I read this scripture Jeremiah 23:1-10, on the Facebook timeline of a lady Anie Ayinbila one morning and upon deep reflection, I wrote this article. This article is a critical review of contemporary Christianity, some of its main players and challenges. It makes a few recommendations too. It was written out of inspiration. Some of the claims made are not backed by empirical research. It is my subjective assessment of some of what is churned out in contemporary times in Christendom. I do not intend malice. I am only sounding an alarm that there is the need to watch out for tares among the wheat. I am also encouraging a new culture, where we as players in the field will know that there are commentators in the touchline observing and making notes. They will praise where they should and critique where necessary. I hold the opinion that every system or organisation grows stronger by evaluating and questioning itself so as to streamline its excesses. That is why I write the way I do. I am not negative, a pessimist, nor a naysayer. I am an objective observer of social reality, and that includes the church and the state. I don’t mind if you sincerely disagree with me. As already intimated, these are my stated opinions. Pardon my verbose approach. I like to play with language. As someone with artistic inclinations, I see language as art, so I try to embellish things sometimes more than is necessary. I don’t know if I actually make sense all the time but that is my style/weakness.
To get the full import of the foundation on which this article is framed, I encourage you to read the scripture, Jeremiah 23:1 – 40 as well as the entire article. Please, be warned that it is quite long but I promise you will enjoy it.
The role of a shepherd, a pastor or a man/woman of God is symptomatic to a double-edged sword. A man/woman of God’s effect on the people of God can be likened to a Surgical Knife. If properly employed, it can painfully and yet painlessly be applied to remove unwanted, debilitating and unhealthy tumors from the human body to restore it to good health and vitality. By his disposition, discipleship and discipline, a man/woman of God can transform by the grace of God and His word the vilest of sinners to the most venerable of saints. On the flipside, if the man/woman of God is not careful, instead of being a surgeon, he/she can easily become a butcher with a merciless, messy Cutlass, that can dismember, disfigure, disaggregate and destroy lives that Jesus Christ purchased with His precious blood. The choice is ours, but the consequences of what we choose to become as servants of God definitely is far beyond our determination.
Jeremiah 23:1 – 10
23:1 Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.
23:2 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.
23:3 And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.
23:4 And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the LORD.
23:5 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.
23:6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
23:7 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;
23:8 But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.
23:9 Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the LORD, and because of the words of his holiness.
23:10 For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourneth; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their force is not right.
This is a very frightening scripture. Anytime I read it, I think deeply about we those who call ourselves men of God. It’s no joke at all. It is as constructive, reformative and informative as it can be destructive, derailing and disabling to the souls we are called to be shepherds over. The responsibility is massive, the experience required is not just having few scriptures mixed up in our heads, which are yet to have any contact and impact on our spirits and character. The disciplines required are regimental, we can’t be loose in our personality, character and behaviour. The tact required is imperative, we can’t be loud, nosy, and noisy with people’s personal secrets that they confide in us with. Strict confidentiality is the rule of the game and not the exception. Absolute friendliness, approachability, access and what Rev. Eastwood Anaba calls magnetism is a basic human relations trait required. Honesty, sincerity and openness is essential. We cannot be brash, snobbish or seem to be discriminatory in our dealings with people.
It is not a calling for jobless jokers who use jesting and coarse jokings. It is serious business, which assessment, evaluation and grading, rewards or retribution is extra-terrestrial. The qualifications for ministry are sublime, not measured by stature, aesthetics or eloquence but on purity, patience, patriotism, power, praiseworthiness, teacheability, traininability, transparency, tolerance, tenderness, toughness, tact, and teamwork.
The moral standards are high, we are to be completely and absolutely monogamous, no pre-marital, extra-marital relationships, assistant wives or side-chics. Even our children and spouses are bundled in and expected to demonstrate high moral standards. We are expected to lay aside every filthiness of our minds and superfluity of naughtiness and embrace the engrafted word.
We cannot be lazy mentally, loose or licentious morally, lacking materially, limited experientially and in knowledge, prayer and power. We are entreated to study to show ourselves approved; flee every appearance of evil; have all sufficiency in all things so we can abound unto every good work; know no man by the flesh; be instant in season and out of season; be apt to teach; equip the saints for the work of the ministry; pray without ceasing, watch and pray and praying with all prayers and supplication; lay our hands on the sick and they shall recover and preach the word with the demonstration of power and wisdom.
We are also expected to stay loyal, completely tuned-in and linked-in and connected to the giver of all grace and gifts, the Almighty God and Jesus Christ our example. We don’t speak on our own, for our own benefits, interests and aggrandizement. We only say what He would have said, re-echo His voice, His word, His expectations and doctrine. We cannot preach another gospel or say what He has not sent us to say.
We are called to feed the flock, discover the path, lead the way and light the hearts of the sheep and illuminate their vision to be able to follow on without stumbling. We are not to prey on and feed on the flock or feast on them. We are to fatten them to produce milk and freely give us meat and give the Father joy.
It’s no wonder that Apostle Paul said no one should take this honour on himself. It is a high calling that can steep very low to lift a man/woman from the dunghill and set him/her among princes/princesses and cause him/her to inherit the throne of glory. However, if you call yourself, you will have to hold yourself up all your days, and that is the reason for the numerous frustrations. If you lift yourself too, He will push you down, or better still, you cannot go higher than your head.
The proliferation of men and women of God is good. It is a sign that we are hearing from God better now. It is also a testament to the fact that the fathers have held up the ministry with such dignity and reverence that makes it attractive to the younger generation. It is more importantly a sign that there is massive recruitment to fill up the only underemployed department in the world, where the labourers are fewer than the harvest.
My concern, my pain, my reservations with the mass migration of labourers into the fields of souls however, are that:
- We the new recruits should be careful not to remove the ancient landmarks which the fathers have set. Their voices are unique and their areas of specialty are properly spelt out. They do not seek to be all things. The standards are set. The footprints are clear. They did and are doing the ministry not because of what they can get but what they can give. They were and are prepared to lay down their lives for the sheep. They prayed, fasted, walked and traveled distances to evangelize, teach, disciple and train leaders. Their passion, persistence, power and purity became patents that are easily identifiable with their names and ministries. They exercised their callings with such distinctions that the misery hitherto associated with the ministry has been replaced with marvelousness. We must follow their disciplines, not their designs, we must desire their character, not their coats and colours, we should follow the paths they discovered, not the prizes they have won. We must discern and desire the mind with which they did the ministry, not struggle for their mantles. We must follow the process, and not covert their prosperity. We must sow the seeds they sowed and not claim their harvest by faith without commensurate sacrifice. The fathers did not just appear. They were born and made through process, tried by fire and purified through the furnace of affliction.
- We do not merchandise the gospel. Yes the gospel rides on the wings of money but the gospel is not a means to our economic emancipation. We do not come into the ministry to improve our economic lots. The gospel is not a means of livelihood. It gives life. The gospel is not another means of employment absorbing the unemployed masses disappointed by our unfair political and economic systems. It is not the easiest root to a beautiful wife, a nice car, a good house and a comfortable lifestyle. It is a bloody gospel. It was paid for by blood drawn from Emmanuel’s vein. It’s price is far above money. It is salvation to the simple, liberty to the lost and eternal life to those that believe in it. It’s too pure to be economic. It must be preached whether we are hungry or full, poor or blessed, sick or healthy, in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. It cannot be quarantined in the cities, locked up in churches and clothed in shiny raiment inaccessible to the poor, sick, prisoners and destitute. It is their gospel. It is meant for them. It is not reserved for the rich and privileged. It must reach the highways and byways. We must bring in the lame, the halt, the blind, the broken and deserted. We cannot polish the gospel so much until it scares off those in the lower echelons of society. We must simplify it and necessarily make it attractive and reach out to them. The gospel is not for sale.
- We do not abandon the fields of souls for the fields of gold and diamonds. The world is still lying there to be reached and yet we are recycling souls from one church to the other. Instead of alter calls, market broadcasts, one on one and house to house evangelism, we are busy doing advertisements, promotions, bonanzas and politics. We are using communication skills, human relations strategies and the facade of social media to distract members from other churches into our own. The gospel is now common on Facebook than on the streets, communities and villages. The word of God is no longer near our mouths, it is now near our faces and eyes. We are competing for airtime, TV stations and livestreams while the communities, villages and towns are being islamized by radical Islamists. The fields of souls have been reduced to Facebook and social media. We go where we can be praised. We preach where we can be blessed financially. We mine for gold instead of going for souls. We follow up only on those who are well to do in the hope that when they stay in our churches, they will sow seeds. We leave out the poor, prisoners and destitute because they seem to have nothing to offer. We have soon forgotten that when Christ saved us, we were not privileged people but tattered and battered souls thirsty for a saviour. We have soon forgotten that if He could save and transform miserable souls like us and transform us into who we are today, then He can equally do same for those poor and miserable lots we neglect in favour of the high and lofty. We have forgotten that they are poor and destitute but they carry hearts of gold. And that the already made people we are chasing after who will come into church and want to sleep with all our beautiful girls have hearts darkened by their pursuits of materialism unwilling to change. A soul is a soul. There are no rich souls and poor souls. The value of all souls is the same before God. We must work the fields of souls and not the mines of gold. And to work the fields of souls, those who do not live by the gospel (economically) must seriously come on board, if not the truth of the unadulterated word may lose its relevance. It is being traded by many for gains and gold. It is not reaching out to where it should reach because those places do not carry the charming invitations and appeals to our flesh. Your money is doing well in the kind but Jesus called for holistic love: with our souls, bodies, minds and might.
- We should not stray from our true callings but rather endure to the end. Jesus said if we endure to the end, we shall be saved and rewarded. There is no prize halfway through the race. There is no reward for starters or certificates to commence ministry but there sure is a reward for those who endure to the end. Ministry is tough, testing and strenuous. It is not for the faint hearted. It is not for the undecided nor is it for casual spectators. It is serious business. I get worried at the influx of undecided, self-styled, fashion loving and flesh laden young people who are marauding around as men and women of God. Some start very well but sadly deviates into despicable error and heresy. Check their credentials and they have not truly led ten souls to Christ in their entire lives. They appear as praise seekers, gospel comedians and social media projected preachers who embrace this noble gospel as a form of entertainment and celebration. Their doctrines are weird and toxic and yet they want to be heard. They have zero tolerance for opposing views, have nobody to advise them and most sadly will not humble themselves for the word of God to speak to their idiosyncrasies and loftiness. They follow after the marketable titles in Christendom and tag themselves as prophets, senior prophets and major prophets. Terrestrial nomenclature is insufficient for their ego and elaborate personalities so they sometimes reach out for celestial accolades like angel, Jesus and the Anointed One to complement. Taxonomy and nomenclature have become important than training and nurturing. Branding and class have become important than belief and Christ. Ecclesiastical power appears and you have to struggle to differentiate between it and demonic maneuverings. As for when they begin to minister and speak, you wonder whether they are reading the same bible Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul and other apostles wrote or they have found an inferior version which accommodates their extra-spiritual characterizations. What they do and say contradict basic scriptural principles and doctrine. Yet they have followers who edge them on and are hailing them all through. My question is, can these shrine-styled prophets and preachers endure to the end? Will their followers ever be exposed to the truth of the gospel? How will their end look like? Who are they leading the multitudes of their followers to? Christ or crisis?
- We should not fail to serve the sheep, service their needs and feed them with the right diet. Sheep are some of the most vulnerable animals God has made. They do not have a mind of their own. Where you lead them is where they go. They become very defenseless in the sight of predators. I wonder why Jesus likens the congregation of believers to sheep and not to cats, or lions or the swift and fast cheetah or eagle. Truth is, that’s exactly how the congregation is. We are sheep. We need a shepherd. We need feeding, nurturing and culturing. We need the voice of a shepherd to guide us to peaceful waters. This our disposition as sheep is what predispose us to destructive predators who come as wolves in sheep clothing, marauding around as shepherds when actually they are suckers, leeches and vampires sucking the blood of the sheep to malnourishment and eventual death. Jesus commissioned Peter to feed the sheep not to feast on the sheep. We must not come to the point where our preoccupation is what the sheep can give us. We must be preoccupied with feeding the sheep and automatically the satisfied sheep will give back to us. We must show interests in what the sheep do and their general welfare. We must feed them with the right word. Teach them the right word and not just what they want to hear. Yes, we are in the times that people do not want to listen to sound doctrine but have itching ears for sensual and emotional messages, but we are not to use that as an excuse to feed them with sensational messages that are taking them nowhere. If we truly love Christ as we claim, then we must feed His sheep. We must return to teaching foundational doctrines, Christlikeness, forgiveness, assurance of salvation, faith towards God, eternal judgement, resurrection of the dead, etc. We must lay precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little. We must patiently and painstakingly teach, instruct and counsel the sheep to know the saviour’s voice from that of a hireling or predator.
- We do not make the same mistakes the fathers made, but watch carefully and learn. The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge. No, we cannot suffer from the mistakes of our fathers. That is folly. Much as the fathers made landmarks for us to follow, they have also dug trenches along the landmarks that we must carefully observe as we follow so that we don’t fall into them. We must not inherit their enemies. Where they declared unnecessary war, we must make peace. Where they strayed, we have the benefit of hind side to straighten up. Where they placed unnecessary emphasis, we must seek to be balanced. The fathers fought their battles, won enviable feats and claimed territories. There are instances where some are weak or getting wearied, as sons and daughters, we must hold up their hands. Victory for the fathers is victory for us. We cannot be selfish. We must serve them all through. However, we must guide against repeating the same models, approaches and methods that have not worked very well with the fathers. We must selectively apply the knowledge they have imparted on us. Fathers must also open the eyes of sons and daughters to their personal failures and admit that though they got a whole lot right, there are still small small instances where they erred either unknowingly or stubbornly. One upon a time, great emperor, Marcus Aurelius, made a great admission before his son which I see as novel. He said, “Commodus, your failure as a son is as a result of my failure as a father.” That’s the mark of true fatherhood. Open admission of both strength and weakness. It makes the generations after us know that much as we yielded to God and he used us to do mighty things, we are still humans and have human frailties. Apostle Paul acknowledged a thorn in his flesh and that did not make him less an Apostle. The responsibility however, lies in us not to make the same mistakes that the fathers made.