COVID-19: I have no fear the church is coming back — Oyemade

• Creative And Innovative Ideas Have Emerged
Pastor Poju Oyemade is Senior Pastor with The Covenant Nation. In this interview with SOLOMON FOWOWE, he explained what he thinks of COVID-19 and the lessons the church could learn from it.

Will religion ever return to the way it was, following the impact of Coronavirus?
We will return to some measure of normalcy in the long run. But the important thing people need to get is that the lessons learnt now, the understanding we get now, are what will bring about the changes, when things are seemingly normal. What’s happening is that people are beginning to discover new dimensions and ways of doing things that make their impact more effective, literally, than pre-COVID-19 times. So, we’re discovering things about lines of communication. We are discovering how to build small groups and some measure of interaction that we will carry into the post-COVID era.

People that don’t learn the lesson during this COVID-19 period will just go back to normalcy and they will miss out on some of the real insights they’re supposed to have. Generally speaking, I think we will return to some external appearance of normalcy, but some people would have understood certain dimensions about how to go about things that they would inject into what they are now doing. And that’s where the change is going to occur
Modern churches like yours have adapted quickly to the situation.

Do you think this will force the traditional churches to also adapt to the changing times?
What I’m about to say here is what I have found reading the Bible. When you talk about a church, there are two things that you do in a religious organisation. The first is that you feed people with knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. And the second point is that you create people into a fold, which is like a community of people. Now, in communicating knowledge and understanding, in some cases, you also transfer power into people’s lives. The second is bringing people into folds. The first dimension of ministry has not been affected. I don’t believe so because one of the most powerful modes of communication of Paul, who wrote the New Testament was through letters.

When it comes to the fold being together, what the scripture says is where two or three are gathered. We don’t necessarily have to come in our thousands together, but we must have small groups of people that come together and interact and fellowship. Provided we are able to have our small groups that are meeting, I believe 95 percent, we can fulfil the commission of God under these conditions and actually discover a lot about God’s power.

I know a gentleman in the United States of America, who on the first weekend of the shutdown reached 21 million people from his online church service and had 16,000 people commit their lives and declare their faith! You cannot do that in the four walls of a church. So, it is not how big the church is.

You talked about such innovations as using broadcasts and the likes. Do you think drive-in churches will become a thing in Nigeria?
No. It is not going to happen. You have to have a very large compound. If you go to churches in America, where this is being done, it is part of the urban planning. You cannot have a church facility without having a large car park. There are very few churches that have that kind of size of car park. That is not going to happen in Nigeria because it is just not part of our culture, and we do not have the infrastructure for that kind of thing.

After months of church at home via screens, don’t you think there will be apathy among members to return to physical spaces to worship?
Yes, it’s a concern. But the reason I don’t think that is going to happen is because of the way human nature really works. When God tells us to gather together, it’s not because He’s saying it as a commandment He is imposing on us. He’s saying that ‘I am your Creator and you cannot function properly without coming together.’ So, there is an inherent craving and also a need to worship the Creator in human nature.

When the brain is studied, the biggest part of the brain is where you have social intelligence, which has to do with interaction with people. That’s why when you want to punish somebody in jail, they say put him in solitary confinement. It is a severe punishment because you are separating that person from any form of social interaction, even in jail. And that’s one of the most difficult things for human nature.

Let me say this here. One of the things that COVID-19 will show people with social distancing (and) isolation is how important interacting with people is. So, I believe that once it is clear on the horizon that coming into large gatherings would not endanger the lives of people, everybody is going to rush into it. And the truth of the matter is that we might even have more people. However, there will still be some elements of what we have discovered that we’ll be able to do outside physical gathering that can be implemented. But I have no fear in my heart that ultimately, people are going to come back. Because that’s just the way human nature is.

How has COVID-19 affected the financial and economic state of churches and religious institutions?
To a large extent, the church, with certain exceptions, will be a reflection of what is going on. So, if you are in an area where there is real poverty, then there is absolutely no way it won’t be reflective on the income that is coming in to the church. If there is a real economic downturn, then, of course, everybody that lives within that environment will have that kind of impact that will be felt. Because wherever you have a debit, you must always have a credit somewhere else. In other words, once they see withdrawal somewhere, there has to be a deposit somewhere. I think what people need to understand is the creative and innovative ideas that they can birth during this particular period in time and position themselves correctly for the future.

In some circles, COVID-19 is a means God is using to mete out divine punishment to a wicked world. What is your view on this?
Look, everybody have their own different theology. Everybody have their own way of interpreting things that are happening. Except somebody can come with very clearly and defined points from the scriptures, that it is so, then it’s subject to what people feel.

Personally, what I believe is happening now is that there is a reset that is happening on Earth. I do not believe that something that kills parents and leaves children as orphans, that destroys homes and businesses, that God sits in Heaven in His infinite wisdom and says ‘this is what I’m going to do in order to teach these people a lesson.’ But it has come and I believe it can be used as an opportunity.

Let me put it this way. It is simple. If I jump off a balcony and I land and I break my leg, God forbid, I can’t say God punished me. I will simply say I violated the law of God. And a recompense came on me. So, probably humanity has been involved in things it shouldn’t have. And if we examine it closely and properly, we will see the adjustments that we are supposed to make to close the door on this kind of thing. But that God made a decision to bring this kind of affliction into the earth? I do not believe it. I don’t believe that shows the character of God. But I believe that something is going on. And I believe that we opened the door to this as humanity on earth by certain things we do.
Watch the full interview on Guardian Nigeria’s YouTube page.

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COVID-19Poju Oyemade
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