Pastor James Akinyemi is the National Head Usher in the Redeemed Christian Church of God and Assistant Pastor-in-Charge of Province (Administration) in Lagos Province 11. Pastor Akinyemi, who has been in the ushering department since 1998, exclusively spoke with Beautiful Day Magazine on his ministerial journey and vision for the RCCG ushers. Excerpts:
Can we meet you, Sir?
My name is Pastor James Sesan Akinyemi. I am from Ekiti State. I am married with children.
Who is an usher and what are the roles of ushers in the church?
An usher, first, must be a born-again child of God. Why must he be born-again? He must be born-again so that he can have or possess the fruit of the Spirit as listed in the scripture. In a modern language, you can say an usher is a waiter; the one who waits on you to assist in every area. An usher could be termed as a storekeeper. A storekeeper in the sense that, everything in the church of God is in his custody. You can see an usher as a security officer because he watches over both the living and non-living property in the house of God, and the list is endless. You can see an usher as a personal assistance to the minister because he attends to his needs. An usher can also be tagged as a general duty officer who is available to offer services everywhere that it is needed. An usher is a maintenance officer; we are general duty officers, wherever the church wants to use us, they put us there.
The perception of some people that the work of the ushers is to collect offering only, is insufficient. Ushering is more than collecting offerings. Not quite long after I joined the department, ushers played the role of sanitation officials; they were the ones who cleaned the church, they were the ones who saw to it that the restrooms were clean and okay. That was before we carved out sanitation unit out of the ushering department. Also, when I joined the department, ushers were playing the role that you see the Team Nehemiah do now: controlling the traffic. We also play the role of The Redeemed Volunteer; watching over things. We were equally playing the role of protocol; when we have guests, we are the one welcoming them. So, we are not just limited to counting of money or taking attendance, it is more than that. The orderliness during church service is being maintained by the ushers. We make sure that people sit in a conducive environment so that they can grab the message of the word of God that is being released so that they can be blessed.
Before many worshippers leave their homes, the ushers are already at the venue of the programme to tidy up the place and ensure that everything is in order, and while so many people have gone to sleep, we are still there at the venue.
Can you share your salvation experience before you became the National Head Usher?
By the grace of God, I got born-again in 1979; not in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. In those days, what we know now as Pentecostal churches were called Gospel churches. That was where I got born-again. But as fate would have it, I joined the RCCG. My first Sunday in the church, I sat down and I was looking at the way ushers were ushering people and I have this spirit in me that I can help this people. So, I stood up and I tried to help them and, in the process, I chipped in some suggestions:’can we do it this way?”Can we do it that way?’. After the service, the pastor called me because that was my first Sunday in that parish, and he asked, where am I from? He interviewed me and I said I’m from so, so place. He asked if I’d like to join the parish and I said ‘yes’. So, I joined the department as it were in those days. No matter where you are coming from, you need to go through baptismal class and be re-baptized. So, I joined the department and went through believers and baptismal classes. I got re-baptized and my eyes were opened to certain things that I didn’t know in the course of the believer’s class, baptismal class and workers in training.
I was invited by my uncle to their Bible studies and as the words were coming, it was as if somebody had gone ahead to reveal what I can call the secret of my life to the pastor because every word that was coming was hitting me hard. When they made the altar call, I came out, shedding tears.That was the experience and ever since, God has been helping me.
I just thank God that I came to this organization because I thought I was a Christian before joining but through the teachings here, my eyes were opened to some things that I said ‘thank God I didn’t die before realizing all these things’.
How can you compare the performance of the ushers in the 80s with the present ones?
Generally, in those days, workers were more sincere. They were more loyal, they were more committed than what we have now. Maybe for some factors, when I was a younger Christian, we believed that the world would soon come to an end, so we lived our lives on daily basis as if that day would be the last day. With that consciousness, you will put limit to whatever you do. Nowadays, it seems it’s no longer so, not because of the fault of the workers, maybe it’s the fault of we ministers that are supposed to tell them the truth and nothing but the truth. Daddy GO’s message has not changed, that is why our own messages shouldn’t have changed. I remember in those days when you are coming to church, especially on Sunday service days, even though we start by 6:30am, when you are coming and you happen to be late and the door is shut, you may lose your peace. I remember the door was shut against me once, it was like they shut the gate of heaven against me. I was crying behind the door. Nowadays, if you shut the door, the workers may not bother, saying, “Afterall, I can watch the programme online”. But that wasn’t the way it’s used to be.
How can you assess the performance of ushers under your leadership?
As I have said, you can’t compare the workforce of today with the workforce when we were younger Christians. But talking of performance, God is helping us. Though we realized or observed what could make some of them to be under performing and we intervened in the areas of empowerment. Last year when Daddy GO turned 80 years old, we offered skill acquisition to 102 ushers. In 2021, we also empowered about 70 of them. We bought and gave some of them cameras, freezers, photocopier machines and so on. This is because we know one of the reasons it seems some of them are not committed is lack of financial capacity to make themselves available.
So, concerning our performance now, I will say God is helping us; at least, we’ve improved forward on what we met on ground.
As an Assistant Pastor-in-Charge of a province, surely, you are overseeing some number of parishes. How do you combine the ushering assignment with that of the province?
As an Assistant Pastor-in-Charge of Province (Administration) in Lagos Province 11, I am to assist my PICP in the administration of the province. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, I am always in the provincial office. Tuesdays in the evening, I have to be in my own parish, because I have a standalone parish. So, I make sure I’m there for the Digging Deep on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning, there is a special weekly programme that I anchor in that parish. Depending on the assignment I have over there, I’m always there between Tuesdays and Thursdays, except there are other national assignments that I have to travel and somebody else has to watch over there. By the grace of God, God has been helping us cope by His grace.
Is there any regular specific training given to the ushers to help their performance on duties?
We have a regular programme we call Capacity Building, where we go to various regions to train them and during every major programme, we call the leaders together for raining. For instance, during March Special Holy Ghost Service, Convention in August, Congress in December, we have a programme called Pre-March, Pre-Convention and Pre-Congress at each region. We bring all the ushers together to train them for effectiveness; that is why we call it Capacity Building and we still have a team that moves around the regions to train them. By the grace of God, between 19th and 20th of May 2023, I was in region 15 to train the ushers. We have the systems of training the ushers at levels including Provinces, Regions and National.
In some provinces of the church, the ushers said it is not their duty to participate in collation of remittance, is that a true position, sir?
At the beginning, it was so. What I mean by that is, there were certain functions that ushers were not allowed to perform. The policy of the mission says, you can be an usher and be a signatory to the church account, you can be an usher and be a treasurer; you can be the one collecting the money and also keeping it because some other things could happen. But now, talking of partaking in remittances, you can be a parish pastor and at the same time still function as an usher, but the difference is in my parish where I am a parish pastor, I can’t function as an usher there; if I am an Area pastor in my Area, I can’t function as an usher.
Now, there is nothing stopping an usher from being involved in remittances. Remember I said ushers are to go by the name of the assignment you give to them. If I’m under you and you are my pastor and you say, ‘okay, come and prepare this remittances’. I won’t say ‘no’ to you because it is part of the training. There are some aspects I may not be involved in, that is the monitoring aspect. So far I am not keeping the money as an usher, if my pastor says ‘come and do this’, ‘come and write remittance’, I don’t see anything bad in it.
What makes RCCG Ushers more effective when placed side by side with ushers in other denominations?
All I know is that any time we have a combined denominational programme, I remember the last time when late Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke came to Nigeria, we were asked to lead other ushers. Maybe because they have seen our performance before. One of our Daddies in the Lord said when you have a correct head, the body will be correct. You can follow Daddy GO, he can be your mentor, he can be your coach like he always calls himself to us; you cannot follow him and you will not be effective, no way. I’m sure you will hear Daddy once or twice when he says, ‘God bless my ushers’. Daddy is not somebody who will flatter somebody; he doesn’t flatter. If you don’t perform, he will tell you. I’m sure you have heard him saying pray for one particular department; that means they are not performing to his expectation. So, if he will say, ‘oh, God bless my ushers’, it means we are effective. So, the effectiveness, by the grace of God on daddy GO, is rubbing off on us; the grace on him is rubbing off on us, that is the truth.
In terms of operational system, is there any difference between the method adopted in Nigeria and overseas?
Well, I have not been over there to see how they do, but report reaching me says there is a little difference in the way the church operates in Nigeria from the way they operate over there. Therefore, there is a difference. We are trying to see if we can harmonise it in a way that would not affect their law over there, because they have their own law regulating them. By the grace of God, we have been holding meetings together with the ushers in diaspora. At a recent Holy Ghost Service, some of them came and we officiated together. They asked some questions and we told them what and what to do. But the truth of the matter is that the system over there is quite different from our own system here.
If I can still remember, Daddy GO said sometime ago when he travelled to US precisely, he said the ushers there are paid per hour for counting money, is that still happening?
Praise the Lord! I think there are changes now. You know before, you can’t just transfer anybody from here to over there; but with the restructuring in the church now, some of our Senior Pastors have been transferred to become Continental Overseers to oversee some Regions over there. I think with these structures being put in place, there is a change. If here in Nigeria we don’t pay our ushers, except the law over there says you must pay, I’m sure they will not be paying them again. But I am not sure that they are still collecting money.
In every organization, there is no way you will not find someone who will not go the other way. Is there a way to discipline erring ushers and is there any other way to reward well performing ushers?
In August 2022, we looked at people who have served meritoriously and in a little way, we acknowledged them. We gave them plaques with a token to honour them. We also looked at some people who have served, I think minimum of 30 years, as well as those who have held some vital positions like former state coordinators, as we used to call them in those days, but they are Provincial Head Ushers now. I mean, we remember them. It was what God used them to do that we are enjoying today, so we honoured them.
And talking about the disobedient ones, there are some laws you must not break; once you break those laws, then you will be punished. For instance, if you do anything outside the law here, you will be punished. We will suspend you here, write to the province that this is what this person has done, so he needs to go on suspension for a period of time to watch over him. One thing is, there are some things that when you do it here, you will not likely return if you flop. Why? Because you will not be trusted again.
Is there any problem resolving mechanism within the ushering department?
We have many veterans in our midst who are above 70 years and who are still active; they are like our advisory body. We have a Disciplinary Committee that is headed by one of our sisters in the National which looks at the cases that are brought before them and they recommend the appropriate measure to be taken. Anytime there is an issue like that, we try to go the root of the matter because it is in unity that we can actually serve God.
I remember in the days of our late esteemed leader, Pastor Olorunnibe, when we used to have friction with other departments, like protocol, etc. The leadership called all of us together and I remember the first statement that our dear leader made that time was, we have all come to lift up Daddy GO’s hands as our role, so if we begin to fight ourselves, we would have failed in playing that role and we would be hindering him from performing his own role. So, since what we are meant to do is to lift up his hands either as an usher, protocol, or as security department, then there should not be any cause for friction in our midst. We try as much as possible to make sure that there is no bickering because if there are, there’s no how our services will be acceptable to God.
Managing two big, differently located auditoria at the same time, how do you ensure that there is no breakdown of communication?
When we were about to move to the new arena, there is a team we call Advance Team in our department. The name was coined when we wanted to move to the new arena. So, every Thursday, after the Holy Communion service, we hold our meetings to strategize on our modus operandi. In those days, we would move by Friday morning to the new arena to assess what needs to be done for effective officiating. That helped us eventually when we moved there. So, managing the two auditoria now is not a challenge because we have capable hands. There are ushers whose primary duty is to oversee what happen in the new auditorium while there are some who perform the same function in the old auditorium. So, we have too teams and by way of division, we have some regions that they will be officiating here and we have some other regions that will be at the new arena. As ushers, when you are coming, you just go straight to where you have been assigned to officiate. More to that, we have leadership that oversees the two auditoria.
What is your plan for the ushers and where do you see the RCCG ushers at least in the next 4 years?
My plan for them is that, every usher should be able to stand financially. I mean being gainfully employed. They must be able to have the capability to stand on their own because if a man does not have work, he may be tempted to touch what he is not supposed to touch and that is why we started with the empowerment to make sure everybody is empowered both spiritually, materially and financially. When you are standing on your own, you will not be tempted to look else where. You will be able to focus on what you are supposed to do for the Lord.
In the next 4 years, by the grace of God, I am seeing the ushers overcoming whatever may be their shortcoming now. If there is any area we are not doing very well, we will make positive changes that people will be able to see that this people are different now. For instance, talking about uniform, in those days it was only black and white. At times, that was what we and the choristers were wearing until Mummy G.O said enough of this black and white. Recently, we graduated from that and apart from having various uniforms now, if you notice, our sisters, they are no longer in skirt and blouse like it used to be but in a gown; that is smart and more befitting than what it used to be.
So, in the next 4 years, when an usher stands, by the special grace of God, you will not need to go and call any minister to say ‘please, someone should pray for this person’; by His grace, we would be carriers of His power and His glory.
On a final note, sir, what words of advice do you have for all the ushers?
My word of advice for them is to serve very well. They should not lose their gaze on Jesus. In the Open Heavens of few days ago titled, ‘Criteria For Promotion’, Daddy GO told us that God may likely choose the weak and foolish for promotion. In our services, we should consider ourselves not knowledgeable so that we can get more wisdom and we can serve Him better.
I want to advise all the ushers that the way up, is down; a seed does not germinate until it has died before a living seed will spring forth. The only way our services will be acceptable is for us to humble ourselves. I heard of a man who is an Alhaji speaking sometimes ago. I saw him on a social media platform where he said he doesn’t miss Daddy GO’s messages on Sundays. When he was asked, ‘but you are a Muslim? You are an Alhaji?’He said, ‘that man is a humble man. I love to listen to his messages’. The way people will like you is when your services to them are appreciated, when you humble yourself.
It doesn’t matter how great you are, I want to encourage all ushers to be humble, dutiful and honest. We have to play our role in love. Many a times, we have to force certain things, many a times when congregants are asked to sit at a particular place, some of them may say ‘no’ and you can’t force them. But in love, you can lead them to follow the given instruction. So, I want to encourage the ushers that our operation should be in love, it should be in humility and of course, we can’t do that without being genuinely born again, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit of God. Generally, I want them to be patient with the people.