Tackling the Challenge of Untrained Clerics  

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Kayode Fasua writes on the recent move by the Association of Christian Theologians to tackle the challenge of untrained clerics and other excesses in God’s vineyard
 
In Nigeria, one of the challenges the body of Christ faces is that of untrained clerics, who seemingly take the gospel at face value. This is one issue the Association of Christian Theologians (ACT) is now poised to tackle. In fact, this is the thrust of its forthcoming annual conference in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.

In the haystack of religious beliefs, the Christian community in Nigeria is now poised to separate the chaff from the wheat, and thus set the compass for Nigerian Christians, many who may have been hoodwinked by untrained persons or gold-diggers parading themselves as modern-time clerics.

This indication came during the week from the ACT, a national body in Nigeria that regulates faith-based education, best known as Christian theology. The ACT, which was set up in 2002, according to its National President, Professor Olakunle Macaulay, is set to ensure that “a registered Christian theologian is one who has successfully completed a course of study in an institution approved by the association, and holds an approved or recognised degree or qualification to that effect.”

As such, in its annual tradition, the ACT would converge on Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, as from next week, for a three-day retreat, to broach on issues affecting Christianity in Nigeria, especially the mud splash on the religion by the activities of quacks, misfits and fake pastors desecrating their respective churches, and by extension, the Christian faith.

For one, the body insists that  theologians should naturally produce pastors for the churches, to ensure that persons of proven integrity and sound theological background only, are found mounting the pulpit and preaching the words of God.

But wrenched sore by various sordid stories of ungodly conducts in God’s vineyard, and sufficiently embarrassed by the elevation of profanities in Christendom, the ACT said the time has come for it to set the rules.
Of worry to the body is the expansion of Christian religious worship centres across the country, without recourse to the quality of clerics in charge of them. In a chat with THISDAY, the 82-year-old Macaulay said: “Many, without formal education or theological training, are now forced into pastoral work by the poor economic condition of Nigeria.

“Nowadays, many of our churches are headed by people without even formal education, much less theological training, and that is why you hear nauseating stories of some pastors having affairs with church members or getting themselves involved in shady deals.

“Someone who is not trained in Biblical matters, who does not have the background knowledge of the Christian faith and what the responsibilities of a clergyman are; who is not spirit-filled as he is bereft of the knowledge of the words of God, suddenly wakes up and says God has called him. Don’t be surprised if such a person, as pastor or evangelist, is preaching heresy or committing various sins, and even, crimes.”
Lurid Tales 

The theologian may have, indeed, hit the nail on the head, as the media, especially in Africa, have been awash with jaw-dropping stories of some pastors caught pants down with their female church members, or others spotted on the low road of absurdities and other sinful conducts.

Late last year, a cleric in Iju-Itaogbolu community of Ondo State, who set up a private version of one of the fairly old Pentecostal churches, was under the glieglights, as he confessed profusely to bedding mother and her daughter, and of similarly sexually abusing many female adherents, who came in search of miracles.

The ‘pastor’, apparently unfazed by the indignity of his exploits, had proclaimed proudly that, “a lady must be naked for my prayers to have effects on her, for her problems to get solved”.

This story was a sort of tale of the tape for the dilemma of a certain man who addressed a press conference a decade ago in Lagos, claiming that his barren wife had been sexually abused by a certain prophet in an orgy that lasted seven days. 

According to his account, his wife had confessed at a public crusade that the prophet, who camped her for seven days with the consent of her husband, put her in a closet, and offered a bottled anointing oil that must lubricate her private part with the insertion of ‘a holy organ’. The prophet declared that  her husband’s ‘organ’ was unholy! She caught the bait, and the rest is history.

Only recently too, a fiery cleric in a Delta State community was reported as asking a certain woman in need of husband to select her choice among the church congregation. Guided through the process by the preacher himself, the woman at a stage gave up the search, saying she was yet to spot her ‘taste’. Unimpressed, the cleric called on men interested in marrying her. No fewer than eight men rushed out. Literarily mummified, the embarrased lady rejected the eight ‘suitors’, thus incurring the anger of the preacher, who classified her as “demonic.”

About three years ago too, a South African pastor was in the news for asking his church members to eat unhewed grass, claiming it could accord them certain spiritual powers.

Untrained Clerics
Such acts of misdemeanour now seemingly common with some Pentecostal pastors in Africa have been traced to poor educational background, especially as many of them neither attended seminaries nor got trained by theological colleges which would have equipped them for the cleric service.

This has been lamented on so many occasions in Nigeria by Macaulay. He said most of Nigerian Pentecostal pastors were not theologically trained and are people who were pushed into the vineyard for the purpose of survival.  “Many of them are either retirees, pensioners or jobless people, who are now in Christian leadership”, he observed.

Ostentatious Living

Another area of concern to Macaulay and his ACT team is “the ostentatious living and undue acquisition of wealth among Men of God”.

He demurred that, deploying various ways to amass wealth, many ministers of God have abandoned their flock, making them to go astray.

“A pastor is like a shepherd. A shepherd looks after the sheep, and his duty is not only to protect the sheep but also, to provide for the sheep. That means that a shepherd will make sure that the sheep is taken to the pasture for food, to the  stream for water and will be led back to the shelter for proper protection. And today, when you connect that to the church, those who call themselves pastors are not looking after the congregation.

“There are many poor people in the church today. I am not saying that the pastors should not be very rich, but they should not overdo it. You see, when you have a church of about 200 congregation and about 50, 100 people are poor, people who are without job, without a steady home, and you are going around flaunting money, it is not good, it is disturbing. And where do they get the money from? The same poor people. And you are deceiving them that if they don’t pay, God will punish them, and that if they pay a little, something negative will happen. That is not Christianity. That is manipulation; it is brainwashing.
“These days, you see some pastors flying around in private jets, building mansions all about and gliding in six, seven exotic cars; whereas, a lot of their church members are in dire need. Some even set up their respective churches in their family name and become sole signatory to the church account.
“All these things do not portray them as true pastors. I remember when the missionaries who brought Christianity were here, they led by example. They did not amass 
wealth by spending the church money anyhow. They were only concerned with the wellbeing of their church members, and when they were leaving Nigeria, they left with nothing. But these days, some of our Pentecostal pastors have missed it.”
Programmes 

Macaulay, thus explained that issues that pertain to the need to clear the Augean’s stable in Christendom are going to dominate discussions at this year’s edition of National Theological Conference holding from October 23 to 26, in Yenagoa. According to him, the theme of this year’s edition is “The Integrity of Christianity in the Contemporary Society.”

Apart from this,  in Yenogoa, the ACT also has three other separate conferences billed for this October, which it has thus brought under a broad banner of “2018 National Programmes.” One of them is Certified Leadership Academy, taking place on Saturday, October 20, and is aimed at developing church workers through education. Christian workers and church leaders are expected to flock the session.

From October 22 to 23 as well, the ACT has  scheduled to hold another training session cum ceritification of theological teachers and administrators; while on Ocober 24, 2018, the body is to perform the official inauguration of “National Student Theological Students Body.”  At that forum, it is set for yet an enlightening session with the theme: The Role of Academy in the Church and Theological Education.

Theological Education
Away from the world of quacks and other black sheep in the vineyard of God, however, Macaulay said it is not all gloom, as many religious bodies in Nigeria have striven to sustain standards and make theological education as basic qualification for anyone aspiring to be a vessel of honour unto God.

He commended the Catholic Community, the Anglican Communion, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Christ Apostolic Church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the Deeper Life Bible Church, among others, for setting up their respective formats of theological schools or training centres, to ensure that their priests or pastors are well groomed in the words of God.

Macaulay, who is also the Director of Studies at United Bible University, Ojodu, Lagos, said it was applaudable that Nigeria now has more faith-based theological universities and colleges from where the clerics can advance their knowledge in the words of God, urging them to take advantage of this opportunity.

“One of the responsibilities of the ACT is to regulate the activities of these faith-based institutions all over Nigeria; to ensure that standard is sustained in theological education, process of admission and graduation, and in the passing of the integrity test,” he explained.

Macaulay commended notable Christian leaders in the country who have embraced the philosophy behind the setting up of the ACT, saying, “The Spirit of God is definitely moving in Nigeria, and nothing can stop it.”

He particularly eulogised the departed cleric, theologian, public administrator and sport legend, Rev. Moses Iloh, who died recently at 88. He was until his passage, the General Overseer of Soul-winning Chapel. He said:  “Rev. Iloh was in the Board of Trustees of the ACT and did marvelously in his innumerable contributions to the growth of theological education in Nigeria, and we are all going to miss him.”