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Business In The House Of God: How Pastors Milk Their Congregations


Karl Marx was obviously not mistaken when he described religion as “the opium of the masses, the sigh of the oppressed, the heart of the heartless world and the soul of the soulless conditions.” Though Africa’s most populous nation was not yet a political entity as at the time Marx made the statement, many people agree that it has proven to be very true in the Nigerian context.
The church today is filled with people with burdens of all kinds, from miracle seekers, business men seeking “divine favour”, and unmarried women looking for husbands as well as young people looking for financial breakthroughs.
The legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti too corroborated Marx’s pronouncement in his song “Suffering and Smiling”. Abami Eda sang “Pope na enjoyment, Imam na gbaladun, Archibishop na miliki. Suffer suffer for world, enjoy for for heaven”. Fela’s position was that religious leaders were enjoying at the detriment of their followers.
Decades after Fela sang the song, the situation has become more alarming as the gap between the leaders and the led has widened into a gulf. In most cases, there is a sharp contrast between the shepherds of God’s flock and the people they are leading. While many Nigerian Pastors move around with personal (sometimes armed) bodyguards and police escorts, they teach the congregation to trust God for their safety. Church members carry different sizes of anointing oil bottles with which they pray and anoint themselves for safety reading different psalms along with it.
Gone are those days when church signposts bore just the name of the church and probably an image of Jesus in a small corner. These days, the average church billboard is incomplete without a conspicuous picture of the pastor. The remaining space is left for the name of the church and time and days of meeting.
Most pastors have abandoned the message of salvation; prosperity is what many now preach and it is fast entering into the mentality of some followers that being wealthy might just be one of the criteria that takes one to heaven. The phrase “it is a sin to be poor” has become a fad in most churches.
Five minutes’ walk from anywhere in Lagos will lead you to a church and the rate at which churches spring up in Nigeria, the country ought to be the most perfect country. Alas, the reverse is the case. The number of churches is directly proportional to the rate at which vices are being perpetrated. Interestingly, the temples are not spared. Rev. Chukwuemeka King is still on death row after he was convicted for allegedly setting fire on some members of his church, killing a lady in the process. It was reported then that King had the best of everything in the church. The strongest men formed his security team, the most beautiful ladies attended to him physically and emotionally as some of them were said to have been “serviced” regularly by the Reverend. Of course no one dared question his authority on what became of the monies that came in.
Those who believed Rev. King was doing business in God’s name were not surprised to hear that he still held a number of crusades after he was remanded in prison custody. They were done via the telephone; incidentally, inmates are not allowed the use of mobile phones in Nigerian prisons. To worsen the situation, the “man of God” was reportedly met in a compromising position with a female visitor by senior Prisons officers. That was what led to his transfer to another correctional facility.
Incidentally, temptations or lust of the flesh might not be peculiar to Pastors within the shores of Nigeria alone. Months ago, a London based Nigerian preacher, Albert Odulele ran afoul of the law. He confessed that he had abused a number of boys in his church. Findings revealed that the church at that time had a turnover of £ 2 million while the beloved Pastor was on a salary of £ 100,000.
It is believed that churches are fast losing focus and are becoming business centres. The fantastic lifestyles of Nigerian pastors testify to the riches that abound in the Church, but the wealth is barely visible when one looks at the average member. For instance, in Nigeria today, most churches run secondary and tertiary institutions which are financed from the church purse (made up mainly of members’ contributions), most members however cannot send their children to such institutions as they cannot afford the exorbitant fees.
It is also fast becoming fashionable to be a pastor. In Nigeria today, Pastors wear the best of designer suits and outfits, they drive the best cars and live in tasteful buildings. Ownership of private jets too seems to be catching up among Nigerian pastors. It is one of the yardsticks used to measure the success of the church and its pastor. Incidentally, most of the “Big men of God” started their ministries from humble beginnings.
Apart from their salaries, Pastors and Church founders are thought to have access to tithes, offerings and some other contributions. Some pastors are even alleged to have become specialists in raising “special offerings” and “prophet offerings”. One other money spinning aspect of pastoring is that most men of God have become authors. And just a lecturer’s hand-out is a must buy for students, most members would do anything to buy their pastors’ literature. These days, the scope of a Pastor’s job has widened beyond getting their congregation spaces in heaven, making good money and living posh lifestyles have been added to it.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to divorce church property from what belongs to the pastors especially where they own such churches. This is as a result of the fact that founders of the churches eventually turn out to be the CEOs of the money spinning businesses said to be owned by the churches.
The congregation too seem to have deviated from the focus on heaven as the psyche of a large percentage of church goers have been affected by their pastors lifestyle. For instance, a young lady who maintained a regular church attendance in a Pentecostal church in Lagos was asked why she did not show up on a certain Sunday. Her response was that she had no clothes to wear. Her friend probed further by asking what happened to all the clothes in her wardrobe and this time she pointed it out that she has worn all those clothes to church at one time or the other and as such, she would not be in touch until she has a new collection.
The media was recently awash with stories of Pastor Paul Adefarasin who recently declared himself a billionaire during a Sunday service in his House on The Rock church. He was quoted as saying “I am a billionaire and there is nothing anybody can do about it, I have coached many billionaires and you know, the pastor of billionaires is a billionaire. The preacher of a billionaire can only be a billionaire because a monkey cannot give birth to a goat and a goat cannot follow a baboon.”
Street Journal’s findings revealed that a number of top rated Nigerian billionaires worship in the church. The House on the Rock actually started in the living room of Pastor Adefarasin’s mother’s Lagos home. Today, the church has more than 36 branches within and outside Nigeria.
Apart from being a pastor, Adefarasin is also into motivational speaking and he runs the Rock Foundation, a Christian agency that rehabilitates drug addicts, prostitutes and social miscreants.
Apart from Pastor Adefarasin, a number of other Nigerian Pastors have also been put on the billionaires’. They include Rev. Chris Okotie, the founder of the Household of God Church. He left his musical career in the 1980s to become a preacher and today, he pastors a 5,000 strong congregation. It will not also be wrong to describe Rev. Okotie as a politician. He has contested in Nigeria’s presidential elections thrice and he was the candidate of the Fresh Party in the last election. His collection of automobiles includes a Hummer and a Porsche.
The list also includes Bishop David Oyedepo of the Winners’ Chapel. The church owns the biggest church auditorium in Africa, rated to be bigger than the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The auditorium sits about 50,000 worshippers every Sunday. Bishop is the Chancellor of the Covenant University, reputed to be one of the best private tertiary institutions in Nigeria and he also own the Dominion Publishing Company.
The Architect turned Bishop has homes in the United States and the United Kingdom. He is also the proud owner of some private jets.
The list also includes Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo of the Kingsway International Christian Centre. The church is said to be one of the largest congregations in England and the Pastor’s annual salary has been put in the region of $ 200,000. In 2009, KICC recorded profits of about $10 million and assets worth $40 million.
Pastor Ashimolowo is also the CEO of Matthew Ashimolowo Media, an outfit that deals with literature and documentaries. He also runs other businesses.
The absence of the name of Christ Embassy’s Pastor Chris Oyakhilome will definitely invalidate any list of Nigeria’s wealthiest pastors. He is a pastor of business executives, politicians and many more. Some donations made to the church by certain individuals have generated interest from Nigerian law enforcement agents in the past but the pastor has not in any way been indicted. After all no one was coerced to donate to God’s work.
Pastor Chris has varied business interests including publishing, television productions and real estate to name a few. The Rhapsody of Realities authored by Pastor Oyakhilome and published by the Loveworld Publications is like a second bible for Christ Embassy members while it also enjoys followership of non-members. It sells about 2 million copies on a monthly basis.
Also on the list is Prophet TB Joshua of the Synagogue of All Nations. The Arigidi-Akoko born prophet has been enmeshed in different controversies especially regarding the “miracles” that happen in his church. He shepherds a church that has branches in Ghana, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Greece. In the past three years, he has given over $20 million to causes in education and health care. He also was also one of the first people to donate a brand new vehicle to the electioneering campaign of one of Nigeria’s presidential candidates during the last elections.
Prophet Joshua is said to be close to Ghana’s President, Atta Mills.
The wealth of some of the Pastors in Nigeria has not gone without criticisms from certain quarters. A number of people wonder why Pastors live like kings above their congregation. Someone opined that the pastors have gone astray from the teachings of Jesus Christ. The argument they put forward was that it took Judas to betray Jesus because no one could distinguish him from the twelve disciples. It has also been observed that while there are genuine men of God, there are those who became Pastors just to make ends meet and there are those who started as real Pastors but have deviated. An example of the third category is a Pastor who landed in the net of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission some years ago. He was alleged to have duped a man that came for healing. The Pastor allegedly went as far as telling him that witches were behind the man’s plight and that he would need money to make a sacrifice to appease them. The man came to his senses after having parted with some millions and reported to law enforcement agents.
Speaking with Street Journal recently, a Pastor disclosed to Street Journal that “it is sad that Christianity has been turned into a money making venture. It is very obvious that pride and worldliness have entered the church. Those were the things Christ said we will notice when the end is near. ”

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