A few weeks ago, Mfonobong Nsehe wrote a piece on his Forbes.com blog about the richest pastors in Nigeria. He named names, listed their estimated wealth and called them out for shamelessly basking in riches while the rest of their country and continent is mired in civil war, extreme poverty, and unrivaled health epidemics.
Nsehe was flooded with national media attention, e-mails and calls in response to the article, just not the kind you’d expect. One of the angriest and most persistent e-mailers was one Paul Adefarasin, a Nigerian pastor who had been left off the list of the richest ministers in the country.
“I am a billionaire and there is nothing anybody can do about it,” he boasted. “I have coached many billionaires and you know, the pastor of billionaires is a billionaire.”“The preacher of a billionaire can only be a billionaire because a monkey cannot give birth to a goat and a goat cannot follow a baboon.”
That Sunday, Pastor Adefarasin said to his congregation (whose Sunday service was held at the 5-Star Eko Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos), “To become a billionaire, Christians must simply imagine it, ask and realize that money, blessing and favour are already in them. All they need is to ‘work out’ what ‘God has already worked in.’”
I’m staring at those quotes and my mind is reeling. It’s hard to know where, and on what level, to begin objecting to this. Let’s forget, for a moment, the blatant objections like:
1. Matthew 6:19 – “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”
2. Ecc. 5:13 – “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner.”
3. 1 Tim 6:7-9 – “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
4. 1 Tim 6:17-19 – “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
I could go on, of course, but you get the idea. These arguments are too easy and I’m probably preaching to the choir.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (or Freddy, as I call him when we get together for Red Bulls) said, “There are more idols in the world then there are realities.” And what’s a bigger or more enticing idol than money? That’s the real harm these pastors are doing; setting up a big fat golden calf and allowing the hundreds of thousands in their influence, who are desperately poor, to turn their eyes away from the one thing that will actually give them true riches, satisfaction, and salvation: Jesus Christ.
There are some schools of thought that say we should not specifically call out these “name it and claim it”, “health, wealth and prosperity” guys since we don’t know what is in their hearts. I say, let’s learn their names and pray specifically for each one, that they come to see their wealth as a curse rather than a blessing and instead turn it on their fellow man and use their redemption story to crusade against this egregious type of idolatry.
Here’s the original story and the list of pastors to pray for:
The Five Richest Pastors in Nigeria
Bishop David Oyedepo
Affiliation: Living Faith World Outreach Ministry, aka Winners Chapel
Estimated net worth: $150 million
David Oyedepo is Nigeria’s wealthiest preacher. Ever since he founded the Living Faith World Outreach Ministry in 1981, it has grown to become one of Africa’s largest congregations. The Faith Tabernacle, where he hosts three services every Sunday, is Africa’s largest worship center, with a seating capacity of 50,000. Oyedepo owns four private jets and homes in London and the United States. He also owns Dominion Publishing House, a thriving publishing company that publishes all his books (which are often centered on prosperity). He founded and owns Covenant University, one of Nigeria’s leading tertiary institutions, and Faith Academy, an elite high school.
Church: Believers’ Loveworld Ministries, a.k.a Christ Embassy
Estimated net worth: $30 million – $50 million
Last year, the charismatic preacher was at the center of a $35 million money laundering case in which he was accused of siphoning funds from his church to foreign banks. Pastor Chris pleaded no wrongdoing and the case was eventually dismissed. His church, Christ Embassy, boasts more than 40,000 members, several of whom are successful business executives and politicians. Oyakhilome’s diversified interests include newspapers, magazines, a local television station, a record label, satellite TV, hotels and extensive real estate. His Loveworld TV Network is the first Christian network to broadcast from Africa to the rest of the world on a 24 hour basis.
Church: Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN)
Estimated net worth: $10 million – $15 million
Nigeria’s most controversial clergyman is also one of its richest and most philanthropic. T.B Joshua heads the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN), a congregation he founded in 1987, which accommodates over 15,000 worshippers on Sundays. The Pastor has remained controversial for several years for his inexplicable powers to heal all sorts of incurable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, cancer and paralysis. For miracle-craving worshippers, it’s the perfect seduction. The church currently has branches in Ghana, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Greece. In the past three years, he has given over $20 million to causes in education, healthcare and rehabilitation programs for former Niger Delta militants. He owns Emmanuel TV, a Christian television network, and is close friends with Ghanaian President Atta Mills.
Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC)
Estimated net worth: $6 million – $10 million
In 1992, Foursquare Gospel Church, a Nigerian church, sent Ashimolowo to open a satellite branch in London. But Pastor Matthew had other ideas and decided to set up his own church instead. Today, his Kingsway International Christian Center is reportedly the largest Pentecostal church in the United Kingdom. In 2009, the church posted profits of close to $10 million and assets worth $40 million. Ashimolowo earns an annual salary of $200,000, but his real wealth comes from varied business interests including his media company, Matthew Ashimolowo media, which churns out Christian literature and documentaries. Ashimolowo’s representatives did not respond to a request confirming his net worth and ownership of all these assets.
Church: Household of God Church
Net worth: $3 million -$10 million
Pastor Okotie made his first success as a popular pop musician in the 80s. He found the light, embraced the bible and set up the Household of God Church, one of Nigeria’s most flamboyant congregations. His 5,000 member church consists predominantly of Nollywood celebrities, musicians, and society people. He contested and lost Nigerian presidential elections for the third time this year under the Fresh Party, a political party he founded and funds. An automobile lover, he owns a Mercedes S600, Hummer and Porsche among several others.