By Gbenga Osinaike
As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped him. But Peter lifted him up saying, Stand up. I myself am also a man (Acts 10v25-26)
I had accompanied a friend to visit a church leader somewhere in Lagos . And I was really enthusiastic to meet this leader whom my friend spoke so well about. But I got the shock of my life when we got to the church and I experienced something else.
As we were waiting patiently for this man of God, my friend and I were busy chatting and reflecting on some of the issues in the body of Christ. Sometimes when you get talking about church issues you probably will spend the whole day talking. But that is not healthy. So what I do these days is to pray when I think certain things are not right. But there is always a need to learn from every situation.
So this particular day we were waiting. And suddenly the man of God arrived. The next thing I saw was that everybody sitting around that area went on their knees. Both old and young were literarily kneeling. I was lost because I didn’t know the tradition. I knew there were instances where people stand up to honour men of God when they arrive at occasion. But this particular instance was a “kneeling honour”.
I just had to comply with the tradition because I think it is proper to honour men of God. It is a case of giving honour to whom honour is due. So we were on our knees until this man of God passed by us and entered his office to start receiving visitors. What got me worried was that some elders in the church who were obviously older than this man of God had to be on their knees while talking to him.
I later gathered it was a tradition in the church. As a matter of fact whenever the man finishes preaching in the church auditorium there are members who form a profile close to the altar. Immediately he leaves the altar he walks in the midst of kneeling members to his left and to his right. It’s like a case of an emperor walking in the midst of his subjects.
I’m yet to come to terms with that. But let’s face it. He is not alone in this act. I personally do not have anything against people doing obeisance to men of God because it is the choice of the person and it could be a way of showing respect. In Yoruba land we could be very physical in our show of honour and respect even when we are egoistic and proud. What is important for men of God who go about asking for honour and basking in the honour of their members is for them to be wary of being idolized.
This is important because we have literarily turned men of God to little gods. Or men of God have turned themselves to gods. Of course, the Bible calls us gods; but not in respect of lording over people. We are gods over satanic agents and principalities not gods over fellow brothers and sisters. So why do we play god? Many church leaders are simply beyond reach. I was at a function and I tried to approach the set man in the ministry. Unknown to me there were body guards around who frowned at the move. “You can’t approach him like that”, they warned.
It is true that there are people who take advantage of opportunities and want to misuse it, but I think the wall that is being built round men of God is becoming embarrassing and unnecessary. What is the function of the people who mill around pastor when they are going to functions? Why do pastors have to waste church funds on bouncers and hefty looking men who hang around them all the time? What is the meaning of this show of affluence that we parade around? We have totally lost the humility of Christ.
I want somebody to educate me. Why do some men of God find it difficult to carry their Bibles when going to the altar? Has the Bible become such a load? I quite understand when some members insist they have to carry it for us. But what about instances where the man of God has made it a tradition for somebody to carry his Bible always? Why must it take eternity to see people who are supposed to be shepherd over us? Why is it that our leaders are always suspicious of everybody who wants to see them. Why are they not reachable? I ask this question because many of our leaders are selective in the kind of people they see.
The other day a well- known Nigerian rich man was boasting to some journalists that he could walk into the office of a particular bishop anytime. But not so for poor folks who don’t have the financial standing. When pastors can’t see anybody it is because such person is not financially loaded and not because they don’t have the time. But thank God for a few church leaders who take the pain to reply every letter written to them and also give attention to people to the best of their abilities despite their very busy schedules.
But there are pastors you can’t see no matter how hard you try even when their congregation is well less than 200. And those who are open to people sometimes take advantage of them. There are cases of churches where you have to drop offerings before you meet their pastors. There are churches that don’t even have the simple courtesy of replying letters sent to them. There are people working in church offices who can’t approach their pastors for anything not to talk of non-members who have not been initiated. They will ask you whether you had appointment.
The question I ask is: Must a seeker, somebody who wants answers to some questions bothering him book appointment to see the leadership in the church? Have our pastors suddenly become cult leaders that only the initiated few have access to? My position is that a church should provide room for enquirers. It does not have to be the head pastor that will attend to all enquiries. But there must be somebody that will attend to anybody that comes to church at every given point in time. And this must be done courteously. Some of the front office staff in many churches are satanic agents. The way they attend to visitors could be provocative.
But our main concerned in this editorial is the unfortunate trend to make gods out of our leaders. Thank God we have a precedent in the Bible. Peter would not even allow a Cornelius to bow for him. Paul tore his clothes when he found out that people were about worshipping him (Acts 14v12-15) The apostles were very careful not to take away the attention of the people. Paul had to warn the Corinthian Christians when there was division along leadership line. He made them realise he did not die for them and they should not form pity parties around him and Apollos.
With this precedent it is worrisome when we behave as if we don’t have a guide. Are we doing church or we are doing our own thing, registering ourselves on the psyche of people and building a coterie of sympathizers around ourselves. Are we really serving God or serving ourselves and impressing our names and image on those we preach to?
The question is important in this age where the image and names of church leaders are louder than the name of Jesus who paid the supreme price for our sins. Many church leaders are only interested in stamping their image and name on their members. The idols are the church leaders themselves.
We all have our weaknesses and sore points. But it is worrisome when the creature works passionately to take the glory of the creator. Church members are also to blame. I remember many Christians were against a particular sect in the early nineties because members of that sect were always carrying the picture of their leader around. But what are we doing now? Many Christians literarily carry the pictures of their pastors or bishops as the case may be around. They have it in their cars and take it everywhere. Many have unconsciously turned attention to these leaders rather than to God.
There are women who don’t have respect for their husbands at home. But when it is the pastor they could sacrifice their eyes. Their faith is tied to their pastors. Many now have to call the names of their pastors or bishops before they call the name of Jesus when praying. It is the God of so and so and no longer their God. There is no problem in tying one’s faith to another person. But what we are discovering is that many over the years have not been able to build a faith of their own because of this practice.
What is also worrisome is that we have turned the gospel to our personal property? Are we not afraid to share God’s glory? Do you realize that some testimonies are not complete if the name of the set man is not mentioned? There are a thousand and one things going on around our churches. It is important we begin to check ourselves. Paul said he had to bring himself under subjection so that he would not be a cast away after he might have preached to others. May we not be a cast away at the end of age. But let’s be wary of sharing God’s glory. Let’s imbibe the servant’s heart. Indeed, the leader should be the servant.
Church leaders should help dissuade their members from tending towards hero worshiping. And they should not feel threatened when attention is no longer given to them by their members. This is important because there are leaders who are not comfortable when they notice attention is shifting away from them.