By Chika Abanobi
The news about Pastor Isaac Oyedepo, the second son of Bishop David Oyedepo, the revered Minister of God and Founder of the Living Faith Tabernacle, aka Winners Chapel, resigning from his father’s ministry, to go start his own ministry came as a big shock to the Christian world last week. The young pastor has however issued a public statement on his Twitter handle to deny this.
Before his alleged resignation, he was the Global Youth Pastor of the church. That was, after serving the church in various capacities as pastor of its branches in South Africa, Abuja, and Maryland, USA.
Although ThisDay and other newspapers did not give the reason why he resigned other than running with the divine mandate of reclaiming his generation and to “ensure that they see the fire of God’s revival,” Church Times report shows that his resignation has something to do with the frustration he is facing in getting his father and the entire church leadership to see the need to raise the pay of full-time staff, pastoral and non-pastoral, on their payroll.
He believes that the church makes enough money to take adequate care of their needs. He and his father were said to be at loggerheads over the issue. But whether the news is true or not, there are some lessons for many Nigerian churches/ministries to learn from the incident.
Lesson 1: Muzzle not the ox that treads out the corn (1 Timothy 5:18, KJV)
If the truth be told, Pastor Isaac Oyedepo is not the first person to raise the alarm over the issue of poor pay among Nigerian churches and ministries. On February 5, 2017, Sunday Punch, in its front-page story titled “Revealed: Nigeria’s rich mega churches pay pastors poor salaries” carried an extensive and comprehensive report in which it indicted not only the Living Faith Church but also other churches like The Redeemed Christian Church, Deeper Life Bible Church, Christ Embassy, Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries,, The Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Church, etc. over the issue. But whether Pastor Isaac’s intransigent stance on the matter picked a cue from the scandalous news report or not is what this writer cannot say.
The crux of the matter is that heads of churches/ministries in Nigeria and Africa should pay their workers, especially full-time ones whose livelihood depends on the work they do for the church/ministry living wages. In an ever-dwindling economy like Nigeria’s, if it is good to live comfortably well and to send your kids to elite schools from the proceeds of the offerings and donations that are coming into the church/ministry’s coffers, it is equally good for your workers to enjoy the same privileges. This is not because they are equal to you in spiritual ranking or gifts but because they are men/women who are likeminded as you (Philippians 2:20, KJV) in hazarding their lives for the sake of the gospel (Acts 15:26). They are the ones who God has given you to share the propagation of the gospel with. A labourer is worthy of his hire (Luke 10:7).
Act of grave injustice
One of the great acts of injustice that people think that churches, especially Pentecostal churches in Nigeria commit and are still committing till tomorrow is to gather money from the poor peasants to build educational institutions colleges, or universities that their children will not attend. Instead, only the rich and super-rich among them who can afford the exorbitant fees being charged in such institutions are allowed to school there.
Even children of outsiders who did not contribute anything towards the development of such institutions are also allowed to attend as long as they can afford the fees.
The late Dr. Tai Solarin, known to have lived and died an avowed atheist, did not believe in the existence of God. Yet, for years, he swore not to wear decent trousers or apparel but only khaki shorts and shirts until every child, especially those of the poor and indigent in Nigeria, is educated.
Though utopian in its purport, the very fact that he subjected himself to such self-denial in a bid to draw our attention to an important fact that we, politicians and pastors alike, of various political leanings, denominations, and religious callings, are negligent of, comes as a big indictment on us who claim to know and serve God.
Whatever religious name or label you bear, whatever grace or power you manifest in the gospel, “I say unto you that except your righteousness (your concern for the poor in your church or ministry in the area of universal education) shall exceed the righteousness (the concern that Tai Solarin ‘the atheist’ had for the Nigerian child), ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 5:20).
In fact, to use the very words of Christ Himself (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 10: 13-14, KJV), it might be more tolerable for Solarin on the day of judgement because, in spite of his atheistic belief and profession, it was ennobling that he could hold such strong concern for the Nigerian child, more than those who profess to be the second-in-command to God but who are busy selling off to the highest bidder the common education patrimony meant for the poor and indigent child.
Lesson 2: Don’t think if God does not speak through you then He has not spoken
This is where we leaders, and ministers of God, in His vineyard, make one of our greatest mistakes. We think we are so big and indispensable that if God does not speak to us or through us concerning any change He wants to bring about in His church, then He has not spoken. The truth is, when it comes to ministration, administration, and the work of God, He can speak through anybody, including babes in the Lord or our own biological offspring,
For instance, God spoke to Moses through Zelophehad’s daughters (Numbers 27:1-11) when he was wondering whether to give them their father’s inheritance or not, as he had no male child. He spoke through Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law on the need to check the effect of physical exertion on his soul, spirit, and body, by recommending for him division of labour in the work he is doing for God (Exodus 18: 13-24). He even asked Moses to pray about it and to seek God’s approval of the recommendations before he embarks on their implementation (verses 19,23). The maid to Naaman, the Assyrian General, was instrumental in his eventual healing from leprosy by Prophet Elisha (2 Kings 5:1-8).
Peter was used by God to confirm the messianic mission of our Lord Jesus (Matthew 16:13-17). The truth is, in the Body of Christ, we are all imbued with different gifts of the Spirit including that of administration (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11). Your duty as a man of God or as a leader over God’s people, is to crosscheck what the ‘reformist’ or ‘reformer’ is saying with the Word of God or Voice of God and not to say no out of spiritual pride or ego.
So? Let no minister of God or leader of God’s people have this notion that except God speaks through him, whatever is being said, whatever is being revealed for correction in the Body of Christ cannot be true. We should learn to separate ministerial ego or pride from clearly defined Divine voice so that we can hear God clearly. Anybody in our church or ministry can be used by God to correct certain things going wrong there. Don’t be like the self-conceited Zedekiah, son of Kenaanah who “walked up to Micaiah and slapped him across the face. When did the Spirit of the Lord leave me to speak to you?”, he demanded (1 Kings 22:24, NLT).
“When did the Spirit of the Lord leave me to speak to you?” Almost on a daily basis, you see that attitude, that demeanour, mien on the faces and body language of founding fathers or church leaders who feel that they started this race or project before you were born or joined the church or ministry. Therefore, you should learn to respect old age, patterns, and tradition and keep ‘your opinion’ or ‘idea’ to yourself. They can even quote hurriedly assembled Bible passages for you to support or buttress their positions.
Lesson 3: Budding church ‘reformers’ need to tread with caution
In being used by God to bring about the expected change or reformation in the way things are being done in the church, we must understand that Satan can use the same idea that God has given us to bless the church with, to put a banana peel on our way that might eventually lead to our downfall. This is why the scriptures urge us to be humble enough to see ourselves as unprofitable servants.
Don’t let the change that the Lord has used you to bring about in the church or ministry get into your head, For Absalom, it was written that he ‘got up early every morning and went out to the gate of the city. When people brought a case to the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from, and they would tell him their tribe. Then Absalom would say, “You’ve really got a strong case here! It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it. I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!” When people tried to bow before him, Absalom wouldn’t let them. Instead, he took them by the hand and kissed them. Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel.”(2 Samuel 15:1-6, New Living Translation, NLT).
Whatever reformation or change you are agitating for, your goal should not be to take the shine off your leader or make yourself the cynosure. Rather, your focus should be on the progress of the work of God and His glory. “Those who present their own ideas are looking for praise for themselves, but those who seek to honour the one who sent them are good and genuine” (John 7:18, NLT).
Don’t talk or behave in a manner that makes people know that you are the driving force behind the change that the congregation is now seeing, that without you, it wouldn’t have been possible to pull it off. In life, most times, what goes round comes around. If you use worldly wisdom to look better and wiser than your leader, one day too, one of your children or workers or pastors is going to treat you the same way because “whatever measure you use in judging others, it will be used to measure how you are judged”(Matthew 7:2, NLT). Isn’t this the truth we learn from reading Wole Soyinka’s The Jero Plays?
Lesson 4: Let God be your great reward
This is what God told Abraham (Genesis 15:1). if we are working for God, we must do so with all our hearts, whether man (in this case, represented by the head of the church or administrative heads) pays us well or not. Church administration and leadership may put you and your family in great deprivations. But we should not depend on what they do or did not do for us, to serve Christ.
So? If there seems to be an oppressive environment in the place where you stay to serve God, don’t go looking for help from man. Instead, take the matter to the Lord in prayers believing that He would hear your cry and come to your rescue in one way or the other. Whatever happens, don’t be stampeded into the agitation for better pay because you serve God, not man.
Lesson 5: After the storm comes sunshine
Nigerians and Africans tend to see a problem where there is none. They like to fan embers of fire into a full-fledged conflagration that is capable of consuming a big-time spiritual enterprise. This is why I was happy when Pastor Isaac himself, possibly urged by his mother and close confidants, in The Punch report, some days ago, came out to deny any rift between him and his father, David Snr.
Among other things, he clarified that “there is no complication in my relationship with my beloved family and my beloved dad (Bishop David Oyedepo) who has stood by me and supported me over the years nor are there any in my commitment to my church-turned-home… I remain a steadfast member of the Living Faith Church dedicated to the service of the body of Christ.
“I urge the general public to treat information not communicated by me or any of my social media platforms with extreme caution. There should be no further publications on any severance of my relationships with the Living Faith Church without my express authorisation, as it may be considered a breach of my privacy. Thank you so much for your understanding”
Even if there is or there was, I don’t see such rift lasting forever. Father and son are bound to meet somewhere if not now, then in the future. That was what happened in 2012 when Andy Stanley formerly of the US-based In-Touch Ministries, one of the mega-churches/ministries in that country broke away from his father’s church to find North Point Ministries, one of the fast-growing and largest churches in America today. Before then, he was being groomed by his father Charles Stanley to take over from him as his successor. Incidentally, like Pastor Isaac Oyedepo, at a point, he ended up as the coordinating Youth Minister of the burgeoning church/ministries.
A father’s recollection of son’s manifestation of his spiritual gift
Recalling the first time he heard his son preach, Charles said: “I was tickled pink. I instantly knew that God could use him.” The subtext that the man of God forgot to add was that he had hoped that use by God would happen in his church/ministry, not elsewhere, in his son taking over from him. But was not to be an irreconcilable difference over church leadership style and tradition which idealized over the new, making the now-generation disinterested and unreachable, set in, between father and son.
In a newspaper interview, Andy said: “I tell my staff everything has a season,”. He says in an interview with CNN. “One day we’re not going to be the coolest church. Nothing is forever. As soon as somebody thinks forever, that’s when they close their hand. Now they have to control, maintain, and protect it. … Things get weird.”
But today, after some season of frosty relationship over the way and the reason Andy left his father’s ministry to set up his own, father and son are the best of pals. Charles preaches in his son’s church. And, likewise Andy in his father’s.
I see the same happening between Bishop Oyedepo and his son, Isaac, even if he eventually breaks away tomorrow after the denials. So? Nothing spoil, as Nigerians would say in Pidgin English. Instead, the more the merrier.
Lesson 6: Inheriting your father’s church/ministry does not make you outstanding
In contemporary times, we’ve had ministers of God like Kenneth Hagin Snr handing over to Kenneth Hagin Jnr or Oral Roberts Snr doing the same for Oral Roberts Jnr. But honestly speaking, one has not seen these successors making the same impact as their fathers did while in charge. As far as spreading the gospel is concerned, I wouldn’t know which is better and more spiritually beneficial and impactful: inheriting your father’s church/ministry legacy and carrying on with his God-given mandate for his generation or waiting on God to receive the original vision and fire for your generation.
With the first, you are bogged down with keeping to a pattern, working with a church tradition that may not serve any useful purpose because its operators are after perpetuating a name rather than submitting themselves to the Rhema demands of the Word from God’s Spirit for the new generation. It is in light of this truth that the Word of the Lord in Matthew 15:4-9 about worshippers/religionists substituting the Word of God with the traditions, doctrines, and teachings of men, must be viewed.
Also read: Deeper Life @ 50: 50 Great lessons from my 44-year membership:https://churchtimesnigeria.net/story-of-my-44-years-in-deeper-life-as-church-celebrates-50-years/
But make no mistake about it: those church doctrines and traditions are based on the undiluted Word of God. But it is not always a doctrine or tradition or pattern based on the Word of God is something that the Spirit of God wants to work with. The only problem is that they take the heart away from God and through that way make you a mechanical worshipper whose only joy and confidence is only in the keeping of some church doctrines which in themselves do not have the power to keep anyone whose heart is far from God holy.
Lesson 7: When there appears to be a ‘clash’ between divine vision/mandate and church tradition, choose the first
Contrary to what many believe or teach, church tradition is good as many are based on the revealed Word of God. The truth is, if some people did not preserve the traditions, there is no way we could have benefited from them. If we are benefiting from our church or ministry’s traditions, it is because some people choose to preserve them, sometimes at the detriment of their lives or honour. This is why we are urged to “stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 KJV). In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, we read: “We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”
But then it must also be said that there are times when a seemingly innocuous Christian tradition can hinder a new move of God or of the Spirit. At such time, those who have over the years developed a pattern or tradition of judging whether a particular move of the Spirit is of the Lord or not may have some problems tracking the trajectory of this new move (Acts 10:9-16; 11:1-18). The traditionists will always want to keep and walk by the tradition of “church elders” or insist that everyone does so even when it is obvious that it is not in tandem with what the Spirit of God would want us to do at a particular time or period.
Kumuyi and other founders broke away from tradition
This is why Pastor W.F. Kumuyi left the Apostolic Faith because of his belief that you don’t have to wait for anybody to ordain you before going out to preach the gospel to every creature. This is how founders of many of the mega-churches that we have in Nigeria today, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Christ Apostolic Church, The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, The Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Renewal Movement, Watchman Catholic Church Renewal Movement, Mountain of Prayer and Fire Revival Ministries, Christ Embassy and Salvation Ministries, etc, come to break away from the old order to form theirs. But the ironic thing is that, with time, they too relapse into traditions and practices that seem to get in the way of the new move of the Spirit. This is especially so when they begin to adhere to the laid-down patterns and principles of the church.
Whenever you leave the Word, Spirit, and Grace–Giver to concentrate on the doctrines and traditions of a church or on currying the favour, prayers, and blessings of its Founder, you lose touch with God. Your prayers and service become mechanical or fake. You begin to assess your stance with God on whether the Leader/Founder approves of your actions or not, smiles or frowns at you.
What’s more, you become a faultfinder of those who do not walk according to the “tradition of the elders.” Obedience to church leadership is elevated above obedience to God’s Word. In situations where God would demand mercy, we demand and preach sacrifice. In the case of the Scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees, it got to the point where they became angry with Jesus for healing on Sabbath days, Yet, if their sheep fell into the pit on Sabbath days, they would find a way of bringing it out without minding that it was a Sabbath day,
In any church where doctrines and traditions are placed above God’s Word, you see such hypocrisy and double standards. They preach sacrifice, but they live in affluence and luxury. Worshipers or members hardly forgive if you offended them. In fact, it is better, if you offend God Himself and ask for forgiveness than to offend any of the members or leaders.
So? In any church where you are bequeathed with such dubious legacy full of envy, jealousy, hypocrisy, and intrigues, you may not run far with the vision. You would always be bogged down with the dirty politics of the place. You would always have cause to constantly look over your shoulders as you serve in the house of God because in spite of all the speaking in tongues for three or four hours a day, someone is waiting, even praying for you to make a mistake somewhere and you will be gone forever. Because that is their expectation, they will not correct you in love when they see you going the wrong way. It is because of this that many people are not trustful of their fellow brethren in the church. (John 1:47, KJV).
A preacher’s strange case
Pastor Isaiah Dayo Lawon, the Oyo State Pastor for Deeper Life Bible Church in the 80s and who grew the church from 100 members to over 12,000 while he was in charge, had an interview, some days ago, with the Church Times. In it, he revealed how some people would take bad reports about him to the General Superintendent, Pastor W.F, Kumuyi obvious to nail him to the Cross. And, whenever he had the chance to meet with the revered man of God, he would check up to find out if those reports were truly so.
His revelation makes one wonder that if such backbiting and backstabbing could happen in a church that preaches and professes sanctification of the soul, spirit, and body, what would happen among workers and pastors of churches that don’t?