PASTOR ADEBOYE FEATURES ON THE GLO/CNN AFRICAN VOICES (With Christian Purefoy)
August 31, 2011
The Largest Black Church Group in the World, The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), doubles as the largest African-led church organisation with over 6 million members and was founded by Josiah Akindayomi in Nigeria in 1952, with just nine members.
RCCG is now headed by Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, who was born in Nigeria in 1942 and was a mathematics lecturer before joining RCCG in 1973. He worked in the church translating sermons from the Pastor’s native Yoruba into English until Akindayomi’s death in 1981 when he took over leadership (Akindayomi had earlier identified Adeboye as his successor).
The Pentecostal church now boasts 14,000 parishes and 5 million members in Nigeria alone, where its monthly Holy Ghost Night meeting draws crowds of over a million worshippers. RCCG branches can also be found in 140 countries worldwide from Haiti to Germany with over 300 branches in America and 360 in the UK. Its bi-annual all night prayer service Festival of Life in London attracts 30,000 people – the largest Christian gathering in Europe.
Known as “Daddy GO” to members, Adeboye travels between RCCG global parishes preaching his signature’ laid-back’ sermons and was listed in Newsweek magazine’s “50 Global Elite.”
A pilgrimage to hear one man; to outsiders it might look like an enormous warehouse but more than a million people are expected here tonight at Nigeria’s Redeemed Christian Church of God.…and the man they have all come to see is dressed in simple green trousers, a white shirt and green bow tie; Nigeria’s national colours. His congregation call him ‘Daddy’, and with branches across the world, he was voted by Newsweek as one of the world’s 50 most influential people in 2008. This week on African Voices, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, General Overseer of one of Nigeria’s biggest evangelical churches. Pastor Enoch Adeboye is not the only evangelical preacher in Nigeria, but for many, he is the only one that matters; his influence over his and other preacher’s
congregations is enormous. His modest appearance belies the enormous influence and power he wields; but while his congregation put their faith in his hand, he puts his faith in (his) God.
How did you find God?
I was born into a “Christian Home”, I have always gone to church…because our parents said we have to go…..but then after I grew up, I left home then I drifted away from church until I had a little problem that defied all solutions; then somebody invited me to the Redeemed Christian Church of God. I came expecting that the pastor will just
pray and my problems will go; but instead, he said I have to give my life to Jesus Christ first; that if my sins are gone, my problems will disappear; so….of course, I resisted for a while, but then, finally I surrendered..just like he said, I gave my life to Jesus Christ and my problems disappeared.
How old were you at the time?
…That was 1973, I was just a little over 31.
You were originally a student of mathematics?
How was that change to become a pastor?
Well, It didn’t quite change (laughs); once a mathematician, forever a mathematician….but, at that time I was a lecturer at the University of Lagos. That’s when I met the Lord; and….after some time when the founder of the church saw my zeal, he ordained me as a pastor and when I became a pastor, I began to travel within the country, going to universities and colleges and other institutions to share with them my testimony, my experience and then when the founder died, we read in his will that I was to succeed him; to take over the leadership of the church. Now, there was no way I could combine the two. I could not continue as a lecturer in the University and still do my duties as the General Overseer; that’s why mathematics had to stand aside for Christ to take full control.
That must have been quite heady days; it was the beginning of the Evangelical Movement in Nigeria… I mean, how did you feel at the time, travelling the country, seeing these churches begin to blossom?
Well, I mean…..the Evangelical moves in Nigeria had been on before I became born again, but ….. yes it was quite exciting in those days, travelling across the country meeting young people, lecturers et cetera, sharing with them, realizing that many of us have been living in ignorance and then seeing the joy.
The Redeemed Christian Church of God was founded in 1952 by Josiah Akindayomi but when he died, he left only 40 churches to his chosen successor, Enoch Adeboye. It is a choice that is proving extremely successful. The Redeemed Church now claims to have over 5 million members across 20,000 branches in 140 countries worldwide and there are at least 540 branches in the United Kingdom and Ireland alone. Pentecostalism has swept through Nigeria and Africa in the last two decades; offering the promise, not just of entering into heaven in the afterlife but of jobs, marriage, children, health and money in this life.
How do you feel when you are on….at the altar preaching?
Of course, you feel excited, you feel fulfilled that you are being used of God to meet the needs of so many people at a time which probably (is) one of the greatest joys of being a pastor…….. the freedom of worship the way we dance, the way we shout, the way we enjoy the almighty God. He (God) said He will love to see that one…..… so I think that beat of us…… that bubbling enthusiasm………. is a good influence.
Your style, if you like is not as loud or as flamboyant…… (I think I am right in saying)…. as many of the preachers in Nigeria; people describe you as being very humble, you certainly don’t wear expensive suites like some other preachers and things, why is that?
I believe that the Gospel is for all people, but I believe that it is even more for the masses and ….. majority of the masses if you are going to reach to them, you have to be more or less at their level…… if they see in you somebody that they can relate to, it might be easier for them to listen to you and to hear from you,……. one thing I have
discovered about the masses is that even though they might be poor, they might not be high up there, there is still something in them that does not like being looked down upon.
Why do you think we have seen this explosion of evangelical churches in the last two or three decades in Nigeria?
Maybe we would say the economic situation, the social problems that we face…………..ultimately, some people exploited that, setting up what they call churches knowing that these people would have to come to wherever they hear that God is healing ……but like I keep telling people, anytime you see a counterfeit, it means the original must be somewhere… you won’t see a counterfeit N2,000 (Two Thousand naira) note because there is no original one.
RELIGION AND POLITICS
Nigeria is a country of 150 million people divided roughly between a Christian south and a Muslim north; it’s a fault line along which there are often deadly clashes. Both sides stand accused of encouraging such violence.
Do you believe Nigeria is on this religious frontline?
There is no doubt about that.
That (of) course sometimes has violent episodes of … for example in Jos. How do you feel when that happens, when this frontline turns violent. Is that possibly because of saving souls?
I believe that any time light begins to shine, there’s bound to be a little resistance from darkness; so that one is a settled matter. Unfortunate though it may be … some politicians go in the guise of religion to perpetrate evil; I do not think that genuine Christians and genuine Muslims will fight….. but I think that most of the crises we see is not really religion, it is politics; some politicians choose to use religion as a tool for their own ulterior motives.
Do you think the church should play a role in politics?
Of course …who was it that said that man is a political animal… they should… everybody should decide who is going to rule over him… and then somebody said that you shouldn’t complain about anything you permit. If you fail to vote, if you fail to participate in the political situations and then somebody gets to become your ruler and you say you don’t like the way he is ruling you, who’s fault, where were you when he was been voted into power?…. and then of course if somebody gets to power and he is not doing what you expect him to do then vote him out.
Do you think the Redeemed churches in Nigeria play enough roles in politics or they should do more?
Maybe they should do more because I believe that in the past the people have been so focussed (in the Redeemed Christian Church of God)..… so focused on making it to heaven that they don’t want to have anything to do with politics… is it Socrates that said that politics has gizzards?… which is another way of saying that politics can be dirty. But then Christians are supposed to be the light of the world so let them go ahead and show the way, shine the light, they are supposed to be the salt of the earth… the salt is of no use unless it is applied into the food, so I think we can do more than we’ve been doing up till now. But no one is quite sure how much Pastor Adeboye is doing; tonight’s service is attended by Nigeria’s president: Goodluck Jonathan as well as various other state governors and politicians; all seeking guidance….but particularly with controversial national elections in April (2011), the degree to which his support and advice is listened to is unclear…
You are a man who has the ear of presidents….. you could say ……the current president was here last night, do you talk to them, do you try and influence, do you support some candidates?
When I am consulted, I do talk but then, all you can do is advice, you can’t command. You can say this is the way I think maybe this thing should be done, then they are free to decide whether they will take your advice or ignore it; since we live with the people on day to day basis, we can feel their pulses better so occasionally when things become a little too uncomfortable for the masses, we take some actions.
You have a big congregation, you have considerable influence over that congregation, do you ever feel swayed to influence them to vote for a particular candidate?
Oh no. no… no (laughs)…I mean when you have this kind of congregation you will have members of every party, every party in that congregation and if you want to… retain their respect for you, you must be neutral; my suggestion to them has always been, make sure you vote for the person of your choice, if your choice turns out to be right, glory be to God, if it turns out to wrong, then there will be another time.
Services last throughout the night with numerous prayer sessions and each sermon is simultaneously read aloud in English and the local language ‘yoruba’; there are choirs, music as well as donations and ‘more controversially’ healing. Despite the Redeemed church’s promise of an improved standard of living for the average Nigerian, the United Nations (UN) estimates 80% of the people in the country still live on less than two dollars ($2) a day.
Many of the people come in here particularly last night … they want the better life not just in the afterlife but today, now do you feel that, that might be better achieved by going out and protesting outside the government house order than praying here?
Prayers can move mountains! Protesting outside the government house how much has it achieved? You go there you carry placards… if you are fortunate you will return home alive…if you are not fortunate… some overzealous police officer might … accidentally discharge some bullets on you… and you can protest day after day after day……after sometime you get tired.
Do you think the church has helped bring people out of poverty?
We are doing our best; we have programs that are talking about how to start little businesses, we have seminars on small scale farming, we have seminars on almost everything, in other words we are saying look, don’t look unto government for everything; be creative!
In 2008 Pastor Adeboye was featured in NEWSWEEK magazine as one of the world’s top fifty most influential people.
How did you feel when you were given that title?
I felt humbled because…how could they possibly leave all the archbishops, all the big big names and come and pick a small pastor in one little jungle…I was surprised, I was humbled…it drew me closer to God.
Is it a big responsibility, the influence you have over people?
Of course it is… if I have my way, I will not want to have influence over anyone other than my own little family particularly because the Bible says something on the day of judgment, your judgment is going to be based on this kind of things, this influence…how have you used the influence… for good or for evil….… one man was complaining to a great preacher, he said ‘I have a problem’, the preacher said ‘what is your problem’? he said ‘my congregation is only fifty people in number’; the preacher said… you have a lot of people to answer for when you get to heaven you should thank God there are only fifty.
The Redeemed church dominates (Pastor) Adeboye’s public life and what little of a private life remains, he keeps mostly to himself.
What else do like doing apart from the Redeemed church…?
I love fishing, I use to be a boxer, fortunately I can’t box anymore… except box the devil maybe… and then I go for walks, long walks; unfortunately I don’t have time for any other thing… I use to be a sports man but… it’s difficult for me now to even walk in the streets. Everybody wants to come and ask me to pray for them so occasionally I want to go to the market just to buy things for myself…just whatever… (I) remember the last time I went to a supermarket, I had to run back into the car because the people… who are around the shop left their shop and they wanted to turn the place to a crusade ground…so all I can do now is walk in the night when nobody… when they are supposed to be sleeping, they can’t disturb …..and then once in a while I go to fish in a place that is secluded, just for the fun of it.
Would you like to retire, do feel you will retire or would you continue as the General Overseer until the end?
I would have loved to retire, I have plans of what I could do in retirement… you see when you are retired you are again more or less your own master……..you can wake up when you like, you can sleep when you like, you can go wherever you want when you want. If I’m retired, I don’t have to be the one in charge of the congress; I can just come and enjoy.
Where do you see your role, your life in Redeemed going in the next five, ten years?
We are still a long way from our goal. We want to reach the whole world, we want to have churches in every nation, we want to have members in every family of the whole world. That’s where we are going and that’s where we believe God will take us before I leave this world.