Mother Teresa, William Carey and other personalities who made their mark in preaching the word of God and serving their fellow men were well known for their sacrifices when it came to worldly possessions and quality of life. Working from a belief that one is sent to this earth to serve, they did not seek to acquire but instead chose to give of what they had to those less fortunate. They would leave the comfort of their homes and fully immerse themselves in the communities they had chosen to serve. Living and working amongst the people.

    Over the years, however, there has emerged a new crop of religious leaders that have turned religion into a business. Some flaunt iconic white suits, slicked back hair and flashy entourages appearing more like movie stars than men of God. These men have built churches and turned them into multi-million dollar industries. While this phenomenon occurs worldwide, it has, over the past decade, become more prevalent in Africa.

    On a continent where the majority of people are struggling to survive and put food on the table for their children, these “prosperity religions” are becoming more popular by the day. While these Church Leaders preach the prosperity gospel" - a doctrine that financial blessing will be bestowed upon those who offer donations to the Church — they procure themselves a position amongst Africa’s richest men, while their vulnerable and naïve congregation members are left with nothing but false hope to put on their tables.

    Mother Teresa, William Carey and other personalities who made their mark in preaching the word of God and serving their fellow men were well known for their sacrifices when it

    These so called “Men of God” have established an influence so powerful and far-reaching that churches are being formulated in their names, in countriesthey have never even visited. Similar to the nature of Multi-ntional Corporations (MNCs) these churches have turned into franchises that generate millions irevenue.

    Biblical stories of prophets travelling on donkeys and surviving off the aid of the community are long gone and now new age prophets own four private jets and mansions around the globe. From this, it would seem that the “prosperity gospel” they preach to their passive audiences is forwarding their business agendas.

    A look at the top five richest religious leaders in Africa confirms the disparity between their financial situation and the plight of their followers. Of the five richest, self-proclaimed "Men of God”, mostly starting from average beginnings, Nigerian, Bishop David Oyedeoo tops the list.

    1) Bishop David Oyedepo aka the Pastorpreneur

    As the founder of the Winners Chapel, part of a worldwide empire of evangelical ministries, the Bishop is estimated to be worth $150 million. From holding services, at what is said to be Africa’s largest church, the Bishop is able to own a fleet of private jets, properties in Europe and the United states and a Rolls Royce Phantom. In addition, the Bishop is also an author of prosperity books that are published at a very successful ‘Dominion’ Publishing House that is also conveniently owned by the Bishop. It does not end there, as the Bishop aslo has other streams of revenue from his very own elite private university and a very affluent private high school. Recentlu the bishop has been accused of 'cynical exploitation' after receiving millions of Pounds at his UK branches after promising followers riches in return for their donations.

    2) Chris Oyakhilome

    The renowned Tele-Elangelist Chris Oyakhilome is affectionately known by his followers as Pastor Chris and is the founder of Christ Embassy, which boasts a membership of more than 40 000 delegates.

    The Pastor’s estimated net worth is a little under $50 million and his religious wealth includes investments in real estate, media and even hotels. One of the Pastors largest investments is his Evangelistic TV programme which airs 24-hours a day, and is called The Love World TV network. Recently, the magnetic preacher was at the centre of a $35 million money laundering case in which he was accused of tapping funds from his church to foreign bank accounts. The case was later dismissed and the Pastor was redeemed of all his ‘sins’. 

    3) Temitope Joshua

    With an estimated net worth of $15 million, third place goes the founder of the Synagogue Church of all Nations (Scoan), Temitope Joshua (commonly known as TB Joshua). The man claims to be able cure HIV and Aids, among other deadly diseases, and can even predict sport match results! His congregation, filled with miracle craving membersare willing to give up everything for his miracles.

    Mr Joshua also owns Emmanuel TV; a network that broadcasts all his sermons and miracles across the world. As the third richest Pastor TB Joshua is the most controversial on the list but he counters that with his charitable work which extends from healthcare through to education all across Nigeria. TB is also very well connected, calling Ghanaian President Atta Mills a close friend and entertains several African heads of state at his Church.

    4. Matthew Ashimolowo

    United Kingdom based Pastor, Matthew Ashimolowowho is said to own the largest Pentecostal Church in the Kingdom, is not a miracle worker like the above mentioned but is still estimated to be worth between $6 and $10 million. The Pastor, who broke away from the  Foursquare Gosspel Church to start his own Kingsway International Christian Centre (Kicc) has a book series entitled "Wnning Ways" which is set to instruct its readers how to acquire a "portion of the wealth the earth has to offer."

    5. Pastor Chris Okotie

    In fifth place, stands the man (of God) whose first calling was to be a popular pop musician in the 80s. Now known as Pastor Chris Okotie, the Pastor is avidly followed by Nollywood celebrities, musicians, and society people! He himself lives by the glitz and glamour and being an avid lover of cars, owns among others, a Mercedes S600, a Hummer and a Porsche. He has on three counts campaigned to be Nigeria’s president and has lost all three times. His claims that God instructed him to be President and has seen him to start his own political party known as the Fresh Party.

    All these men havetaken the gospel of Christ, and the faith of the people, and turned both into lucrative businesses. Looking at their organisations, dealings and contacts, it is difficult to distinguish which of their activities are as religious leaders and which are of capitalist entrepreneurs — both benefitting from the exploitation of other people.

    For the unfortunate and desperate followers of these religions that preach the “prosperity gospel” their hope resembles that of a gambler., Consider the people who pledge money every week to buy a lottery ticket with the belief that one-day they shall win big. Every week this dream is offered to them as being within their reach, ensuring their money is sacrifised. Sure, maybe a selected few may benefit, but only to fuel the marketing fires that keep the poor spending their hard-earned cash on hope. The bottom line however is that the only true winner of the lottery is the lottery company itself, not unlike the Prosperity Pastors.

    Most of Africa’s population is underprivileged and surviving off nothing more than hope. The churches advertise themselves as offering miracles and financial successmessages that would lure any desperate person. These vulnerable individuals are willing to sacrifice the little they have for the hope of a better life. Whether it is their faith in government or  religionno person should ever exploit this vulnerabilityReligion as we know it expresses salvation to be free, but it would seem from the culture of the churches described above, it definitely comes at a cost.