Regarded as the most successful pastor in Europe with branches in over 50 countries worldwide, Pastor Sunday Adelaja, the Nigerian-born Founder and Senior Pastor of The Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations, headquartered in Kyiv, Ukraine, shares with RITA OKONOBOH the secret to how he commands massive followership, what he thinks of Femi Aribisala’s recent criticism of him, why he endorses the Buhari administration, among other issues. Excerpts:
What was it like before the ministry?
I was born in the village of Idomila Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria and raised by my grandmother. I received Christ 6 months before I left Nigeria, to study journalism on scholarship at the Belarusian State University in Minsk, Byelorussia USSR. After my studies in Belarus, I got a job in Kiev, where I worked for some time as a journalist before I eventually started the Embassy of God church. I started initially with just a handful people. Through hard work, we overcame all sorts of challenges and by the grace of God we are where we are today.
What inspired you to embrace the pulpit?
The pulpit is not something that you could just choose to embrace. It is not a profession as far as I am concerned. Becoming a pastor, a full time minister, is a matter of calling. I got my calling 6 months after I gave my life to Christ. I had just arrived in the former Soviet Union as a 19-year-old lad. Then I met someone we call Brother Paul Dahunsi from Akure. He was the leader of the underground church in Minsk Belarus at that time, 1986. I was complaining to him on why God allowed me to come to Russia, since I also got admission into University of Ife in Nigeria, and also Columbia University, USA. I thought maybe I had made a mistake coming here; no believers, no church and things were not as smooth and straight forward as I had thought. This man, who was also a student, advised me to pray to God and seek his face, concerning why he allowed me to come to Russia because God is a God of purpose.
For about two weeks I was praying the same prayer, morning, afternoon, and evening on my purpose in Russia. Afterwards, I had an encounter with the Lord for three consecutive days; Jesus was coming to my room and showing me, basically all the things that I am doing today. I saw myself preaching to mainly white people and miracles happening and all sorts of things that we thank God for today. That was how my journey in the ministry started.
What if you were not a cleric?
I am a journalist and a writer, so probably I would have been doing that. I may also have been in business, politics or some international humanitarian projects. For my kind of person, no matter what I do, I will be successful. It’s not about what I do, but about the effort I put into whatever I do; just being the best in everything I do.
You command one of the biggest followership when it comes to the gospel of Christ, especially outside your home country. What is your secret, seeing as Russia is largely Orthodox?
I think is the grace of God. We put in the effort, God blessed it and probably that is the reason why we are having this result. My biggest secret is the fact that I am trying to be a friend of God, a lover of God and a lover of people. Those might probably be the most important secrets. Besides that of course, I put in a lot of effort into what I do. I had to study the Russian language very well so people will understand me when I speak; I had to know the mentality of the people; I had to be in the presence of God, so that he will be able to confirm his word with signs and wonders; I had to build a lot of people-relation skills, to be able to make me manage the church successfully; I had to raise a strong team around me, by which the work expanded drastically. So in two words – hard work!
You don’t seem to have your sights set on home (Nigeria). In the face of the many challenges Nigeria currently faces, why is that?
Well, firstly that is changing now. If you noticed, I have started speaking to issues in my home country, Nigeria, starting from the last presidential election. The reason why I have not been involved in the issues of Nigeria is, because for a long time, I was not thinking of myself as somebody who could meddle into Nigeria’s current affairs. I thought the only way to contribute to the issues in Nigeria will be through what I do best – pastoring or church. However, since I was not coming to Nigeria to pastor, I just decided to forget about it.
Another reason I didn’t want to come to Nigeria to start a church, is because I know that Nigeria has too many churches already. A lot of people are doing a good job, but some of them are not too good. I didn’t want to come and add to the confusion in Nigerian church politics. I thought I could support the hands of the people who are doing well who may need my help. However, if God gives me instruction to come to Nigeria to start a church, I will be willing. However, right now I want to contribute to the political and current affairs of Nigeria. And I do that now largely through my writings on Facebook and on my blog, www.sundayadelajablog.com .
Popular social commentator, Pastor Femi Aribisala, recently, lashed out at you. His words: “He tells his congregants that God is going to make them slum-dog millionaires, provided they give some of their hard-earned cash to his church. This casino-Christianity strategy has provided the basis of the success of many mega-pastors.” How would you react to this?
First of all I do not know who Femi Aribisala is. I don’t know him, I have never met him. I don’t think I have ever heard of him. I don’t know, is he a pastor, a theologian or a social commentator? What does he do? I don’t think he knows me; he has never been to my church. I am sure he has never heard me preach, and he has never listened to my messages. So where he is getting his fantasy from, I don’t know. I think that is just the product of his fallacy.
What he is accusing me of is the direct opposite of what I stand for. On the contrary, I am one of those who passionately oppose people who preach prosperity in our modern day churches. I don’t believe by bringing money to a church is how you get prosperity, even though giving is one of God’s principles of wealth creation. I rather teach that it is wrong to give people such false hope.
I have a whole book written on that called “Money Won’t Make You Rich”. However, God bless him nevertheless. I guess he needs popularity. He probably needs to ride on someone else’s shoulder to get it.
What is your advice for pastors who find themselves embroiled in negative press?
The issue with false accusation in ministry, as regards to my situation, is something inevitable. If you are going to be popular and especially if you are already popular, there is no way you would avoid bad press. It is part of the package. It goes with the brand. Controversy fuels popularity. So the only thing that matters is that is not true. If people want to speculate, it’s their choice. We thank God that in my case, this accusation has remained what it is, an accusation and nothing more.
For popular personalities generally, they should never be afraid of bad press. If you are afraid of bad press, that means you are not going to be willing to speak out your mind, and you are not going to be forthcoming with what God has called you to do. Just ignore it. People who believe you will believe you anyway. People who follow you know you. We don’t live for the gallery; we don’t live for public opinion. Anybody can think whatever they want about you, it is their right. But it is also your right to do what is right and to know who you are.
During the last general election, you openly campaigned for the Buhari/Osinbajo team, a position some Nigerians openly condemned, especially on the basis of your ministerial leaning. How would you assess the performance of the Buhari administration so far?
My position was informed by what I know and the principles I stand for. I believe the Nigerian church is wrong, especially the leadership of the church, by keeping quiet about issues of the society. I think that if I as a leader know something is good for my country, it is a crime for me to keep quiet about it. I feel it is my social responsibility to speak my mind. Even though these people have the right do as they believe, it is their choice, I nevertheless must express my opinion in this regard.
I believe in Buhari because of his past records. I believe in Osinbajo because I know him personally as a man of integrity. I know the integrity and the principles he stands for. I know that if these kind of people lead Nigeria, Nigeria can never get it wrong. The fact that I am a pastor is even the more reason why I think I should speak out. Because it is when the righteous people keep quiet that evil prospers, prevails and triumphs in a society. I will rather speak out, than keep quiet, because I know what is right. I speak out for what I believe is best for my nation and the Kingdom of God at a particular time.
President Buhari is doing much better than I had thought he would. He is a very mature field marshal in politics and leadership. I am really proud of him. I am proud of him and his vice president. I think one of the best things he has done so far, is not being in a hurry to appoint federal ministers. I believe that is one of the smartest things he could do. The fact that people call him “Baba go slow”, is one of the greatest compliments a leader could have. Because that tells me that he is not going to succumb to the pressure of people; this man wants to do a diligent work; he is taking his time to follow due process; that he is so meticulous he wants to make sure that he personally sees into every appointment and every major decision that is being taken on behalf of the country. A lot of kudos to him for that.
As a leader myself, I know that everything depends on meticulous preparation. People don’t do what you tell them to do, but what you monitor and control. I see that he is taking his time, not just blindly trusting his assistants to take decisions for him. I think what is happening is that he is working hard enough to make sure he is personally involved in all the major decisions that affect the destiny of the nation. He wants to make sure he is doing the best for the country.
Nigeria is fortunate to have Buhari as President. I believe our destiny as a nation is going to be restored, thanks to this new government we have. To the people attacking and criticising them, I am very sorry that they don’t see the obvious progress that we are already making as a country. We must be thankful for their new style of leadership. I believe Nigeria’s time has come. It is not just change that has come, but Nigeria’s time to shine has come. Thanks to this new government.
What do you foresee for Nigeria and your expectations of the Buhari-led government?
I am not a prophet, even though every believer could be used by God to tell some things that will happen in the future. In this case anyway, I don’t need to be a prophet. I just need to analyze and project.
My projection is that, the Buhari government will stabilize our economy. I believe our fiscal policy would be much more improved. I think corruption will suffer a huge blow under his government. I believe people will be much more careful, with how they spend government revenues. I presume that there will be some form of order in the country generally. My feeling is that there will be more respect for the rule of law. I believe there will be a more rapid growth in our economy. I also hope that there will be improvement in electricity supply and other social amenities. Most of all, I believe that this government will put an end to insurgency of Boko all sorts. I also want to believe that the unemployment situation, will improve drastically. It is also my hope that Nigeria will be much more popular in the international community. This will eventually attract more investment to the country. It is also my hope that, with their new policies, our Diaspora will become much more involved in the management of Nigeria, leading many of them to come back home to help build Nigeria. A lot of hopes are connected to the government of Buhari and Osinbajo.