HOW ADEBOYE’S DISOBEDIENCE BUILT A GLOBAL BRAND
Part 2: Disobedience to Particular Orders
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On January 20, 1981 , late Papa Akindayomi was succeeded by a young university lecturer, Enoch Adejare Adeboye, who assumed office after a lengthy and bitter leadership fight with two older contestants; a protracted power struggle that hit at the soul of the Church. The struggle split the RCCG into three factions, each headed by one of the contestants. The challenge however with choosing a leader came with the fear of the curse on any usurper placed by Akindayomi before his departure.
By virtue of the constitution of the RCCG, Adeboye was not in line for succession as he was not a member of the Supreme Council at the time; however in the previous part, we saw that Papa Akindayomi had warned before his departure that the constitution was made for the ‘government’ and that when it was time, God would anoint a successor. No one in the council was therefore ready at Papa Akindayomi’s death to ‘bell’ the cat by choosing someone else for fear of the curse; however, they largely seemed to prefer to resist the choice of the young man whom they feared would usurp the role of the council with youthful exuberance among other factors. Eventually, Adeboye was chosen and the other factions broke away. Adeboye’s appointment as leader of the church was thus formalized by the posthumous reading of Akindayomi’s sealed pronouncement. The RCCG blossomed while the other factions turned churches withered over time.
On assumption of office. Adeboye declined the title of ‘Reverend’ as well as his nomenclature as GS or ‘General Superintendent’ (The GS title was taken up that same year by Pastor Kumuyi of Deeper Life while the gregarious Idahosa of the CGM had opted for ‘Archbishop’) and chose to remain as ‘Pastor’ while adopting ‘General Overseer’. RCCG at this time had 31 branches (they rose to 39 in 1981 including one later established in Ghana by the summer) as well as about 2,000 members in total. To put it in context with similar Pentecostal ministries emerging at the time, Deeper Life Bible Church was formalized same year-1981 with about 10,000 members in Gbagada, Lagos while Benson Idahosa’s Church of God Mission International had planted over 650 churches in 10 countries. Benson Idahosa was consecrated Archbishop by November 1981. The significance of 1981 in Nigeria has been dealt with significantly in my article-1981, the year of Nigeria’s Divine Visitation.
Born on March 2, 1942 , exactly a decade before the founding of the RCCG, Adeboye left the Anglican Church for RCCG in 1973 by the promptings of his wife, Folu. He studied at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU) from 1964 to 1967 , where he obtained a BSc degree in mathematics in 1967 . He spent some years at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in eastern Nigeria, just before the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970 ) but was unable to complete his studies as a result of the conflict.
He relocated to the University of Lagos, where he obtained, first a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Applied Mathematics in 1969 , and a doctorate with a dissertation on hydrodynamics in 1975 . He then lectured for a while at the University of Lagos before joining the University of Ilorin.
He became a member of the RCCG in 1973 after his wife, Folu Adeboye (nee Adeyokunnu), had joined the Church as a result of her quest for spiritual solutions for some existential afflictions. Being the most educated person in the church at the time, he became the translator/interpreter for the founder (from Yoruba to English) and his right hand man or confidant. He rose quickly and was ordained a pastor in 1977 , a mere four years after becoming a member and without attending any bible school or seminary.
He had a hands-on mentoring relationship with Akindayomi who clearly showed his preference for him over other eligible candidates for leadership of the church. He resigned from his teaching position as a senior lecturer in 1984 , three years after ascending to the top leadership position of the church. The task of transforming the fortunes, doctrines and ritual practices of the RCCG fell on Adeboye who overtime successfully rebranded, expanded and literally prospered the church.
As stated in Part 1 of this article, Josiah Akindayomi had banished practices which were similar to those of the indigenous religions, along with any suggestion of worldliness. However he stepped it up a notch. Men and women were also strictly separated at services and there were no musical instruments. Akindayomi also refused to take collections (offerings) for fear of the corrupting influence of money. Those willing to give would put their money in a certain box at the end of the service.
This box was only opened once at the end of the month. He banned polygamy and members who committed fornication or adultery were publicly flogged in church or made to cut grass in church then sit at the back of the church during services for a given period. According to Ukah Asonzeh, women were prohibited from wearing makeup and trousers and they had to cover their heads while in church. More importantly, women did not exercise any leadership role and were not ordained as pastors or deacons.
The emotionally charged weekly worship services during which members wept and sobbed loudly for prolonged periods of time earned the church two sobriquets and this I still remember my grandmother of blessed memory usually refer to in the 80s as “the weeping church” ( Ijo elekun ) and “the church of those who sob” (ijo awon to sunkun ). I always laughed whenever she said this as I thought she was actually being cynical (I never knew she was referring to RCCG). These practices and doctrines effectively made the RCCG to cultivate a niche. It became, in the words of one of its senior pastors, “a tribal church” filled with “old, illiterate, poor members” who were almost exclusively of Yoruba extraction. At the death of the founder, the RCCG had thirty one small congregations scattered in Lagos and other Yoruba countryside.
Akindayomi also discouraged any form of ‘Praise and worship’ or clapping of hands, use of instruments such as drums, tambourines, guitars, shekere (the traditional gourd with beads) or even dancing. The use of hymns as well as the Piano was strictly adhered to as had been imbibed from the Apostolic Faith Mission style of worship. Adeboye was thus faced with the duty of giving new direction to this ministry as the sole spiritual leader. He had been instructed on a number of things by Papa Akindayomi but he knew also according to Papa that this ministry was to reach the ends of the earth. Herein lay his dilemma; to choose between adhering strictly to the instructions of his predecessor and remain a local Church or taking a drastic step to change engrained traditions both in line with scriptures as well as in consideration of the development and modernisation trend in the world as the dawn of a new century approached.
To commence the process of re-branding, the new leader started attending the Annual Kenneth Hagin Sr. youth camp in Tulsa, USA; Hagin is generally regarded as the “father” or pioneer of the faith or Prosperity Gospel. He also travelled to the Yoido Full Gospel Church of David Yonggi Cho in South Korea, among other places, where he incorporated ideas and practices (such as the house cell system) to grow the church and transform it internally and externally.
Next, Adeboye hit at the heart of the mode of worship Akindayomi had held sacred; he introduced ‘personal’ musical instruments into the Church. The elders reacted disapprovingly. Adeboye in his defence simply referred them to the Bible where these instruments were used. Instruments like the drums, guitar, shekere and so many others became an emblem of RCCG. Infact, up till date, Adeboye and senior pastors of the Church are noted for attending services with their tambourines handy. This singular act removed the sobriquet “Ijo awon elekun” or “the weeping Church” from RCCG forever. RCCG is known today as a Praising Church. Adeboye’s birthdays for example are celebrated with 75 straight hours of praise etc. Adeboye was thus set on a spree of disobedience, a disobedience to some of the staunchly held positions of Akindayomi which he believed were not exactly in consonance with scriptures or in some cases, modern realities. Digging Deep as the Bible Study weekly program of the Church was named defined the quest of the new leadership to teach adherents tenets of the faith. Let’s Go A Fishing became the flagship evangelism drive of the Church usually held during weekends and public holidays after which new churches always sprang up within the area.
Early on after assuming leadership of the RCCG, Adeboye re-articulated the core-mandate of the Church. This has since been massively propagated as its “Vision and Mission Statement.” The statements are as follows:
• To make heaven
• To take as many people as possible with us
• To have a member of the RCCG in every family of all nations
• To accomplish No.1, holiness will be our lifestyle
• To accomplish Nos.2 and 3 above, we will plant churches within five minutes walking distance in every city and town of developing countries and within five minutes driving distance in every city and town of developed countries
• We will pursue these objectives until every nation in the world is reached for Jesus Christ our Lord.
Just like Akindayomi had fished out Adeboye in his quest to modernise the face of the RCCG, Adeboye began to look for young upwardly mobile professionals whom he believed God would use to establish the spread of the RCCG, first in Nigeria and then across the world. According to Adeboye, God told him there were three young men who would be instrumental to the realisation of the vision of the RCCG to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
In May 1988, the first Model Parish of the RCCG was established at 1, Ladipo Oluwole Street, Off Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, Lagos with a young lawyer, Tunde Bakare who had joined the Church in 1984 as the first Pastor, while in September 1988 , Adeboye took RCCG onto university campuses by founding RCCG Campus Fellowships. He recruited young, educated, upwardly mobile, persons who in the 1990s became the foot soldiers of the church, carrying its ideology into the workplace and the marketplace and wherever else they travelled. The concept then was to have one Model Parish in every city of Nigeria for a start and soon after the one in Lagos, another was established in Ibadan. The next model parish was established in Ikoyi in August 1989 and the fourth in Apapa, Lagos on May 5, 1991 with Pastor Tony Rapu, another young medical doctor along with Bakare that Adeboye had fished out in 1984. Tony Rapu was particularly instrumental in the spread of the RCCG according to its mandate with lots of innovations and discoveries of young professionals. He it was that began to give different names to parishes of the RCCG. Names such as City of David, Jesus House, Freedom Hall, Hope Hall, Courage Centre and so on. Also he gave the name ‘Festival of Life’ to the Church program held in London periodically. He began the first Bible School for graduates outside the Redemption Camp and was involved in establishing the first model school (Redeemers International School).
A drug rehabilitation Centre-Hebron House (Forerunner of the firmly established CADAM), a French Church and hospital and even one of the Church’s financial institution-Haggai-now a micro-finance bank. Tony Rapu it was that planted Jesus House-London, Jesus House-Washington DC and City of David, Victoria Island, Lagos; with knowledge of hindsight, these remain some of if not the most prominent RCCG Churches till date. Thus Adeboye had created two different types of congregations in addition to the thirty nine small, ethnic parishes he inherited. The old congregations he called “Classical Parishes;” his two new types of parishes he called respectively: “Model Parishes” (created in 1988 ) and “Unity Parishes” (created 1997 ). Unity Parishes are essentially a fusion of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ ie the Classical and the Model. The first one was established at Onipanu, Lagos. All three types continue to exist, each championing different aspects of RCCG or Akindayomi’s spirituality.
Many more young professionals were discovered in the late 80s and early 90s who have played and continue to play roles in RCCG till today in her quest to evangelise the universe and notable of them among so many others are Ituah Ighodalo, a chartered accountant, Idowu (ID) Iluyomade, a lawyer, Remi Morgan, Agu Irukwu, another lawyer, Johnson Kalejaiye, Ghandi Oloye, James Fadele and the last but not the least yet another lawyer, Yemi Osinbajo who is presently the Vice President of Nigeria. These young men by and large revolutionised the RCCG by building the Model Brand.
Adeboye also promoted the RCCG in a blitz of media productions (radio, television, audio and video cassettes, compact discs and DVDs, satellite television broadcasting, etc.), actions which Pa Akindayomi was not prone to; actively recruiting (through a group he founded called “Christ the Redeemer’s Friends Universal (CRFU)) the very wealthy of the society, such as captains of industries and political leaders. He recruited the most important and influential corporate advertiser/marketer in Nigeria, Felix Ohiwerei, to become the church’s chief programme marketer. From the 1990 s onwards, the RCCG became the platform to advertise consumer goods and later, campaign for political office. Multinational companies and financial conglomerates such as Guinness, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, jointly funded its mass programmes and in return marketed their goods and services during such events. Ukah Azonseh states that as As Adeboye himself became the most important brand product of the church, organisational rebranding worked out as bureaucratisation, monetisation, and corporatisation, together taken as a complex process of re-charismatisation of the RCCG.
By 2014 the RCCG had 32,036 parishes in 170 countries, with worldwide membership numbering seven million. However by 2017, there were some 8 million worshippers in 40,000 parishes across 196 countries. The RCCG therefore has a double founding: historically it was founded by Josiah Akindayomi and then re-founded by his successor, who re-charismatised the entire structure, organisation, doctrines and rituals of the church by actions that would in all probability have never been accepted or tolerated by his predecessor.