification of the church. We encourage people to operate in their gifts. Pastors are like signboards. We show the congregation where they should go and watch them go there and grow.