Ifedayo Olarinde a.k.a Daddy Freeze recently hosted Apostle Johnson Suleman, Overseer of Omega Fire Ministry in a live online broadcast and asked sundry questions from him. Find below excerpts and a paraphrased version of the about 1 hour 30 minutes interactive session as monitored by Church Times Nigeria
What is your definition of who a man of God is?
Let me first say every man is the same before God. There is neither Greek nor Jew. But then, talking about a man of God, many people believe a man of God is somebody on collar. There is a religious mentality that have beclouded people that make them see a man of God as somebody who is leading a congregation.
But my definition of a man of God is somebody who has been called of God. A man of God is a person called of God to a specific people not to impoverish them. But he must bear in mind that God is no respecter of persons. The man of God must have a message. He must be focused on the welfare of the people and must have a living conscience. The man of God is not necessarily somebody who leads a congregation.
So are you saying one can lead a people and not be a man of God?
Absolutely. Somebody can claim to lead a people without being a man of God. Your calling must reflect in the lives of the people you are leading. For instance, I can’t afford to see members of my church impoverished. If that is the case, such member won’t be representing me well.
You seem to harp on welfare. What are your thoughts on this?
The essence of gathering together and having a physical numerical formation is for welfare. The concern of the early church was welfare. They catered for the widows and the orphans. Welfare was a major project in the early church so much that it became an issue that it was going to distract the apostles from their primary calling that they had to appoint deacons to be in charge of it.
The more your church grows the more trouble. James makes it clear that the religion that is not defiled and pure is to take care of strangers, widows and the poor. For instance in our church most of the graduates who are yet to secure job, we put them on salary pending when they get a job. We have widows programme in the church. Initially the widows were about five. But when some other widows who were not members of our church saw how we treated them, they joined. Now they are about 221. I pay them every month. I have been feeding them for 11 years now.
My concern is to see members in our church look well. My idea of church is welfare. You can’t claim that you are preaching a gospel that will prevent people from going to hell fire when they are in earth fire. To me, when we talk of church what I think of is welfare.
How will you react to pastors that are being idolised. There are cases of pastors who walk on people and sometimes make their members carry them?
Let me say this, people are emotional when it comes to religion. That is why they sometimes idolise their leaders. But then, I try to be careful not to criticize men of God because I may talk about them today and they would have made peace with God unknown to me.
To answer your question, I have seen videos of pastors who walk on people and abuse them. Those who do that are illiterate and spiritually bankrupt. It is left for pastors to dissuade members from worshiping them. You may not condemn pastors that people call father because when a pastors plays a fatherly role in the life of people nothing wrong if those people call them fathers. If you have earned it nothing wrong. But it is wrong to take advantage of people. Walking on people, and being carried on their shoulders is not right. As pastors we need to be careful about commendation and condemnation. The problem we have is extremity. I believe ministers of God should be honoured not worshipped.
What is your understanding of Order in the church?
Order is the mother of progress. Paul talked about putting things in order. Even wicked men understand the place of order. Ahitophel set his house in order before he hung himself. There must be structure in the house of God. When I give people assignment in the church I don’t interfere. When people have become Lords of themselves they are dangerous. Order thrives where there is a good structure
On CAMA, do you think the church should react the way it is doing presently?
The church is not supposed to take anything hook line and sinker. The book of Prov. 28v4 says only the lawless praise the wicked. There is a social contract between the government and the governed. The state should provide security and social services in exchange for people’s loyalty. Once there is a breach of trust, the law has been breached. Today, if you drive from Lagos to Abuja you will see all kinds of illegality. There is legal illegality; that is the one committed by law enforcement agencies. And there is illegal illegality caused by bandits you meet on the road. The church is supposed to speak up against all these evils.
But then the church should be fair in its judgement. When the leadership is right the church should applaud them. I have never insulted the person of the president. But I criticize his style of governance. It is the duty of the church to cry against oppression. We must see injustice and call it injustice.
The CAMA law as far as I am concerned has already been working. There are many pastors that are in jail today. But then, we have to look at CAMA and view it objectively. There is a section that says that the CAC has a right to suspend the bank account of the church. We may have to still discuss that. But nobody is fighting against that. It is the extreme form of the law that we are against. The aspect that says the CAC can change the board of trustees is what we are fighting.
I have churches in 68 countries. In the US the government is fully interested in how money is spent in the church because it also gives support. The scenario in the US is different from here. In US there is respect for freedom of speech. The government there provides jobs. You can apply for grants; what they call forgivable loans. We have none of that here.
But let me shock you. This so called Act is not against the church. It is against NGOs. Many pastors have access to the governors and those in government. My father in the Lord (Pastor Enoch Adeboye) was with the president just recently. So it will be difficult for those in government to do anything against churches. It is the NGO’s we are crying for. Some of these NGOs are getting funding from abroad and the government is scared that such funding may be used against them. What we are doing now is for the sake of the NGO. The fact that we can’t go to court as stipulated in the Act is also laughable. How can you pass a law that has no respect for the law? That is the issue.
But how do you reconcile the injunction to obey those in authority with an act like CAMA and the reaction of the church?
Sometimes I can get angry and react to government policies. So I am also guilty of reacting violently to government policies. I can get so angry when I feel offended by government policies. No matter how anointed we are, it does not eliminate our temperament. But we get better by the day. I am better now than before now. I come from a religion that thrives in violence before I became born again. So I will not blame ministers who speak harshly against government because they are emotional and angry especially when we they see a total deviation from the law.
I am not confrontational to government. I pay my tax. I pay N4.6M, my wife pays about N2.5M. The church has never been anti-government. The church has always been supportive. I was working on a federal road around our church area one time. Some senators called me and warned me not to work on the road. But the irony is that the public use the road more than we do. The Church is not anti-government. We have always been supportive.
There is a notion that pastors live opulent lives at the mercy of their congregation. How will you react to this?
People have wrong notion about pastors. I became a millionaire at 19. I was born to a wealthy home. At that age I was into selling farm produce and other businesses. I used to travel to the north to buy these things. Before I became 24 I had given 11 of my cars to friends.
I tell anybody who wants to go into ministry to pray for a good woman as wife and have a source of income. When members of your church know you don’t depend on their offering they will respect you. God will not be angry with me if I have businesses that have no church funds in it. That is different from using church funds to do business. If you have business outside the church you can do anything with your money as long as you’re doing what is right. The anger of God comes when you deep your hand into church funds and you form a lifestyle that is wrong. I am close to many of these pastors. A Pastor E . A Adeboye for instance can never put his hands in church coffers. It is the people who are close to him who sponsor many of the things he does. I was in the church service one day and he mentioned that the church would need N25 billion for the roofing of the large auditorium. One man in the crowd sent a message that he would do it. At the end of the service I saw the man. He is a well-known man in the country I don’t want to mention his name.
When a pastor now takes church money and diverts it for other use, there is a problem. When people complain about mission’s school being expensive, I would like to know the privileges from the school. My wife runs Dynamic British Academy the school fees of the equivalent of the school in Lagos is N1.9m per term. But in our school we collect N30k. If those students talk you will strain your ears. They are so British because they are following the British curriculum. I have to take money from other investments to pay the teachers. I believe school fees should be moderate. The first beneficiary of your school as a pastor should be your members. The reason I can’t give a blanket statement to say it is evil or wrong to charge exorbitant fees is because I do not know the benefits that accrued to students of these expensive mission schools. If for instance they give them laptop every semester, I can understand why it is so. But if it is just education, it is wrong to charge high fees.
The mission school has to have a charity mindset. The school we run is just five years. When we began people thought we won’t be able to sustain it because of what we were charging. But today we have people coming from all over the place bringing their children. We should commend churches that are doing it well. That is what I see. The first jet I ever had was given to me by two people. One of them lived with me. He was abroad and had relationship with the daughter of a rich man who owned a company where he worked. His father in-law died eventually because he was seriously sick. And the man before his death had willed all that he had to his daughter and her husband who happened to be the brother I trained. This young man has become so wealthy because the father-in-law bequeathed the wealth of the family to her daughter and her husband.
The guy is a billionaire now. Because I invested in him when he was younger he does not joke with me. Being a pastor is a calling. But a lot of people don’t understand. For instance I raised offering for a lady at a time. A young man just picked that aspect of the funds raising and posted it on the social media saying I was raising money unduly. I later asked our people to release the full video later to show that the money was being raised for a lady in need in the church. I come to church every Sunday with N1.5 million. to give people in need at the end of the service. The pandemic was my happiest time in life because I was free from the people.
Talking about the pandemic, what will you say about the reaction of some church leaders?
I was one of those who asked for shut down when the virus newly came. We all supported government because this is a virus that we knew little about. But with time when the lockdown was eased and people started moving, we discovered that the virus was not as what was projected. We saw crowded buses and market places and there was no outbreak, yet churches were still under lock. It then became clear that the lockdown was anti-pastor, anti-church. We need to then begin to call the attention of the government to this. We must have a balanced gospel. Those worshiping online and offline should have their way.
I do not say things to incite people. I may say things that could incite but my wife had always counseled me to calm down. The truth is that activism has been in my blood for long. I was Student Union president in my school. I shut down the school for two months because of increase of school fees. Activism has been in my blood for long. But I realise that I need to tone down my rhetoric. So when pastors were talking on 5G it was based on the information available to them. I have not done proper study of the 5g and I could not say anything on it and those who say something on it I could not condemn.
It’s unlike the CAMA. I studied it very well for a week before I talked on it. We are in support of transparency and accountability but we can’t allow that clause that says the board of trustees of the church can be changed at will.