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.
A few years back, Mosun Layode of Leap Africa drew my attention to a special program organised by a network of Christians in corporate Nigeria. The keynote speaker was one of Nigeria’s great evangelical Ambassadors, Pastor Sunday Adelaja of the Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations. But I politely declined to attend.
Jesus teaches that we should be skeptical of mega-pastors. He warns that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)
Adelaja’s popular credentials are impeccable. Branches established by Nigerian churches abroad usually attract mainly Nigerians expatriates and few of the locals. But Adelaja started a church in one of the most unlikely of places, the Ukraine; a foreign country hardly on the map for Nigerians going overseas. Today, it is, by all accounts, the biggest church in the country, with a membership said to be of over 250,000 in 30 odd cities.
Adelaja claims to have planted 300 churches in over 35 countries, and to have a television program reaching over 100 million viewers in Africa, Europe and Russia. He is also said to have written over 80 books and, on his website, to have been responsible for over one million “salvations” in the first eight years of establishing his church; with an average today of “over 10,000 salvations a year.”
The question is how did Adelaja achieve this mega status, in spite of Jesus’ insistence that only a few will be able to enter the blessed kingdom of God? (Luke 13:24)
According to The Telegraph, a British newspaper, he employs a lot of razzmatazz, including encouraging his congregants to “shake their booty and praise the Lord.” Reporting on one of his services, the newspaper observes that: “As ‘Pastor Sunday’ prepared to make a grand entrance, the choirgirls shook their pompoms, the disco lights started to flash and a fanfare sounded. The lights cut out, and Mr. Adelaja emerged from a shroud of dry ice. Children holding flags of the world wafted round him and the choir bellowed ‘Sanctus!’”
But there is another critical ingredient in Adelaja’s phenomenal success; he is a prosperity pastor. 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. But it now appears to have led to Pastor Sunday’s downfall.
On 29th December, 2008, a number of prominent evangelical leaders in Ukraine signed a public statement which reads: “We radically dissociate ourselves from Sunday Adelaja and his activity. We condemn (his) aspirations to create a cult of personality; methods and the activity, based on self-advertisement, exaggeration of personal merits and on lies; the false doctrine of prosperity, the sin of love of money; practice to curse the church members and parishioners who disagree with his opinion. Sunday Adelaja evaded from the pure evangelical doctrine and is currently in spiritual seduction and error. We address all the church leaders to abstain from brotherly fellowship with Sunday Adelaja.”
In March 2009, Ukrainian law enforcement agents formally charged Sunday Adelaja of complicity in defrauding members of his congregation of millions of dollars. He is charged with “financial machinations in especially large volume,” and faces a sentence of 5 to 12 years in prison if convicted. He was indicted as one of the ring-leaders in an international Ponzi scheme which funneled funds from Ukrainian churchgoers into a fraudulent corporation called King’s Capital, on the promise of mouth-watering returns. King’s Capital has now gone bust, taking with it over 100 million dollars of the life-savings of thousands of Ukrainians.
It was alleged that Adelaja frequently asked his church-members to invest in King’s Capital, assuring them its management were “godly men.” One impoverished church-member made the following allegation against the pastor: “I personally heard you saying at a church meeting ‘who is against King’s Capital is against me personally.’ I saw you bringing a board to the stage and showing in a drawing how to put in pawn a flat and invest in King’s Capital. You did it at each meeting for the last two years.”
Adelaja has denied the prosecutor’s charges, claiming the Ukrainian government is targeting him on racial grounds because of his church’s popularity. Nevertheless, his predicament should serve as a warning to other prominent prosperity-preaching mega-pastors at home and abroad. Jesus says: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)