God has greatly helped the Assemblies of God Nigeria from cradle till date. She has moved from foundational mushroom to a much room Church; a force to reckon with in the comity of great denominations in Nigeria. Anyone who writes about Christianity in Nigeria and omits Assemblies of God Nigeria while talking about frontline denominations committed a wilful historical atrocity.
An objective appraisal of Assemblies of God Nigeria must necessarily consider her geographical spread, full time ministerial work force, liberal leadership opportunities, geographical spread of leadership, her insistence on standards, anti – one man-centric stance, retirement benefits to her ministers, and those who work at her national headquarters’ (conditions of service).
I get worried when I see/hear some leaders openly condemn the Assemblies of god Nigeria as if there is nothing in it to write home about, the Assemblies of God, Nigeria. Unfortunately, these groups of people paint a sorry picture of this Church which leads to loss of some membership, generating a disinterest from our children, spouse and friends. We turn out to be bad advertisers of the Church. When you cannot have a Church you can be proud to introduce to someone or call your own, then, what are you still doing there?
The irony is that this Church is being butchered by men she (has) put food on their tables. There is a real need for personal commitment to this Church by those this Church has helped to make. Personal commitment means “this is my Church”; just like a personal house, I won’t run away but fix anything that is wrong.
I am not in any way denying the existence of certain unpleasant things in this Church. That Church is yet to exist that has no ugly side or unpleasant occurrences. Things you would wish never exist. Many of them are concomitances of growth and are not chronic sicknesses but fixable.
Be that as it may, I intend to refresh your memory if you are of the Assemblies of God or invite you to go with me through some important, attractive, desirable features of the Assemblies of God Nigeria. Upcoming denominations can even pick models from this great denomination.
I am writing, having had membership in this Church for about four uninterrupted decades. I have also been privileged to grow in this Church from joining the Church, baptized in water, became a full member (communicant), became a committed zealous member, worker in the Church, went to the Bible school, became a Pastor, became a leader at various levels, local, sectional, District, zonal and General Council. I did not just emerge as a General Superintendent. I was once an Assistant General Superintendent, Executive Committee member, District Superintendent, Coordinator of various departments, etc.
The profiles are not meant to impress you but to get you agree that I can say few things authoritatively having passed through this Church at various levels of membership and responsibility (rank and file of the Church).
I hereby engage you to think about positive contribution you can make to fix this Church. It is our own; we shall not let it go down in OUR OWN TIME. All your days in this Church, I pray that you will be a plus and not a minus.
Let’s go through some of those features that make Assemblies of God Nigeria thick:
1. Geographical Spread
It is possible for one to have a local government, State, regional, national or international vision. The Assemblies of God Nigeria began as a mushroom Church with some young people. To the glory of God this Church has spread like wild fire existing in every State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, spreading to almost all the autonomous communities in Nigeria. You cannot call it a regional Church. It has strong membership and followership in the North, East, West and South. Permit me to insist that it has a grip in all the six geo-political delineations of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is a grass root Church.
2. Full Time Ministerial Work Force
Many Churches concentrate in the cities alone and may make periodic visit to the rural outposts. The Assemblies of God as a result of her passion for Church planting takes the risk of sending full time Pastors with their families not as visiting but resident ministers in the rural communities. Here the Pastor sees himself as a missionary or minister to the entire community beyond his denominational line. It does not matter the numerical strength of the Assemblies of God Church in a given place, a full time Pastor could still be sent there. Knowing the inadequacy of the income of the said Church for sustainability, provision is made for what is called “make up” which normally comes from the central pool of the District or Area.
The Assemblies of God Nigeria has over fourteen thousand (14,000) full time work force. Yet, she rolls out every year great numbers from her Ten Bible Schools annually geared for full time ministry, adding yearly to the existing full time ministerial work force.
Assemblies of God Nigeria is made up of over five thousand potential General Overseers/General Superintendents who humble themselves under one umbrella of leadership for a common mission. Many of the Bishops out there are either on equal or less ranking ministerially or a little or more than a typical Assemblies of God ordained minister. It’s a joy to join the cream of this choicest God’s generals.
3. Liberal Leadership Opportunities
This is a Church where young people have opportunities to climb the ladder of leadership. This is not a Church where the General Superintendent hands over to the wife, children or relations. He hands over to whom the cap fits as a result of a laid down process. You can still be a leader even if the incumbent does not like you, provided you are not out of the track; a Church where both the young and the old can have a place in the leadership circle.
Many contemporary denominations especially of Pentecostal bias are finding it difficult with succession. The incumbent finds it difficult to relinquish their positions even at ripe retirement age. Success without successor they say is failure. Some do not believe enough that any other saint who may not necessarily be a wife or son can successfully take over and continue with the vision. Some come as a result of selfish interests. This leads into the scattering of the Churches or at his exist it disintegrates into like the four generals of Alexander the Great.
Overtime, certain questions had gone to some incumbent General Overseer/Bishops whether they are building self-kingdoms, empires or THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Any incumbent leader should really be open concerning who takes over from him. Trust the overall owner of the work to make his choice. He calls the unqualified and then qualifies the called.
4. Geographic Spread of Leadership
In the same vein, I see some Churches whose national apex committee like the Executive Committee is made up of people from only a section of the country – North, West, East or South alone. Let me categorically state that there is never a time when in the National Executive Committee of Assemblies of God Nigeria where you will not see representation from all the geo-political delineations of the country. If you are sceptical, carry on an objective research to disabuse your doubts. This is a true National Pentecostal Church.
This Church makes everyone feel at home and have a place and a say. Every Church must have a geographical spot where it started. It is normal that many people from the areas where the Church initially began get committed into full time ministry and could even constitute initial or continuous majority of full time ministry and could even constitute initial or continuous majority leadership. However, overtime, people from other areas join the ministry as they receive the gospel. The maturity of the denomination is assessed by the allowances they give to those who joined them later in the leadership distribution. An objective look at the Assemblies of God in this regard will give her distinction.
Though this Church began intensively in Old Umuahia and spread up from there; it is not exaggeration that those who joined the ministry are a big force to reckon with. Yet, Rev. Dr. Oyakhilome became a General Superintendent when Igbo votes could be ninety per cent (90%).
Subsequently, there has been great Generals of Assemblies of God Nigeria who are not from Igboland.
Rev. Dr. Umoh, first General Secretary/Treasurer
Rev. Dr. Deme Bot, General Treasurer
Rev. Dr. Isangadighi, General Treasurer
Rev. Dr. John Ikoni, General Secretary for Twenty-four years
Rev. Dr. Vincent Alaje, General Treasurer
Rev. Dr. Godwin Amaowoh, General Secretary.
Every office holder knows that of a truth NO ONE CAN BE ELECTED INTO OFFICE IN ASSEMBLIES OF GOD NIGERIA JUST BECAUSE OF YOUR PEOPLE’S VOTES ONLY.
From the Bible times, position has never been evenly spread. The fact of theocracy in the affairs of the Church cannot be over-emphasized. It is funny when some people drunk with trend of over democratization of the Church who may want to get cheap political points begin to appeal claiming they are marginalized and position distribution.
However, Assemblies of God Nigeria has been reasonably just in this regard. Howbeit, it should not be pushed too hard because of God’s factor. It’s not worldly politics and distribution.
5. Her Insistence on Standards
God is not a democratic. It is not about what most people/denominations are doing but the mind of God. From the foundation, the Assemblies of God has always maintained uncompromising standards in doctrines and practice.
Many critics had pounced on the Church for “high handedness.” Some suggested that she should lower her standards to “fit into the contemporary world.”
My take is that we should review some obsolete methods and policies but I think in terms of doctrines, we are one of the best. A touch on our doctrine will undermine our biblical beliefs and then taint with our cardinal beliefs.
Another key peculiarity of the Assemblies of God is no compromise stance in terms of discipline. It is naturally unthinkable that the human founder of the Assemblies of God Nigerian, Augustine Ehurie Wogu at a time was disciplined by the Church.
More recently, some Church leaders in Nigeria from some blocs of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) especially the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) could not fathom how the Assemblies of God Nigeria on March 6th, 2014 could discipline (suspend and dismiss from ministry) her number one man, the then General Superintendent, Rev. Dr. Paul Emeka, who was a serving General Superintendent, for taking her top leaders to court which negates a provision in the Constitution and Bye laws of the Church. She refused to bow to pressures from many quarters to compromise that.
In the same vein, the issue of discipline is not strange to the Assemblies of God Nigeria. Some serving leaders in the past have been disciplined including ministers and members. This makes members and Pastors alike in Assemblies of God Nigeria to be more careful and thus be conscious of the fact that they are under watch by human leaders and members as they embark on (their pilgrimage to heaven) the Christian race. You don’t only fear God but mindful of what your leaders do.
This is not a Church where you can do anything you just want to do, no matter how highly placed and the amount of your financial contribution to the Church. I think the society should borrow a leaf from the Church in terms of standardization. As we grow, the leadership at any stage should be careful over any move to compromise the standards of the Assemblies of God Nigeria which of course is Bible based.
Which one is better? To be so strict that when we get to heaven, the Lord of Harvest will say, “My people, you took it too hard to an extreme” or “you lowered my standards and compromised a lot.” Dear reader, do a critical analysis of this paragraph and provide the answer. Which of the above has a possibility of at least making heaven???
It is a plus that till now the Assemblies of God has earned respect across the society and denomination on her maintaining standards. ‘Anything/everything goes denominations’ are very dangerous.
6. Anti-One-man-centric stance
We have many Pentecostal denominations that are centered on the General Overseer or the President and founder. Such denomination may have strong issues with transition (succession). It is either handed over to the life partner (wife or husband) or child (son or daughter). It portrays the personal nature of the denomination and its administration.
In such denomination, the General Overseer or President is like the A to Z of the Church. If you offend them or move out of favour with them, it will take a special hand for you to make progress in that Church. in such Churches, it is difficult to query the decisions/mistakes of the General Overseer, Bishop or President of the Church.
There are instances when some come up with doctrinal deviation and strange practices and people will just follow. The highest you can do is to resign if you don’t follow. I have seen denominations of great followership where some adult leaders will see something going on wrong but will say nothing. No one dare correct not to mention challenge the leader even if he goes wrong.
In Assemblies of God, many people in the past rose to become great irrespective of the personal opinion/altitude of those who were leaders or those who preceded him. You can relax and allow the Lord guide you.
Time and space will not allow numerous things to be proud of concerning this great denomination, Assemblies of God Nigeria. We need to bring this Church to the theatre, open it up and remove every INFECTION AND KILLER SICKNESSES AND DISEASE. The intention of this summit is for a successful lifesaving surgery. Let’s take a critical diagnosis of this Church called AGN.
Are we sick? What is wrong with us? Are the sicknesses chronic (terminal)? What are the things that make both ministers and members uncomfortable with this denomination? What are they readily complaining about? What factors have contributed to our “stunted” growth till now? What has so far hindered our supposed terrific growth over time?
l shall make some attempts in delving into some of these issues.
Issues for consideration include:
1. Remuneration of ministers
2. Caliber of pastors in and for the 21st century
3. Tribal/Ethnic sentiments (propagated by those who seek relevance)
4. Crude politics
5. Process of leadership ascension (no screening /porous methodology)
6. In fights
7. Limited reach
8. Monopoly by some pastors ( not allowing both gifted younger ones and lay ministries
9. Over democratization of the Church
10. Dangerous satisfaction
11. Queuing behind rebellion
12. Remuneration of Pastors
It’s now a common complaint by ministers and now joined by our members over the way pastors are remunerated. Concerned over the same malady, regimes upon regimes had set up various committees to look into it and came up with what was seen as considerate each time. There was a regime when salaries of pastors were set by the leadership with the deacons. It was then at the discretion of a combination of both the leader and deacons. After that came a regime of percentage policy, where a pastor was remunerated based on approved financial policy percentage.
ln this regime the discretion of both the leader and church board was removed and an official template used. This has continued till date. Determinant factor became either the rising or falling of given income. It is noteworthy that “make up” for financially disadvantaged churches have also been a long standing tradition and this is based on the persons location according to accident of geography.
Recently (in 2015 )we came up with the policy of graduation of make up.
This was to address the imbalance that saw someone that got ordained today receive the same make up with one of 25 years post ordination experience .
Be that as it may, our remuneration system has always come under heavy criticism. Some are not comfortable with making the church you pastor determine your remuneration.
On the other hand, we have advocates of pool system, where all monies from every local church is gathered in a pool system and from there allowances are paid out to pastors based on a common scale. Some also criticize the pool system and thinking that it could reduce the ministry into civil service system with the attendant risk of breeding laziness syndrome and no incentive for hard work. Some go to the extent of comparing it with communism, socialism and capitalism.
Currently, a committee is working to come up with practical, realistic policy that could be FAIR TO ALL. Some hard workers have also been retained as a result of the current system.
LETS PAUSE AND SAY THE TRUTH. ASSEMBLIIES OF GOD NIGERIA PAYS REASONABLY,COMPARABLY, ONE OF THE HIGHEST AND AT THE SAME TIME ONE OF THE LOWEST AMONG DENOMINATIONS. There is need to strike a balance so that those at the lowest ebb could come up. Can we have a minimum income for a typical Assemblies of God pastor that could be seen as fair? Are those who are privileged not to be on make up be willing to sacrifice to see their colleagues at the lowest ebb come up with something more reasonable AND SPIRITUAL? This is critical and requires a declaration of a state of emergency on the remuneration issue. Critics must also sympathize with the numerical strength of full time minsters in Assemblies of God Nigeria and the fact that there is yet no control mechanism at the centre over admission into full time ministry.
Leadership has always come under criticism. On this, leadership can always come up with proposals and the proposals MUST be approved by both the Executive Committee and General Committee before it becomes an official policy since we have zero tolerance to DICTATORSHIP. Meanwhile it remains a topical issue in Assemblies of God Nigeria till solution is found.
Caliber of Pastors for 21st Century
The word of God does not change with age. His standard cannot change. One remarkable thing about Assemblies of God is her maintenance of biblical standards at all times. We still have people who classify our pastors as ancient, old fashioned, crude, unschooled, “local” and all sorts of derogatory nomenclatures. l am aware that there are denominations that wittingly placed basic entry qualification into the ministry as first degree in a secular university all in a bid to fit into the pastoral challenges of the 21st century. l am aware that we live in the same world.
Be that as it may, the Assemblies of God is a grass root denomination, it takes Assemblies of God to post a full time pastor and his family to a very remote hamlet for the sake of ministry and you see the pastor fully committed to God’s work in the said place. The Assemblies of God reaches to various kinds of people in the various strata of society and we are blessed with all kinds of levels of pastors. It is unfair and an intentional denigrating of our pastors to deliberately categorize them as unfit for the 21st century.
A careful research on the training of pastors for their profession reveals that the Assemblies of God ranks as one of the best if not the best in theological trainings. More so, there is an emergence of the pursuit of higher trainings for our pastors. Most of them have bagged masters degrees and doctorate degrees in theological and secular universities. This helps them to fit into the challenges of the 21st century pastoring.
I must pointedly say that we met AG somewhere. We cannot sack our pastors. God has in the past greatly and is still using them to accomplish his purposes. We can only work towards improving the quality of the ones we have through trainings and upgrade our basic qualifications for further intakes considering the 21st century challenges.
Let me at this point challenge all serving pastors to make deliberate attempt on PERSONAL IMPROVEMENT by reading, travelling, interactions and other necessary exposures. Don’t ignore simple grammatical rumblings, missing and misplacements of tenses bring public disgrace and makes the younger generation to put you off irrespective of your anointing.
Tribal /Ethnic sentiments
The Nigerian Assemblies of God is birthed in a multi ethnic nations; over three hundred languages. May l repeat that Assemblies of God more than any known Pentecostal denomination in Nigeria is very open to leadership opportunities to ANYONE WHO IS GOD’S CHOICE FROM ANY PART OF THE NATION. From the foundation of this church, usage is not based on where you came from.
Unfortunately some of us who seek political relevance in the church who could not find a place in the spiritual space dangerously find solace in weeping ethnic/tribal sentiment. This has led to the emergence of questionable characters as leaders of our churches at various levels and the attendant consequence of backwardation. How can we vote for an unfit fellow into an office simply because he weeps sentiment of being a minority (not any or many of his people are in office)?
On the other hand, how can we not bring in a gifted, attested, experienced leaders simply because of the ethnic group he hails from.
There is a phenomenon which is heart breaking and militates against the growth of the church. HOW CAN A MAN BE VOTED OUT OF A CHURCH OR OFFICE AFTER MUCH ACHIEVEMENTS BECAUSE HE IS NOT “a son of the soil”? How can mature believers and ministers allow themselves to be used to achieve such ungodly acts?
As we collectively strive for strategic church growth, we must right now stand up to unitedly say no to ethnic/tribal sentiments which attacks the progress of the Church. The founding fathers of this Church were open to the Holy Spirit. They desired, Lord wherever and whoever. Let’s get back to our foundation and do away with any strange virus.
Time and space will not allow other details of points outlined above.
This church cannot go down in our time. We must handle our weakness yet give a good impression of this Church. Many a time we use our own mouths to scare our children, friends and well-wishers from attending our Churches because of negative impression and testimonies. If we need to move forward and attract and retain people .
WE MUST SHOW AND EXPRESS OUR UNALLOYED LOVE FOR THIS GREAT DENOMINATION CALLED ASSEMBLIES OF GOD.
CHIDI Okoroafor Speaking at the Evangel Theological Seminary Jos