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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: The Winner’s Chapel and The King’s College

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be.   

Prosperity Gospel on Steroids.  I started hearing about David Oyedepo a few years ago, as I was doing research for a trip to Liberia to cover the Ebola crisis. He founded a church in Nigeria in 1981 that has come to be called The Winner’s Chapel.  It is now in about 150 countries and claims 6 million members. At least 30 U.S. cities now have Winner’s Chapel churches.

When I heard that two of David Oyedepo’s sons are now here in the United States leading churches here, and when I learned that one of those U.S. churches was in my hometown of Charlotte, N.C., I thought it was finally time to take a closer look.  Kim Roberts wrote an excellent profile for MinistryWatch here.

The church has flown under the radar of media coverage here in the U.S. in part because many of the people who attend are part of the Nigerian diaspora here, and Nigerian Americans have proven to be mostly quiet and hardworking as their numbers here have grown significantly.  About 500,000 Nigerians live in the United States, most of them first-generation Americans, and that number is growing rapidly. Nigerians speak hundreds of languages, but the official language of Nigeria is English, so Nigerians have adapted well here in the U.S. In 2018, Nigerian Americans had a median household income of $68,658 – higher than $61,937 for all overall U.S. households. The poverty rate for Nigerian Americans is below the national average.

All of these statistics moved Justin Fox to write for Bloomberg that America needs more Nigerians.

But we don’t need David Oyedepo’s Prosperity Gospel theology.

According to multiple online sources, Oyedepo has a net worth of $150 million, just behind his mentor Kenneth Copeland, whose ministry is in Texas. In fact, Copeland ordained Oyedepo’s sons.

According to Kim Roberts’ reporting for MinistryWatch, “In 2021, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists discovered as part of its ‘Pandora Papers’ project that Oyedepo set up a family offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. The BVI is a well-known tax haven.

I hope that Kim’s excellent primer will be the first of many articles we will do warning people about the Winner’s Chapel.

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Closing King’s College Would Be A Tragic Loss. It looks like the closure of The King’s College in New York City is all but inevitable, and that will be a huge loss for the city, and for American evangelicalism.

We and others have written extensively about King’s in recent months, so I won’t rehearse the story here. If you haven’t been following it, you can get caught up here and here.

I should add, by way of full disclosure, that I worked as a consultant for The King’s College about a decade ago, and I fell in love with the place.  So much so that I encouraged my son Walker to attend.  He graduated from the school in 2018.

Those experiences led me to this belief:  The King’s College fills a unique gap in American evangelicalism. It provides an academically rigorous, distinctively Christian higher education in the heart of one of the most important cultural centers on the planet. No other Christian college in America comes close to offering what The King’s College offers. Not Wheaton, not Biola, not Grove City, not Liberty, not Grand Canyon. (Again, by way of full disclosure:  One of my daughters graduated from Grove City, and another from Liberty.) These schools have many virtues and offer their own unique gifts to the world of Christian higher education. But none of them can replace what we will lose if The King’s College closes.

Evangelicalism has a sub-industry of thought leaders and organizations who say they want to impact the culture not by engaging in short-term, political, “culture war” battles, but by playing “the long game.” Raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, educate them well. If we must criticize, then do so, as Michelangelo said, by “making something beautiful.”

I consider myself a kindred spirit with those who say these things. But in my frustration, I want to say: where are their voices now?  The King’s College was the best shot we’ve had in a generation to accomplish what such writers as Andy Crouch, Gabe Lyons, Donald Miller, Mark Rodgers, Os Guinness, and many more have been writing about.

But a sober assessment causes me to understand why so many remain silent. King’s has lots of problems now, and money is not its biggest problem. The amount of money King’s needs is a pittance compared to, for example, what the Christian foundation Signatry spent on the “He Gets Us” advertising campaign.  The money is out there.

The problem – as we have seen time and again here at MinistryWatch — is the current board. I don’t blame those who have the voice and/or the money to make a difference remaining on the sidelines. I would not give money to this board either.

But that, too, is a problem that can be fixed.  When the Green family bailed out Oral Roberts University with $70-million in 2007, that gift came with strict conditions, conditions that included wholesale changes at the board level, and elsewhere in the organization. A far smaller amount of money, with similar conditions, could bring King’s back from the brink, and set it on a path toward flourishing.

The New York Times to Inside Higher Ed have commented about King’s lately, but I can’t think of anyone who has done so more wisely and graciously than Kimberly Thornbury.  Kimberly worked in strategic roles at King’s before joining The Murdock Charitable Trust. I strongly recommend her Facebook post explaining why King’s is essential, and how it might be saved.

I also strongly recommend praying for the survival and renewal of The King’s College.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.