By Femi Aribisala
God forbid that where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, an offering should not be collected.
To be a successful pastor, you really have to learn the tricks of the trade. This has nothing to do with preaching insightful and inspiring messages. Neither does it have to do with ministering to the spiritual needs of the members of the church. The pastor succeeds or fails according to his ability to pull a crowd and extort as much money as possible from his congregation. If he fails in these vital areas, he is not likely to survive for long as a pastor.
The technique is simple but effective. You tell your congregants that for every naira they give, they will get a hundredfold return. Even those in debt are encouraged to get out of debt by giving out of their indebtedness.
Pastor Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Tampa, Florida (U.S.A.) is a master practitioner of this money-grubbing technique. In one of her television broadcasts, she asked her audience to open their bibles to Psalm 66, verse 12. This reads: “Through the fire, through the water, God brought us out into a wealthy place.” Then she said: “God says he wants you to sow sixty-six dollars and twelve cents. Or you can sow six thousand, six hundred and twelve dollars.”
These are the voices of strangers who make merchandise of men by peddling the word of God. Peter says: “These teachers in their greed will tell you anything to get hold of your money.” (2 Peter 2:3). Indeed, pastors tell Christians that money operates like a “gel activator.” The promises of God proclaimed in our messages are sealed until a “seed offering” is given to activate it. Therefore, you are likely to see different members of our congregation suddenly get up in the middle of our sermons to throw money at our feet. One pastor put it very succinctly. He said: “Anointing without money is equal to annoyance.”
This makes the offering-time the focal point of our services. Here, the pastoral imagination has run wild. Just give the offering a highfalutin name and it becomes the commandment of God. In those days when I attended part-time Zoe Ministries Worldwide in Victoria Island, Lagos; three offerings were collected in every service: one for “the Father;” another for “the Son;” and yet another for “the Holy Spirit.”
In one parish of Redeemed Church, the pastor counselled the poor: “If you don’t have an offering, borrow from your neighbour.” Never mind that the promise of God says the believer shall lend to many nations but shall not borrow. (Deuteronomy 15:6).
Even though Jesus says when we give, our right hand should not know what our left hand is doing (Matthew 6:3); some pastors insist offerings must be held up for all to see, in the attempt to embarrass those not inclined to give, or those inclined to offer notes in the smaller currency denominations. In the branch of Zoe Ministries I attended, the pastor proscribed altogether the giving of offerings in the smaller currency notes. “My God is not a poor God,” he declared.
One popular convention requires everybody to march forward, one by one, to drop their offerings on a tray placed strategically in front of the pastor; so we can observe exactly how much they are giving and thereby intimidate them into giving more than they would like to. It also serves to embarrass those who cannot give and stay behind.
At other times, we constrain our members to make public vows and pledges. One of my former pastors used to say: “Pledge more than you have; stretch your faith.” When the time comes to redeem the pledge, we will hit you with Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 which says if you make a vow and don’t redeem it God will destroy the work of your hands.
One technique is to take the offering early in order to ensure people don’t leave before the money can be taken from them. But sometimes this strategy backfires. In one of the services I attended at Pentecostal Assembly, the pastor noticed that some of the wealthier church-members came in after the offering had been collected. So he insisted it should be collected again. The reason he gave was a classic. He said: “I don’t want anybody here to be denied the blessings of the day.” Of course, God only blesses during offering times.
Yetunde Olanrewaju came up with what I presume is a parable. She said one day, a swarm of bees descended on a church while a service was in session. The people panicked and started running out of the building. But the Pastor was up in arms. “Wait, wait, please wait,” he pleaded to no avail. “We haven’t yet collected the offering.” God forbid that where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, an offering should not be collected.
Charlene Animashaun was head of the money-counters in her parish. While the offering was still being counted, the new pastor sent someone to collect a certain amount of the money. Charlene sent word back that the count had yet to be completed. The procedure was to document the amount and then lodge it in the bank. That way, any withdrawals would have a paper-trail.
But the new Pastor would not be denied. He barged into to the counting-room and kicked up a fuss. He reminded all and sundry he was now the pastor. What the pastor demands, the pastor gets; no questions asked. He grabbed the money with the stern warning that his authority should never be challenged again. Charlene got the message and quietly resigned her position as head of the money-counters. She has since resigned from the church itself.
It is an open secret that pastors are not accountable for the monies we routinely collect. Christians simply leave the policing to God, thereby giving us a free hand to be as honest or dishonest as our conscience permits. This ensures that financial impropriety is widespread in churches and Christian ministries, but buried under the carpet.
The plan was to have many churches in Victoria Island, Lagos gather on a Sunday morning and go “prayer-walking,” under the aegis of the zonal Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. We would walk around the streets and claim them spiritually for Jesus. But there was a logistical problem. If we would not have services in our churches that Sunday, we would not be able to collect the offering.
Somebody finally came up with a solution. We would meet briefly in our churches for the sole purpose of collecting the offering, and then assemble as planned. But then another problem arose. What would happen to those we convert to Christianity on the way? Which churches would they be asked to attend? Here again, a genius came up with the solution. “At the end of the exercise,” she said, “we will seat down and share the souls.”
“Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come. And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver,.. horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.” (Revelation 18:10-13).