This is the text of the talk the Rev’d Jaiye Edu gave at a clergy conference in the Diocese of Lagos Mainland, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)
When His Grace the Archbishop of Lagos gave me the task of delivering a paper on the challenges of ministry in the Church of Nigeria, I got anxious. Even though I’ve been in the ministry for about a year and a half and have spent most of that time as chaplain in the Cathedral of St Jude I felt I was not well equipped to give a proper assessment of the challenges facing ministers in the Anglican Church. My experience and knowledge of life and culture in Nigeria, let alone in ministry, is limited. But one rarely says no to the Archbishop. But throughout my time here I have been reflecting on my own experiences and observations which will form the basis of my assessment of the challenges of Christian ministry and specifically Anglican ministry in Nigeria.
There are many challenges in ministry in the Church of Nigeria: financial, practical, administrative and even emotional and psychological. Many of these have been mentioned not only in this Clergy School but many times in Synod meetings and in informal conversations amongst ourselves. In fact so much has been said about our challenges that I think that there is little I will say that has not already been said. However I must say that the challenges we face as Anglicans are not exclusive to us. Resources and finance are challenges in the Church of England and despite an income of nearly £1billion a year, around 20 churches close down every year in England due to declining members.
In this talk I will make only one point, that the major challenge in the Church of Nigeria is declining spirituality among our clergymen and in our churches. By spirituality I mean a way of life that is patterned on Christ’s life and his relationship with God. Many of our churches are more concerned with running programmes and activities almost to the neglect of the spirituality of the life of the church and its members. Spirituality is a much neglected area.
The Church of Nigeria
The Church of Nigeria is the second largest province in the Anglican Communion with a baptized membership of “over 18 million”. The numerical growth and structural expansion of the Church of Nigeria is phenomenal. There are 14 ecclesiastical provinces, with a total of 161 dioceses. The evangelical and missionary goals of the Church of Nigeria has unintentionally and unexpectedly added to the problems and challenges in ministry in the Church of Nigeria as other churches and denominations exercise the same mission and thus are vying for the same spaces. I was astonished to discover that within a square mile of St Jude’s Cathedral, we have at least six churches: a Catholic Church, Methodist, an African Anglican church, a Redeemed Church, Four Square Gospel Church, Christ Apostolic Church and I’m sure there are several other independent churches.
This scenario raises puzzling questions concerning Christian commitment and faithfulness towards salvation. It seems that as churches multiply they gradually shift emphasis from spiritual and eternal life to earthly life, the here and now. I have sensed this in our Anglican churches in Nigeria as the emphasis on spirituality fades and our worship becomes more characterised by blessings and healings as we compete with other denominations for members and in style of worship.
Rivalry and Confusion
With the proliferation of churches comes competition and rivalry. The various churches including us Anglicans are competing for legitimacy, acceptance and spiritual superiority amongst themselves. The pursuit of religious legitimacy and superiority promote fundamentalism, and fanaticism amongst the groups. Believers are confused as churches professing differing and contradicting messages and doctrines scream for attention and advertise for new members. Believers move from one denomination to another, from Anglican to Pentecostal and other independent churches in an attempt to find the one that suits them and ‘feeds’ them. There is accusation and counter accusations of ‘sheep stealing’. Anglican youths are crossing over to the Pentecostal or new generation churches.
In this battle for recognition and for followers, the neo-Pentecostal churches are winning. They appear to be more relevant and appealing because of their informal style of worship, dynamism, activities and inspirational sermons and messages. Their churches are often filled with thousands of people and the young people are drawn to them. These new churches are increasingly popular with educated and responsible people, who continue to give financial support and who feel their needs are met there. Pentecostals proclaim a pragmatic gospel that seeks to address practical needs like sickness, poverty, unemployment, loneliness, evil spirits and sorcery. In varying degrees and in their many and varied forms, and precisely because of their inherent flexibility, Pentecostals attain an authentically indigenous character which enables them to offer answers to some of the fundamental issues faced by their members. Matthews Ojo, who writes extensively on Nigerian new Pentecostal churches, says that they ‘are increasingly responding to the needs and aspirations of Nigerians amid the uncertainty of their political life and the pain of their constant and unending economic adjustments’. People are understandable seeking solutions to the problems of life and day to day living. It is understandable that people follow rituals and practises that promise immediate returns. It was interesting to hear our youth say during our Synod meeting this year that they would like the church to address their needs by providing opportunities for jobs and other social assistance. But the Church of Nigeria would be committing a greater folly if it simply followed the practices of the neo-Pentecostal Churches or the so-called ‘new-generation’ Churches that focus on a pragmatic Christianity that promises immediate benefits (healing, success, prosperity, jobs) even in the context of dire poverty.
As a way of stemming the exodus from the Anglican Church and a decline in numbers in our church a number of ideas and strategies have been proposed by the bishops in this Clergy School. One strategy proposed by a bishop, and in line with the theme of this year’s Clergy School, ‘A Clergyman as a Reflection of Jesus’, is that just like Jesus healed by divine touch then we clergymen should exercise the ministry of miraculous hearings, breakthroughs and wonder works in our churches. It has been argued by another Anglican bishop that our ministry is a ‘signs and wonders’ ministry. The Gospel of Matthew states that as we go we are to preach saying “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. On this scripture, the Anglican bishop then spoke about a healing that happened in a particular diocese that drew large crowds. He went on to say “the need for charismatic ministers especially healers and miracle workers cannot be over-emphasised if the church must remain relevant in soul winning. The Anglican bishop added that “it is time for the Anglican Church to officially recognise and encourage charismatic ministers who can deal with the problems of members who secretly take their problems to new-generation churches.” As clergy we in the Church of Nigeria must insist on prayer, faith and hope and the Gospel message as the core of our spirituality and discipleship and teaching in our churches.
I find the bishop’s thoughts very worrying. The notion that our ministry is a miraculous healing and a ‘signs and wonders’ ministry I challenge on biblical grounds. The secrecy motif in Mark’s Gospel is an attempt to account for why Jesus commanded his disciples to be silent after miracles and healings. Jesus wanted to avoid giving the impression that he was just a miraculous healer or wonder worker but to show that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15) We as ministers and clergymen are not to be seen as miracle workers and we should not encourage parishioners to regard us so. Many parishioners indeed have serious problems and physical and psychological challenges in their lives and they need our prayers and support. But our challenge is not to provide quick fixes to people’s problems but to point them towards Christ. We have to remember the saying of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33. After preaching John Wesley would sum up what he was doing with the words ‘I offered them Christ’ – whether it was through what he said, or the way that he said it, or who he was.
I think that the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) should refrain from over-zealously imitating the characteristically neo-Pentecostal forms and practices and forgetting our Anglicanism heritage, beliefs and identity. The Church of Nigeria would be committing a great folly if it simply followed the practices of the neo-Pentecostal Churches or the so-called ‘new-generation’ Churches that focus on a pragmatic Christianity that promises immediate benefits (healing, success, prosperity, jobs) even in the context of dire poverty.
Anglicanism is an imported religion brought in the 19th century by English missionaries who were not only carrying out the Great Commission but who were dissatisfied with the liberal tendencies in the Church of England. The challenge they faced and which we still face today is how to integrate Western Christianity with African culture and practice. There is no denying that ministry is contextual. As the Word of God came and dwelled amongst us so the Gospel is ministered to people in their own cultural context. The Church in Nigeria should be Nigerian but it must first and foremost be Christian. Thus, one of the challenges we face in ministry and in the Church of Nigeria is how to overcome the tension between African Traditional Religion (ATR), which is so deeply embedded in the subconscious and orientation of the typical Nigerian. Nigeria is far becoming a pluralist society. There are many families I have met in which the mother is Catholic, the father is Muslim, the son is a Jehovah’s witness, a daughter a Pentecostal and another son a Muslim. The potential for conflict here is obvious. In times of crisis the father may want to offer a propitiatory sacrifice, the mother may want to go to Mass. Many people may not see a problem in this so long as the practice lasts and everyone is happy. I mention this because religious pluralism is a challenge for us. Christianity is mixed with other religions and we clergy face a spiritual battle in this area not only in our congregations but I am convinced also within ourselves. We have to seriously examine ourselves.
There are members of our congregations and parishes who will be at church worshipping God in the morning but at his or her diviner’s or babalawo’s place in the afternoon to receive prayers for healing or for whatever problems or challenges they have. There are serious questions here about the quality of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The question here is why do they still miss their traditional rituals in spite of their Christian belonging? The challenge for us priests and the question we need to ask ourselves is what is the content of the faith we are teaching and preaching in our churches. What is the strengthen of discipleship of those in our congregations? If we are not facing these issues then we are neglecting our duty as pastors, teachers and messengers of the Gospel of Christ. Where are we lacking in our duty and role as priests if folks in our churches still feel the need to go to their local diviner? This again is a spiritual challenge for us clergy in our ministry and here again I witness a decline in spirituality in our Anglican churches.
Preferment is a term not used much by the Church of England hence I was unaware of the practice. But the reactions and comments I here about preferment is cause for worry because they hint at the deep challenge of materialism and declining spirituality amongst our clergymen in our Church. This practice has become a distraction and impediment in our ministry and led to immoral practices. Some clergymen get jealous and resentful when a junior gets preferred over them. And despite utterances to the contrary many clergyman see preferment as promotion. As the Bishop of Niger West, the Rt Revd Prof Anthony O Nkwoka said at our Clergy School last year “[s]ome clergymen have consulted all kinds of ungodly sources to get preferred.” The challenge and problem comes not only from clergy who seek preferment but from the practice itself. Only a small number of priest will be appointed to a ‘dignitary’ position as Bishop, Dean, Archdeacon, Canon. Even if appointment to senior office represent’s success which is a very dubious assumption to make- not being made one cannot be viewed as failure. Our vocation is not one that lends itself easily to self congratulation because when you think you’ve done well or been successful something happens that will bring you back down to reality. Ministry belongs to God and we are simply his servants.
So however we view the process of preferment we all need the heart of humility. As Christ humbled himself taking the form of a servant and died on the cross God exalted him. And he is now at God’s right hand. In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 the master of the house went out very early in the morning to hire workers and agrees the wages with them. He continued to hire workers throughout the rest of the day. In the evening he called the the Foreman to pay the workers their wages.
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:8-15 NIV)
The parable of workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 teaches us that the heavenly reward for working in God’s vineyard is the same whether you’ve been in the ministry for many years or you have just joined.
The related issue of ‘transfer’ is also an area on contention and grievance amongst clergy which is unfortunate. Having not yet been a subject of the transfer system I will look at at from the perspective of the system in the UK. After completion of a three year curacy, a priest is effectively a free agent. He or she looks at openings or vacancies in the Church times and applies for any that interest him/her. In the Church of England the PPC hires and in some cases fires their clergy, but with the knowledge of the diocesan bishop. This system does not have the problem of transfer which can be seen as punishment or a sign of disapproval of the minister in the parish.
Both Islam and Christianity came to Nigeria as foreign religions, and were gladly embraced by the people. But over the years the relationship has declined. The scenario of religious conflict is a distraction to Christianity. It threatens the freedom of Christians to profess and live their faith in Nigeria. Nigerian Christians are faced with the challenge of peaceful co-existence, and inter-religious tolerance and respect. This will continue to affect Christian practice until better relationship with Muslims is fostered. Security against Islamic terrorism has become a major challenge in our ministries as Anglicans. His Grace the Archbishop of Lagos talked about the problem of security on Tuesday and it was a major topic of discussion at our Clergy School last year when the abduction of the Chibok girls was in the media spotlight. Terrorism continues to pose a problem to our church and our ministry. How do we deal with Islamic terrorism and what should we be preaching and teaching our congregations as the most appropriate Christian response?
I have often felt very uncomfortable with the uncompromising position we take towards our Muslim friends. The politics of Jesus is a politics of peace and love. The bible tells us to love our enemies. I believe that we will do well to try and get to know our Muslim neighbours and continue to dialogue with them. As the Anglican Bishop of Kaduna Josiah Idowu-Fearon says “The Anglican position on Christian-Muslim relations is based on “Generous Love,” a booklet that states clearly our theological rational on relating to our Muslim neighbours. The Anglican Church has a ministry of hospitality and a ministry of sharing. We must see where we can relate to others. Unfortunately, some Anglican leaders do not embrace the official positions of the Church, making dumb comments such as “Muslims do not have a monopoly on violence.” Despite this ignorance, I do not believe in quarrelling with Christians or Muslims. The Koran does not consider us to be infidels.”
Archbishop Josiah Idowu Fearon goes on to say another major challenge is that many Christian leaders, the so-called Evangelicals, they do not adhere to this mantra of loving your neighbour, and as a result they dislike my commitment to tolerance. They look at Christian-Muslim relations from a political point of view. I do not believe that I am here to convert, but rather to be a witness, and they dislike this perspective. Caliph Ali, the fourth of the rightly guided Caliphs, once said “People are naturally enemies of what they do not understand.”
We as clergyman need to be reminded that the vast majority of Muslims all over the world are not Islamists, and that Christians living in Islamic countries are not always persecuted and often have freedom to live and share their faith. As Colin Chapman said in A Christian Response to Islam: “If it was possible for Saul the Pharisee, who persecuted Christians, to turn to Christ, why should we not believe that Islamists can be changed by the message of the Gospel?” The Christian response in my opinion is to see Muslims not as people to be feared and resisted, but as neighbours to be loved (Matthew 19:19; 22:39).
Materialism and Declining Spiritual Commitment
I’m sure we, as priests, have often asked ourselves why our country with 50% of its population professing Christianity as their faith, is not in a better moral, political and social state. People are not putting their faith into practice. Again this is a problem and a challenge of discipleship. The declining emphasis on spirituality is concomitant with the crave for materialism in churches. And, for fear of losing their clients, ministers sometimes withhold the truth from people particularly those who are generous benefactors to the church or influential members of society.
Many clergymen face financial anxieties and challenges. I was somewhat amused when it was reported last year that a Church of England vicar was arrested and convicted after it was discovered that he has stolen thousands of pounds as fees for weddings, funerals and graveyard memorials from the church. I thought that this was a practice that went on only in the Church of Nigeria. We need money for school fees and for our basic living, the means to look after his family comfortably and secure a decent retirement.
It is interesting that at almost every clergy meeting I have been to, the issue of stipend and clergy renumeration always come up and creates heated discussion. It has been said by a bishop that this is a job without social security and that we should not look for better accommodation or conditions. We urgently need to address the issue of clergy finances in our church.
This problem poses a challenge for us clergy. Some of us have giving in and are doing nothing about the spiritual decline of our parishioners but instead are ceding to the material needs and demands of parishioners. This is a fundamental challenge to tackle if the Church of Nigeria does not concede that it is radically deviating or reinterpreting Christianity for mundane ends. The problems of materialism and commercialisation reflect the deeper problem of declining spirituality amongst our clergy. In this respect with have lost credibility amongst those in the wider society and among non Christians. The visiting bishop to this Clergy School talked about virtue and integrity. These are spiritual qualities. Unless they are in place our lives and ministry will not reflect Christ, and in the eyes of our congregations and in the wider society we will not be regarded as clergy fulfilling our calling to live “lives worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (Col 1:10)
If we are going to get people into our churches, evangelise effectively, be authentic in our lives and ministries and deepen the spiritual lives and commitment to Christ of our congregations then we have to develop our own spiritual lives. As the bishop said no church can rise above the spiritual level of its leader. If our church attendances are declining then it implies that the spiritual life of the church is declining. We can only change that when we as clergy grow spiritually. The bishop listed the spiritual qualities of love, humility, integrity. In the Church of England every clergy is strongly advised to have a spiritual director. The person could be lay or ordained though ordained is preferred and could be of a different denomination. I had a spiritual director who was a Benedictine. I was accountable to him for my spiritual life. We met once a month for an hour and we would talk in confidence on the state of my spiritual and prayer life. This practice does not ensure that priests will not stumble and fall but it is very useful particularly given the demands of ministerial life that can cause us to be weary and is full of temptations.
Ministry is challenging. Many of us are tired and weary from the demands of ministry. We can lose our inspiration and even our prayer life weakens and gets stale. Many of us are in lonely and dangerous places. Our challenge is to continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ not only with our lips but in our lives. The theme of this year’s clergy school is ‘A clergyman as a reflection of Jesus’. Jesus was a man in whom “all the fullness of God was embodied’ (Colossians 1.19). His life was so shot through and transparent to the purposes and actions of God. May the Holy Spirit help us to be more like Jesus, living a life in total dependence on God the Father and to his praise and glory.