It has become an agreed fact that the only other business bigger than running a church in Nigeria is politics. No thanks to the intoxicating effects religion has on Nigerians which have gone a long way to prove that Karl Marx was not mistaken when he defined religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the masses.”
Unfortunately for the country, despite the increase in the number of religious centres, there has been a directly proportional increase in the rate of crimes and vices being perpetrated in the country; religious centres inclusive.
In some parts of Nigeria, five minutes walk from anywhere will lead one to a church. Investigations have however shown that not all the churches are genuine; some are no more than business centres and money-making ventures. To many Nigerians now, the surest ways of making big money lie in politics and religion.
Gone are the days when churches signposts had just a cross, the name of the church and the time and order of services. Signposts of churches have assumed more colourful dimensions and the trend nowadays is for the signpost to bear conspicuous pictures of the pastor in charge of the church and sometimes that of his wife beside him.
Street Journal has found out that most of the fake Pastors have become demi-gods to their congregations. While the Pastor is highly revered and referred to as “Papa”, regardless of his age, the wife is the “Mama” of the church. It won’t be wrong to state that some Christians no longer look up to Jesus Christ but to their pastors. Meanwhile, the days that Pastors were accessible to everyone are fast fading away. Some men of God no longer trust God with their security as they go about with stern looking bodyguards, they move around in convoys of vehicles, including escort and pilot vehicles. Some even fly in private jets, the presence of needy members in the congregation notwithstanding. It is even so bad in some cases that some Pastors no longer wipe sweat off their brows by themselves; there are people on ground whose job it is to do it for them.
Being a Pastor has become synonymous with looking good and Pastors have expensive designer wears stocked in their wardrobes, apart from wearing the best clothes, they ride in the best vehicles and live in the best apartments. The same cannot however be said of the members of the congregation. Findings have shown that many fake Pastors have founded churches mainly for commercial purposes and this is made possible by the fact that there are barely any regulations for setting up a church. Almost every Pastor has a similar story to tell, ask any Pastor what brought him into ministry and he will tell you “I heard a call”.
Street Journal’s investigations have revealed that there is hardly a clear cut distinction between the assets of the church and those of the Pastor. Though on paper, many things may seem to belong to the ministry, when checked however, it was discovered that lots of churches that sprang up lately have their founders as the heads of the Trustees of the church while their wives and other family members take the remaining trustee slots.
Though Jesus had warned about them in Matthew 7:15 when he said “beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves”, many Nigerians have unknowingly played into the hands of fake “Men of God” through their insatiable quest for miracles. Assurances from such Pastors have caused many to pray and wait for God to perform magic. Many people have turned churches into miracle centres and they just pray without working towards the actualization of such prayers. The economic situation of the country has also not helped matters as people now seek spiritual solutions to all issues, even those that would be solved by hard work. Imagine people spending the time they should be at work on Prayer Mountains, praying to overcome hard times.
Incidentally, not only the poor seek spiritual solution. Pastors have celebrity clients for who they serve as “spiritual consultants.” While some of them attend churches boldly, others go in secret, under the cover of darkness. Street Journal has found out that the latter category comprises mainly of political office holders and aspirants. It has also been found out that some people who are known to be loyal members in their churches often visit other spiritual homes for solution to their problems.
Pastors get gifts of houses, cars and other rewards from “customers”.
It has been found out that the crop of fake Pastors in Nigeria capitalize on the needs of people to exploit them, using God’s name as a tool. In most of their churches, financial matters are not joked with. The scripture that says “give and it shall be given unto you” has become a major weapon for fake pastors to work on their unsuspecting congregation. Members are made to pay different kinds of offerings and sow all forms of “seed”. In some churches, those looking for spouses give “love offering”, while some other churches specify offerings for breakthroughs, favour and other things.
A lot of Pastors have since substituted God’s message for what the people want to hear. Prosperity has overridden salvation in the messages of “men of God”. Where they preach such messages, auditoriums are always filled to capacity. Even for lunch hour programmes, people leave their offices to attend “prosperity prayers”. The wave of prosperity is also spreading as it is winning more and more people by the day. Churches now have more branches than any company in the country.
Ignorance is fast taking its toll on Christians as some pray and just wait for the breakthrough to come and meet them just because they have given offerings. Some have even taken it to another dimension that the easiest way to get rich is to give to the church. “Jesus was not poor, my God is not a poor God”, Pastors now tell their congregation. Some even say “it is a sin to be poor” thus pointing out to the poor in the church that something is wrong with them.
The issue of sin is no longer addressed as “businessmen Pastors” know that the moment the issue is mentioned, most of those who make up the church will go away. Members are thus at liberty to commit sins both in public and in private.
Another scripture that has become a major weapon in the arsenal of fake Pastors is Malachi 3:10. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse that there might be meat in my house” they announce every Sunday. Meanwhile, not all members can say exactly what becomes of their tithes and offerings after the service.
Women who are “looking up to God for the fruit of the womb” seem to be the most vulnerable. Street Journal’s investigations revealed that most of them give their full cooperation and they do all that is requested of them. Many of them have ended up in the arms and beds of “men of God” in the name of looking for children. For the want of children, many men do not object to their wives being bathed in their absence by Pastors in the name of anointing them.
Incidentally, it is increasingly becoming difficult to tell the real ones from the fakes. Everything that goes on in the real spirit-filled churches has been successfully copied by imposters and used to advantage. One of the main differences however is that in many of the fake churches, the Pastors hardly direct the hearts of their members towards heaven. They are simply focused on material benefits.
Fake pastors too conduct deliverance sessions, though the source of their powers cannot be readily ascertained. Some even go as far as presenting “doctored miracles”. For instance, a miracle was shown on television years ago, before media houses were barred from broadcasting such in Nigeria, a child who had been “blind” from birth was supposedly healed on the crusade ground. To confirm that a healing had indeed taken place, the Pastor asked the little boy the colour of his tie. “Blue”, the boy replied. The deafening shouts of “halleluyah” that followed were a clear indication that nobody in the congregation bothered to know how a boy who had been blind from birth was able to identify and name a colour.
Just last year, a journalist ran a documentary on Nigerian churches and expressed surprise that a man who he saw walking into the church unaided presented himself as a cripple during the miracle session. As expected, he was healed! The Pastor of the churchinvolved proved a celebrity stunt recently when a purported video of where he healed an ailing Nollywood actor was posted on Youtube. In the video, he pulled the actor from the congregation to the front of the auditorium and prayed for him.
Surprisingly, unlike other miracles which had instant effects, the Pastor said the healed actor would be back on his feet in a matter days. Days have rolled into weeks and the actor is still bedridden in a hospital in Abuja.