“Sometimes, the sign of the Church’s degeneration into gerontocracy is evident when …”


Recently, bemusement and outrage trailed the All Progressives Congress, APC’s installment of a 52-year-old man as its youth leader. “What kind of a youth is a 52 year old?”

Right thinking people were affronted by what they see as evidence of an ongoing conspiracy to marginalize the youth, as well as the ubiquitous dominance of 60, 70 and even 80 year olds in a country where 70 per cent of the population is under 35.

The complaint is that the same faces that have been in the centre of political life for decades keep getting recycled, denying our society the fresh ideas of the youth and stalling the country’s progress. Young Nigerians are asking if their country has become a gerontocracy – a government in which old men dominate and exercise control.

It may not be evident to the undiscerning but the same phenomenon is present in our spiritual space and will shortly become a challenge to our Christian witness in Nigeria.

The same faces who led the revivals of the late 70’s, gaining iconic status in the process, have remained firmly in the driving seat of ministry. These patriarchs have served creditably and have made their mark in the sands of time. However their ministry style, paradigms and teachings still inform and influence general Church culture even though the times so clearly call for fresh and new perspectives of ministry.

Many have failed to understand the need for them to retreat from the frontlines and give the next generation of ministers an opportunity to step up to the plate and fulfill their calling. Church leadership meetings where the 50 something year olds are continually referred to as the “younger ones” also points to some confusion in our general polity as to the definition of youth.

We may therefore find the leadership of the Church inadvertently tending towards calcification. As a result, we will inevitably lose our vigour and vitality. Rather than being dynamic, the Christian witness will become static, conformed to the image of the men of God who spearheaded revivals decades ago. Unfortunately those who should speak up are either too intimidated or too culturally captive to the dictates of society’s veneration for the aged to voice their concern.

If this trend continues, what we will have is a leadership representing an order of ministry that has expired and lacks prophetic accuracy and keenness. Unfortunately, we often interpret enduring prominence, organizational and bureaucratic growth of ministries and increase in personal fortunes of ministers as tangible signs of prophetic accuracy and relevance and the need for them to remain the the driver’s seat.

The fact is that the enduring prominence of a few outstanding leaders will sometimes account for the much-cited paradox of religion: successful ministries that are yet irrelevant to the current demands of society. The continuing dominance and success of celebrity patriarchs will actually stifle innovation and consequently affect the Church’s ability to speak prophetically to present day reality outside the four walls of the Church.

Sometimes, the sign of the Church’s degeneration into gerontocracy is evident when the ruling principles of leadership in politics and our socio-cultural environment become dominant in the Church. The Church either inadvertently or deliberately begins to adopt the ethics, means and modes of leadership selection of the political structures in the larger society. The ecclesiastical leadership may often become dictatorial. We may tend to rule our diocese like potentates, sometimes adopting Machiavellian techniques of political domination to align the flock to our will. Younger leaders and pastors in these environments relate with the senior pastor, bishop or overseer with an attitude of fearful servility. Often, leadership positions are allotted as forms of patronage to older veterans.

The dynamics in these assemblies, far from being characterized by Christian humility, are defined instead by the fear of man, the undue veneration of age, the worship of power and the elevation of leaders to the status of demigods. All of these reflecting the problematic relationship between citizens and their leaders in the larger society.

It is significant that when Jesus laid down the principles of leadership within the church, he contrasted them with the tyrannical model of his day. While society’s leadership was aloof, distant, domineering and overbearing, leadership in the church was to be service-driven, unpretentious and humble. In a nation where our politics is usually defined by the lust for power, Christians would be making a profound statement if they exemplified the biblical concept of servant leadership.

The sit-tight gerontocracy syndrome which we complain about in government and politics may have inadvertently seeped into the Church. It is typically the case that old prophets tend to impede the new and that old revivals antagonize new movements, often seeking to abort them in their infancy. As a result, the ministry loses gifted members who after years of domination leave to pursue their own ministries or who give up entirely on the Church. Some of the next generation’s prophetic voices have already been lost in this way. Thus, the Church stagnates spiritually and becomes increasingly irrelevant in dealing with the current realities of the time.

This should not be seen as an argument for the virtues of youth or as a suggestion that all old leaders should be removed to make way for the young. Rather, it calls attention to the need for change. If the Church is to renew itself, then its leading figures must realize that leadership depends upon the times and seasons. So do revivals. The revivals of the late 70s and even early 80s spoke to that particular time but they are inadequate for the challenges of today. We must be humble enough to recognise when the time comes for us to pull back from high visibility leadership and enter into a phase of graceful low profile statesmanship. A new generation of ministers with the message of the times must now take the stage, even as a new generation of leaders with a heart for the nation must now take centre stage in the political arena.
Tony Rapu is the Senior Pastor and Founder of the House of Freedom, a group of ministries comprising This Present House, The Waterbrook, and God Bless Nigeria Church. He is also the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Freedom Foundation. Provide him feedback via tony@tonyrapu.com, and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram:@drtonyrapu.