Starting a Church wasn’t on the agenda for Emmanuel Iren as a fresh undergraduate. But now he leads Celebration Church International, a fast-growing Christian ministry and commands a large, youthful following on social media. He is passionate about music, nation-building and social issues, but he is always quick to emphasise that his mandate is divine.
SE: What was growing up like for you?
EI: Growing up was amazingly memorable for me. For example, It’s odd that I remember details from my fifth birthday. What day of the week it was (Sunday), what I wore, who came to my party, what they did (one toddler called Kufre tried to dip his hands into my cake.
He wore a blue native that day) and so on. You may not be wrong to attribute that to the fact that I have a photographic memory. But overall, my childhood was memorable because my family made it so. We didn’t have everything, but my parents always made sure they gave us their best. That went a long way to shape my worldview.
My parents instilled the values of respect and hard work in me. I learnt how to treat all people with honour from them. My mum, in particular, is one of the most gentle souls you’d ever meet. At the same time very intelligent and calculated. What a combination. It’s such a privilege that I see those attributes reflected in my life.
My Dad was always so driven. From the little things, like constantly rearranging the couch, to big things like working hard at work, I learnt to give things my best watching him.
What prompted you to start a church?
I began my ministry as a Christian fellowship at my university.
We were just a group of young people who loved the Lord. I hosted a few fellowship meetings in and outside the four walls of our school. I also wrote and distributed a monthly devotional booklet, Triumph 30 which has metamorphosed into an interdenominational mobile phone devotional application.
I honestly didn’t know at first, that I was going to Pastor a Church.
That was not the plan. So I was intrigued when I began to feel God lead me in that direction.
Also, as we faithfully carried out our duties as a fellowship, God kept responding to our faithfulness and sincerity by explaining our capacity to do even more.
What do you see as the role of the church in Nigeria?
I’d respond to this question in descending order of priority. The role of the Church in Nigeria, is first and foremost the role of any Church anywhere, which is to raise disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every other agenda may be nice and noble, but simply isn’t the actual reason the Church exists.
Bear in mind that the Church is not the government, and it is more than a welfare initiative. I understand that the pressing needs in the nation have made people consider anything that is not nation-building and/or welfare initiatives as unimportant.
But as urgent as nation-building is, and as important as welfare initiatives are (especially for any true Church), the Bible ultimately teaches that even the most impressive civilization, nations and government structures will pass away with the world. After which every man will stand before God to give an account of his life.
The ultimate goal of the Church, therefore, remains soul winning.
The second is moral influence. The Bible says “righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to all men”. We must therefore consider that faith doesn’t just have spiritual implications but nation-building implications. When a people become god fearing, and discharge their duties with a sense of accountability, that they will give an account before God, the nation will surely be better for it.
Third, corporate responsibility. I’m a strong proponent of the fact that God hasn’t just chosen us to be of heavenly citizenship but also of earthly benefit. I, therefore, believe that the Church should, as the Bible teaches, help people see that they also have national duties that must be recognized, and appropriated for the body of Christ.
Politics is not a game of truth but of popularity and influence. Therefore, any Christian who cares about truth must participate to ensure we also have the numbers and the influence. Prayers need not stand in the way of civic duties and vice versa.
What are some of your most useful habits?
My most useful habits are prayer, reviewing books, studying the bible, voice training and exercise. All these habits are very important for my job as the Lead Pastor of Celebration Church and for my personal expression as a musician and author.
What’s the best advice you ever got?
The best advice I ever got was from a senior friend. I was asking him what he thought about a favour I needed from a top organisation. And I was anxious about if they were going to grant my request or not.
And he just looked at me and said, what’s the worst that could happen? They are going to say no right? So his point was that it was definitely worth the trial. And as simple as that was, it was life-changing for me. There are a lot of audacious things I’ve done in life just because I knew the worst that could happen is someone saying no, and then I’ll try again.