[Editor’s note: This print article is an update to an online article published January 13.]

The surprise resignation of Nigeria’s highest-profile pastor has exacerbated a debate among West African Christians on the merits—and limits—of pastor tenure.

Enoch Adeboye began 2017 by resigning as general overseer of the 5-million-member Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria. (He remains overseer of its international presence in 192 nations.) He cited the nation’s Financial Reporting Council (FRC) and its newly introduced Governance Code as reason for his action.

Section 9:3 of the code stipulates that leaders or founders of nonprofit organizations—including churches and ministries—must hand over leadership to a non-family member after age 70 or 20 years of being in charge. Adeboye is 74 and has been leading his megachurch since 1981.

The law, which is designed to promote financial accountability, went into effect last October. If fully implemented, an estimated 90 percent of independent evangelical church founders in Africa’s most populous nation would be required to step aside, according to the Nigeria Evangelical Fellowship (NEF).

Affected prominent pastors would include William Kumuyi of Deeper Life Bible Church; Daniel Olukoya of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries; David Oyedepo of Living Faith Church Worldwide; Mike Okonkwo of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission; Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy; and Sam Adeyemi of Daystar Christian Centre.

Much of Nigeria’s evangelical community responded with outrage over both Adeboye’s resignation and the FRC’s financial rule, setting off heated debates over pastoral succession, a pressing issue in the United States ...

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