Let me be clear: the Nigerian Church* is weak. And I believe it is a problem that extends beyond this nation to the entire African continent and even across the globe. It is a loss of the potency of the gospel as a life-altering, culture-shaping, and society-transforming message. I have written about this here, here, and here.
Nevertheless, it would be unhelpful to suppose that no good has resulted from the presence of the Church, with all her faults. She really has been a force for good in Nigeria, and it’s important to keep these in mind.
Here are at least 5 areas:
1. Through her prayers, the Church has helped preserve the nation.
Nigeria isn’t the easiest country to live in. We have massive challenges which range from poor leadership to corruption and infrastructural decay. And this has been on for over four decades. Yet, it is widely acknowledged that the situation would have been worse, but for the prayers of the Nigerian Church. Through daily and weekly intercession at individual and organizational levels, through prayer conferences, through widespread calls and prayers for divine help on local and national issues, the church has helped the nation through very difficult times.
2. The Church has enriched lives through numerous programmes and institutions.
Along with so many, I am a product of a missionary school. A good number of our first institutions (schools, hospitals, training centres, etc) were established either directly or otherwise by the Church. Covenant University, which is owned by a church, was recently listed as among the ten best in Africa. I am a member of the Daystar Christian Centre which runs several programmes providing leadership training, skill acquisition, as well as charity to so many within Lagos for several years. And so many other churches run similar outreaches, providing help to widows, orphans, prisoners, and the homeless. Of course, the need is great and more could still be done. However, without these, the quality of life in Nigeria would certainly be different.
3. The Church has provided jobs and businesses for so many.
Imagine the number of people employed by the church (or institutions connected to her) across Nigeria. Theological seminaries, schools, hospitals, mission boards and agencies, and local churches all have employees maintained by them. Aside from direct employment, many churches have been instrumental in helping people launch their own businesses. This has been invaluable in helping individuals escape the scourge of poverty. A good number of these have been kept off the streets and given a life of dignity simply because the church was there.
4. The Church has helped modernize the nation.
In many ways, the Church helped to move Nigeria into the digital age, with its attendant benefits. Modern churches have been some of the most innovative participants in the online and digital space. From the use of social media to engage the unchurched to the use of technology in discipling members, churches have helped make Nigeria the country with the highest internet penetration in Africa. And this has had immense benefits across other areas including education, politics, and entertainment.
5. The Church still points Nigerians to a reality beyond the natural world.
Daily challenges notwithstanding, there is a truth about humanity and its strained relationship with God, as well as God’s initiative in resolving it through the atonement of Christ. On this basis, God extends an offer of reconciliation to everyone – Nigerian, African, European, Asian. This is the message of the gospel. Through worship services, evangelism outreaches, individual witnessing, and so on, the church continues to proclaim this. The biblical truth that we are saved through faith in Christ alone is not understood equally across the church. Some grasp and teach it better than others. Nevertheless, every congregation that truly confesses the name of Christ still directs society to the God who transcends nature and his work of redemption through Jesus.
While I pray and work for the flourishing of the church through a clearer grasp of the gospel, I heartily bless God for what he continues to do through her for Nigeria.
*My discussion of the Church refers to the entire Christian community in Nigeria, and is not aimed at a particular congregation or denomination.