‘Nigeria would be chaotic if there were no churches’
I Think Churches Should Account For Tithes They Collect From Members
Bolaji Idowu is the Senior Pastor of Harvesters Christian Centre (HICC). In this interview with ENIOLA DANIEL, he spoke about the church’s small beginnings; how it has grown with many branches across the globe and why churches should account for tithes they collect from members, among others.
What led to the birth of this church?
Pioneering a church was not what I had intention of doing, but it’s a calling, that’s the truth. People are called into the ministry and some people are called to pioneer new work. When I took up the work of ministry, one of the things I battled with was starting a new work. The reason was that I told myself other people are doing significant things in the city, but one of the things God told me was that the reason new churches are planted is because there are new categories of people God wants to reach.
The fact is that God’s anointing or His empowerment comes with calling. The calling was clear. I saw a vision and in that vision, I heard, ‘the harvest is ripe, ready to be harvested,’ and that’s where we came out from (Harvesters).
You recently clocked 37 and HICC is 14, what were the initial challenges?
The feeling is that of gratitude, because we’ve come this far from six people gathering in a low class hotel to where we are today. Tens of thousands of people have passed through us. We are grateful for that. We are also grateful for what is going to happen in the future.
There were many challenges when we started. These included how to move forward from the hotel where we worshipped to a permanent venue. There was so much we didn’t know. There was also financial challenge, but God actually saw us through everything and gave us a huge testimony. We had to cancel our midweek service because we couldn’t afford N3, 000 ($10) per service; and we moved to another place where we never exceeded six persons in five months.
The challenges were numerous. When you are starting a church without a particular venue in sight, people don’t trust you. Even when you are doing your best to reach people that are far from Christ, they say, ‘which church is that one again?’
What can you attribute to the church’s growth?
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 3:6 that Paul planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So, I don’t know how to say anything other than that God is the One that gives the increase. Of course, there are things people do to ensure the increase is stable and consistent, but ultimately, it’s God that gives the increase.
Starting a church was never part of my plan, until I received the call to do so.
What are your best and worst moments?
My worst moment was in December 7, 2017, when I received a phone call that government officials had sealed off the church. Sometimes you have government crisis and sometimes peoples’ crisis, these were the worst moments.
The best moment is when people testify to how God changed their lives, especially those that were hopeless, people that were deep in sin but repented; couples on the verge of divorce, whose marriages were restored. Someone sent me a testimony of someone that came to HICC as a house-help and now makes yearly income of seven digits. Those are testimonies that encourage other people facing similar challenges.
In your view, what does the church represent? And would you say the church has failed in her duty to the nation?
The primary responsibility of the church is to bring people to Christ and nurture them and I don’t think the church has failed in her responsibilities to the people.
Of course, people are craving for a church that is more community-relevant and do more social work. And though there has been one or two cases of a pastor’s misdeed, that is not the general case. Nigeria would have been chaotic, if there were no churches in the country. You can’t imagine how many millions our church is putting into scholarship.
We put millions of naira into skill acquisition programmes. Unfortunately, a lot of our good works are not seen on air or in the print, but it’s only when on one or two occasions men of God derailed that they are widely circulated.
What are your plans for the future?
We are making the gospel such that people that are far from Christ can really understand and pay attention to it. We have several programmes for people on the lower rung of the economic ladder. We’ve provided skill acquisition programmes, which holds every quarter of the year. We also have free feeding, scholarship and entrepreneurs’ programmes, geared towards motivating people to be what God wants them to be.
As a nation, where do you think Nigeria got it wrong?
We got everything wrong, when the military took over and moved us into a long period of weak non-strategic and stationary position. So, what happened was that people were tied to a country without a concrete plan or goal. I think that’s one of the major things that held us back. I support we stay together because the bigger, the better, but if we still want to be staying together, we must ensure no part of the country is neglected in terms of economic development.
What is your view on declining moral standards, church proliferation and youths?
About Church proliferation; it really depends on individual church strategy to reach out to people. Our own strategy is not to be all over the place, we want to be in an area where the lives of people can be met and where we can impact lives positively. We have only three branches in Gbagada, Lekki and Ikeja which I think we can connect to many people as possible and impact lives.
And about the prevailing moral decadence, though the church is growing larger, my answer to the question has always been ‘how many people attend church in Lagos on Sundays’? We still have less than 20 per cent of Lagosians coming to church on a Sunday so, the church is doing its best.
What is your take on the issue of tithes?
There have been stories on tithing on social media, where certain people expressed their view on it. Personally, I won’t actually condemn anyone for expressing their view on tithing. As a matter of fact, I don’t think they are wrong. But in my personal opinion, I think that their definition of tithing is incomplete.
My personal view is the fact that God wants us to give and God rewards generosity. That is my view when it comes to tithing. You can’t out-give God; you can’t also give to God and lose.
If the major problem is the fact that tithing has been abused, an abuse of something does not mean we should stop that thing. For example, the abuse of the tithes began with Eli’s sons—Hophni and Phinehas, who were priests. But the abuse of the payment didn’t stop payment of tithes. So, if the call for stopping tithes is because of its abuse, I think that is a wrong approach.
The second thing I want to address is: should churches account for tithes? I think they should. We provide record for our people to know how much tithes and offerings we get, but for security reason, we have to restrict those provisions.
What is the way forward for Nigeria?
Well, there is a lot of fight against corruption. The problem with corruption in Nigeria is that it has become cultural, embedded in our culture so to say. And when you want to change culture or value system, you have to provide a bigger value system, which I think the government should do. It shouldn’t be about just arresting people. The government must create a new knowledge pattern that will make people leave corruption.
When a young Nigerian looks at his life, can he see a future? Then he also looks at those who have made it in Nigeria and he can easily say that all those who have money in Nigeria made it through two ways: either they stole, were corrupt and or they used corrupted money. So, he charts a course for himself and says, if those are the ways to make money, which one am I going to take?
We must begin to promote icons and legends that work hard, whose wealth is explainable. This will begin to alter the value system in young people’s mind.
When should a church leader choose a successor?
It’s like asking when someone should get pregnant in a marriage. It depends on the couple. So, some people pick a successor at 40, some at 60, or 80, but whatever it is, I think a church’s succession plan should be married with its vision.
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