About a fortnight ago, I attended a ceremony at which pastors who had been trained for six months were graduating. A month or so prior to the ceremony, each graduating student was given a number of branded envelopes to be given out to their relations and other loved ones for cash donations.
The ceremony started and the General Overseer approached the line-up of graduands, intending to lay hands on and pray for them. No sooner had he started praying for the first one than he remembered the donation envelopes. He paused, asked for a basket into which he ordered them to drop their stuffed envelopes. Satisfied, the laying of hands and prayers continued.
At the tail end of the service, he raised an offering from all assembled. On getting back the offering bowls, he announced – and he was quite honest about it – that that offering was meant for his private pocket; that the next day was his birthday and he would spend it at a restaurant with whomever he pleased to invite.
Poison in churches
Two days later, I narrated the shocking incident to a friend from whom I received a worse shock. He told me about a book he had just reviewed. In that book, the author, a “man of God”, had asserted that money was good to the point of it being the be-all and end-all of all things. To buttress his point, he ( the author) cited the story told by Jesus Christ about the rich man and Lazarus. His own interpretation was that even from hell, the rich man’s wealth gave him authority over the poor; that was why he was in a position to issue instructions to the poor man, though he, the poor man, was in heaven.
A lot of poison is flowing in the church and unsuspecting congregation members because they are biblically ignorant and desperate are not only drinking but are doing so with a loud “clap offering” as they “make a joyful noise.”
God forgive my cynicism, but I have been taught enough Bible to know that this is not Christianity. Yours Truly is aware of many interventions by well-intentioned, kingdom-minded persons and groups to prevent this cancer from spreading.
There was a suggestion that every church or pastor should belong to one of the ecumenical groupings, such as the Christian Council and the Pentecostal/Charismatic Councils, so that there could be self-regulation and correction from within as iron sharpens iron. But this has been shot down. “Who is anybody to tell me how to grow my church! Where was anybody when God was calling me into the prophetic ministry!! He that has no blemish, let him cast the first stone!” I leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.
One intervention that seems to have worked, so far, is the strategy of the Challenge Enterprises Limited, using literature. Every year, pastors and other Christian leaders are invited to a gathering at which books written by well– respected, internationally renowned Christians are sold to them at half the wholesale price. This is the Pastors Book Set (PBS). It is expected that the Word of God, thus simplified with relevant commentary, will speak to them in the privacy of their thoughts. This will also aid in expository preaching.
The first PBS was organised in 1980 at which a total of 3,000 sets of books were distributed to pastors from almost all denominations, with each attendee receiving a set of 25 books. The US$40 at which the 25 books were sold was about 50 per cent of the actual cost. Authors and international Christian publishing houses are all too eager to forgo profit as long as they are assured that it is “kingdom business”; that the more a pastor gets equipped with knowledge, the better he/she is in reaching out with the Word of God and the more exemplary his/her own lifestyle will be.
Subsequent meetings became teaching conferences and were held in Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and Ho. The 1991 ‘Family Life Conferences’, held in Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and Cape Coast confronted the pastors on the important issue of their marriages, in particular and family life in general. A total of 921 couples attended.
Today, the initiative is called the Challenge National Pastors and Christian Leaders’ Conference. While attendance is dominated by pastors within the mainline orthodox and pentecostal churches, it is gratifying that the charismatic churches are also patronising it, though they make a small percentage of attendees. It is learnt that the general overseers, while not attending in person, send associates but they themselves patronise the book set.
More than 2,000 church and Christian leaders are attending this year’s conference being held in Accra and Kumasi on the theme, ‘Touching the minds and hearts of the next generation: Our challenge’. Available to those who may be interested is a set of 14 books priced at GH¢280.00.
Included in the set are a Study Help and a book on counselling. The counselling books are designed to help the pastors to handle their own emotional, marital and financial problems. This year’s set also includes ‘Can you hear the angels sing?’ a book authored by one of the speakers, Rev. Prof Ayettey, a retired professor of Anatomy of the University of Ghana and a Minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana.
Other speakers are Rev. Gbile Akanni from Nigeria and Rev. J.F.K. Mensah, Chairman of the Apostolic Council of the Great Commission Church International, Ghana.
They will handle topics such as ‘Challenges facing the next generation’, ‘Equipping current leadership to effectively minister to the next generation’; ‘Ministering to the spiritual, emotional, psycho-social and physical needs of the next generation: Responsibility of the Church and the family’, and ‘Handing over the baton: Preparing the youth for leadership.’
The concept of PBS and the Christian Leadership Conferences has become a Ghanaian religious export. It has been replicated in more than 31 countries.
Challenge Enterprises of Ghana (CEG) is an offshoot of Serving In Mission, formerly Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). It was established as a literature distribution outreach in the Gold Coast in 1956.
The current General Manager is Mr Kofi Agamah, a man known in many parts of Africa as a Bible seller. Starting off at the Bible Society of Ghana, Mr Agamah recently returned home after many years on the continent doing Bible work.
He took the Challenge job only this year and appreciates the challenges ahead, not least of which is how to keep the ministry relevant today and financially self-supporting.