Story by: Adeoluwa Atayero
When one hears the word “church”, there are a set of images that immediately come to mind. This is of course as a result of socialization and what has been presented to many as the face of what a Church is over the decades. Images such as a sanctuary, building, altar or a holy place are some of the images that might pop up in one’s mind. However, in this day and age, the images do not stop there.
The twenty first century has seen an influx of churches that are no longer identified with a building, an altar or even a cross; the churches today are mainly identified with a face. The dominant and more notorious churches In Nigeria have become increasingly personality driven. From David Oyedepo’s Ministries to even The Redeemed Christian Church of God, no one pictures an altar or a building at the mention of these names. Instead of those conventional Christian icons, we picture the man on the pulpit.
The churches in Nigeria today are no longer spiritual institutions characterized by doctrines and the manner of worship of an assembly, rather, they have become spiritual institutions characterized by their leaders and their respective styles of leadership. Upon this discovery, the question that should come to mind now is: “Is this a good thing?” Should churches be run and regarded as sole proprietorship or a one man business? Should churches be given the same order of human personality assigned to record labels and other profit driven corporations? Should a body that is supposedly celestial or spiritual in nature be identified by something as tangible or fickle as a human face?
The answers to these questions vary from circle to circle. The truth is that many people do not have a problem with this particular trend. Given the astronomical number of devoted members that these mega churches record weekly globally, it is obvious that the majority of the Christian population is seemingly at peace with their “faced” churches. To many of these members, being the face of the church is a way of securing the preacher’s financial state and protecting the preacher’s vision for the ministry. This set of Christians have come to realize that gone are the days when a cross or a dove alone was on the church handbills and billboards and they are fine with this. It should be noted, however, that not all Christians share this sentiment.
When exploring this other set of believers that want to prefer seeing their crosses and altars to human faces, it would be negligent to not consider the age variable. Many of these “faced” churches are relatively new and appeal to a youthful demographic. Surely it would be an error to compare The Catholic Church or The Baptist Convention to relatively new houses of worship such as Daystar Ministries or Christ Embassy. Taken the rich history of these older churches and the mind space of their members into consideration, one can understand their opposition to this trend in perspective.
This other set of Christians is reluctant to accepting this here-to-stay trend for a couple of reasons. For many of them, it is simply wrong to associate God’s work with a human identity. It seems to them that these modern ministries are more of a publicity campaign for the individuals who run the ministry, instead of an evangelical outreach for spreading the Gospel. Others have a problem with the fact that many of these ministers and their families are feeding off the church’s money; buying jets and houses, with their congregation’s money. Many would argue that such houses of worship are simply unethical and not genuine. Who then is right?
Are we all to return to the original faceless churches : The Anglican Church, The Methodist Church, The Baptist Convention and The Catholic Church, or are we to continue to embrace the new manner of church management presented to us by these new age churches: Living Faith Church, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Christ Embassy and so on? The answer, it would seem, is also a question: “Does It Matter?”
Whether or not they are faces are on pamphlets and billboards, the leadership of a church is the identity of the church. They are the force responsible for the manner and periods of worship .To this effect, it would seem that it is actually dangerous to not be able to place a finger or produce a name that is responsible for the spiritual and physical nature of a church. The legacy churches that don’t have a designated face of leadership are technically more prone to hosting feuds amongst ministers who have political aspirations within the church. It is also easier for financial corruption to occur in such churches, not that it does not occur in these new age churches, but definitely not at the same degree. The issue of vision is also one that creates a problem in these “faceless” churches.
However, at the end of the day, the problem is not with the style of leadership, it is with who is the leadership. Whether identifiable or ominous, a bad leader is a bad leader and a good leader is a good leader. Christians should focus then on knowing who their leader is and how abiding the doctrines he or she capitalizes on are with The Scripture. The image that they have In their heads, be it a cross or a man in a suit, is actually the least of their concerns because it is the most deceptive