I want to appreciate all for taking time out to be here as we rub minds on issues of great relevance to the development of our communities, pari pasuu the influence of the Church of God. Conversations like this must be encouraged from time to time because of its importance. Emphasis is being placed on the role of the church as a transformation and change agent. 1The church has been involved in the life of humankind, in the making of nationhood, building of culture, structuring of society with its functions and institutions and in shaping the form and quality of political systems. This paper is attempting to x-ray the roles of the clergyman in fostering a community relevant church. The clergyman is undoubtedly an arrowhead for change. He is at a vantage position with helicopter view of happenings by virtue of the crop of people who worship in the church. The church must not take the separatist stance or isolate itself. Jesus related with the society at all levels. If the church chooses to separate itself, the possibility of influencing the society may not be realized.
In essence, 2church leaders and planters must be conscious of the relevance and potential influence of the church within the community they operate in. This, in a way can be likened to what is called corporate social responsibility (CSR) of the church. If you like, you can call it Church Corporate Responsibility. The church has to be spiritually, socially and economically responsive to the society. I read in the Bible that Jesus had compassion on the people! “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:36-37)
I want to pick my text from the Gospel according to St Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 14 to 16.
“14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”.
The Church does not exist in a vacuum. It exists within the society. 3The church is influenced by the society (government laws, policies and regulations) and at the same time the church influences the society in a greater way because policymakers, governors, captain of industries are members of the church. If these decision makers are properly discipled, their spheres of influence will be positively impacted. They will go about their duties with the fear of God.
Christians in Nigeria comprise an estimated (45 to 49) % of the population. 4Nigeria has the largest Christian population of any country in Africa, with more than 80 million persons in Nigeria belonging to the church with various denominations. This suggests that the church has what it takes to influence the society.
God wants to love the world through us and the world needs to experience God’s love through us. Love is our propelling force. It powers every move, every action and inaction of the church. God desires that our light will shine in relevant ways that will affect our immediate and distant environment. The good works the Bible is referring to here are the corporate activities and programs of the church that are touching the lives of the members and non-members. It is not enough to run programs for the members. The light must shine outward. This is what we call outreach; reaching out to the reached and unreached in meaningful ways. From out text, we can see that the people who will glorify God as a result of our good works are the beneficiaries. God is waiting to be glorified in this manner. It is apt to say here that the church has no business amassing wealth if it will not serve the purpose of bringing souls into the Kingdom of God. We cannot do Christianity the way the foolish rich man did in Luke 12:18-19. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”. God didn’t put us here for merry-making but for soul-winning.
5The church is an institutional platform for the actualization of God’s mandates. It is not an end in itself and cannot be. Only God is an end in himself. He is the omega. When a local assembly becomes an end in itself it loses focus, goes off on a tangent – ritualism subverts its mission. Such a church risks societal irrelevance and generational obsolescence. We must necessarily view church as an assemblage of resources, human, spiritual and material for actualization of mandates received from God. What God has in mind is an exponential profusion of souls and diversity of ministries to keep bearing fruits and shining as light.
6Our inability to deploy our God-given resources to influence what is out there is what creates the paradox of increasing number of churches but little impact on the society. Which then makes people wonder about the relevance of the church. It’s because we’re running a terribly inefficient model. The church struggles for relevance outside its spiritual comfort zone because we limit the ministry of the church within the four walls of the church. And so, many see the church as no more than a moralizing medium. Morality is not the definition of Christianity, righteousness is. People and institutions who are not Christians also teach morals! God’s vision is not an island of virtues. It’s globalization. So we may run local churches but with global impact. The work is not inside the church only, it is outside the church also. We are called to minister to the world. Jesus died for the world (John 3:16).
At this point, I want to talk about seven (7) roles of the Clergyman in ensuring relevance in the community.
In the context of the above stated, the clergyman, being the shepherd, serves as the touchbearer. He spearheads. He champions initiatives. He is an influencer. He is the one who sparks the fire of corporate outreach while the members follow suit. If the clergyman has no such vision and passion, he has covered his light with a bushel, no good work is seen by the people and God is not glorified. John Wesley wrote “Give me one hundred preachers who fear NOTHING but sin, and desire NOTHING but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.” Every disciple is a believer but not every believer is a disciple. It is a personal choice. If a believer chooses to be a disciple, he can easily and rapidly win the world for Jesus. The Pastor must be a disciple and a discipler. Not just a believer. He must lead the crusade for communal impact. That was how Jesus lived.
Jesus is several things rolled into one. While clergymen are limited, a good attempt can be made in keeping steps with Jesus. It is generally agreed that pastors are often sought in times of emotional difficulty and serve as front-line primary caregivers in many communities. As such, pastoral training has evolved to include counselling and psychology. This is to prepare the clergyman for real life issues of the people which are not only spiritual but could be psychological and mental. These days, issues bothering on depression, domestic violence, mental health etc are on the increase. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light” Churches need to endeavor to have structured intervention for different concerns. Marriage Counselling, Children Counselling, Career Counselling, Behavioral Counselling, etc should be paid attention to. I have seen clergymen who volunteer with Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies. During Covid-19, some churches donated their facilities as Isolation Centers. Some churches were providing relief food items for members of their immediate communities.
”Acts 10:38 says …Jesus went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil…. The going about of Jesus was for community impact and engagement. Jesus preached in the Temples. He preached in houses of people. He preached by the well. He preached by the tomb. He preached on the road. He preached in a boat. He preached everywhere. He lived here on earth as the Light that he is (John 8:12).
In John 2, Jesus was at a wedding. He was socially aware! He participated in community activities. He shared moments of joy with the people. In the wedding, he averted what would have been a big embarrassment. The wedding became the talk of the town. Prior to that when he was much younger at age 12 (Luke 12:41-51), he followed his parents to the Passover feast in Jerusalem. Pastors are to live as good examples. Pastor should be in community gathering or town-hall meetings when they are called. In many places in our respective communities, there is community development association. Pastors can join such developmental initiatives so as to be closer to the non-members of the community. Such will present an opportunity to influence certain issues.
Any church without an outreach program that delivers on this expectation of God needs to have a rethink and start earnestly. Everything the church does must be for soul winning. God is keen on bringing in souls into the Kingdom. This is God’s heartbeat.
On many occasions, Jesus was able to challenge the status quo of Judaism to bring about changes that align with godliness. Back to Matthew Chapter 5, there is a number of such recorded. For instance in Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus said “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. Jesus was dealing with the root cause of adultery. The Clergyman has both the pulpit and the podium. He can preach and he can teach to bring about desired changes in the people. Today, many virtual platforms exist for the man of God to utilize in turning people to right attitude. In the past, when Government wanted to change certain policies or make sensitive pronouncements, they would first bounce the idea on stakeholders and thought leaders which usually would include men of God from different church organisations and Islamic clerics. The place of CAN and PFN as institutional agents of change was recognized in decision making. We must prayerfully and conscientiously work and walk our way back to such state of relevance.
Jesus said in Matthew 26:11, “For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always (physically)”. A notable evangelist once said 7“when Christians go to the world with a loaf of bread in one hand and a Bible in the other, they’ll usually find that sinners will take the bread and ignore the Bible. This, of course, is exactly the problem Jesus confronted in John Chapter 6 after feeding the 5,000. Interestingly, Jesus’ solution wasn’t more bread. Instead, it was a decisive, clear gospel presentation.
John Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, was said to believe that 8Christian philanthropy could transfigure his city and the world beyond it. To achieve this, his congregants were the means toward this transformative end. He had to first transform his flock into philanthropic Christians. He believed that personal property is not strictly private but a trust. In his eloquent, moving, and repeated insistence on almsgiving, he frequently taught that what was superfluous to one's reasonable needs ought to be given away. We must begin to teach the flock the importance of giving as a calling of all. Truly speaking, many churches are doing well in this regard. They organize charity fairs where they give out clothing, furniture …. that they have in excess. In Acts Chapter 6, we read of how important food his to the people. The clergyman can champion seeing to the plight of the hungry and the homeless. Many churches have welfare programs in place which is commendable. Many have boreholes donated to their immediate communities and other areas. Many are giving out scholarship to indigent students. Many set up tuition-free schools. Welfare Evangelism is quickly gaining acceptance in many churches. We now realize that people want to see that you practically care for them before accepting the Gospel. Many have come to salvation through this medium. Some churches have programs for Area Boys and Street Children. Some churches sponsor rehabilitation programs for drug addicts.
Men of God should be voices of conscience. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Proverbs 29:7). The position the clergyman occupies makes it easy for him to be heard. The Bible says Jesus even plays the role of our advocate with God (1 John 2:1). Advocates lend their voices to issues of National concern. They offer support, strength, and counsel when necessary. There are many issues bedeviling the Society that need to be consistently talked about for policy and decision makers to act on. In our communities here, we have the issue of insecurity, poor roads, erratic academic system, drug abuse, human trafficking, crude oil theft, child labour, prostitution, public fund embezzlement, rising cost of items, poor standard of living. The list is long.
In the Bible, God called Moses to speak truth to power and tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go…” (Exodus 5:1). Or Esther risked her life to challenge an unjust law. Remember how Mordecai challenged her ““For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). In the book of Philemon 12-16, Paul spoke on behalf of a runaway slave (Onesimus) who had few rights in his society, but who Paul knew deserved to be treated as a child of God. In 2Samuel 12, we saw how God brought David to his knees when he abused power. He sent Prophet Nathan to call David out, which Nathan did through a parable designed to show David how heinous his crime was. At the end of the parable, David cried out, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die!” (2 Samuel 12:5). Then Nathan turned the table and told David that he himself is the culprit in the parable.
9Christian conciliation is a process for reconciling people and resolving disputes out of court in a biblical manner. Christians don’t necessarily have to drag themselves to court. Issues can be resolved amongst ourselves. In 1Corinithians 6:1-8, Apostle Paul was very vocal on this issue. He said “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?”……
The Clergyman is a peacemaker and this he must do intensely and consistently. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It is sad to see children of God drag one another to court. It is sad to see a church drag another church to court on property ownership matters. There is a reason why the abode of the Bishop is called Bishop’s Court. When the Bishop adjudicates on any issue within the Christian brotherhood, his decision is final and should be taken amicably by warring parties.
It is heart-warming to see Government of some Countries involve clergymen in peacekeeping missions. This should be encouraged, especially those who are also qualified arbitrators.
The clergyman is a watchman. He must be able to hear from God and he must be able to relay God’s word to the people without fear or favour. Beyond this, he must be able to watch for his community. He must be spiritually alert. I love the imagery God used in Ezekiel—the watchman and the shepherd. Ezekiel 33:7 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me” Ezekiel 34:15–16 “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice”.
God appointed Ezekiel to be a watchman for Israel to warn them of danger. God would hold Ezekiel accountable if he fails to do as instructed. Nigeria needs watchmen and shepherds to take their stand at their duty posts and do the biddings of the Master. In ancient Israel, watchmen were always on the perimeter walls and towers, looking out for potential danger and intrusion. When they see one, they raise alarm. Men of God must return to the place of this assignment and spiritually watch out for the church, the community and the society at large.
The Christian church has always been involved in the transformation of the society. At times it seemed to have lost this focus, but somehow, throughout the ages, it has managed to sustain this mission responsibility. Today, more than ever, given the increasing poverty, violence and injustices in the world, the Christian church must continue to make its presence felt as the light and salt of the earth, by embracing or initiating and engaging in transformational initiatives. At the forefront of this must be the clergyman. May God help us as we resolve to take on this challenge.
1Bosch, D.J. (1999). Transforming mission: Paradigm shifts in theology of missions, Orbis Books, New York.
3Wole Olanipekun (2019). Relationship between church, law and polity. The Guardian.
5Leke Alder (2016). Light Bulbs. Facebook
6Leke Alder (2016). Why Are There Many Churches But Little Impact On Society? The Illuminare
7Joel James (2016). 2 problems with social action in missions. The Cripplegate
8 Demetrios E. Tonias (2019). Critical Approaches to Early Christianity, Volume1. E-Book ISBN:
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