Bishop David Olatunji Abioye is in the top echelon of Living Faith Church Worldwide, one of the leading Pentecostal churches in Nigeria with over 5,000 branches worldwide. The Senior Pastor of Winners Chapel, Goshen City, a sprawling church and community development occupying a large expanse of land on the outskirts of Abuja, capital of Nigeria, he is a father-figure and mentor to hundreds of thousands of people all over the world . African Leadership Magazine pried into his rather reclusive persona in an attempt to deconstruct the enigma that he is. Excerpts:
Who is Bishop David Abioye, what was growing up like, which particular experiences in your past would you say shaped your future?
Thank you for the privilege of this interview. My name is David Abioye. I was privileged by God to come into this beautiful world fifty-two years ago. I have had the awesome opportunity to serve in the family of Living Faith Church since inception. Even though a graduate of Engineering, I’ve found the greatest joy in my current calling and assignment. Before answering the call into full-time ministry, I had worked briefly at the then Open Cast Polytechnic, Auchi between 1985 and 1986 as a lecturer. I am happily married and blessed with three wonderful children.
Ministry is a call, not what you desire. I needed to say that because I did not desire ministry. I was simply a lover of God; I love God and was running after God. I never thought of ministry. I was dreaming of having a modern high tech workshop which was my greatest aspiration. I was doing everything I could to get that done while at the same time, loving the Lord as a believer. One thing led to the other, and in the process, I was privileged to meet God’s servant, Bishop David Oyedepo.
When I met him, I saw in him the kind of passion in greater dimension of knowing Jesus and following after him. That fired me up. In the process of time, God gave him a vision for ministry and I found myself serving him with great love for Jesus. Even then, when the ministry commenced, I was still pursuing my passion for an automobile engineering workshop. Until finally, the Lord spoke to me, to abandon what I was doing to serve under his servant. That is how I came into the ministry.
God has different ways of dealing with people. My spiritual relationship with God has always come in the most simple and modest way. I have had God speak to me, mostly through inner voice and deep conviction, which I believe is one of the strongest ways of God speaking to people, just like in Elijah’s experience on the mountain; the still small voice. When that voice comes it is usually with strong conviction. Every time I hear God in such a manner it is with assurance and rest. The Lord spoke to me that He has an assignment for me under Bishop David Oyedepo, which is what I refer to as my calling to the ministry. I have said this several times that my ministry is to see to the fulfillment of his ministry. It’s more of supportive ministry; while he deals with major issues, I look into smaller issues to prevent distraction. In all, little or big, I am doing what I’m assigned to under his calling.
How did you come in contact with the Founder of the Living Faith Church, Dr. David Oyedepo, and what roles has he played in your life, family and ministry?
My contact with God’s servant which dates back to early 1980 is a mystery. It was in a Christian Students’ Fellowship. Hearing him speak ignited fire into my spirit, I found in him a man who was pursuing God the way I desired to pursue after God. Thus, he immediately attracted me. Ever since that day, my spirit connected to his spirit. It’s beyond physical likeness of any kind. I believe this can be better illustrated with Proverbs 27:19, “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” Ever since then the relationship has kept growing deeper by the day. It’s exciting, and I give glory to God for the privilege.
He is several things to me. Firstly, he played a great brotherly role in my life. Since I became a staff under him, we have also had a formal relationship. I regard myself as a servant under him. From that formal relationship, it has grown to a father-son relationship. He has given me the privilege of coming close, having the treatment of a son. I work very hard not to abuse but to appreciate that privilege.
Since its commissioning in Ilorin, Kwara state Nigeria in1983, the Living Faith Church has grown to become one of the largest Christian denominations in the world. Kindly take us through the journey of the church’s growth till today? And What is the driving force behind all the successes we see?
Like I mentioned earlier, when God’s presence is with you, you are at rest. He said “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest” He leads you beside still water, He refreshes your soul, He keeps you away from anxiety because in the first place He does not lead you into what you want but what He has programmed for your life.
The phenomenon of church expansion of this ministry is an act of God. Going through church planting history, I’ve not read of how this number of churches was planted within the period of years that God gave to us. For example, up till the end of the year 2009, our church network in Nigeria was under 800, but within the following two years, God by His mighty hand has enabled us to increase the number of churches to over five thousand. We didn’t make it happen, God made it happen. He only gave us the privilege to quickly respond to His command. We are celebrating this because what God has spoken, His hand has equally performed; to Him alone be all the glory.
There are quite some salient factors that have contributed significantly to the success of this ministry. First of all, is the clarity and pursuit of vision! Living Faith Church was borne out of vision, not of ambition. It is the pursuit of a vision that has brought the church to where it is today. The vision, as delivered to God’s servant is very clear and is being pursued with all vigor.
Number two is divine guidance. While vision is identifying God’s purpose for your life, divine guidance shows the pathway to fulfilling that purpose. As God’s servant always says “we do nothing except as commanded by the Lord.” Today, people see this ministry as being in the forefront, the reason is because no project is ever embarked upon except as commanded by the Lord.
Another important factor is divine presence. This ministry believes so much that without God’s presence, embarking on any pursuit is a waste of effort. Divine presence has been our backbone it uproots mountains and gives birth to all-round breakthrough.
Finally, there is the prompt obedience to divine signal as exhibited by Gods servant. He is a man of prompt action. Once he hears God giving directive on any subject, he does not waste time to thoroughly follow it through, and when prompt action meets with divine guidance, great accomplishment is bound to erupt.
With the proliferation of churches today in Nigeria, and with the possibility that there might have been suggestions from people to you that with such awesome work you do and the anointing you carry, why don’t you start something? How have you handled these kinds of situation?
You see when you have truly heard from God, the voices of others become insignificant to you. You can’t hear from God and be confused. You can’t hear from God and doubt. You can’t hear from God and be wondering whether you heard from Him or not. It’s as clear as that. It’s only someone who wants to walk in disobedience that will pretend to hear something else as it comes to play.
However, in your bid to obey God you cannot rule out the fact that people will come to say different things to you, some out of sincere heart, others out of personal observations, while many others are sent by the devil to get you off course. But, whatever way it comes to you, what is most important is to have this inner witness. I have derived so much strength from my innermost being.
You don’t have to start ministry to have a ministry. I quite understand that there are callings and as a matter of fact, callings will multiply because according to scriptures, there will be multiplication of visions. I like to discourage people from having a self-made call. If you are called, let it be a call and if you are not called, you can fulfill a calling within an existing ministry. I have come to realize that it does not reduce you, it’s all a matter of impact. Like I tell people, I am not number one in our ministry but by the grace of God, I carry out my assignment with undeniable impact. Ministry is about function, not about the number. Ministry is not about ‘foundership’ but about touching lives. You don’t have to be at the top to lead; you can lead from the middle and you can even lead from under.
All of a sudden, a sprawling city, with state of the art infrastructure, has emerged on the Abuja-Keffi expressway called Goshen City. Can you share with us the birthing of this city, and what should visitors to Goshen City expect to see?
Well, it is important for me to emphasize here that Goshen City is not a human accomplishment but a divine programme being achieved by the hand of God because except the Lord builds a house they labour in vain that builds it. We didn’t build Goshen City, it is God that built it and this is evident by the fact that there was no stress or struggle in the building the place to where it is today. By the grace of God, we came in here barely three years ago inclusive of the construction period, and all provision is being provided for by the hand of God. Therefore, it is the Lord’s City and He’s the One who accomplished all of this within this period.
How would you assess the impact of the Living Faith Church in Nigeria’s educational landscape?
The participation of the commission in Nigeria’s educational landscape is also not an ambition. It is not an effort to fill a gap or vacuum but as divinely ordered by God, and it shows with the excellent touch and results that are undeniable in all facets and levels of our educational endeavours the primary, secondary and the university education. The Covenant University Ota, for example, has become a reference point not only to several other universities both within and outside the country, but it’s used as a yardstick for all prospective universities by the regulatory body of the university administration in this country. This signifies the finger of God, which has enabled us to become light to our world according to Matt. 5:13,14.
The uniqueness of Landmark University in Kwara state and the platform on which it was established is Agric-revolution based. I believe that any nation that neglects farming will end in famine. If you check it very well even at the beginning of creation, the first duty that God gave to man was agriculture; that indicates the importance that God placed on agriculture. We believe that the agrarian revolution programme of the Landmark University is going to help our nation significantly. Our plan is not just to enlighten people or bring a revival to agriculture, but also to participate in the forefront by producing food in all ramifications up to processing and exporting of the produce.
In all these, we give glory to God for the privilege He has shown to us.
What has been or is your greatest asset as a believer and a minister?
The Holy Spirit, my Guide, my Custodian, the One whom Jesus Christ handed us over to is my greatest asset. If you like, call it Divine Presence. I have always told people that if they care to pray for me, it’s the prayer of Divine Presence. If God be for you, no man can be against you. If God is for you, you have rest and your supplies are guaranteed. Everything that is needed is in Divine Presence. I have said humorously that ‘I will rather lose ten thousand members of the church than to miss His presence.’ Saul traded Divine Presence for the elders of the city, and eventually the elders left him. David rather preferred to miss the drums of the people than to miss God. That’s why in Psalm 51 verse 11, he cried to God, “cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” You can take every other thing away but don’t take Your Spirit away from me.
We need to value the presence of the Holy Spirit. That is the promise of the Father that Jesus gave to us. That is my most valued asset.
My next asset has to do with my relationship with people which I describe as integrity; maintaining sound Christian character. When we were growing up in the faith, my family church background was in the Evangelical setting that is the Baptist to be precise. The basic scriptural principles we learnt were honesty, transparency, truthfulness. I have said that I will rather be a pastor of thirty people in my village and maintain good character than being the pastor of thirty thousand in a city, without character. I value character.. “’A good name’, the Bible says, ‘is better than riches.” If you lose money, you may get it back but if you lose your name it’s gone forever. The greatest inheritance you can leave for your children is a name. You may not leave any material thing for your children but leave a name for them. Without a good name, you are doomed; when you are dead, you are truly dead. With a good name, when you die you still live on. Good character and integrity will be considered as my next asset aside from divine presence. I don’t care about what I have materially but I want to maintain a good name. A good name not in the sense of fame, but a name to be remembered for good. My candid advice is, live an exemplary life. People may applaud you for good speech, they may scream at your oratory skill but they will only follow you for your good character. They may admire you for your appearance but they will copy you only for your character.
What would you consider to be the social dimensions of the establishment of Goshen city to the host community? In what ways have the people living around the area been impacted?
Well, the church of Jesus is the light bearer to the world because, according to the scriptures, Jesus Christ is the true Light which lightens the whole world. Translating that to our existence in Goshen, in this short time, our impact in this community cannot be quantified both in value and human development.
The coming of the Church has brought tremendous transformation and financial empowerment to the lives and destinies of the people of this area. Right from the early days of the construction till date, because of the mega nature of this work, several hundreds of people have been provided with job opportunities especially in the construction sites. This is apart from the large number of people employed within other arms of our organization such as in the Secondary and Primary Schools and you know once people are employed, their homes will fare better and the crime rate in the society will reduce as well.
Also, the coming of the Church to this community has tremendously impacted on the social status of this area. This once ‘hidden’ local settlement has suddenly acquired a global name and identity. As a result, there has been a mass movement of settlers to this community along with a springing forth of modern houses, shops, market stalls, estates, etc on a daily basis. The orientation and perspective of the people have been greatly enhanced. This is a profound effect of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the people, to God be the glory.
Finally, on infrastructure, God has helped the church to provide clean drinking water to the people through the digging of borehole; we have provided a transformer aiding electricity distribution, roads and drainage construction, among others. To enhance safety, the Church has also provided a modern Police Post for the community. In all, God has helped Goshen to impact positively and tremendously on this community and the people living around. We give Him praise!
May we know Bishop Abioye, the family man, and how he copes with family obligations in spite of an obviously tight schedule? And how would you describe your wife?
As a person, I am passionate when it comes to the issue of family. Although I have a very busy work schedule, I still find time to relate well with my family both immediate and relations, knowing very well that happy family is the bedrock of any thriving pursuit. I make sure I extend a hand of love to everyone and assist in whatever way I can either on regular terms or otherwise.
My wife is a blessing to me. Without mincing words, we have grown to have a kindred spirit. What I have admired about her is her love for God. What I recommend for young intending couples is to find a platform for their relationship. In my view, it should not even begin with love for each other but love for God. That is the number one security for marriage. If you want to marry, look for someone who loves God. Look for someone who loves God the way you love God. You will always have a common meeting point even when you have challenges and struggles.
I realize that one of the problems people have in ministry has to do with their family relationships. If you have other pressures other than spiritual pressures from your spouse, it’s easy to manage. My wife has been a great lover of God and I respect her for that. Because she is a lover of God, she is a lover of me and my assignment. She is a submissive person. We have enjoyed the years together. As you grow in a good marriage relationship, you find out that your wife is more than your wife. I have found sisterhood in her; I have found motherhood in her. When I don’t see her as my wife I see her as my sister or mother. We have had good companionship.
What are your hobbies, how do you relax, and what does your typical day look like?
My primary hobby is loving and serving people. I get excited when I have the opportunity to serve people. It brightens my soul and quickens my body. I feel relaxed whenever I have the privilege to love and serve people. More importantly, I enjoy relaxing with my family because that’s the hub of peace and success in life.
I believe God made man to work, so my day usually is filled with work even till night with a brief break every evening Often time, I only have just a few hours of sleep at night. I do not compromise my study time which is usually at night time, as well as qualitative time with my wife and children when they are at home.