Sam Adeyemi needs little introduction. He’s in your home almost every day via his TV and radio programmes, his books and recorded messages, mentoring and teaching people how to maximise their potential and become credible leaders in their spheres of endeavour – his passion. The Senior Pastor of Daystar Christian Centre with over 20 years in Christian ministry tucked under his belt speaks with The Interview on various issues concerning his ministry, the Church in Nigeria and the nation.
What was on your mind when you started Success Power in 1994?
I was desperate to improve my status in life. I read books on success, learned many principles and wanted to translate my dreams to reality. Then God gave me the idea that I should use the media to teach people how to succeed. It seemed crazy, since I didn’t think I was successful yet, but I did it. It worked. I realised that you succeed by helping other people to succeed. It was a big paradigm shift for me.
Share with us some of the challenges you faced at the beginning and how you overcame them.
The first challenge I had when starting Success Power was that there was no one I knew in Nigeria who was doing what I wanted to do using the media. Then, I didn't have the funds, but I started nevertheless. I voiced out my plans and met two wonderful professionals who tutored me in broadcasting. They drilled me so hard that people thought I’d studied broadcasting. Then some individuals gave some money that took us some distance before some organisations took on the bills for some years. Starting that way has given me courage to start projects in spite of my fears. Someone said that if you wait to develop wings before you jump, you may never fly. Jump anyhow and you will develop wings on your way down. Innovation and God's grace kick in when we take action and desperately need help.
What inspired you to specialise in leadership success?
Our church grew rather slowly the first three years. Something changed and we went from running one service to four within ten months. I reflected on that and got the idea that God had helped us to surmount a cultural problem. Africa is weak in management and leadership and we don’t have leadership schools. A friend, who is a former governor, said Nigeria is like a plane being flown by pilots who did not go to flying school. So we set up the Daystar Leadership Academy, which has graduated over 28,000 professionals, entrepreneurs and students who can lead their families, organisations and the nation in a better way.
Daystar has grown from a church that once couldn’t pay rent for worship space to a mega church. How did that happen – what principles can others learn from it?
We realised that we are only continuing the ministry of Christ and He attracted large crowds. Matthew 4:23-25 gave us insight into the composition of His typical crowd: people who had all kinds of problems. We focus on meeting people’s needs at all levels with the wisdom and power of God. We have diverse kinds of platforms for doing that and we are heavy on training. When people become like Christ, their problems turn into opportunities. People see the big changes in the lives of our members and want to come experience the same.
There’s a feeling that faith-based religion is making it increasingly difficult for young people to think and solve problems. Have miracles replaced hard work?
The problem is not rooted in faith-based religion; it is rooted in African culture and carried over into religion. Our worldview sees the world as a place that is controlled by invisible and overwhelming forces and sees no point in planning long term. Then our friendly climate, which is not life threatening, has not pushed us to innovative thinking like those in the temperate regions of the world, where the cold can easily kill you. If you don’t want to think, you will find scriptures to support your view. If you want to, you will also find scriptures. However, God is the greatest creator and innovator.
Why do you think countries like China and Singapore have made rapid progress in human and physical development, even though they don’t believe in God as we do?
God invested His power in the principles that control our world, like gravity, electricity, sowing and reaping and so on. Principles have no respect for colour or social status. Whether you are black, brown or white, rich or poor, religious or not, you will come down if you jump off the roof of a tall building. When you understand a principle, it helps you to be creative and innovative. Unfortunately, African culture is largely not built on principles. It is built on myths like Sango, the god of thunder, when thunder is just the sound produced by electricity jumping from one cloud to the other. Simply put, we do not obey the principles that make development possible as a nation. We don’t even have a clear national vision for development owned by the average Nigerian. We must change our orientation. Religion that doesn’t change your thinking is useless.
A recent edition of The Economist showed that church growth is increasing significantly in poorer countries, while it is in decline in richer countries. What do you think is responsible for this?
That is quite normal. Jesus gave the illustration of a man who invited guests to his party. Those who declined were all very comfortable. Those who accepted were down the social ladder. Man does not feel a desperate need for God when he is comfortable. When the economies of rich nations catch up with their moral decline, they will seek God. It happened before, as recorded in the Bible. And when Nigeria becomes a developed economy, preaching, “God will put food on your table” may not appeal anymore. Pastors should prepare to meet a different set of needs.
A number of Nigerian churches, including Daystar Christian Centre, have franchises and moneymaking subsidiaries. Do you think that such ventures could conflict with the core biblical assignment of soul winning?
I think it is largely exaggerated for younger churches like Daystar. Most of our income is from what our members give and our schools are subsidised from church income. However, the law in Nigeria permits churches to set up business entities,as long as they are registered with government and they pay taxes and other regulatory fees for profit making businesses. Paul the Apostle engaged in tent making when it was expedient.
In what significant ways has the Church in Nigeria evolved in the last two decades?
The Church in Nigeria has become more socially responsive to its macro-environment. There was a time when pastors would warn their members to stay away from politics, business, entertainment and other culture-shaping arenas. That limited the influence of the Church, but not anymore. However, the downturn in the economy has also seen many who have no business doing so start churches, because their objective is their own survival.
A number of mega churches in Nigeria own schools, which their members cannot afford for their children to attend. This contrasts largely with missionary schools, which were largely free and used as tools for proselytising. Is the situation irreversible?
I quite empathise with parents who are finding it difficult to obtain good education for their children. I think it is difficult to compare schools run in 2016 with those run five decades or more ago. To be fair, missionaries ran schools for fifty years in Nigeria before the colonial government got involved. But where are those missionary schools today? The factors that ran some of them down and killed others are warring against new church schools. The situation will be reversible when the cost of running the schools comes down as government provides basic services. It is either churches keep the schools running at high costs, or they run the schools shabbily like most state schools, or they run no schools at all.
But education has never been cheap, yet the missionaries made education free then, which turned out to be the saving grace for so many people today. If education was free then, why can't churches at least make their schools affordable for their members alone?
Education is our opportunity to shape the people who will shape the nation. And education should provide the opportunity for the child from a poor family to escape from a vicious cycle. Countries that make progress make education in public schools free up to high school at the least. But the state of education in our country is disturbing. It has been said that what goes into a mind comes out in a life. We are in a desperate situation and I certainly would encourage churches that decide to build schools to make education free or very affordable for their members.
What drives you?
I am driven by my love for God, who loved me and gave up His Son to pay for my sins. He transformed my life completely. Secondly, my love for God has translated to love for man. You cannot love God and not love man. Every human being is an extension of God and whatever God does not deserve, man does not deserve. I see a wide gap between people’s destinies and their realities and I feel compelled to bridge that gap.
You are passionate about leadership and change and even led a march to ‘Light Up Nigeria’. Would you accept an invitation to serve in government?
Ordinarily, I would answer no, since I don’t believe that it is only people in government that transform a society, though they are critical. However, it could happen, if God gives me the marching orders, knowing that I will serve His purposes and change lives from that platform. But I would rather continue to raise thousands of people who will transform their homes, organisations and nations.
Do you think the Church is doing enough to deal with social/medical issues like AIDS, when it preaches that such diseases can be miraculously cured?
I don’t believe that any enlightened pastor sees conflict between medical science and healing by faith. Both come from God. And doctors say that they only care, it is God that heals. In fact, many churches own and run hospitals around the world. Churches should pray for people, but should not prevent them from seeking professional help. When they receive their healing by miracles, they won’t need the professionals anymore.
How have you found your training as a civil engineer useful in ministry?
Well, you don’t construct anything without a plan and estimation of what it will cost. The planning skills have helped and I tend to like systems and structures. Also, engineers turn plans into realities. However, human beings are more difficult to organise than building blocks.
What are three unforgettable experiences you had as an engineering student at the Kwara State Polytechnic?
I had interesting moments during my Higher National Diploma programme at the Kwara State Polytechnic. We had a test in class one day. The lecturer wrote the question on the board and left the class. On his return, he collected the scripts and shocked the class by describing everything that happened while he was away. He had been watching while people copied answers from fellow students. Thankfully, I had insisted on sitting alone and he acknowledged that. Also, I fasted two straight days for the first time and was very hungry. To break my fast, I ate a large quantity of beans and bread. The stomach cramps that resulted scared me. Well, they subsided after an hour. If you go without food for a long period, please break your fast slowly. Then, I tried to be innovative just after I was appointed president of the Fellowship of Christian Students. I organised a seminar and wanted to get people to attend by arousing their curiosity. I came up with a dramatic theme: "THERE IS NO GOD: A Statement Found in the Bible". Really, I just cut off "The fool has said in his heart", from a sentence in Psalm 14:1. The plan backfired. Students wrote angry comments on our posters around the campus. I learnt my lesson. You don't have to be overly dramatic to get attention and you need to read your audience correctly.
You have described Daystar as a “sending station”. Do you think your turnover at the pastorate is high?
Yes, it is. We train pastors and members to become like Christ in character and competence. Then we expect them to function in areas that shape culture. It was risky going down this path, but the seeds are beginning to bear fruit. The pastors who leave to start churches have the autonomy to innovate in order to reach different people groups. And some have evolved into consultants who serve both the business and church worlds. We just need to continue to train even more pastors. And soon, we’ll be training those who are not in our pastorate but are leaders and feel called to start churches.
In President Muhammadu Buhari’s ongoing war on corruption, some funds have been traced to providers of “spiritual services”. If such money was traced to a church as tithes, do you think it should be returned?
There are legal and moral dimensions to the issue. I hope that a church will ensure it is protected by the law, except where the church accepts the money, knowing it is stolen money, which would be rare. Most churches in Nigeria don’t keep records of people who give, because the law does not give tax rebates to individuals who give to churches. A church that can afford it may choose to return the money for conscience sake. But where most of the money has been used to feed the poor and to pay hospital bills and the church cannot afford to pay back, it changes the scenario.
What is your opinion of the eight months of the Buhari government? Is this the change Nigerians wanted?
The new administration is pursuing its agenda of improving security, fighting corruption and improving the economy. I must admit that it is confronting very unusual challenges, especially with the crash in the price of crude oil. I think most of the over 15 million people who voted for the president would say this is the change they voted for, while the rest would say they didn’t vote for change in the first place. But beyond partisanship, all Nigerians need to agree to build a developed Nigeria. That will give us a good basis for evaluating the performance of government going forward.
In the last days of the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, you stayed away from a number of invitations extended to pastors. Why?
I was hardly invited to meetings really and attending depended on whether it worked with my schedule or not.
Looking back, do you think you should have left Rhema Chapel earlier, seriously?
Rhema Chapel was an amazing training experience for me. No, I don’t wish I had left earlier. My training in terms of character and competence would not have been complete.
Where do you expect Daystar to be in the next 10 years?
I expect Daystar to have moved further in achieving its vision of raising role models and influencers who will create the desirable future for their families, organisations and nations around the world.
Looking back, what childhood pranks make you laugh today?
I didn’t play too many pranks, but I always laugh when I remember the day I pretended to be the best footballer in the world. I was hitting the ball against the wall between our neighbour’s two windows. My dad warned me to be careful but I was pretty sure of myself, until I shattered the window. I knew I had qualified for a good beating, but was surprised that my dad gave me money to go buy another glass pane and fixed it. I hardly preach on mercy without remembering that day.
What message do you have for the hundreds of young people, especially in the Eastern part of the country, who think Biafra is the answer to their problems?
They have a right to speak out against any injustice they experience as a part of the federation. They should articulate their points clearly and sustain it over a long period and they should evolve other strategies beyond advocacy. But violence should not be part of their strategy. They should operate within the context of the law. Breaking away may not solve the problem. Groups that have broken away around Africa experienced new internal agitations as soon as they became independent.
Which books are you reading currently?
I am reading The Kingdom Driven Life by Sunday Adelaja, David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, Leadership Pain by Sam Chand and my academic books.
Are any of your children showing signs of going into full-time ministry?
I am not sure yet, as they are still in school.
In two sentences, how would you describe the next 20 years of your life?
By God’s grace, I will influence people globally who will positively influence culture-shaping spheres of influence like the economy, media, sports, entertainment, education, science and technology, government, the social sector and church ministry and who will, in the process, transform nations, so help me God.