My Concern for All the Churches
By: Deji Yesufu
“Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” – Paul (1 Corinthians 11:28-29)
In 1998 when I became a born-again Christian, I was invited to join a local Pentecostal church in the small university town of Samaru, Zaria, Kaduna State. The pastor of this church was a graduate of Archbishop Benson Idahosa’s Bible School in Benin, and it must have been my second Sabbath visit to that church when he announced that Benson Idahosa had died. This is how I actually date my conversion. In keeping with Idahosa’s Pentecostalism, the church was a praying, fasting, demon-chasing outfit – with the prosperity gospel bent of getting the most out of this life, while using God as your means. At this time, my mother lived in the United States of America, and the monthly stipend she sent my brothers and I was more than enough for me – the gospel of prosperity had very little appeal to me. I was also a young healthy man; I did not need healing. I however had a poverty of spirit that was hardly spoken to by the theology of the church. After coming to know the Lord, I expected to be suddenly delivered from all my sins. Lo and behold, they were still there. I found answers in Reformed Theology. I read Dr. R. T. Kendall’s book, “Worshipping God”, in the latter parts of 1998 and was introduced to the theology of Protestantism. I encountered “justification by faith”, and I saw the whole beauty of how Jesus Christ saves us from our sins and how, for the rest of our lives, the Holy Spirit will sanctify us daily. Upon graduation in 2001, I wrote my pastors a small booklet, where I did an analysis of the theology of that little church. I doubt they ever read it.
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul describes the various challenges he had encountered and was still encountering in Christian ministry. At first, he speaks of his sufferings that were external (verses 23-27); and then goes on to describe his internal emotional stress also: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” Paul is an apostle but you can see pastoral concern in his words here. Despite his physical sufferings, he is concerned about the spiritual state of God’s people. First, he wants to be sure that all the churches are getting their ecclesiology right. Then, he wants to be sure that the weak are catered for. He is bothered that the doctrines taught in churches are not bringing men to repent of sin; he is concerned that church leaders are justifying the wealthy and not catering to the wellbeing of the poor; he is seeing people living in sin and there are no pastoral concern to discipline and restore; he is seeing the world in the church and he is bothered that the line between godliness and worldliness is thinning out. Paul has a pastoral concern weighing on his spirit that is even as bad as being shipwrecked and being whipped 39 times. The questions I want to ask is this: do modern churches have these kinds of concern, or are we only concerned with success in ministry?
My venture into pastoral ministry is chiefly because I see the concern of the apostle Paul all around me and I think God has given me the heart to meet them. After I was ordained by Pastor Aniekan Ekpo in May 2023, I returned to Ibadan as missionary pastor to Providence Reformed Baptist Church. In this city, I am doing what is generally known as a church plant but which should more appropriately be regarded as an effort to gather people to worship Jesus Christ. My foremost duty to my congregation is to show them Jesus Christ as clearly crucified for each of them, personally. The church is a little gathering with the population of the children a lot more than those of the adult. Yet, I am to present the gospel to each person’s conscience until each member of the congregation knows the Lord for themselves. We will be at this until it pleases God for us to appoint members of the church, who will someday become the founding members of the local assembly. Hopefully, I also can be appointed substantive pastor of the church. For now, however, we are on missions.
When Christ said that the harvest is ripe but the laborers are few, he may as well have been speaking of 2st century Ibadan. If ever a city is given to idols, Ibadan is one of such. Yet, every Sunday, between 8 am and 11 am, the city is awash with vehicles conveying people to church. At 1 pm, the traffic that greets you on the road, of church people returning from their places of worship, might convey the impression that Ibadan is a Christian city. There is no greater lie. From Monday to Saturday, the “Christians” of this city behave no differently from their Muslim and animist neighbors. Ibadan is a city that possesses a lot of talk about God but contains no godliness. One Muslim artisan told me that though he lives in an estate, he had since bypassed the pre-paid electric meter he was given by the nation’s power company. He justified his actions by saying that even his neighbors that are pastors are doing the same. This was why Paul was concerned in his writing about genuine Christianity on our streets; it is the reason he has called you and I to be concerned also.
Let me end this essay by giving a word of counsel to my own denominational camp: reformed churches. There is nothing sweeter to hear than a “reformed work” has started at so-and-so place in Nigeria; there is nothing that rejoices the heart more than to hear that reformed conferences will be holding at so-and-so date and venue; and, there is nothing more gladdening than to hear that men are being trained in reformed seminaries. The trouble, however, is that those who can trace the arm of the clock back to the state of the Christian religion in Nigeria in the 1970/80s will tell you that the churches we now call “new generational churches” all begun in a similar fashion. They were earnest about prayers; they were disciplined with church life; and they had young, vibrant minister ready to take the nation for Christ. Along the way, however, they missed the mark. Rather than show concern for the flock of Jesus Christ, they began to pay more attention to buildings and the offertory; they were more concerned with preserving their image before the world, than repenting of sin; they lost the heart of the gospel and began to preach a gospel of health and wealth. They spent more on annual conferences than on the care of the poor among them. They sought a name on earth and lost their places in heaven. Reformed churches in Nigeria should be warned and be reminded that the path towards institutionalized religion is easier taken than the path towards greater godliness.
The blessing of overseeing a local church comes with seeing little progress made despite years of effort. Such progresses are sure and lasting. When our Lord was leaving the apostles, he told Peter to care for his sheep and his lambs (John 21:15-17). He made his point clear with three agonizing and distressing questions put to the apostle that would come to be known as the foremost of the twelve. Our Lord asked those questions because Christ is the owner of the concern he plants in the heart of genuine ministers of God. Christ seeks to strengthen the weak in church and to pull the sin out of the sinner in the gathering of the saints. Those are his concern. Money, fame, buildings, and the praises of men have never been the concerns of our Lord.
May God grant his elects ears to hear.