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Tell us about yourself, your background and early life.
I was born in Ogbomoso, Oyo State on April 16, 1948 to the family of Pa Madamidode and Ma. Oladeebo Adebisi Ishola (nee Ayanlowo) from Abiru’s compound, Arowomole, Ogbomoso. I believe I was well taken care of. By the time I was about 9 years old, I was living with my grandmother and I became the first grandson to live with her. My father was a businessman who lived in Ilorin for many years doing clothing business (adire and so on). I was about 9 years old before I started primary school because I didn’t grow tall enough for my hand to touch my ear. That really delayed my education. I tried as much as I could but they would not accept me and I never liked it just because I was extremely short. I did not start school until 1957. I moved back to my father’s house when I started primary school and later went back to my grandma.
I was a little spoilt but I was constantly checked upon by my mother, who never tolerated nonsense. As a child, the first thing I always did was to eat before washing my mouth every morning. Somehow, my father would always come periodically to check to ensure I did not mess up. My grandmother also was not too lenient with me.
Educationaly, I went to Ijeru Baptist Day School. I finished in 1962 and I was very brilliant, coming up 1st or 2nd in my class always. My father died in 1960 and that was a setback. In 1961 and 1962, Ejigbo Baptist High School, Osun State, was just established and I wanted to go there, but it was difficult because of my father’s death. The death meant poverty for me.
In 1962, I went to Ghana to join my mother. I engaged myself in hawking ball pens, chewing sticks and blades all around motor parks and offices. In 1968, I decided I was not going to hawk any more so I took up a job in Kumasi and enrolled for Adult Education. Every evening, I would go to classes and that was how I was able to sit for GCE in 1970/71 and made some passes. That really motivated me. I also attempted Advanced Level, made some passes, though weak, simply because I was not able to get help by going through any secondary school. Overall, the Lord helped me.
Something happened in 1969 when the Ghanaian Prime Minister sent all illegal immigrants to their countries. Nigerians were mostly affected, but fortunately for me I was not affected because I was working for the Ghanaian government at a Research Institute. I was exempted, but my mother and others returned home. I stayed back in Ghana till 1976. Prior to that, I wanted to attend the University of Ghana in Cape Coast, but I was not able to.
In 1972 I started experiencing the call of God. I did not feel comfortable with that because I thought pastors were poor then and besides who would marry a poor pastor? These were some of my agitations.
But as much as I tried to gain admission into the university then, it was like there was a blockage, until I yielded to the call of God. Somehow, the Lord took care of my education. I entered the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso in 1976 for my Bachelor of Theology and since then I have been involved in full pastoral ministry.
Did your background contribute to your present status of the General Secretary?
I must admit that my family background contributed to what God enabled me to become. When I lived with my grandmother, she was like a family unifying factor. As a kid, I watched my grandmother help others to settle scores and engaged in reconciliation ministry within and outside the family. I watched her very keenly and people respected her and paid attention to whatever she told them. The little I got from my father shaped my life. Our house was like a rallying point to so many elders in the community in Isale Laka, Ogbomoso. Our house was the first cemented house where people gathered to seek opinion. He also played a key role in Ijeru Baptist Church, Ogbomoso. My experience in Ghana when I worked as a petty trader really helped me to engage in all kinds of transaction. To me, that formed the basis of my pastoral life too. It taught me to always add value to ensure there is profit in whatever I do. It taught me not to reduce, but to reproduce. All these contributed to what I would consider as my present status.
How was it moving through the middle of the ladder until you got to this position?
It has been so exciting that God has been so merciful to me. When I finished primary school and was unable to proceed, I struggled to do external GCE and I passed. This motivated me that I could still go higher. Early in my primary school, anytime I heard that someone had a Bachelor or Master degree in a field, my aim always was that I would by the grace of God have same. I wanted to get a Master degree and that was the best I could aim for then. I never knew I would get a Doctorate. From one step to another, God helped me.
When I came back to Nigeria in 1992 after my Ph.D, I moved my family back home from the USA because I felt my training in America was meant to come and join hands with others in Nigeria to develop our economy. I started teaching at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso in 1993 till 1998 when I went back to the USA to teach at my alma mata, South Western Baptist Seminary, Texas, USA.
It was from there that I was invited home to be part of the process when the Convention was looking for a new General Secretary.
The Lord who started with me from the very beginning and brought me to the apex leadership position tells me that He has so much built in the lives of so many of us, if only we would pay attention and allow the Holy Spirit to discover the gifts of God in us so that many other people will be blessed. I see the position as an opportunity to serve the Lord better. For God to take me from one level to another, I feel I must serve Him better today than I did yesterday. I look forward to going into another phase of the gospel ministry and where I will be able to offer my utmost best unto God to keep adding value to the kingdom.
At the inception of your administration, you enunciated a mission statement “Baptist People: Empowering Churches for Kingdom Growth.” How far as this statement impacted on the lives of Baptist people?
I want to believe that every church exists for the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom. In other words, the church must make sure that more souls are brought into the church for the purpose of spreading the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, thus attracting more believers into the kingdom of God. My challenge to the Baptists then was that we should mnake sure that every local church would be empowered for the purpose of making sure that the Great Commission which is the mandate given to every Christian to go into every nook and cranny spreading the good news is achieved. At that time we were having about 5000 churches and I felt we can plant 1000 churches per annum. With that I felt we will be able to fit into God’s divine mandate, spreading the gospel here and there. We must not only preach, teach the gospel, but we must also incorporate to reproduce, by waking up and making sure that the primary reason for establishing a church in a community is to grow and multiply itself and therefore spread so as to dispel the forces of darkness everywhere. I believe that has impacted the lives of our pastors to make sure that the reasons for their presence in our local assemblies is to ensure believers are empowered to be able to attract more members for the purpose of growth. I have been satisfied in this regard. We have not been able to meet the target of 1000 per annum, but somehow indirectly, I believe Baptist churches have spread all over Nigeria and beyond.
As a family man, how do you combine your official work with family responsibilities?
That is a very challenging issue, not only in the church but in the society. I want to say working in a denominational setting as a leader, there is no way one will not be busy in terms of travelling, making consultations, preaching, writing and what have you. What I try to do is that when I leave the office and enter my house, I don’t go out again. Unless I travel out, but whenever I am at home here in Ibadan, I make sure I don’t go out. I only attend to those who come to visit me for consultation. The moment I enter my bedroom, I do not come out again. I stay there chatting and playing with my wife. Also, I create time for my extended family too. When there is a call of duty from either families, we make sure we take part to the best of our ability. When we can not attend, we contribute financially. We make sure our children get our attention every time. By God’s grace, technology has made communication easy, so we link up with our children easily overseas. When I travel, I make sure I see them and spend time with them.
How do you feel leaving the office after 10 years?
I am grateful to God that He has been able to help me these ten years. It is full of challenges, but God has enabled me to overcome most of them. I feel fulfilled. I am most gracious to God that these past ten years, nobody can accuse me of involving in any scandal. No one can say Ademola Ishola tampered with our money or our women, I am grateful to God for that. I feel proud serving these ten years.
May be you are happy the burden is over.
In a way, yes. Leadership is burdensome, especially in our Baptist set up. But above all, like I said God has helped me. I thank God for divine health because I was never admitted in the hospital for any health related issue – this is because of the grace of God that I enjoyed. I also thank God for seeing me through all my travels. It was not easy. Most times in the air, particularly when planes were crashing, yet God saw me through.
How is your relationship with the EC, Directors and Heads of Institutions?
It’s amazing that we could get some individuals who served as Chairmen of Boards, Committees that will not take money. Many of them served without asking for any reward. They would rather give money to help the work rather than seek for allowance. We give God the glory for some individuals. I will say I had fun during these 10 years with the people I worked with. Sometimes, some committee or board appeared challenging but they were challenges that were surmountable. I really enjoyed myself.
There is this insinuation that you have a very high taste and the high taste has cost the Convention some money. How will you respond to this?
I am not really sure about that. I feel very strongly that what is worth doing is worth doing well. About high taste, yes I admit. I do have high taste and I think the high taste is about my disposition to the kind of vehicle that we should use as field officers for Convention work. When I came, I decided that members of staff would no longer use fairly used vehicles. When I first came, most of the vehicles been used were those we bought from missionaries and partners, but I felt that would not be cost-effective. So we started buying new vehicles that are durable and that can serve us for at least 4 to 5 years without having to spend much on maintenance.
Somehow I just decided that I would not buy brand new cars for myself, but at least, I bought a good car. I think people should even appreciate that. The extension of the Baptist Building office may be part of the high taste. We spent just about N150 million and if compared with what other people would have spent to build such a structure, we did well. People who came around now feel proud that we have something to show as Baptist. At Bowen too, we did well to get the very best facilities that will last. That is the reason why we decided that we would start building new dormitories. When you go to the girls’ dormitories now, they are the best you can be proud of. It is a replica of dormitories in Britain and USA.
For example, the worship centre at Bowen is exemplary. To me if that is what our people call high taste costing the Convention much money, I feel proud about it. It is a taste I am sure God will be happy about. Also, we want to make sure the Baptist press improves. We want to go digital and be competitive so as to attract business. Our publications (annuals) must be good looking, if possible glossy. Some new generation churches are doing better, why not Baptist? Why can’t we outshine them and set the pace, be a role model so that others can learn from us? That is my own way of high taste. Also, why should pastors not dress well? Why should staff look haggard? For me it is not the issue of putting up one very expensive suit, but at least, one should appear corporate and neat so that people can proudly associate with one.
How will you describe your relationship with your pastor colleagues these 10 years?
It’s been quite good. In fact, I will say 99.9 per cent of the Baptist pastors are friendly, co-operative. I enjoyed myself in their midst. When I go to Ministers’ Conference, I enjoy the rapport. There may be a few who may be critical, but there is no way I could have avoided that. Overall, the experience with my colleagues has been very good.
What is your advice to your successor?
I want to first of all say, he should seek the face of God always by praying, reading and meditating on God’s word. Each time I come to the office, I pray to God to give me wisdom so as to respond to each issue that comes my way appropriately. I don’t do anything in my own way, except as led by God. So I want to counsel that my successor should always go to God.
Also, he should make kingdom and church growth his priority. There are many souls wasting out there, they need the light of the gospel, so my successor, I believe should strive to improve on what we have been able to build.
I pray that my successor will be an Elisha after Elijah. I pray he will be someone who will double up. In other words, my own tenure will be mere foundation that he would build on and march the church forward. I believe God is going to do greater things through him.
After my tenure, I look forward to the Baptist denomination becoming a role model to others in terms of dynamism, spiritual vigour, making sure we handle God’s business in a business-like manner. Also, I look forward to seeing Baptist spreading to the whole of Africa and the whole world with missionary force whereby Baptist churches will be everywhere preaching the gospel and establishing more universities. In other word, I pray Bowen University will multiply very soon and that in almost all our major cities, we will have secondary schools. I look forward to seeing our denomination working toward ensuring that the generations to come are well grounded in the gospel. I also look forward to seeing our pastors becoming dynamic and relevant as they graduate.
What other advice do you have for the leadership of the Convention?
My advice for the incoming leader and for every church leader is that they should be focused. They should not consider some people as God fathers or God mothers, but rather focus on the one who called them to the ministry. They should also run to that God every moment for leading. I also want to enjoin them to engage in collaborative leadership whereby they will borrow other people’s expertise, bringing them to the roundtable so as to have solution to challenging issues.Share