Pastor Godman Akinlabi is the Lead Pastor of The Elevation Church in Lekki, Lagos. He is soft-spoken but makes hard arguments. With a discerning mind that anticipates questions before they are asked, even in realms outside his specialty, which is the church and religion, he is an engaging and intellectually stimulating subject. An impromptu interview it was on the sidelines of a recent leadership conference in Ikeja, but his answers bore the marks of a ready, prepared and confident mind. He spoke with Amos Esele. Excerpts:
How would you assess this conference on leadership?
The conference is a conference of partners. It is something that we look forward to every year to discus leadership challenges in the African Continent under the auspices of the Willow creek Church of the United States of America and my church has been participating in it every year in the last ten years.
What we are doing here today as always is to diagnose and define leadership. It may surprise you to know that many persons do not know what true leadership means.
How do you mean?
Yeah, true leadership is servant leadership, influencing people to make the right decisions and get the right results. And once the right decisions are made, things will change for the better. In other words decisions should not be made or taken based on peoples interest, just as you have in our country where vested interests, the interests of a few people carries the day in all that we do.
If you say the church is pivotal to the building of a good society, what can you identify as the main leadership challenge of the church vis-à-vis the larger society?
The church should stop focusing on the wrong things. We are focusing on miracles, which is a good thing if miracles work on the minds of people and change them and not make them become and feel entitled. It is good that God want to heal us, but what about the heart of the person?. If someone, for instance, prays for financial breakthrough and the greed in his heart has not been dealt with, the love of money has not been dealt with, he would be worse off when the money comes because the love of money is the root of all evils. People go from church to church asking for financial breakthrough but their attitude to money has not changed. So when they get the money, they become wasteful and arrogant. That is what I meant that the church is focusing on the wrong things.
What do you think are the right things the church to should focus on, salvation?
Values. Salvation in number one, but salvation is a means to an end and not an end in itself. The bible says be transformed by the renewing of the mind. When a person says Christ has saved him, the person has just started a journey of mind renewal. The real transformation comes after salvation, salvation is just a gateway; it is like you coming to Nigeria and have just arrived at the airport: You are still at the airport, yet to enter Nigeria. That is why Jesus was always talking about the kingdom. Understanding the kingdom is a change of paradigm, a value orientation. And that is what the church needs to focus on. It is good we are focusing on salvation, on the good of the people through prophecies and miracles so that they would know that there is God. But afterwards what happens? That is why people now go to ‘prophets’ to do 419. That is why I say these things are means to an end. They are signs to unbelievers.
But with churches multiplying by the day with no defined pattern, how do you think these observations you have made can be changed for good?
That is why we are organizing conferences such as this one to act as a catalyst. But the truth is that people will continue to establish churches, there is nothing we can do about that. Which brings me to the question of leadership that is the focus of this conference. You do not have to belong to my church, for example, for me to teach you how to do things better and what the church should focus on. And that way, we teach leadership by example. So whether it is CAN or PFN, we should provide leadership in the right way.
How would you define leadership?
Leadership is influence. People follow those who inspire them to do the right things. People would follow organizations when they see it is leading them in the right direction and disembark when it is not. But you do not need an organization to have influence. Jesus did not register an organization. His was a movement
For you as a pastor, how do you apply these things you have said in your church?
It is all about organization. Look, business people should come to church and see how organized the church is. If they follow the organizational pattern of the church, they would be able to make more money. The reason some people would not go to some churches is because they have risen above the leadership they find demonstrated in such churches. Many churches are still at the level where leaders are autocratic and harassing people; these are positional leaders. Many want to answer the title of pastor. The question for such a person is this; can you lead without a title? It is all about vision. Again, how do we define success? Is it about the crowd or how wealthy the church or pastor is? Is it about the number of those who have given their lives to Christ? Jesus said you are the salt of the earth. Salt is about potency, not necessarily about size. You don’t need a jug of salt to make a pot of stew, just a pinch.
How do you think the various religions in Nigeria should co-exist, giving the often-violent sectarian conflicts that erupt now and then in the country?
A lot depends on tolerance. But much more than tolerance, we, especially the Christians have to be able to work with love. I know that in our country, Muslims attack Christians more, but I think it is a problem of the break down of law and other. If a man attacks another, he should be punished under the law of the land. So the government has to do better in putting security in place. So there are two issues here, for me; to love and be good neighbors and then security. I think we all need to understand that we live in a multi-faith nation and once we understand that, we should be able to exercise some measure of religious tolerance. There is no point saying there is a Muslim agenda or a Christian agenda. We already have an agenda, and for us in Christianity, the agenda is how to bring people into the faith.
This global leadership summit is being organized to solve leadership challenges in the continent. How do you that can be achieved?
The organizers are doing well by making information available, as regards leadership, in a format that people can relate with, which is the video from the talk at this and previous summits, the Apps, which you can download on your phone; there is also video for youths, which they can also download and listen to. There are others dealing with Christian leaders who are making impact on the lives of others. They show you what a Christina can do in the market place. Pushing all these knowledge into our society would definitely create a paradigm shift for our people and children. Knowledge is power; it brings light and life, especially when it is about God.
Your Church recently intervened in the building and renovation of a community school in Epe. What motivated you to reach out to the school?
Well, the motivation to impact the community stems from the fact that real leadership is influence and the church is supposed to be influential. There is no way our communities would know that churches exist until we impact on them. So that was part of the motivation. And also to know that issues dealing with health, education and empowerment for any community to move forward are very essential, was another motivation. So the church should not play the ostrich and bury its head in the sand when such communal issues have not been addressed and then we say we just want to preach the gospel. Gospel is good news, for instance, that God will make you rich. It is not just about saying it, but also about doing it. When I got the information about the school in Epe—
What is the name?
Sumratu Comunnity School. The Sumratu Muslim sect in Epe started it. When I got information about the school’s need from one of our officers, we took a tour of the place. We found that there are about three community schools in the same compound with about seven hundred students. But they had classrooms for about two hundred students. Some classrooms had no chairs and the children were seating on the floor. So we thought if the children went through the challenges associated with the nature of their school, they may grow up having a poverty mindset, which would make them think that everything is scarce and put them in a survival mode. And that is how area boys and girls are produced in our society. That is why our anti-corruption fight is not working, because we are not changing the mindset of the people. All those who are stealing today were in secondary schools when President Buhari first came as military head of state. Any way, when we learnt about the challenges facing the school, we decided to offer help?
As a Christian, it didn’t bother you that this was a Muslim school–?
No, people need to be enlightened to do what their heart tells them to do. When the missionaries of old came, they didn’t care to know who you were before asking you to come to their schools. When your mind is enlightened, you become a free agent of change.
You don’t seem to believe the new orientation campaign of the Federal Government can undo the corruption mindset of Nigerians.?
The change begins with me campaign is not catching on because the average Nigerian does not understand what is going on. I don’t see the involvement of any interfaith movement that should give spark to the campaign. It is just what government is pumping money into. Yes, town hall meetings can assist through change agents at the community level, but how many people have seen the strategy document to know how the campaign is going to permeate the society at large? What about the schools, the universities, the NYSC, how involved are they in the project?