On a weekly basis, on Saturday or Sunday people head out to church for fellowship and worship. While some people eagerly anticipate the praise and worship as an opportunity to express their love for God, others just want to encounter Christ and have their hearts tuned to His frequency.
And then there are those who can hardly wait to see their pastor stand in front of them and tingle their ears with a well-thought out sermon. Deep down our hearts, we all know which category we belong. Inspiring as pastors might be, it is not wrong to look up to them in many ways.
The word advises for people to check themselves and make sure they are not elevating pastors to a place that belongs to Christ in their hearts. Whilst we are to appreciate and love pastors, we need not give them the worship that is due God.
As a sociologist, Charles Chilimampunga says idolising pastors could be a reflection of the fact that people are losing focus on the supernatural and salvation.
He believes that many people are looking for immediate solutions to their practical problems.
“Look at what attracts people to many of these churches; promises of wealth, healing, jobs, marriage, and many other things. Is this any different from the promises that herbalists are making today?
“Some churches are losing focus. Yes, religion is supposed to address all human needs, not only the spiritual needs, but the main focus must be on salvation. So, for me, the behaviour of idolising religious leaders is a reflection of bigger problems in religious circles and society at large,” he points out.
For such people to return to worshiping God, the sociologist says it is the responsibility of the idolised leaders to change their behaviour.
“They must portray themselves as messengers and servants rather than as masters. It is the gospel they should direct their followers’ attention to, rather than to the leaders’ personal endowments. In fact, they should condemn the followers who idolise them as such.
“I would advise the people who idolise religious leaders to focus on the message and not the messenger because the sender of the message is much larger than the messenger,” he says.
Asked why he believes this has become the trend, Chilimampunga says it is mostly due to the fact that such church leaders are taking advantage of people’s deprivation. The majority of the people, he says, are deprived or disadvantaged.
“Their economic, social, and political conditions are poor. They, therefore, look for practical solutions to their immediate needs. They try to escape from the socio-economic and political turbulence in their society. They turn to religious leaders as a means of compensating for their deprivation. It seems that, for many people, God is related to more abstract problems of death and fate.
“The religious leaders are also at fault because they present themselves as bigger than the God they are meant to serve. They pose themselves as masters rather than servants of their faithful, and indeed some people are buying the idea. In the final analysis, it is these leaders who are deprived, spiritually,” he explains.
His worry is that when the present circumstances look frightening to them, deprived people become leader-centred and they easily become brainwashed and show unconditional commitment to the leader.
In times like those, they can be told to surrender all their belongings to the leader or, worse, to commit suicide as a show of love for the leader. It has happened before. As someone said about the Marine Corps, if the sergeant says it’s time to go, you can’t say: Sarge, I prefer not to.”
Apostle Raphael Chikwakwa from Holiness Restoration Church International advises that everyone, including apostles, bishops, reverends, prophets and all church leaders, is supposed to worship God because He, alone, is the saviour. He says if there are people that are idolising their church leaders more than God Himself, they are wrong.
He notes that people who idolise their church leaders evidently revere them more than they do God.
“God has the power to exalt people to different positions in life, including that of leading His people to salvation. All the apostles we see around, the bishops, the reverends, prophets and all other men of God are put in those positions by God. And these are the people that are supposed to lead His people and enlighten them to the significance of exalting Him. If they, as church leaders forget to do the will of God, He has the power to bring them down too,” he says.
He points out that church leaders need to be given the respect and honour that they are due, but that should not go beyond, to the extent of overshadowing the reverence for God who deserves all the honour.
On his part, Prophet Enock Kapira of Living Word Outreach Ministry says the issue is two-fold.
“Sometimes, the man of God might be truly called by God, but the people that surround him ill-advise him. If he is not mature, he will not be able to discern that and he will fall under their wrong advice. He then starts to think the miracles that happen, are caused by him and not God. It is because of such things that many church leaders today have become gods, giving people the mentality that without them they will not get the miracles,” he says.
The second problem, Kapira notes, is the people who go to see church leaders looking for miracles, breakthroughs and prophesies and not God Himself.
“When they go with that mindset, people will follow whatever the church leader says. The danger with that is that such leaders are looking for powers from other sources and not God, just so they can demonstrate what people are looking for. They do this to gain fame, wealth and draw people to them,” says Kapira. n