Feature

Succession in churches: A battle between business, spirituality

It has always been a battle. In most churches in Nigeria, especially ministries when the founder dies, there is a battle for leadership between church leaders and the spouse of the founder. The latest in that is the fight between Evelyn, wife of the Synagogue Church of All Nation, the late Pastor T.B Joshua and the leaders of the church. In this report, TAI ANYANWU looks at the previous battles by other wives of founders, who held firm to their husbands’ dreams. He found out that it is a mixture of the good and the bad

 

In the days of the early Prophets, a trainee prophet, Elisha, had expressed strong desire to step into the shoes of his Master Elijah. His cry was: ‘How can I inherit ‘a double portion of Prophet Elijah’s anointing?”

 

Elijah, his master and mentor to several other prophets in training, had pointedly told Elisha: “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” Elijah’s response is indeed instructive. It goes without saying that transference of leadership anointing goes beyond mere desire.

 

It is a spiritual affair that is never tainted with inordinate ambition. In his own case, Elisha was required to humbly and meticulously follow in the footsteps of his master until he watched Elijah being taken up to heaven. Having gone the extra mile, over and above other apprentice Prophets, Elijah witnessed the remission of Elijah into glory.

 

He also picked up Elijah’s prophetic cloak, the symbol of the master’s anointing. Immediately, he was saddled with task of crossing over the Jordan River either with the aid of a boat or vessel, he could easily rely on the God of Elijah; and great faith, he struck the water with the cloak.

 

The water opened up, and Elisha walked across on dry ground. Undoubtedly, that act affirmed the transition of the prophetic office from Elijah to Elisha as well as the fulfillment of Elisha’s request. Worthy of note also is the fact that the miraculous crossing of the Jordan was witnessed by other trainee prophets.

 

Hence the Bible noted: “When the sons of the prophets, who were at Jericho saw him opposite them, they said, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. From that point, the sons of the prophet accepted Elisha as their spiritual leader.

 

According to elder Josiah Odunayo of Christ Apostolic Church, LAWNA Territory, the foregoing is a clear example of how transference of leadership/anointing was conferred on a worthy servant of God, in early ecumenical movement.

 

“This pattern of succession is hardly the same as what we are witnessing in our churches today; and it’s worrisome,” Odunayo stressed.

Sunday Telegraph survey on succession battles in several Christian denominations in Nigeria reveals a catalogue of ecclesiastic rumbles akin to worst case scenarios ever recorded among rival contenders in political or secular power tussle.

 

In most cases, the battle for succession in churches is drawn between family members, spouses of the demised leader of the churches in question.

 

Wives who succeeded demised husbands

 

After the gruesome murder of the founding Bishop of Faith Revival Ministries World Outreach, aka Victory Christian Church, Satellite Town, Lagos, Bishop Harford Anayo IIoputaife, in 1995, the leadership was suddenly thrust on his wife, Apostle Nkechi Anayo lloputaife.

 

But that did come through, until she had fought and conquered so many battles over her succession bid. Bishop Harford was shot at close range by suspected assassins.

 

He died from gunshot wounds, few days after he was rushed to a hospital for treatment.

 

His wife took charge of the ministry. Mrs. Iloputaife had a tough time running the affairs of the ministry because she had to deal with a number of issues and intimi-dations from conspirators within in the fold.

 

According to her, a group of people who were supposed to provide support and assistance at a time she needed them most suddenly turned to her foes. Mrs. Iloputaife eventually rose up to the task with the support of Bishop Mike Okonkwo of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission.

 

Since her conquest, she has steered the affairs of church but not much is heard of the church as at today.

 

Back in the early 90s, all roads led to Wonder City Church, Ajah, where Apostle Gabriel Oduyemi, the charismatic oil mogul turned minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, held sway. Until his death, Oduyemi, the first Nigerian cleric to own a private jet, held his followers spellbound with a combination of powerful oratory, miracle making prowess, bold predictions even though they hardly came through and flamboyance.

 

But unlike Mrs Iloputaife, it wasn’t difficult at all for Rev Roselyn Oduyemi to succeed her husband, after Apostle Oduyemi went to join his ancestors. Mrs. Oduyemi has been steering the affairs of Wonder City Church, without interference in the past 30 years.

 

However, the glory of the latter house has not measured up with the standard that was left by its founder and late leader. Similarly, Mrs. Margaret Idahosa, the first female Pentecostal Archbishop in Africa, mounted the saddle of leadership in March 1998.

 

Her husband, Archbishop Benson Idahosa, the flambuoyant founder of Church of God Mission International Incorporated died and left her and their four children behind.

 

The 77-year-old Mrs. Idahosa now runs the church alongside her first son, Bishop Feb Idahosa. Twenty three years after the passage of Archbishop Benson Idahosa, the ministry has enjoyed smooth running and remained successful primarily because of the vast business investment the late founder left behind.

 

Currently, Mrs. Evelyn Joshua is embroiled in a fierce battle to succeed her late husband and world renowned televangelist, Senior Prophet T.B Joshua. Media reports suggest that a cabal comprising foreign and local aides of T.B Joshua is giving Mrs. Evelyn a good fight in order to hijack the leadership of Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN).

 

Like other widowed wives of demised Christian leaders, Evelyn is asserting her claim on what some people have described as her rightful heritage.

 

 

The list of wives, who picked up the mantle of church leadership after death of their husbands and partners in the ministry of the gospel keeps elongating.

 

Bishop Oluremi Obembe, widow of the late founder of El Shaddai Bible Church Archbishop Olanrewaju Obembe, was hurriedly ordained a Bishop to fill the vacuum created by his exit, few weeks after her husband’s burial. Primate Emmanuel Adejobi of the Church of the Lord, Aladura departed this world 30 years ago.

 

His wife, Olive Sulola Adejobi, carried on with the mission of growing the church over the years. When the controversial founder of Christ Revival Victory Chapel, Prophet Ireti Ajanaku, died of an undisclosed ailment in August 2013, many people thought that it was the end of the Christ Revival Victory Chapel.

 

Of course, the turmoil arising from controversy surrounding his death and the property tussle his wife, Pastor Joy Ajanaku, had with members of his extended family, lent credence to the assumption.

 

But she took over the leadership of the church and was also able to record some laudable achievements, including the opening of new branches of the church across Nigeria. Rev Janet Onaolapo stepped into the shoes of her late husband, Bishop Kola Onaolapo, the founder of Abundant Life Gospel Church, who passed on in October, 2012. One of the notable achievements recorded was the completion of their ultramodern worship centre in the Agege area of Lagos.

 

In her own case, Pastor Matilda Akinola succeeded her husband and founder of Redemption Ministries Worldwide, with headquarters in Port Harcourt, Pastor Stephen Akinola.

 

Unlike Mrs Onaolapo, not much is known about Matilda even though she has been actively involved in ministerial work alongside her husband.

There is a particular case, where the wife of a living Founder and General Overseer has had to be summoned to a village meeting, for shining over and above her husband.

 

Precisely, relatives of Rev (Dr.) Obiorah Ezekiel, the founder of Christian Pentecostal Mission (CPM), curiously invited his wife, Dr. Mercy Ezekiel, to a village meeting, to explain why she is overshadowing their son in the ministry he founded. But unknown to many, it was a deliberate packaging by husband and wife to cover Rev. Dr. Obiora, the icon of Pentecostal revival in the early 80s, who has been blind over two decades.

 

Divisions, schisms, dissensions in today’s church

 

Sunday Telegraph also took a plunge beyond the cacophony of noises and dusts often provoked when spouses of late clerics lay claims or arrogate power of leadership of the church of God to themselves. Our survey discovered that divisions, schisms and dissensions have been a characteristic feature of the church right from its infancy.

 

The earliest indication of divisive tendency in Christianity dates back to the Apostolic Age.

 

The contention between Paul and Barnabas over acceptance of John Mark for the second missionary journey was the first. This was sequel to the John Mark’s abandonment of the Apostles during the First Missionary Journey. Though, they parted ways, it was short lived.

 

The second sign of division took place in the Corinth. Paul was not happy with the divisive tendency in the Corinthians church. Hence, he wrote to condemn the stance of some who claimed that they belonged to Paul, Apollos and Cephas or Christ’s party. He ended by declaring “surely Christ had not been divided among you.”

 

Nothing more was heard of the quarrel. Unfortunately, for the church today, not even the clerics at the top hierarchy of most churches learnt any lesson from the above illustration, which is a clear testament that the apostles of old did not encourage division among the Christians.

 

No wonder great denominations like the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), Assemblies of God, Cherubium and Seraphim (C&S), Celestial Church  of Christ (CCC) and many more churches have allowed scandalous division to mar the unity of the body of Christ.

 

A study titled: ‘The Causes, effects and Solutions to The Internal Conflicts in the CAC’ says in part; “It was an attempt to satisfy inordinate ambition of some leaders. The shattering of the unity of Christ Apostolic Church is a big scandal.

 

Any good member should hide his face in shame for the unfortunate development.

 

The division, according to an Elder in the church, who chose to speak anonymously, began when the late General Evangelist of CAC, Prophet T.O. Obadare, led the CAC to be broken into ministries such as WORD SOUL WINNING EVANGELICAL MINISTRY (WOSEM) e.t.c.

 

It is pertinent to mention here that evangelical revival of late 1970s by Obadare resulted into a ministry called WOSEM.” Till today, the CAC has two factions which have not been able reunite despite concerted efforts to reconcile them.

 

The Assemblies of God Church Nigeria used to pride itself as denomination that has withstood stubborn internal wrangling and still remained one.

 

But it broke into two factions about five years ago, when Rev. Chidi Okoraofor led other members of the Executive Council to remove his boss, Rev Paul Emeka, then General Superintendent, in what appeared as a palace coup. Less than two years ago, his own vice, Rev Ejikeme Ejim, aligned with other members, slammed an allegation of having an adulterous affair with a female member of the church and pulled the carpet under Rev. Okoroafor’s feet.

 

Ejim became the General Superintendent of the faction of the Assemblies of God church based at Evangel University, Ebonyi State. Paul Emeka’s faction still holds sway at the Enugu national headquarters of the church, Enugu State, his home state. The same thirst for leadership is the reason the Cherubim and Seraphim has broken into several splinter denominations under different power hungry leaders.

 

Though they gather from time to time to forge a reunification of the church, the splinter groups still operate independently. Same story also obtains in the Celestial Church of Christ, where the battle for succession reportedly led to unholy use of diabolical powers.

 

The Holy Scripture, in the book of John 17:20, showed that division was not originally ordained by Christ. Otherwise, he would not have prayed the highly priestly prayer. “I do not pray for these only but for those who believe in me through their words, that they might all be one.”

 

What then is the root cause of the battle for succession in today’s churches? This question has left many to wonder whether Christian leaders of today are worshipping in church or something else.

 

According to the Director of Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Rev. Father Anthony Godonu, any place of worship where is jostling and fighting is no longer qualified to be called a church. He condemned fighting over succession in churches, pointing out that it may not be unconnected to money and power.

 

His words; “Whenever there jostling and fighting in any church, know that personal and selfish ambition is involved. And in the long run, such institution can never be qualified as church but personal ministry.” He however added that the Bible prescribes standard pattern of transferring leadership anointing.

 

“The only known pattern of succession prescribed in the Bible is by laying of hands which is what is called in the modern day Catholicism as Priestly Ordination,” Fr. Godonu said.

 

For his own part, the Director of National Issues, Christian Asdociation of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop Stephen Adegbite, who  doubles as Lagos CAN Chairman, also pointed a typical case of Biblical transfer of leadership a joint in the church. He said: “Yes; if you look at the story of Moses and Joshua, God himself planned it.” Bishop Adegbite, however, advise Christian leaders to always make plans for succession in their churches, ahead of time.

 

“The Pastor or founder must planned succession. If not, there will be trouble among the officers of the Church especially the one man Church that is not possible in orthodox Churches.”

 

He equally identified human frailty and greed as the root cause of ecclesiastical rumbles in today’s churches, adding: “A lot of people love power and money; so they will continue to witness this as long as the earth remains.” Like Fr Godonu, Bishop Adegbite stressed that definitely, “a Church of God will not engage in rumblings if they are led by the spirit of God.”

 

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