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Sunday Adelaja at the UN
Written by soulster   
Friday, 24 August 2007

Hugo at the UNYesterday my friend Hugo (pictured left filling in for the UN ambassador from Kuwait) invited my to hear Sunday Adelaja speak at The Christian Cultural Society at UN Headquarters (I was sitting in the representative’s seat for Kyrgyzstan - see pic). Pastor Sunday, as he is most often called, is the founder of one of the largest churches in Europe, the Embassy of God, boasting 20,000+ members. Speaking of boasting, the lengthy intro, complete with a “stirring” promotional video, made me want to bolt: “Pastor Sunday has done this and this and reached this many people, and helped this many orphans, and touched this many addicts, and has this many churches….” (see website for example). This type of self-glorifying tends to make my skin crawl. It makes me want to shout “I don’t need to be blinded by your brilliance so you can sneak into my head.” I felt like leaving. But in retrospect, I’m so glad I didn’t.

Sunday began with his story. He was raised in Nigeria by his grandmother in a small village. Extremely poor, Sunday carried firewood to town on his head as a child to sell for food and school supplies. At the age of 19, with only a one year of secondary education, Sunday moved to KIYV (Kiev) in the Ukraine, still under the Iron Curtain. There he started his church which grew over time despite heavy opposition and became the only African pastor in Europe leading a 99% white mega-church.

According to Sunday there is a lesson to be learned from his life story: “Never condemn anyone today, never label anyone. He may be carrying firewood on his head today, but you do not know who he is going to be tomorrow,” he says.

At this point, Sunday started to get to me. Because of his tacky intro, I had labeled him along with the worst hustlers and clowns on religious television. I had made Sunday a symbol of all that is wrong with the church and modern Christianity. He was self-absorbed and self-promoting, and I was other-aware and coolly altruistic. It was beyond my imagination that we could have anything in common or share anything of true value.

But as my friend Shelle told me the night before, I shouldn’t let my imagination set my limits. Even though Sunday had started a mega-church, he wasn’t satisfied with a Gospel of big-church success or holy self-preservation. There had to be more. He went looking for God, refusing to accept anything less that the real Gospel. Eventually, God appeared to him 3 days in row with this message echoing Jesus’ pronouncement of his own mission in Nazareth:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Luke 4:18,19 NIV, also Is. 61:1]

Sunday had caught a vision of the Kingdom of God that gripped him. It was so much bigger than a save-and-sit religiosity or mere churchianity. He knew now that “it doesn’t matter how big you build the church, you could have a billion people, if you are not changing the culture and transforming the society, you are just a club.”

At that point I nearly fell out of my chair. There is an arrogance that comes with knowing something. You fantasize that you are the only one - you fool yourself into creating an illusion of validity based on exclusivity. Then it hits you like a ton of bricks. Someone you do not like, would happily dismiss, and are sure is mislead says the same thing. And you realize God is working everywhere and he doesn’t need your permission. He can break in with his Kingdom right in the middle of a mega-church, and give it a power it would never have if you were the only one: Coming from me - a missionary with mediocre results as far as numbers - such a statement would be heard as jealous criticism. Coming from him, it is meteoric.

And Sunday isn’t just talk either. With this new vision of the Kingdom, he began to research how civilization worked to discover the foundational ways it must be affected for change. During his reading he came up with “Seven Spheres of Influence” most likely related to YWAM founder Loren Cunningham’s 1975 “The Call to Serve” and 1988 book Making Jesus Lord detailing ideas developed simultaneously with Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Lately C. Peter Wagner has used similar idea in his book The Church in the Workplace (2006). Sunday’s idea is there are seven areas of civilization where believers are called to proclaim and build the Kingdom of God:

1. Social and spiritual
2. Political
3. Media
4. Economic/Financial
5. Education
6. Entertainment/Art/Culture
7. Sports & Recreation

Sunday says, “The Kingdom of God is not just talking about the salvation of the man, but also the salvation of the environment. Not just the redemption of the man, but the redemption of the land he lives on as well.” Since this is true, the Gospel calls the entire church down to the last ordinary believer to do something to bring the Kingdom into a sphere of life. “God created everybody, and sent you on a mission here. Nobody was created for experiment or survival. What do you think? That he created you to sing in the choir or be an usher once a week?”

Echoing Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, Sunday says “Salt and light aren’t made for themselves. Salt is mad for plain food and light is made for the darkness.” The purpose of the church is to go out into the world and heal and redeem it. Therefore we need Christian to bring the Kingdom into the educational system, television and print media, business, art, and sports.

What Sunday is saying is more than being better employees so people might notice and ask us why we work so hard. He tells workers, “Of course you do your job well. Even non-believers do their job well. Your not supposed to just do your job well, your supposed to bring the values of the Kingdom there.” It’s also more than compartmentalism that divorces God’s mission from the motivator at the office. According to Sunday, even our success in business must come from a desire to see the Kingdom made real and not for the sake of money itself. “90% of the people in church have mammon [money] as their God, and we call ourselves believers. If you are motivated by something it is your Lord,” he warns.

This vision of manifesting the Kingdom has had tremendous results in Kiev. Church members have entered into local politics and even hold the mayor’s seat. They are working to eliminate corruption and enact policies more beneficial for the city. There has been a focused effort at church to provide job training both to fight unemployment and help believers advance in their fields. While still much more needs to be done, Kiev is changing because Sunday’s church isn’t afraid — and is actually encouraged — to live most of their lives and mission out of the church’s four walls.

In Sunday’s judgment, there is nothing that the church needs more than a recovery of this Kingdom Gospel. He says the state of the church in America especially can only be described as “comatose”. In many cases, he compares the church to a prison yard and pastors to wardens. The focus is on getting people to stay in church, behave themselves, and submit to the vision of cultural Christianity. Instead, Sunday says the people should be equipped to go out. Everyone should have a vision of the Kingdom interpreted for their own life and areas of influence. He is envisioning the church as a world changing agent bent on nothing less that creating heaven on earth. He proclaims to us, “Let the revolution begin, my friends.”

As I left I marveled that God could work so broadly to create missional impulses driven by the Gospel of God’s in-breaking reality in a place so far away from where I live culturally, geographically, and theologically. I also marveled at my own judgmental heart that came so close to missing what God was doing simply because it came from such a place.

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