By D.G Makai
I went to visit a high-ranking government official and met a lady in his waiting area. We chatted briefly, and that’s when I learned she’s a pastor with a popular church in Abuja.
At one point, when she felt comfortable with me, she disclosed that she had come to see the official for any available contract that would help her pay her overdue house rent and her children’s school fees.
I was surprised because the church she works for is one of the largest in Abuja, and the pastor enjoys a lavish lifestyle. I asked her many questions in quick succession, and here’s the summary:
She has been working there for 14 years on a permanent basis, with no fixed salary apart from a monthly allowance of 25k (unchanged for the past 12 years) to cover her transportation costs. The senior pastor told her that to prove their calling, they must all depend on God for their sustenance.
She’s in her late 50s and a single mother of two. She has survived thus far through intermittent goodwill and generosity from some church members. However, she struggles with school fees and rent every year.
When I asked if all the pastors in that ministry share a similar faith, she replied that 90% do, except for key pastoral personnel who were foundational members of the church. As to why they haven’t addressed this with the pastor or elders of the church, she explained that most of them were engaged under the condition of no salary when they first applied to the pastor to offer their services.
She’s been working 24/7, from 8 am to 6 pm, without a salary for 15 years. Is there a better definition of wickedness?
I understand that some people may support the pastor because he clearly defined the terms of engagement, but it’s not just about that now; it’s about the having the mind of Christ, the work ethics of the kingdom, and the expectations of the enabling law that established the kind of corporate entity the church is registered under.
Let me be clear; I am not unaware of such practices, especially in Pentecostal churches. I’ve been within it for many decades now. As a matter of fact, very few of them practice corporate governance.
My conversation with her raised issues that the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and our fathers in the faith should, actually, must address.
There are no different sets of financial management principles for the church other than the ones practiced globally.
Unfortunately, the Pentecostal church has operated like a military dictatorship and, in some instances, as a sole proprietorship where one person, who sits at the top of the chain as the ‘founder,’ ‘president,’ ‘General overseer,’ ‘set man,’ or whatever title they choose, effectively becomes the CEO, CFO, and COO rolled into one. Even though they have staff overseeing these departments, these staff are often seen as mere rubber stamps executing the whims of the head pastor.
Sometimes, the churches do not employ staff but instead use members who are drafted into committees to handle such matters. These members or employed staff (who are usually church members) have no real say, as the ‘GO’ signs cheques arbitrarily based on his spiritual authority to decide what is a priority, supposedly ‘led by the spirit.’
Any dissenting voices could be labeled as rebellion against constituted authority or undermining the position of the spiritual head who alone claims to hear from God regarding where church expenses should be allocated.
No pastor or head of the department has real oversight of their assignments due to this restraint.
This is why some Pentecostal churches in Africa has committed so many atrocities without restraint and in most cases, without repercussions. You’ve seen videos where members of some churches are made to eat grass like zombies (that’s a story for another day; today, I’ll focus on finances).
Due to the lack of corporate governance in the churches, there is no transparency in their financial dealings. Some pastors get angry when you bring up these issues because, to them (without saying so explicitly), they view the church as their sole proprietorship. They believe that after laboring to establish their “business” (oops, sorry, i mean church), they shouldn’t be expected to submit their finances to others who didn’t experience the same struggles.
This is symptomatic of the broader problem we have in Africa. Our leadership assumptions are often warped and inclined towards monarchy, where absolutism rules in all spheres of state matters.
Even though the law mandates annual audits of the finances of churches and the submission of financial statements to the commission, no one enforces it because religion, unfortunately, remains a sensitive matter in this country.
When some head pastors preach 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, which says “…those who work at the altar must feed at the altar,” they are often referring only to themselves, neglecting the other junior pastors and permanent staff who also work at the altar. These individuals are left to depend on God for their needs.
In conclusion, this is not to say that all Pentecostal churches practice what I’ve described above. As a matter of fact, I know many who have impeccable financial practices in line with top kingdom and global standards. They are not only transparent but also have an open financial system where inquiries from interested parties are easily accessed. They go beyond that by providing health insurance schemes, mortgage arrangements, pension funds, etc., with annually audited accounts by professional bodies, as it should be.
We can’t consistently criticize the government on the pulpit while having inhumane personnel and financial management systems in our churches, turning junior pastors and permanent church staff, who dedicated their entire lives to serving God and people under your ministry, into beggars when they retire. This is not in line with the values of God’s kingdom; it is regressive, ungodly, and must be addressed promptly.
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