Everywhere you turn, the talk is about Jimmy Odukoya, son of Pastor Taiwo Odukoya who has recently been announced Senior Pastor of the Fountain of Life Church. He is to step into the shoes of his late father.
When the news broke on Sunday, September 17, it turned out to be a ready recipe for those who were waiting to take the Church to Golgotha and make a mess of everything that is sacred. It’s now a joke. It’s a fun thing. They are having a field’s day saying ‘Church is family business
But when founders of ministries die and people other than their relatives take over, nobody talks. For instance, not many people know Pastor Obed Uzodinma. He was the founder of Ibadan-based Glory Tabernacle Ministry, one of the leading churches in Oyo State.
Before he became a pastor, Obed, a Ph.D. holder, was a lecturer at the University of Ibadan. He died in April 2019. But long before he passed, in 2011 precisely, he handed over the church he founded in 1989 to Pastor Gabriel Akinbola who is not linked to his family in any way.
This is the story of a man who put his house in order long before his transition. But not every founder has that grace.
Reinhard Bonnke, the world-renowned evangelist also had the grace to put his house in order long before his death. A few years before his transition, he handed over to Daniel Kolenda and watched the young man carry on the sceptre of the ministry. Bonnke was not under any illusion about power and did not give room for all kinds of guesses and innuendos. The beauty of Bonnke’s succession plan was that none of his three children fit into the leadership role of the ministry by his reckoning.
And then the Carpenters Church in Port Harcourt. The founder, Pastor Charles Omofomah was a full-time minister of the Gospel. He served as the Presiding Pastor of The Carpenter’s Church. He was born in Irrua, in Edo State. He went to be with the Lord in February 2013.
Though Omofomah was married with children, the leadership of the ministry when he passed on fell on his associate pastor, Nkechi Ene, also a full-time minister in the church. Ene, a first-class electronics Engineering graduate joined the ministry not long after it started in 1990. She had worked in the corporate world before she opted for full-time ministry.
These are just a few examples to tell us not all churches or ministries in their first generation have the culture of handing over ministry to close family members at the transition of their founders. So all those who go about saying Church is a family business had better do a bit of research. I intentionally did not talk about the old churches because those ones have become institutionalized.
The argument from all sides suggests to us that we have a notion that when a church is still in its first generation, it’s always difficult to have a proper transition plan.
Maybe so, but we are often blind to the fact that a church system has its foundation in the Holy Spirit, with Christ being the pillar of the foundation. And this is about churches where the founders were genuinely called.
So succession in the church system cannot be entirely judged from a human perspective. It is more about the person, not the position. If the person is right, the position will be right.
Pastor Taiwo Odukoya perhaps did not know death would come so soon or perhaps he knew, but did not make it public. The bottom line is: He has passed on. His son Jimmy has stepped into his shoes. However, it may have been in the plan that he would step into his father’s shoes.
It was reported that Jimmy has been a Pastor in the Youth arm of the church since 2010. It’s also a known fact that he was a gospel musician. If the lines were connected, his emergence would not be strange to church members, only that the timing was unexpected. And there was no formal transition from father to son.
The son had however insinuated that his father in a hushed tone of metaphor handed over the church to him in his “Your story” submission during the last few days of his father on earth.
Beyond the position
But let us for once remove our gaze from the position of Senior Pastor. Leadership is not the position, it is the person. If the person is not right, the position will not be right. That is where Jimmy and indeed all of us have to be true to ourselves and to our calling.
Ironically, we are people who like to take sides when events like this happen. There are those who say, let the young man breathe. He has been ordained even before his mother died. He has capacity. He was the youth pastor of the Church. These people believe the choice of the church should not be a subject of social media debate.
They believe it is an internal arrangement of the church and it should respected. But people who make such arguments forget that as long as our churches have a strong social media presence, it will be hard for us to stop the public from making comments.
People have a right to talk. That people are talking is also an indication of how relevant the church is. The question we should always ask is: Why is social media not agog when a leader of another faith dies?
And yet, there are those who are falling over their heads to pick holes in Jimmy’s appointment. They poke fun at the church and canonise their cynicism.
Perhaps, their cynicism stems from the fact that Jimmy was an actor. That enough makes him popular. But they lose track of his spiritual pedigree. Maybe they care not to recognise that. It’s understandable, Nollywood is a field of blitz and glitz.
Both divides have the right to their positions. But it is good we take a third look. This look is about the person concerned.
What it takes to lead
As I said earlier, leadership is about the person, not the position. Paul addressed this in 1 Tim 4:12: Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
He went further to state in 1Tim 3v2-7: Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
These are the expectations from Jimmy. But then we need to be true to ourselves. Jimmy is just an individual in the Fountain of Life Bible Church. But he knows himself and he knows his capacity.
There are those who will not be affected by who is made the head of where they worship. They are content with going to church to hear God’s word, do their bit, and go home. They are not interested in the politics of who gets what.
Talking about politics, Desmond Elliot is now into politics. Like Jimmy, he was an actor but we have long forgotten about Elliot as an actor, we have accepted him as a lawmaker. The same is likely to happen to Jimmy. He has forerunners in persons like Reverend Chris Okotie, who crossed from music to the pulpit, among others.
So, the issue is not about the position. It is about the man carrying the position. It is important for anybody who holds an ecumenical position to know that when we get to heaven, the common address will be, well done good and faithful servant or Depart from me, I know you not.
It won’t be, well done good and faithful Pastor, Overseer, prophet, etc. Never should we be carried away by the title. The title will fizzle but the person will remain.
In the midst of the ayes and the nays, Jimmy will do well to ask himself probing questions. And we are sure he is not under any illusion. It is a matter of time, if the person is right, the position will be right.
From face value, it is just natural to say that it is wrong to make the leadership of a church a bloodline affair. But such a rule can’t apply in all cases. And in cases where it applies, it is always good to maintain a prayerful poise. No human manipulation can stifle the church of God, especially the foundation that is of the Lord.
Copyright @Church Times Nigeria