Poor worshippers pay for preachers’ lavish lifestyles

Worshippers engrossed in prayer during a crusade by Prophet David Owuor of Repentance and Prayer Ministry at Huruma Grounds in Eldoret Town recently. Photo/JARED NYATAYA

The number of churches in Kenya today is, perhaps, a reflection of the level of hopelessness brought about by poverty and unemployment.

Villages, trading centres and slums across the country are dotted with churches built of iron sheets or just makeshift areas of worship.

The more affluent ones that have been around longer are housed in better structures.

Religious leaders interviewed by the Saturday Nation said people went to church for different reasons.

“Some worshippers go there to find solace from social and economic problems,” says the Rev Dr Wellington Mutiso, the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya.

Dr Mutiso says most new Pentecostal churches are pre-occupied with income-generating projects usually funded by donors and well-wishers.

For the pastors who run them, the churches are their only source of daily bread as struggling members will do all in their power to donate the 10 per cent tithe as recommended in the Bible.

But the main headache facing the churches is the management of offerings.

“This is the main cause of splits. Some people go to church and on realising one person is benefiting, leave in protest or to start their own church,” says Dr David Githii, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

Some worshippers have taken matters further and lodged complaints with the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC).

KACC spokesman Nicholas Simani said: “We received 120 complaints on the administration of church finances and we are investigating.”

It is quite common for pastors to search the Internet for foreign-based organisations wishing to start satellite churches in Kenya.

Other church ministers write impressive proposals on projects they intend to carry out for the disadvantaged.

A bishop in Bungoma is said to have been given about Sh10 million after writing a proposal to assist people displaced by the post-election violence. He allegedly set up a personal business, instead.

“Pastors are selling their preaching prowess as if it were a product. Some even go on tours to rural areas where people pay to hear them preach,” says Dr Philomena Mwaura, a Kenyatta University lecturer.

Some are unscrupulous individuals who see the easiest way to riches as starting a church.

Many preachers who have programmes on local TV or radio publicly narrate their rags-to-riches stories.

“How do they end up driving big cars and living in posh estates, yet they have no other source of income?” asks Dr Githii.

Giving tithes and offerings in many churches are no longer a personal decision — it is the preacher who decides.

Stopped going to church

“I stopped going to church the day my pastor ordered all professionals to bring their salary slips to church,” said Mr Albert Olaba of Kakamega. “He wanted to decide how much we should contribute.”

A preacher in Eldoret recently told his congregation that the least denomination he would accept is a Sh50 note. He claimed that coins symbolise poverty, which he said God is against.

In some cases, worshippers pay for “special” prayers to acquire the things they crave in life. Some churches call this “planting the seed.”

Devoted followers and their preachers make no apologies. Indeed the ministry’s material success is part of the appeal to believers — proof that they enjoy God’s favour.

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