Opinion: Church, Clergy & Commerce

This is a summary of an ongoing discussion I’m having on Twitter via the hashtag, #OnChurch. Please do not take what I say out of context. Kindly read the full text below.

I’ve worked with, been a member of and served in a number of churches in the last 25 years or so. I’ve been friends with and a mentee to Pastors and Ministers so the recent accusations on the commercialisation of the clergy caught my attention.

I’ve watched the good, the bad and the ugly ALL being reviled in a generalised group of perceived “moneyed clergy”. And, the “good guys” have failed to define themselves or clarify what they stand for.

There’s an assumption that “the right hand must not know what the left hand is doing” so they hold their peace. Some believe the outrage and slander are the “persecution of Satan”, hence God will surely fight on their behalf. If so, they have grossly misjudged the pulse of the nation, their followers and the ominous strategies of the devil.

The rage stems from a number of factors and I shall try to elaborate:

Some clergy are seen to be rich in the midst of a poor congregation and nation.

There seems to be a huge gap between what Pastors preach (prosperity) and the reality of the lives of followers.

There is no clear indication of many Pastors’ sources of income, hence the assumption that must “feed fat on offerings and tithes”.

Church structure is often obscure. To the world, it seems to be run like a sole proprietorship.

Church is not seen to live up to the cardinals of charity and societal impact unlike the old Missionaries who established hospitals, schools and other institutions.

Church is seen to have too many unregulated sources of income including tithes, offerings, seed and pledges.

Church is not seen to conform to the regulatory stipulations of their tax-exempt status both at home and abroad.

In response, I will touch on a number of important things. These are opinions meant to spur honest discussion.

First, the Nigerian context is one that demands SENSITIVITY. Our nation has been raped repeatedly by power and influence. A “rich man” on a street of poor people would be unwise and insensitive to project his affluence even if he earned it or it was given to him. To do so would be wrong timing and context or perhaps a simple case of honest bad judgment. The key is moderation and to remember that even if a thing is lawful and not bad in itself, it may not be expedient and may cause offence.

Just like a nation deserves who the people vote for, every congregation deserves who they submit to. We will achieve little by condemning the church in its entirety. I am particularly saddened when I see Christians doing so. We cannot sit on the fence pretending to be above it all. We are parts of the whole. Whatever affects a part impacts the whole. When society maligns the church, they malign YOU, the Christian. When people attack “that” church, they’ll soon come after YOURS.

For those advocating for greater State regulation, I say this – When the State gets a foot in the door, it extends its tentacles. First, regulation of giving, then healing, then preaching, then publishing, then assembly.

To continue, as a congregation, we must NEVER park our intellect at the door of church. We must contribute constructively and respectfully. We must not assume that Pastors KNOW what to do. A Pastor can never know about business administration like a professional does. In the same way, a professional cannot know the intricacies of pastoring.

If you’re gifted, the places to volunteer in church NOW are administration, processes and communication. Church must self-regulate NOW. The old obscure methods will no longer work.

The church must institute sustainable community development projects instead of continuing the practice of unsustainable handouts. Church must teach people to be independent, to seek God for themselves, to succeed economically to IMPACT THE WORLD. Our focus must NOT be on money but on what it CAN DO politically and socially. But church needs help and instead of murmuring, we must get to work and respectfully find ways to access leadership.

As per the ‘gullible’ – they remind me of a woman that keeps going back to a man who lies to her. If she were my sister, I’d speak the truth in love but acknowledge that ‘deliverance’ won’t come overnight, especially if the grip of the man is strong. To a large extent, if the government were doing its job of providing economic opportunities, education & exposure, we’d minimise the gullible who seek ‘miracles’ and solutions to very real dire problems. Ultimately, deception can only thrive where there’s gross darkness and paucity of information.

A major imperative is for churches to be more structured and open. Essentially, to practice what they preach. They must COMMUNICATE their social interventions to demonstrate their intentions and relevance in society. Some churches do A LOT in their communities. They are marriage counsellors, business tutors, leadership coaches and crisis managers. They run charities, benevolence outreaches, support groups for the bereaved, widows, and helpless. They should ARTICULATE this CLEARLY especially in a country lacking these basic structures.

FINALLY, I will never begrudge a Pastor’s right to personal prosperity. (But I acknowledge that personality quirks complicate image issues). I’d find it odd if Pastors didn’t prosper by the same principles they preached. If a Pastor helps you become better, he must progress too. We cannot “muzzle the ox”, so to speak.

I don’t think God has ANY ISSUE with his children being very wealthy. Where will the resources for good come from? He called different types of men: Tax collectors, business men, professionals etc. But perhaps ‘Pastor Lagbaja Ministries’ should be distinct from ‘Lagbaja Church’. A Pastor’s income from intellectual property e.g. Speaking, books, investments etc should be clearly structured separately from the church.

Ultimately Pastors are leaders with dual responsibility – To the God who called them and to the community they operate in. Times are changing and they must adapt and evolve to do more excellently the work of the Ministry.



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