Pastor Godman Akinlabi has big dreams that The Elevation Church, which he leads in Nigeria, can influence an entire generation of Africans—if the church can capture this moment of opportunity.
“I don’t want God to sidestep us because we’re not listening or ready,” he says.
Raised in a Muslim home, Akinlabi became a follower of Jesus in high school and was ostracized for his newfound faith. During his university years, he discovered a call of God on his life. He was mentored by Sam Adeyemi, pastor of the fast-growing Daystar Christian Centre in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. “It was like a Harvard education in church leadership,” Akinlabi says.
As he served in several pastoral and teaching capacities at Daystar over 12 years, Akinlabi witnessed the church grow from 300 to almost 20,000. Adeyemi commissioned Akinlabi in the launching of The Elevation Church in 2010.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Akinlabi and his wife, Bola, see today’s young people as marked by great aspirations. “We don’t seek to subdue young people but to give them a platform of expression so that church is the place they want to be, a place that births life change and societal change,” he says.
“How they plug into the things of God depends on the platforms we create and invite them into, ensuring that they have a voice and a place at the table,” says Bola. “We believe they can take the gospel and run with it in ways we haven’t even dreamed of.”
What do these new platforms look like? To start, the church is developing a creative hub for the arts.
“All of Africa watches movies from Nigeria’s Nollywood and sings Nigeria’s songs,” Akinlabi says. “This is our opportunity to disciple our continent through influencing the arts.” He regularly encourages church members to pray, think and explore ways to present the truths of God through the arts.
Another new platform was a medical ministry. The Elevation Church, through its social intervention arm, Pistis Foundation, saved more than 3,500 financially challenged Nigerians in March 2019. The church also organized a free, one-week medical and surgical outreach, drawing together a wide array of medical partners through which Elevation oversaw 7,000 medical interventions.
Other examples are the church’s employment programs. “Our population is growing faster than our city infrastructure,” Akinlabi explains, “so the church is stepping into that space.”
Since an academic degree alone is often not enough to land a job, the church helps people secure internship positions. Elevation also offers guidance in how to start a business, often a nonprofit, and many times a faith-based nonprofit.
“The development of Africa won’t happen without the church,” Akinlabi firmly believes. “We want our people to see that you can give yourself to God and also have influence. Then you’re far more than a businessperson. You’re part of a huge army of people that we want to unleash on the world for Jesus.”
SERIOUS DISCIPLE MAKING
Fueling this desire to be a people of influence is a drive to motivate people in discipleship.
“We need to make even stronger disciples of Christ,” Bola observes. “We’re realizing that a lot of what we have called disciple making has not been deep enough. It’s not enough just to draw people to church, but we need to turn them into real disciples.”
One of Akinlabi’s fears is that Christians will follow only a tame, docile God. “The supernatural is in Africa’s foundations, from the 10 signs Moses showed Pharaoh to the dreams God used to call Joseph and Mary in and out of Egypt,” he says. He wants to make sure churchgoers see not a show when the church gathers, but a demonstration of the power of God.
“We have learned a lot from the West,” he says. “Now it’s time for the West to learn from us about the power of God. His power is not on the wane. We expect God to move. He is still the same God that Scripture reveals, and today’s younger generation needs to know God as powerful.”
That is how the young adults of Nigeria—and beyond—will be mobilized to impact their world, both for God and for good.
THE ELEVATION CHURCH
Lead Pastor: Godman Akinlabi