In a world where many are continuing to tighten their belts and complain of the “financial pinch” there are some entities that seem to remain on the gravy train. Among the usual culprits one entity stands tall, a constant that no one questions or suspects.
It’s easy to speak of how big business or politicians eat from the trough but has one noticed how the church never seems to go through a recession? During economic strain there are certain things that people can do without and certain things they cannot and whatever the church is selling, people are buying.
Recently there was the “grass-eating incident” where a pastor convinced his congregation or “flock” to consume grass. This is just the latest scenario that shows how men and women of God have the ability to make congregants do things that the some may deem crazy, such as giving money, you clearly do not have, away.
The million-dollar question is: Why is the church going up a jean size while everyone else is tightening their belt? The answer is that modern-day religion peddles hope in what many see as a hopeless world. And people are willing to put all their money towards this commodity.
This congregational cash cow allows churches to go from small meetings held in private homes to buildings that make one reminisce of the Tower of Babel. A recent trip home to Kenya had the entire church praying for the completion of “Daddy’s Church” (the head pastor was strangely referred to as “Daddy”), a building within a compound that makes Nkandla look like a mud hut. I have also been to religious buildings that began as wooden buildings but now are so large that some congregants watch the service on HD screens at the back.
But this is not a phenomenon confided to the four walls, it extends to those within. There is a Forbes list for the richest pastors in Africa. One pastor, Pastor E A Adeboye, was named the most powerful man in Africa by Newsweek. As the Forbes article said “God is good, especially if you’re a Nigerian pastor with some business savvy”. African pastors pop up on wealth lists across the globe.
But worry not, in between the international travel, being world-class businessmen and real-estate moguls, they shall set aside enough time for all of us to come forth and give our tithes and offerings.
Now this is not to say that all those in the church should live in the gutter, as I myself do enjoy the finer things. But it becomes a hustle when you sell hope to the hopeless and they do not know that they are explicitly paying for it. When people hand over the (sometimes) little they have, they do not perceive that they are being “hit up for faith” but see it as being part of God’s work. This would be fine if it was not for the fact that at some point God’s work became a fitted suit, custom-made “gator shoes” and a Lexus. I have witnessed preachers driving a luxury car pass by their congregants. Congregants they will later ask for an offering, after reading the sermon from an iPad.
Often people who attend these churches (especially during the inception period) are those who live in the tax bracket of “little to nothing”. They are those who do not qualify to be in the “Save Africa” videos, but do struggle to carve out an existence. These are the people who are funding the “lifestyle” of the church. These are the people who turn up week after week with the little they have to “sow a seed” so that God will bless them. What then often happens is these churches grow on the backs of these believers and then the “real” congregants come in once the church moves to a “more spiritual ground”. Usually to a good suburb making it easier for persons (such as myself, I am ashamed to say) to make it to church without too much hassle. And this makes our purse strings far looser.
I once attended a church service in which I ended up giving offering three times. By the end I had nothing in my purse except a couple of receipts and my Smart Shopper card. I am sure they would have found a way to get the points off if I had stayed long enough. I am now at the stage in my spiritual journey where when the “good shepherd” asks me to hand over tithes and offerings I ask for his Cartier watch in return.
My mother once summed it up well when during the course of an especially gruelling church service said “let’s get out of here before they ask us for any more money”.
This is not to argue that “‘the church” is nothing but a money-grabbing machine, but with the rise of the “prosperity doctrine” it seems it has become more about the money than anything else. With the pull of religious entities on the African continent these spiritual leaders play a pivotal role in transforming the lives of people. There are many who are willing to give their all to them and even in some cases, eat a little grass.
There are people out there who could use the money for schooling, healthcare and many other things rather than bigger buildings for more “powerful” sermons. It’s time to stop peddling hope and start selling an actual future by investing in the flock they fleece.