Come June 6, Pastor Williams Folorunso Kumuyi founder and General Superintendent of Deeper Life Bible Church will clock 80, Church Times, starting from this interview with Dr. Francis Bola Akin-John, President of International Church Growth Ministry will chronicle stories of those who have experienced the ministry.
In this interview with Church Times Nigeria, Dr. Akin-John bares his mind on Pastor Kumuyi and how the ministry fared starting from when he joined in 1982. Find below Excerpts:
What is your earliest recollection of Deeper Life Bible Church?
I became involved with Deeper Life in 1982. As a matter of fact, that was where I surrendered my life to Christ. Many of us then were fascinated by Deeper Life because of the sound teaching of the word of God.
I can say emphatically that the 70s and the 80s were the golden years of that ministry because there was hunger in the land for the word of God. Deeper Life was like a meeting ground for believers across denominations. It operated as a ministry for many years before it transited to a church.
Where was Deeper Life holding service by the time you joined?
The church was in Gbagada at Ayodele Street. It was a swampy place. I remember we had to descend to a valley where the church was built. But it started in UNILAG and then moved to Oyingbo when they shared the same venue with Redeemed Christian Church of God before they finally came to Gbagada. Pastor Kumuyi was like a son to the founder of RCCG, so it was easy for him to use the place for Bible Study that was before Pastor Enoch Adeboye became the G.O of RCCG in 1981.
From those early interactions with the ministry how was the transition like from one venue to the other?
Then, I recall there was a bit of tension when Deeper Life moved from Oyingbo to Gbagada. Many members of RCCG moved with them. This is because they were using RCCG for their meetings. It was believed that the reason RCCG began its own Bible study on Monday was to forestall further loss of its members to Deeper Life. That was when Pastor Adeboye had taken over as the G.O.
Since it was a ministry, many people came from different churches to meet in Deeper Life for Bible Study. Where were you worshipping then?
I was in CAC but like many other people, I would go to Deeper Life for its weekly meetings. But on Sunday I would go and worship in CAC. The beauty of Deeper Life then was that there were a number of capable hands that were trained by Pastor Kumuyi. If Pastor Kumuyi was not around, we won’t feel his absence. Pastor Itiola was the Pastor in charge of Lagos then. He was so vibrant and charismatic that listening to him was like listening to Pastor Kumuyi. We had a nice time growing in the Lord.
How was it worshipping in Deeper Life during the week and going to your church on Sunday was that not divided attention?
That was the trend. Many of those who became born again in those days just found out that Deeper Life was the place to go for spiritual nourishment. Then, the leadership of the ministry knew that was what was happening so they used to tell us to be patient with our local church and deal with them with knowledge and wisdom. But because of the zeal we had then, we used to confront our pastors when we go to church on Sunday mostly on doctrinal issues. That caused a lot of friction between pastors of these orthodox churches and Deeper Life. Some of the leaders of these other churches, out of curiosity would come and see what was happening in Deeper Life to hear what was being taught. In the process, some got converted.
But many did not like Pastor Kumuyi. They branded him a fake preacher. They said he was teaching error. Some said he was using juju. What was a typical deeper Life service like in those days?
It was basically Bible study like I said. It used to hold on Mondays. And then the miracle hour on Thursdays. Then, they had these offering boxes around the church for those who wanted to give an offering. But they never called for offering. People would just go drop offering if they were willing.
But the leadership sacrificed a lot to get many of the Bible study leaflets and other resources that were given out free. They committed their resources to the ministry. There was no pressure on members for money. The kind of message preached then however caused a lot of controversies. Pastor Kumuyi preached so much on restitution for instance. That caused a lot of problems. Those who had stolen before were counselled to go and return what they stole. Those who had more than one wife were asked to do away with the second one. That caused a lot of problem in many churches. He was also against an ostentatious lifestyle. So many of us who attended Deeper Life were branded Kumuyi’s children or those who have taken religion to a bizarre level.
We did not help matters then because we became so zealous and did not deal with leaders in our churches with wisdom.
What was the impact on churches where people came from to do Bible Study in Deeper Life?
The impact was massive. In fact, many churches lost their members to Deeper Life. I remember about 250 of us left the CAC church I was attending then. Some left for Deeper Life while many of us left to start another ministry where the teachings of Deeper Life were the main doctrine. The church was called Gospel Life Centre. We did not see what Pastor Kumuyi was preaching as Deeper Life doctrine. We saw it more as Bible truth that needed to be preached. Many people also had to leave their churches because of persecution. They were being persecuted for practising the Deeper Life doctrine.
Can you recall how Pastor Kumuyi comported himself then?
If nobody pointed him out in the church you probably won’t know he was the one. He was down to earth. You could only identify him when he was walking to the podium to preach. We used to seat together in the auditorium. He had no special seat. We saw him easily. The simplicity of the Christian faith was evident then. It was Acts of apostles re-enacted.
What about the administration of the church?
I was not part of the administration so I would not know how that was done. But like I said people were not compelled to give. They don’t even call for donation or whatever. Many of us then were young people and needy people. So, it may well be difficult to get money from us. I remember I used to borrow money to go for Bible study. Many were in my category like that.
Deeper life was not expecting money from us. But they were investing heavily in us in terms of spirituality. I remember we had different evangelical groups then. We had what was called mobile harvesters. They would go around doing crusades and street meetings to bring people to Christ. Then, I joined the post-primary school, outreach group. It was really an engaging and enriching time for many of us.
What kind of gift of the spirit did Pastor Kumuyi display most at that time?
He had an incredible teaching gift. He still has it. But it got to a point that he began to exhibit the healing gift. The healing gift was circumstantial. People were coming for counselling and bringing all kinds of problems so it became necessary for him to seek the face of God to be able to address these problems. That was what prompted that gift in him.
From what we gathered then, what triggered the healing gift was the death of a member who was seized by epilepsy inside the molue bus while going home after Bible study. He fell off the bus and was crushed to death. That was a challenge for the church. Pastor Kumuyi was jolted by the incident that he had to seek the face of God. A sister was said to have challenged him that if he was a man of God indeed, the brother would not have died. That prompted Pastor Kumuyi to embark on a kind of retreat. By the time he came back from the retreat, the healing gift began to manifest.
He began to preach powerfully on miracle and people began to receive healing. He would give a word of knowledge and declare the healing of the person. We began to hear, there is someone here, you had so and so, check your body, you are healed. And people would come out in large number to share testimonies of healings. Before we knew what was going on, the church tripled in number.
At what point did you then leave the church?
I left not long after it transited from a ministry to a church. They announced to us that many of the people that got saved were being persecuted in their various churches. And they said there was a need for Sunday meetings to absorb those that were persecuted. But I could not continue with them after some time because I was needed in my church then. Besides, the condition they gave for those who will be workers was that we could not attend any other church while being involved with Deeper Life. That didn’t go down well with me. I had to leave.
What was the general reaction when the ministry became a church?
Many liked it, but so many did not like it. It had a counter-effect. In retrospect, if I had my way, Deeper Life should have remained ministry forever. Starting a church by Pastor Kumuyi was a digression. It was not well thought out. The ministry was succumbing to little pressure. There was pressure from people for the ministry to become a church but Pastor Kumuyi should not have succumbed to it. If it had not become a church, the ministry would have impacted the whole of Africa and indeed the world than the impact it is having now. By becoming a church what they taught against was now happening to them. The church thing curtailed the impact of Pastor Kumuyi. The support he got easily now had to be solicited. The International Bible Training Centre which had attracted people from over 60 countries in Africa from different denominations depleted fast because people no longer trusted it.
You said earlier that when Pastor Kumuyi was not around in those days that people did not feel his absence because of the able assistants he had. What does that tell you about him?
That tells me he had the ability to raise so many good lieutenants. When compared with other men of God in Nigeria he is number one in terms of raising able hands. He has the grace to raise people. But the maturity to allow them to thrive is lacking. The evidence are there. There are many wonderful men that God used him to raise but they are no more with him. That is a big challenge. Some of these people have left him perhaps because he could not manage their successes well. Many of his state pastors were as dynamic as he was. But many of them left because of the kind of treatment they got and not because God called them to ministry. The way many of them left is not good. They would have left all the same, but it could have been done maturely without rancour.
He is 80. What urgent step do you think he should take now?
He should retire to personal ministry. But who is he going to retire for? Many of the able hands that should have succeeded him have left. That is not to despise those who are there now. But from my own understanding, some of the people in a leadership position in the church now were not there at the beginning. So, they did not really have the character and commitment and devotion that were the hallmark of the church in those days.
Pastor Kumuyi attracted people from all different parts of the country and from different professional groups. The manpower in Deeper Life was a phenomenon. By now, he should be pointing to his successor so he can retire to personal ministry of impact.
He will not die now because I believe he still has a lot to offer. But he should leave the administration and leadership of the church and just be holding retreats for leaders and pouring more of himself out.
You said Deeper Life should not have become a church. But it seems the church is all over too and its making impact
Yes. But it would have been more than what we are experiencing. Another huge challenge is that Deeper Life is still being run as a ministry though it is a church. The funds of the church are concentrated in the centre while the branches are suffering. They have zonal headquarters that are doing well too. But many of the local branches are denied of the needed funds to blossom. The branches remit almost all they get to headquarters. That is affecting the growth of these branches. I think that is one minus for the church and it should be looked into
You have left the church for so many years now. What do you think about Pastor Kumuyi now?
He has learnt a lot from his early years and he is trying to change things but not totally. He has been supporting the Body of Christ now with funds and resources. A few years ago, he organised programmes that brought the churches together. This is good. But then the denominational toga is there. People may not really trust him again given the experience of the early years.
From my reading of him, I think he is trying to now do what God asked him to do originally. He is a gift to the entire body of Christ and not to a denomination. It is as if he has realised the mistake he made by transiting to a church.
Then, he had members in most churches even C and S. I remember the head of Celestial Church of Christ then, Pa Samuel Oshoffa came to Deeper Life for Bible study. He had a lot of influential Nigerians, top army and police officers who were members of the ministry but came from denominations.
What final word for him?
Time is not on his side. He should go back to his personal ministry and leave the church alone. The Bible study is the strength of the ministry. His ministry is to impact those in the Body of Christ. He should create that platform to impact the entire body of Christ and leave the church alone to be run by some other persons.