SERMON PREACHED AT THE 1ST SESSION OF THE 34TH SYNOD OF THE DIOCESE OF LAGOS ON WEDNESDAY 8TH MAY, 2019 AT 8:00AM. HELD AT OUR SAVIOUR’S CHURCH, TAFAWA BALEWA SQUARE, LAGOS
TOPIC: THE CHURCH LEADERS AND POLITICAL OFFICE HOLDERS: THE TRUTH WHICH MUST BE TOLD
TEXT: 1 TIMOTHY 3:1-4,6 “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity … Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.”
Leaders, in the eye of the scripture are shepherds (Acts 20:28) servants (Mat.20:26) pastors (Eph.4:11) Ambassadors (2 Cor.5:20), Prophets and Visioners (Matt.10:41) helpers (Acts 9:36; 1 Tim.5:10), workers (John 4:34; Phil.4:3), Vessels (2 Tim.2:21-23) , Light of the world (Matt.5:14).
If truly, leaders of the church or political leaders/appointees are all that were listed. Paul is saying its worth desiring for. Not the seat, or the status but the WORK/TASK involved. According to him leadership does not start at the point of ordination for church leaders or at the swearing in of a political officers. Paul is saying before the election or appointment of either church or political leaders. There are things we must look for. If they are not found, the candidate is not fit or qualify for consideration.
The appointment or election should be based on. His ability to take care or his/her home, is he disciplined, self-controlled? Respectable? Hospitable? Can he teach by disciplined, self-controlled? Is he/she a drunkard? Does he behave decently or rough in the society? Is he/she violent? Does he loves money than life? How does his/her children behave in the society. All these should be the foundation on which leadership can be built.
Because the church and the society has failed in their homes, the repercussions is now what we suffered in the church and in our political arena. That is why there are more violence, in-fighting, insecurity, moral decadence, spiritual coldness, churches taking themselves to court, members of the church insulting the church leadership, today the election cases before the tribunal are now more than ever before. The wall of the Church is collapsing. The number of abuse by pastors and overseer is increasing by the day. Politics is now a do or die affairs. Politicians are ready to offer any price to secure appointment or election into a political office. There is need to rebuild the church and the nation Nigeria.
That truth that must be told is to follow the method of Nehemiah who was inspired to initiate the rebuilding of the fallen wall of Jerusalem.
The main inspiration for the rebuilding of The Temple came from prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The wall of Jerusalem however remained in ruins until 70 years later when Nehemiah emerged to stir his people to rebuild it. Nehemiah was a wine-taster in the palace of king Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC) and he needed special permission to travel to Jerusalem to help in the rebuilding of the city wall. I want to believe that why the lord Bishop of Lagos has put this topic, is his realization that the wall of Nigeria political leadership and that of the church is either to have collapsed or about to. It has been the cry shortly after independence in 1960 that we lack leaders who can lead us to the promised land. Because successive leaders had failed, the whole things is collapsing and because the society makes the church and because the politician who destroyed the society are also stake holders in the church, the centre of either can no longer hold. If then we will re-build the collapsed wall of Nigeria and the church. The pattern of the Nehemiah’s leadership qualities is as follows:
(a) DEEP CONCERN FOR NIGERIA NATION AND THE CHURCH:
Some Jews arrived from Jerusalem and found Nehemiah in Susa the capital of Persia. They told him of the great difficulties the returned remnants were facing and scornful treatment they were receiving from the foreign neighbours. They also told him the wall of Jerusalem were still broken down and the gates had not been restored since the time they were burnt thereby exposing the city to danger as we now experience in Nigeria. When Nehemiah heard this, he sat down and wept. For several months he mourned and did not eat. The first truth we must tell ourselves is that we needed leaders, office holders that are compassionate. No spiritual or political office holder can succeed unless he has deep concern and compassion for the people and for God’s work. Some of our church/political leaders are wicked, inhuman and satanic. If the contrary can go into extinction, to them it does not matter as long as it benefit them and their cohort. They laugh and Nigerians’ pain. Most of them have no mercy. They embezzled pension money, sponsored criminals against their fellow citizen, destroyed poor peoples’ houses and build their mansion and yet they come to church, bring their ill gotten money and the church reward them with titles and merit awards. They are the Baba Ijos, Night of and Dame, some are even honoured with priesthood ordination. We read at one time, our Lord Jesus saw a large crowd and had pity on them “because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). This led him not only to teach and heal them but also to feed them. When a clergyman who is always at the vicarage without pastoral visitation or a political office holder married to his/her office, how would he/she know the plight of the people. Unfortunately, they don’t watch local station to hear the news. Such pastor or leader is waiting for the wrath of God who is the owner of that seat because the Bible say that good seat is from above.
Nehemiah was a man of prayer. Reference to this is made ten times in his book (1:4-6;2:4-9;5:19;6:14;13:14;22,29). His first prayer, arousing from the concern of his people was a prayer aimed at seeking God’s help, so that the king would grant him permission to go to Jerusalem. Let see the pattern of the composition of the prayer.
Adoration 1:5, repentance and intercession 1:6-7, supplication 1:11. Nehemiah prayed and planned for four months. Even in the middle of his conversation with the king he was still prayerful (2:4). Church leaders, how many times do you pray? Powers has gone out of many churches, too cold because leaders are weak in praying. Christian political leaders has not time to pray, that is why they are easy target for the devil. We have just finished Lent, how many of us religiously observed the fast. If your leadership is not supported with power of prayer, God will hand off you, your pieces will not be able to be gathered, because prayer builds our relationship with God Eph.3:14-19, 1 Cor. 3:9. God calls us His fellow workers. At that seat, there are principalities and powers, Paul says “we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against rulers, powers of this dark world, etc. Prayer is the key to our success and its our security. How many ministers, commissioners even local Government Chairman has time to pray. In our national event national Anthem has taken over the place of prayer. You are doomed if you don’t pray. No Bishop will love a prayerless pastor. Many of our Church leaders are now politicians thinking that can replace prayer. We belong to Jesus’ party, He has appointed us to the seat of bishops, pastors, evangelists, teachers. To Him, our report should go daily.
Foresight is the ability to see ahead. Having been granted permission to take leave. Nehemiah knew he might find it difficult on the way. So he requested for the king to grant “the favour of giving him letters to the governors of west Euphrates province, instructing them to let him travel to Judah (22), not only that, that he might obtain Timber necessary “for the gates of the fort that guards the temple, for the city walls and for the house, etc. If we have had visionary leaders certainly our lives would have been brighter and beautiful. Unlike Nehemiah, all that were needed in our country, in the church, God had made them available human, mineral, wealth (name it). yet no vision, every government with different policy, the worse for the country and the church is imitation, we want to lead like other nations and yet, we don’t have their discipline. Our leaders are the best breakers of rules made by them. Church leaders will make rules and break it themselves. Some church pastors don’t even like to be associated with the church. You never see them loved to wear their clerical outfits. It’s a shame that you occupy a seat of authority for a year or more nothing positive happened, it’s a shame on you. No set goals, no focus. You are pre occupied with selfish interest, its me, I and myself. Colluding with members to destroy the church and yet you present yourself as the best before the bishop. “Olorun ri o bi o ba f’otito sise …”
(d) INSPIRATIONAL POWER:
Speaking from first hand knowledge. Nehemiah summoned the people and told them “see what trouble we are in because Jerusalem is in ruins and its gates are destroyed: let us build the city walls and put an end to our disgrace” 2:17. They responded “Lets start rebuilding” and they all got ready. Nehemiah found a small community of about 20,000 people living within 30 kilometers radius of Jerusalem. They were impoverished, deeply disillusioned and demoralized. Haggai and Zachariah in their dangerously inflammatory speeches had inspired the people and assured them that David throne would surely be re-established. This is what is lacking in the church today, no enough inspiration to the church, instead some church pastors are part of the problems, thinking that they would rather destroy than build, if God says the gate of hell will not prevail and you are the agent of distraction, certainly you have received your judgement. Instead of given inspiration to the church to stand to build, you are the one Satan is using, you are still seeing the bishop or church authority as your enemy. You have been left behind look at your back, no one is left, the church is moving at a high speed, you better join in the building. To you politician, if you refuse to build with the current government. If you loose that position, you may for ever become irrelevant. As a Christian politician, you must be unique and make your mark. Nigerians are already demoralized and confused people found it easier to commit suicide, sell their mother, wife, husband for money. This was also the situation at the time of Nehemiah, when the old men remembered Solomon’s temple, they wept. Hence, Nehemiah found disheartened and demoralized people. He spoke to them with inspirational power and authority to a point where they all said “let us start building.”
(e) FAITH IN GOD
The attempt of Samballat, Tobiah and Gehshem to discourage Nehemiah were to no avail. He answered them “the God of Heaven will give us success. We are his servants and we are going to start building.” Hebrew 11:1 “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” Let us be confidence and don’t write Nigeria off. The rebuilding will soon be completed. God of heaven will give us success. The church is taking her glory back. The optimist sees an opportunity in every difficulty. This is Lagos diocese, the best among equal, it cannot go down (never). The Bishop has continue to inspire us, let us now inspire ourselves and our members. The strife is over, the battle is won … Now let the song of joy be sung. Satan is defeated. This should encourage us. A man of faith must be prepared to take risk. We should not be afraid.
(f) ORGANISATIONAL SKILLS
Rebuilding Nigeria or the Church required a lot of organization, Nehemiah must have spent many hours planning how to involve everybody in the task. Professionals like gold smiths, performers, People were prepared to sacrifice their time and earning to join others in the task, men of Tekoa, men of Gibeon and Mizpah. A large number of people were allocated a section next to their houses. Hence this made them eager to do a good job. One of the builders is specially mentioned as the sixth son of his father. His five elders brother do not seems to have bothered. But this did not deter the young man, every hand must be on deck to continue to build our diocese and Nigeria.
We need leaders who are problem solver, who can provide realistic leadership. No time for useless conferences that will not be implemented. Nehemiah was not prepared to waste time, His enemies engaged in many tactics but failed. My Lord, don’t say you are still young, bleak your eyes, 20 years is here. Those who are ready, let them move, others will join, don’t mind their speed,
St. Paul says, that first and foremost, a leader must be above reproach 1 Tim.3:1, we are looking for a leader with fine character like Nehemiah that even rumour was to be spread against him, no fault could be found. Nehemiah’s decisions were characterized by strict impartiality. He manifested no respect for persons. Both nobles and rulers received his censure when they deserve it as freely as the common people. (5:7).
Nehemiah was a selfless leader, a quality that enabled him to sacrifice his time, energy, money, food, etc for the sake of God and his people. He writes “During the twelve years that I was governor of the land of Judah …neither my relatives nor I, ate the food I was entitled to have as governor” 5:14. He further says “I put all my energy into rebuilding the wall and did nor acquire my property 5:16, at a place he said “I regularly fed at my table 150 of the Jewish people and their leaders…I did not claim the allowances that the governor is entitled to 5:8. This is a food for thought to all our leaders if we are to re-build the wall of the church and the various offices we are priviledged to hold.
(h) HUMILITY IN SERVING: After Jesus had washed their feet, he put on His robe, returned to the table and told His disciples, “So if I, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14) if the Lord of glory is willing to wash and dry your feet. You should render loving service to one another in the spirit of genuine humility. It was a demonstration of the love of God and of humility as God willed it. In Luke 22:27 Jesus says “…But I am among you as one who saves” and in matt 20:28 “… the son of man came not to be served but to serve.”
Today, unholy pride had eaten up the church, some leaders both in the church and the political scene, making themselves semi-gods who are unapproachable. Everyone serve them but they only serve their belly, family and friends.
CONCLUSION: No situation is too difficult for God to change, if only we who He has given grace to lead will be humble enough and be committed like Nehemiah. God’s grace is sufficient to see us through. If we realize that the church or the Nation Nigeria belong to God and that whatever position we occupy is by God’s grace and that the position is not permanent, which means, he who put us there can also remove us. It is also pertinent to know that we shall all give account of how we use His grace and all the priviledges of our leadership in the church and in the society.
The Rt. Dr. J. Akin Atere, J.P
Bishop, Diocese of Awori