I had lunch with my Pastor the other day. We discussed many things, including my growing skepticism about the traditional structure of church. I mentioned that I would no longer attend church regularly, as I took some personal time to examine my relationship with Christ, outside church walls.

At some point in our lunch date, I launched into the familiar spiel about why there was so much religion in Nigeria, yet lacklustre governance. I wondered about the salt-seasoning and light-giving properties of the church in Nigeria (Matthew 5:12-16). My pastor’s reply ignited a light bulb in my head – “Subomi, you don’t need religion to create a great country or to ensure good governance.” We then went on to talk about the nations of the world that are not religious, yet which exhibit great governance.

When we quote Matthew 5:12-16, we sometimes forget that the scripture is directed at individuals, not local church structures.

Salt is a preservative. If one believes that the world will eventually come to an end, then at best, the Christian’s presence serves as a preservative, to give enough time for people to be reconciled to God.

If salt is seasoning, then it is one of many elements in a grand dish. It cannot replace the active role of the chef who combines ingredients to produce world-class concoctions. Governance is a project management matter, not an input issue.

If Christians are light, then they provide direction and illumination in the vast construction site called life. People still need to do the actual building. If Christians are light, then they also shape minds and hearts though values-based engagement and authentic wisdom.

If the physical church is where the pastor presides, then, it is a training ground, amongst other things (Ephesians 4: 10-12 AMP). One of its functions is to equip the saints. It is an interactive academy for values and knowledge. But, the students must graduate someday to get jobs of their own. They cannot remain in school forever.

It is now clearer to me that a lot of times, the physical church serves its purpose. It is some church members who refuse to leave its safe confines to do real work in the real world. They get empowered in church but use the knowledge for themselves and for their families, not society. It is church members who are so obsessed with making heaven, that they don’t mind living in hell on earth. Hell-holes like Nigeria.

It is church members who outsource charity and social responsibility to the inefficient administrative structures of local assemblies. The reasoning is that after all, they’ve paid their tithes, so the church should disburse the funds. It is church members who refuse to get entangled in the “affairs of this world” and in politics, yet are quick to play the government blame game. Perhaps the problem of Nigeria is not lazy youths. It is lazy protected church members.

Tangentially, I also believe that like other NGOs, registered churches can come together to participate in civil society. They can advocate for good governance and speak to issues. The law recognises them, and since they represent large swathes of citizens, they are powerful constituencies. Whether or not they choose to deploy that power for good is another matter entirely.