The Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministries has witnessed remarkable growth in recent years, with branches in America, Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Britain and France. But its General Overseer, Pastor Lazarus Muoka, thinks the vision has just begun. He shares with CHRIS IREKAMBA and FEMI ALABI ONIKEKU, testimonies of divine providence, succession, loyalty within the church, and why the nation needs a ministry of religion.
How should the government tackle insecurity?
We will keep praying for them. If I were to advise the government, I would suggest that a religion affairs ministry be put in place to handle matters of insecurity. If we have a religion affairs ministry and somebody is in charge, you are going to hold him responsible whenever there are lapses because he is the one that should go into discussion with the parties involved in the situation. I think that ministry is very important.
But I think, generally, that the police and military intelligence are doing their best to calm the situation. And when somebody is there to take responsibility, I want to let you know that the matter will not be as you are seeing it today. I think, generally, that the police and other agencies are doing their best, except that they should be equipped to help them do better than they are doing right now. We need functioning helicopters to assist them in their operations.
I suggest they create two ministries– one for Christians and the other for Muslims. If Christians cause the situation, the person in charge of Christians knows the body to meet and discuss, vice versa. I believe that in such a way the problem will be properly handled.
Does your ministry have a succession plan? Would your wife simply take over, as is often the case?
Things of the Lord are not just by planning, but as the Spirit leads, especially in terms of a successor. I believe that God has made me to know that the ministry will continue. He has also let me know that somebody will take over after I might have… That one is reserved to me, for now. But I know that it can’t just be (my) wife.
Would it be your son or a member of the church?
It’s too early to know that. Let’s reserve the issue for now. When it is time to go public, I will call you and make it public.
…But that person is in Lagos.
The person is in this world.
Is it scriptural for a wife to take over the mantle?
Except God speaks otherwise, there is nothing I can do. But for now, He has not told me that my wife will take over the ministry.
How would you ascertain the trustworthiness or suitability of your successor?
The only qualification for holding this position is that God is with you. If God is with you, you can hold the position anywhere in the world. Whoever God makes us hand the ministry over to, of course, you must know that God must be with the person.
…And there are many people God is with right now?
Well, but on this particular case, it’s a unique one. God is with so many people but He has made somebody special for that.
As overseer of a church this big, you must be quite rich.
I have not seen myself so, because, at this moment, we are still looking for how to raise money to sponsor most of our church programmes. On a serious note, ours is a different case; our ministry demands giving, and we are doing everything possible to ensure that we fund the ministry because it is a grassroots ministry. So, there is no amount of money you have that you would say you are rich, as long as the ministry is concerned. By the grace of God, we just believe Him to sustain us.
…But you are not a poor man?
By His grace and by virtue of the ministry and my position, I can say I’m not a poor man. And neither was I a poor man before the ministry started.
Christianity in Nigeria has witnessed the rise of mega churches with financial and numerical muscles. Could these not wield some sort of political power or influence in the future?
The Church does not interfere with the government of the nation because the Church is spiritual. The Church will not put itself into such point where it will decide who governs or who rules. What it does is pray to God to decide who rules.
…But you won’t stop your members from voting
I would advise them to vote, but I will not determine for them who they should vote for.
…You would vote
By the grace of God.
Your vote could influence others to cast their ballots for a particular person.
How will they know whom I voted for? Voting is secret; it’s not a public consumption kind of thing. I don’t need to tell the congregation who I’m going to vote for; it’s personal.
How do you cope with disloyalty from your pastors?
In fact, God is the owner of the church. The Bible says, “It is God that worketh in us both to will and do His good pleasure.” If God does not make somebody loyal to you, no matter what you do, he cannot be loyal. No matter what you use to influence the person, he will still find his way. So, I believe if God has given you people, He will make them to be loyal to you. That is the power behind people working together in a church like ours. We have our meetings and that also include prayers, and God would reveal to you when one is loyal or disloyal. And if somebody is disloyal, one thing you need to do is counsel him or her to ensure he becomes loyal. You don’t need to throw him away because he is disloyal, you have to pray and show him what he should do.
Schools owned by churches often charge exorbitant fees, above what ordinary members can afford. How different, if at all, would the church’s primary and secondary schools, and proposed university be?
The running of a school is determined by people who are in charge of the school’s affairs. They know the cost and would advise the church.
Would there be a concession for church members?
Automatically, members of the church are given such provision, when we discover that there is need for that. They are given a concession, if we discover that they are contributing to the growth and development of the church. We take care of them. And because of that, there is difference between them and those that are not members.
How long can educational institutions established by the church hold out before they also become corrupted by the same problems they are trying to flee from?
I will not at this time tell you that the church will give up. I believe that as long as the earth remains, the church will be working towards ensuring that all the evil or corruption, or what made the church to establish schools, which is to nurture children in the fear of God… we will keep on ensuring that till Jesus Christ comes.
The Bible speaks about the ‘rod of correction’. Would the church’s schools feature corporal punishment?
It’s not the best way of learning. The best way of learning is to teach a child what he should do and supervise him or her. It’s not right to use the rod to make the child become what he ought to be. Though, in a family, one has the right to apply that aspect of the scripture, but in the school, the best thing is to teach them every aspect of the curriculum that they need to know, not apply the rod.
In the home, one should be able to apply what the Bible says very well. In the home, you need to train your child through the word of God. And the aspect of caning a child comes in when the child has gone to the extreme; that is, he is uncontrollable. But the best way to train children is making them understand what they should know. The children will learn faster.
…Some pastors flog their members
Well, we cannot apply that in this church.
Should fresh intakes to schools be screened for HIV?
I don’t think that is right, because even though the church has something to do with the school, it’s still an avenue to help those that are… It must not be that if a student is coming in, you would subject him or her to a screening to know whether he or she has HIV/AIDs. I don’t think is right in a church-owned school.
Criminals often come forward to confess past misdeeds during your programmes. Why does the church not hand them over to the police?
One thing that is very clear is that this church is not the only church where confessions are made and people give their lives to Jesus. So, we are not going to be the first church to establish that. The issue is that we are not the people that arrested or caused them to make confession. Why should we be the people to put ourselves in the arm of flesh by handing them over to the police? When people come willingly and make their confessions, what we need to do is continue to counsel them and see that they become what they ought to be. In the first place, we are not the people that asked them to say, ‘I am this’, or ‘I am that’. What we should do is make sure that we help their faith, so that they don’t go back to their evil ways.
…And how would you ensure that?
Once we are sure that their salvation is genuine, we assist them financially, we house them. We give them money to establish something on their own, as long as we are sure that they have given their lives to Christ.
Should churches pay tax? What should be taxable?
Individual members of the church are encouraged to pay their tax. When they pay their tax, I think that is the standard.
It is herculean running an organisation this big. How does the church cope?
It’s very simple. Jesus said in the book of John 16:5, “Without me you can do nothing.” So, all the wisdom that we need to run the church and the people that will run the church, the Lord supplies them. We don’t have much problem because God is involved. If God is not involved, then you have a lot of things to do. But the issue is: I believe that whatever is happening in the ministry, all over the world, is the finger of God. In fact, nobody should take the glory. God is the one doing it. The church is in America, Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Britain and France. If you talk about human management, I don’t know what is happening there. So, you hand the whole matter over to God.
The church is everywhere in Africa. In Lagos, here, we have nearly 300 branches. And then in the states, you hardly find where we have less than 100 branches. So, you find out that if you are talking about the human aspect of management, you can’t do much. It’s God; it’s the grace of God. God gives you the people. If He calls you, He will give you the people to work with you in any department. That business is the business of God and not the business of man. If God has given us anything, I think He will give us the grace to manage it.
How did the idea of using the apron come? Somebody is claiming to be the originator.
I travelled to Imo State, and as I was coming back, I saw people campaigning. They had the image of somebody from a particular political party. I said to myself: if people could be this zealous with somebody’s image, running around with it, we can make an apron and use it to advertise Jesus. When I came back, I announced it in the church, in the presence of everybody. I said, ‘this is what I saw, and we should make aprons for everybody to wear and advertise the programme. It was an open announcement, not a secret one.
Are you saying people should discountenance the claim?
Anybody who is telling you that he or she is the originator is lying. You know, sometimes people want to feel relevant. And since the church is big, some people want to associate themselves with, so that if they speak people may listen. There is nothing else. The person wants to market him or herself.
Is your church the first to start wearing the apron?
Of course, the church initiated it. That was in 2007.
The church has a ‘10 billion souls mandate’, far above the world’s present population. How does it intend to achieve this?
Yes. The world’s population is less than 10 billion. One thing that I know is that a generation comes and another goes. If you count the number of people that shall be in this world before the coming of Jesus Christ, you will know that that figure is feasible. And if Jesus tarries, and the ministry continues, no matter what we have achieved now in Nigeria, Africa, Europe and America, we cannot relent, because we know that many people are coming into the world. That is how the vision goes and it must be fulfilled by the grace of God. It will propel us to work more and more, anywhere we are.
If you look at the vision, it’s grassroots revival all over the world. The second one says, ‘revival of the apostolic experiences among the body of Christ’, and ‘revival of heaven’s consciousness in the heart of believers all over the world’. So, by the grassroots operation, that means that we have the fellowship nearer to people. If there is anything said here, now, it is expected that it would reach all the branches of the church. And we follow it up with the Internet, cable TV, newspapers and also crusades.
Life’s best moment, regrets…
One thing that is clear is that God created us for his pleasure. Anything we are doing outside God’s own programme will be an offence to Him. So, no matter the situation, we will never feel discouraged, as long as the things of God are concerned because Christ was not discouraged when, at the Cross of Calvary, He paid the price for the entire world. So, no matter the trial or persecution, we will rejoice more by identifying with Christ. In fact, our greatest joy is when we are persecuted and we know that we are doing the right things.
How would you react to perceptions that you are extra human?
I’ve made it clear, several times, to the church that they are not supposed to attach anything to my name as a title; that they should even call me ‘Brother Lazarus’; that I feel happy when I know that all of us are the same. When they testify saying, ‘I thank Pastor Lazarus’, I would tell them they shouldn’t thank me, that I am not the one doing it. It’s God; that they should return thanks to God. I have been making them to understand that I’m not spirit; I’m not Jesus. It is the grace of God upon life.
If someone describes the Lord’s Chosen as ‘church of Igbo people’, how far from the truth would that be?
The Lord’s Chosen can never be called an Igbo church; the reason being that there is no state in Nigeria where the Lord’s Chosen has not been established. We are there, and by the grace of God growing. And then, when you go outside Nigeria… In Africa, we are there, Europe and America, and all over the world. How then can it be called Igbo church, when White members of the church from their countries have been coming here? And you want to call it an Igbo church?
That is just a name that people give in order to hinder a particular tribe from joining the ministry. That is wrong. The Lord’s Chosen is everybody’s church. There is no tribe that is not represented – Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Efik – all the tribes are represented. They cannot stop people from coming, because God is the one that established the ministry.
With signs and wonders being reported, where does the onus of proof lie?
If we pray for people who have HIV, we ask them to go back to same laboratory where they were tested originally, not another place, before they are allowed to give their testimonies. We have a lot of them that were healed of HIV, about to die. What about somebody who comes here on a wheel chair or crutches, if the power of God heals him or her, you don’t need to prove that; he or she is the one to prove that by demonstrating it for people to see.
How many children do you have and what are their positions in the church?
For now, my children’s ministry and how many they are should remain private. Until such a time when I feel like telling the world that these are my children and their roles.
On corporate responsibility
We have just established the Lord’s Chosen Needy Foundation, and with that foundation, we can reach out to the poor, communities and establish schools, help the needy. We have been helping people, but we just want to make it official by registering the organisation formally.
‘I am not from Mgbidi!’
Let me use this occasion to tell people that I am not from Mgbidi, as erroneously believed. Some people believe I came from there because we hold our yearly crusade there. I hail from Etiti Okabia, formerly Umuhu Okabia in Imo State.
How true is the allegation that a man partnered with you financially but was eventually sidelined?
Thank you for that question. The man has come to beg, saying he is sorry for doing what he did. The man did it in an attempt to smear the image of the church, maybe, because of one thing or the other, I don’t know. I want to let you know that by the special grace of God, what we are doing here is very open. We don’t even have crusades in the night; we hold our crusades in the day. What we preach is very clear our preaching is in the area of living right– holiness without which no eye shall see the Lord and anything short of that is not part of us. We preach inward and outward holiness; that means, once you are born again, your heart becomes pure. Your relationship with people and your dressing matters so much in the sight of God. These things are made clear. And if somebody comes up tomorrow and tries to say one thing or the other, it’s either his or her lifestyle is affected. The kind of things he or she is doing is affected through our preaching. The person feels hurt, and instead of repenting, the following day, he or she comes up with different allegations. You know that the public is disposed to listening to that kind of person with false allegation. And I want to let you know that those things that people put on the Internet and in junk magazines are false.
‘I don’t have a favourite food’
I don’t have a particular food as favourite; I can eat anything, so far it’s not bad.
“If God does not make somebody loyal to you, no matter what you do, he cannot be loyal. No matter what you use to influence the person, he will still find his way. So, I believe if God has given you people, He will make them to be loyal to you. That is the power behind people working together in a church like ours. We have our meetings and that also include prayers, and God would reveal to you when one is loyal or disloyal. And if somebody is disloyal, one thing you need to do is counsel him or her to ensure he becomes loyal. You don’t need to throw him away because he is disloyal, you have to pray and show him what he should do.”