Churches are critical to developing economies. They often constitute the social security system of developing nations. Churches take street urchins aka “area boys” off the streets; they reach out to sex workers, act as ameliorators for mental health challenges, organise conferences for SMEs, set up hospitals, set up schools, feed the hungry, take care of drug addicts… They provide scholarships, clothing and accommodation for the poor, organise job seminars and placements, motivate the youths, teach them values… When people disparage churches and pastors as a collective because of the perpendicular misalignment of a few pastors they throw out the baby with the bath water. There’s that hypothesis the proliferation of churches in Nigeria seems inversely proportional to the values of society. But think about it… If things are this bad despite the churches imagine how bad things would be without the churches. Nigeria will be a Hobbesian state.
The privilege about being a pastor is that pastors are professionally entrusted with shaping the mores and values of society. Pastors shape the thinking of generations. What an honour!
The modern church has four critical challenges:
- The challenge of formula
- The challenge of public relations
- The challenge of intellectualism
- The challenge of politics
These challenges are relatable to the yearnings of the youths. As per formulaic approach to ministry the youths would rather authenticity. As per public relations they want sensitivity from pastors. As per scholarship they want intelligibility on theological issues. And as per governance and politics they’re concerned about the state of their nation, what the future holds. Let’s take the issues one by one.
The first challenge is formulaic approach to ministry. Many pastors simply copy what obtains in other ministries without reference to their individual mandate. Yet the pattern we have in scriptures is individual mandate. Individual mandate takes into cognisance the background, education and personality of the minister. It’s what determines the thrust of a ministry. The mandate of Peter is different from that of Paul for the simple reason Peter was a provincial fisherman while Paul was an enlightened intellectual. Paul had a wider worldview. He understood culture. It’s why he ended up heading the international headquarters at Antioch. Peter had marooned himself to the national headquarters in Jerusalem, but he did have opportunity for international ministry. Remember God showed him a vision of a wide sheet descending from heaven – the one full of unclean animals. We were the unclean animals on that sheet. Peter never ate from the sheet as directed by God. Turns out that was his second intimation of international ministry. Pentecost was the first. The reason international languages were spoken at Pentecost was because Christianity was going to go international. Peter didn’t cue in.
The reason pastors copy pastors is many times because of lack of self-belief. The question of self-esteem and self-confidence comes into play. And as pastors copied pastors, especially the successful churches, a prevalent template emerged. Groupthink developed. Invariably an Orwellian “pastor-speak” emerged as well. Pastor-speak is the language of pastors. Put on your TV on Sunday or tune to TBN any given day and you’ll see pastor after pastor saying the same thing, employing the same mannerisms, deploying the same dictionary, using the same syntax. The punch lines are predictable. They’re as predictable as Alleluia after Praise the Lord. It’s almost like watching a Chinese movie. You know once that guy says “Good morning” there’s going to be fight.
It is this formulaic approach to ministry that makes it easy for charlatans to set up churches. They just duplicate mannerisms. And the people can’t tell the difference. They’ve been conditioned. When it’s formulaic there’s no freshness of spirit. Formula robs a ministry of authenticity. The youths want authenticity. They want you the pastor, your perspective, they want your story, your imperfections. They want a pastor they can relate to. And they need answers – genuine answers to questions of purpose, sexuality, success, relationship and nationhood. In search of these answers some youths have left church and joined alternative fellowships. Unfortunately some of those gatherings are syncretisms of eastern spiritism and Christianity.
The danger of regurgitation of the sermons of other pastors is that it gives the impression the revelation of God is over. We make God seem like that lecturer who dictates the same lesson notes year after year, irrespective of advances in his field. We’re still preaching the same sermons Kenneth Hagin Snr. preached, along with the mistakes. And there were mistakes. But the knowledge of God is supposed to be progressive. There’s no template to deploy, and so when the context changes, or culture changes the ministry is left in a lurch. We need to stop lazy pastoring. We need to go back to our individual mandates. If we do every other thing but don’t fulfil that mandate the ministry is a failure. I am by no means condemning the ministry of Kenneth Hagin Snr. Kenneth Hagin Snr. served God in his generation. He dealt with the issues of his day. Thank God for that ministry. Kenneth Hagin Snr. preached the fundamentals of faith. For a specialised ministry that is okay but not for a church. A church has to have a more rounded syllabus. A church has to address issues Kenneth Hagin Snr. was not mandated to address. Brother Hagin was a specialist and technicalist. He specialised in the subject of faith. A church can’t for example keep preaching the fundamentals of faith. The congregation won’t grow spiritually. It’s basic stuff. Paul told us, “Let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.” Hebrews 6:1-3 NLT.
Let me illustrate how we’re stuck in a rut. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Kenneth Hagin Snr. took a deconstructivist approach to that passage, broke it down for primary application. But the church doesn’t seem to have moved past Hebrews 11:1. We totally ignore the remaining 39 verses of Hebrews 11. The over arching definition of faith in that passage (as enumerated by the Amplified Bible) is “inherent trust in God, the enduring confidence in the power, wisdom and goodness of God”. That definition incorporates trials and suffering. But we don’t want trials so we don’t move near verses 36-38. Those verses talk about gruesome persecution – being stoned, being whipped, being sawed in half, being murdered. The reason we don’t preach those verses is because they don’t fit into our one-dimensional narrative of faith. We major on acquisitive dimension of faith – getting a car, getting a husband, obtaining visa to America… Those verses talk about the gruesome persecution of Christians by the Roman government. It started in AD 67 under Emperor Nero and lasted 200 years. Nero burnt down Rome and laid the blame on Christians. The man was so horrible he would sew Christians in the skins of wild animals and sic dogs on them till they died from exhaustion. Nero poured wax on Christians, fixed them to axletrees and set them on fire to illuminate his gardens. He turned Christians into human torches.
The danger in this selective preaching of faith is that we’re breeding Christians who are totally unprepared for the political reality of Christianity. They don’t know trials. They can’t relate to the history of the church. We’re creating Demand and Supply Christians. I am not saying we shouldn’t teach about the acquisitive dimension of faith. What I’m saying is that we need to teach the full gospel.
The second challenge facing the modern church is the challenge of public relations. Pastors are not public relations savvy. Which is rather surprising considering the gospel is public relations. Pastors tend to lack sensitivity to society. Perhaps the reason this is so is because pastors don’t live on earth. They live in the heavenly places. It explains why many youths struggle to relate to pastors. Pastors don’t relate at street level. They talk from on high. Jesus recognised this would pose a challenge to him as high priest, so he came down to earth to experience humanity. “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but one who has been tempted, knowing exactly how it feels to be human in every respect as we are, yet without committing any sin.” Hebrews 4:15 AMP. A good pastor is human, a great pastor is humane.
Now, here’s the challenge. We’re in the age of interactivity – the social media age. It’s important to understand the mechanics of this age lest the pastor imperils his ministry. In the social media age everyone is a publisher, everyone is a broadcaster. It’s why everyone records and broadcasts services. The mobile phone enables that. The operative scripture is Psalm 68:11 – “The Lord gave the word: great is the company of those that published it.” The grave implication of this reality is that the church is now open. Church is more or less like a glass box now. There are no concrete walls. What you say in church can go viral in less than five minutes. We’re in the era of open church. It’s why pastors need to watch their utterance. A pastor must have sensitivity. He must be aware of context. Where there’s mass poverty there has to be a sensitivity to context. You don’t want to provoke envy and ill feelings. It will affect the work. There’ll be a blow back.
Pastors who lack public relations sensitivity misbrand themselves. And the internet never forgets. When accused of a malfeasance a pastor shouldn’t double down. He must respond with wisdom. He will harm his ministry otherwise.
The church can’t function in the social media age without environmental sensitivity. We will play into the hands of the accuser.
To be continued next week…
If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
Theology Trivia: Based on Hebrews 11:1-40, what is the comprehensive definition of faith?
The e-version of my new book, The Genesis Project is now available for purchase and download at www.genesisprojectonline.com.
© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org.Formula robs a ministry of authenticity. Click To Tweet A formulaic approach to ministry can’t address emerging trends and issues. Click To Tweet The gospel is public relations. Click To Tweet