Pastor Owen Nlekwauwa is the Senior Pastor, Olivet Bible Church, Festac Town, Lagos. He spoke with some selected journalists recently in Lagos where he bared his mind on a number of issues ranging from church development to the Youths, the nation Nigeria, the World and many more. Our correspondent was at the briefing and filed in the report. Excerpts;
The journey so far
For Olivet Bible Church, the year 2013 has been a year of consolidation. So much spiritual strength has been built into the church and that is a prerequisite for whatever God wants to do with us next. There is so much spiritual strength within the church and extends to fullness of purpose and unity. That has been our greatest gain in the year 2013 apart from whatever physical structure we have been able to put in place. We are consolidating, keenly focused in pursuit of God’s purpose for the church. That was the main area our gain came from in the year 2013.
We are more compact as a church in terms of the spiritual strength; you can feel spiritual strength in the church. It wasn’t what it was maybe in the last one year before the last and that was very necessary in carrying out any critical thing God wanted us to do and maybe any physical development of the church. The bond of unity is very strong and real.
Plans for the Youths
Our Ministry in essence is youth oriented in the sense that we lay emphasis on youths development and even when we are speaking in the general church, we have in mind, we are tailored towards reaching out to the young people and that is because as a person, I have a burden of seeing the young people grow up to be everything God wants them to be and added to that, there is a peculiar problems today concerning the youths.
We really have a challenge in our hands when it comes to the youths and the work is so enormous that no one Ministry can handle it, no one organization, NGO or government can handle it alone. All hands have to be on deck as it affects the youths because their situation is very pathetic.
On the 5th of August, 2008, I had a dream. In that dream, God showed me the fate of the youths in Nigeria and I was crying about the state of the young people in this nation. And then, in that dream, my wife was asking, why are you crying? I said, can’t you see the state of our youths? They were without purpose and it was like nobody even cared.
You look around; there is no articulate plan for young people. It is not even like the infrastructure is being provided and enabling environment is being provided that they can fight for their survival. There is virtually nothing and worst still, the people that they look up to are not mostly showing good example. If you open the newspapers, what you will be hearing is how much this person spends in buying one car and how much this person embezzled and it annoys the psyche of the youths.
Are you building youths for your church’s utilization alone?
If you look at our platform, we have programmes that are tailored towards helping the youths. The idea is that, there is a message that I preach over and over again, “The University Alternative”, when you look at this, I have noticed that trend some years back and I began to talk about it. It will be foolish to train the young people the conventional way our fathers were trained or even myself. That time, employment situation was not as bad as it is today; you will be going through the rungs of education, primary school, and then secondary through to the University and you have hope. Once you are in the University, it is like this person is made. At a point before you graduate, people are making you offers. It is no more like that.
Even those that have the privilege of getting into the University nowadays shouldn’t have the mindset of going through the University, coming out and looking for somebody to employ them. Employments are no longer there compared to the number of people seeking them.
So the idea, of course what we do is that we equip the young people spiritually and then we try to tailor them on leadership line and most importantly for economic empowerment, we take them through entrepreneurship basics, let them think in terms of setting up their world themselves not graduating or coming out of the school looking for somebody to employ them. We let them know, you can win out there, we give them certain tools they need to get out there and do something for themselves. Start small and finish big.
For instance, the mandate I have given to the church, I put it this way, plant a tree. We started in June 2013 and between June 2013 and June 2014, plant a tree that means plant a business, start at your level like a mustard seed and God can grow you.
Mentorship programme in your church?
Yes we do that even now and then both in-house and by bringing people in from outside the church. For instance, Mr. John Edike was with us sometime last year. Mr John Edike is so much trained on entrepreneurial skills. He has been in our church last year and it was really a good time. We have brought in some other people that have attained some certain level in level. Last year also, Dr. Sam Amadi has been in our church and it was impactful. He told the story of his life. That is the Chairman/CEO of Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, he has been in our church talking along the line, he told us, at least these examples can inspire the youths and then let them know you can succeed in such things, you don’t have to compromise in life. Dr. Sam Amadi was a classical example.
The Mr. Emmanuel Emeka Orji has been to our church last year. He represents the University of Pennsylvania, their consultancy outfit in Nigeria and then my good friend, Pastor Jake Epele who has came a couple of times and they are people that have succeeded in righteousness. So there are people you can look up to. Apart from these ones, we have inside, there are people you can bring and then if these people can make it, I can make it.
Infrastructural development in the church today
I am not in a hurry to build physical structures. If you build too early, your vision will be too little. So I lay focus in building people. When I build them up, the people will in turn build the church.
I said let me focus on building people, when I build the people, they will build the church. So I said let us go into tent and so we brought in that tent that we are using. My focus was to enhance the tent some of which we have done last year, we had it air conditioned and stuffs like that.
We are going to be there a while; after all Abraham, Isaac and Jacob dwelt in tents, so we are following their footsteps (laughs). Let me build people, focus on people not just infrastructure.
That tent is not a cheap tent, it is a massive tent imported from Canada. What we want to do is to air condition it, we have good convenience that you don’t even see in some of these churches. Anybody can use it, the atmosphere inside is very cool, it passes the standards anywhere.
But a tent is a tent. We air-conditioned it use it until we are ready to build.
You see, the church is not about luxury. Sometimes we misplace things nowadays. I can say okay, let us build, you task them and by the time you are through with the building, you find out that the people have been starved. But build the people, put them on the platform where they can build that thing effortlessly. So my main focus is building those lives not just the physical structures. I am an architect; I will like to build anyway.
Your Plan about building people
To start with, when I get this word was 2005 and towards the last quarter of 2006, I was troubled. I became dissatisfied with running things the same way I knew them and I began a search and in that search, I began to pray and then do certain things and that search led me to establish some system that even if I am not there, these systems run.
For instance, I like developing programmes and having people to oversee them. I am not the one overseeing them and all of that. If somebody comes into the church and we fit that person into the system, by the time he comes out at the other end, he is no more the person. It is just there on its own, we called it Olivet academy.
I want to build a system that if I am not there, Olivet Academy runs. I still teach some courses there because I want to make input into the lives of those ones found there. I picked from the congregation, twenty-eight people first, then picked another twenty-eight, trained them, while training them, I began position people to take over teaching and the stuffs like that and now, it has a life of its own.
That is our life development process, you can learn a lot from there and it is life transforming. The result has been good anyway.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)
The Christian Association of Nigeria, the way I see it is a political body. It is not there for spiritual activities, it is an amalgamation of people of different beliefs under the canopy of Christianity. The Celestial Man is there, the Cherubim man is there and I guess Deeper Life Man should be there. It is not a spiritual organization; rather it is a political organization to protect the interest of the Christians. That is essentially the way I see CAN.
There are some of the things that come out in the country, there are things some people who don’t belong to Christendom or a leader may come out to do against the Christians but when they remember that that body is there to fight, they will soft pedal. It doesn’t have to be on the papers.
CAN advocacy for the youths
I am part of that body to start with, that Christian body. I can tell you, we have not done enough, sometimes, we are distracted. We have not done enough. Sometimes we don’t speak when we are supposed to speak out.
But look at the sense in that orientation, while we are saying things are not okay in Nigeria and somebody is graduating this year from the University. Should he wait and continue carrying papers about until somebody employs him? Some people have stayed eight years having Certificates that are virtually obsolete now. So there is something you can always do with yourself. God is a god of creativity; don’t go on waiting for them to employ you. You can employ yourself and create the white collar job, people are creating it. You don’t have to wait all your life for things to change in Nigeria. When will they change?
Clergymen hobnobbing with the government, the high and mighty in the society
Sometimes, it is because of the positions they hold. For instance, if you are the President of CAN, you always will be interfacing with the government. In fact, that is the main reason some of them are seen doing that (laughs), you will always interface with the government. Like I told you, we have not lived up to human expectations not to talk of divine expectations.
But we don’t give up because we have not measured up because anyone that is imperfect will keep working, praying after all, this country, there was a time I was disgusted about what is happening in Nigeria that I was complaining.
When I cried for this nation was when I travelled to Israel, a desert area and saw what the people were able to make out of that dry land, here we have everything, right from here , between here and Benin, you will see waste left and right.
Challenges in the Ministry
There are always challenges because you are dealing with human beings. Human beings don’t like changes and life is all about change, Christianity is about changing lives. So you are telling people to change, there is a better way. That is the major challenge.
Many people you see in the church are doing adult education. If I should say train up a child in a way he should go, many of them, they didn’t train them from infancy, they have already formed their belief system. Some of them are just like concrete before they came to church (laughs). So getting people to change their mindset is a major part of the work.
Of course there is the resource challenge. Any step you take in the Ministry is Money. Any handbill you print is money; you are not talking about radio broadcast. You have to pay staff; you have to make them comfortable. So you need money to run the Ministry.
Taxing the church
Well if the government wants to tax the church, they should go ahead. It is only when you make profit that you are taxed. You were asking me now why I have not build where people will worship and you are talking about taxing the church. So how do you determine what is profit?
Now if you tax the church, you must tax the native doctors, you must tax the Mosques and all the other religions.
Your final word
For the Church, look beyond yourself, help somebody to stand, try to salvage somebody’s life. Serve, touch lives, make an impact. Don’t stay in a place of give me this, give me that one but look beyond yourself. That is for the church.
For Nigeria, our leaders should help us and know that at the end of the day, they will be accountable to God. One of the things that David said before he died, he said that he that rules among men should be just, ruling in the fear of God. That is one of them. They should pay attention to that statement because at the end of the day, they are going to be judged. Nobody gets away with anything.
For the world, I think in our time, the Middle East is a place to watch in 2014 and beyond. Things could start from there that will escalate through the whole world. With the way Russia is going, any mismanagement of the situation there can spark off a big fight or something that we cannot control.