DOCTOR Francis Bola Akin-John is the founder of International Church Growth Ministries, an interdenominational ministry set up to equip ministers, has been at the forefront of a crusade against unholy practices in the Church and Christendom as a whole. He preaches unity among churches through his educational programmes which are aimed at equipping spiritual leaders who are, in turn, expected to affect their communities positively. In this interview with SAM EYOBOKA, Akin-John preparing for another special conference this month, gave reasons why the Nigerian Church has failed the moral question despite its numerical strength, and why Christian leaders have not been able to arrest the trend. Excerpts…
How will you assess the Niger-ian Church today?
There’s a lot of errors that we noticed in the Church. All the while we agree that it did not have a good image, at least, since the last 30 years. Though there has been numerical growth but there is no spiritual growth. The Nigerian Church has no depth and from our own observation it has to do with the quality of the ministers. In the 60s, 70s and part of the early 80s, we didn’t hear much about scandals, financial troubles, corruption in the Church, but as soon as every Dick and Harry starts becoming a pastor and general overseer, a lot of things have started to happen.
Our own unique way of addressing the problem include one; the product-ion of books; I’ve written more than 40 books on that and they address this kind of issue. Number two is that we hold conference every third week of February known as Interdenominational Church Renewal Conference, where we focus on issues that have to do with the Church. We bring pastors together where we talk to ourselves very frankly in an open fashion. Then in August, we focus on the leader, those who lead the Church; their lifestyles, manners, visions and all that. So this month that’s what we want to focus on.
How different is this year’s renewal conference going to be?
This year is unique in the sense that we don’t want churches to die young again in Nigeria. We want to reduce the level of corruption, crises, scandals especially regard-ing money and women that is so rampant in the Church. It’s a section on its own that we want to address; we tag it ‘Great men and sexual crisis in the ministry’. We want to address those issues, not from the angle of criticizing and condemning, but from the angle of restoration and renewal, and providing a way out so that we can minimize it to the barest mini-mum. Our goal is that we want to keep the Church pure, we want to take the Church back to the Bible and pastors and preachers should see that this is the way they should run the church and not to modern-ise the Bible.
Can the Church be transformed in isolation of the society? Don’t you think the Church is a product of the society?
The Church is the one that will change the society and not the other way round. The basic reason God put the society in the world is for the church to transform it, but unfortunately today we see the opposite. The Church can change the society when we begin by changing the leaders; let the leaders be leaders after God’s heart; let the leaders be leaders that are truly transformed and believe and live by the Bible. If they can do that, then gradually and one by one, not by military fiat or revolution, the Church will be transformed.
Now, if you were in Nigeria in the 60s and 70s, you will recall that the Church really transformed the nation. By then companies came to the Church to recruit workers because of the moral quality church members were made of. But they don’t do that today because most of the people who profess Christianity and are company workers, are the ones running the companies down.
What is wrong in condemning pastors’ wrongful acts for the purpose of correction; since we want to believe that restitution means public renouncement of sins that one has committed?
There is nothing wrong in the way you have put it, but when I said not by condemnation, what I meant was that we are not going to employ arm-chair critic tactics or criticizing for criticism sake. We will tell you the acts, show you what the Bible says and tell you steps to take. What I mean is that much as we are going to condemn, we are not going to bow down to critics that just like to carry rumour when there is nothing, and we are not going to condemn you because of evil you have committ-ed just for talking sake, but we want to say ‘this is bad, this is what the Church has been doing. If you repent and forsake it, God can forgive you, revive you, renew you and have mercy on you.’ That’s the balance we want to bring.
You are often accused of being too critical of fellow men of God. Some of them feel that some of the problems of the Church you expose should have been addressed in-house and that by talking so much, you are exposing the Church to external attack. What is your reaction? Are there really problems in the Church, why is it you don’t as much talk about the good side of the Church as the negative side?
Most of these problems are public knowledge. For example, a pastor who slept with a member; pastor who embezzled church money; pastor who is involved in occultism are in the public domain. So, if I come up and call a spade a spade, address the issue squarely that the Church is doing wrong, what is bad in that? For God sake this is not what God says the Church should be doing. I don’t think I’m arming the public against the Church, I believe I’m speaking the truth and the Church should see that, at least, somebody is speaking out, somebody is crying out. I believe my ministry is the ministry of Isaiah 58:1-2; ‘Cry aloud and spare not….’
For God sake we can use the media to correct. Most of my writings, I do to inform the public. For example, some couple of days back, the British Prime Minister came to Nigeria and said that the Nigerian populace should hold their government responsible and accountable. I believe the public also should hold the Church responsible and accountable. I am convinced that Nigerian Christians are the most gullible Christian faithful in the whole world. They believe anything, and once a pastor says that the Lord said this, they believe; they don’t question, they don’t look at the Bible.
They don’t want those pastors to be accountable to the Bible they profess to be using. One of my goals is to arm the Christians; they shouldn’t believe everything the pastor preaches, because the Bible says so. If you read Acts 17, it says those Christians, once they heard the word, should go back and search the scriptures whether those things are true. Until the Nigerian Church and Christians understand that they should go to that level, we would all be falling prey of all the antics of fake preachers.
Imagine a prophet that comes up and said to a woman that the Lord said I should deliver your private part of a demon, and a married woman subjects herself to such prophesy and the so-called prophet impregnated her. Even if there’s a demon in her private part, can’t the so-called man of God lay hands on her head and pray? Must he sleep with her by force, just by telling her ‘thus says the Lord’. I believe we should speak up on these things. We should not hide them. So, if they are doing it publicly, they should be exposed. The next thing is that they should repent. Of course we say good things about them and what the Church is doing, we appreciate and acknowledge it. It has not all been a bad or negative story.
These days, one of the measurement of success seems to be the establishment of universities, and a number of churches have them. What do you think about this?
Yale University, Harvard University started as private mission schools, but gradually they progressed. Churches that start universities should have come out from the onset that it is a business venture. They shouldn’t be deceiving the public that it is a mission school, because by so doing you give the impression that the fees will be lowered and it is going to be a social responsibility institution. But all of us have seen that that is not the thing. For God sake, it is the money collected from poor members that were used to start these universities.
The House of Representatives during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure, tried to impose tax on the Church, because a popular church leader granted an interview and said that all the money they used in starting private universities were from the Church. The Reps picked on that and said the Church has a lot of money and they should pay tax. Now, the money was taken from the Church but the children of those who gave the money cannot attend the universities and we say the Church is here to transform the world. The Church can, of course, go into education.
My contention is that if it is going to get involved in it, it should be as a social responsibilty. University is a capital intensive venture and it operates in a social and secular world, and especially in a Nigerian setting, where you can’t say it is a Christian university since they don’t teach the Bible; Nigeria University Commission (NUC) will never allow that.
If you are going to teach Bible, you will teach Islam, you will teach African Traditional Religion, and they don’t want that and they banished the Bible out of it. Imagine God’s money not being used to teach God’s word. Go and ask all those Pentecostal and charismatic churches that have universities, of how much of the gospel they have preached in the last five to seven years? Most of the money that is meant to take care of the widows, orphans, the down-trodden through the gospel have been diverted to make that university world-class.