Though a cleric, Emmanuel Iren loves music with a passion. No wonder, he founded Outburst Music Group and wrote great songs that have been performed by the group including ‘Light Up The Way’ featuring popular gospel singer, Eben.
On the spiritual level, eight years ago, the graduate of Covenant University planted a seed, which today has grown into an oak known as Celebration Church International, with branches in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Canada.
In this interview, Iren shares his musical and spiritual odyssey, reasons he married early at 24 as well as his message to the youths. Enjoy it
You founded Outburst Music Group and wrote songs for gospel musicians. How would you describe your relationship with these artistes?
I founded Outburst Music Group and all the songs I wrote have been performed by Outburst. We featured Eben as a guest artiste on our newest project. I love music and inevitably musicians. I follow closely the work of not just singers but a couple of instrumentalists as well. I used to be a drummer. So, I’m still very fascinated with good music. I have a good relationship with a good number of musicians.
Do you go a step further by inviting these gospel musicians to perform in your church?
Definitely, I’ve had the honour of hosting gospel musicians like Eben, Dunsin, Jadhiel, and Judikay etc. In fact, there is a faith-based non-religious platform I host with my wife called, Young And Free. We had Johnny Drille grace that event. The list goes on.
Who is your favourite musician?
Favorite musician? Outburst Music Group of course. Excuse the bias. Being president and songwriter for the group allows me pour out my soul in melody, in a way that touches me more than any other material. Nonetheless, the guys I mentioned earlier are on my list as well.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I mostly listen to gospel music. But any decent secular song I can vibe to whilst working out or when I need to be inspired works for me too.
People know you as a pastor, what are the things that people don’t know about you, and if you were not a pastor, what would you be doing?
That’s a simple question, because I love what I’ve been called to do. But in some other ways, that’s a tough question because there are a couple of other things that I have a fervent passion for. Academically, I have a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Lagos. I’ve always had a knack for business being done properly, and organisations running smoothly, so perhaps I might have explored a career in that. I studied Building Technology for my first degree, and I’m quite passionate about interior decoration. Also, I’m a songwriter. By God’s grace, I’ve written about twelve songs performed by Outburst Music Group, including ‘Light Up The Way’ featuring Eben. In fact, before I became a pastor, I started out as a drummer. I’ve always been musically inclined. But I think in a way all my different experiences and gifts find expression in ministry.
Celebration Church has grown exponentially since it was founded eight years ago. What’s the secret to what many would term the success of the church?
The secret is simply the grace that accompanies the call. The Bible says that if anyone prophesies, let him prophesy according to the measure of the grace of God. Every spiritual activity should be carried out by grace and not just by effort or mere physical or even mental exertion. The truth is some other people who are called to just pastor one branch, and as long as they do that wholeheartedly and do it according to what the Lord has asked him to do, then they are a success in that call. So, I don’t really consider us a success, because we are doing what is great in the sight of men. But rather because we’re doing what God has asked us to do.
How long have you been pastoring? How did you receive the call? What has brought you from there to here?
It all started from me just being an undergraduate student on fire for the Lord. I just wanted to serve the Lord the best way I knew how to and be as responsible as I could, contributing to the advancement of the kingdom. But what was supposed to be a private personal fire began to grow. People literally began to come to say that they had been blessed, and they wanted to grow. That was a pointer to the fact that God had more in store, which later became confirmed and we began to have small Bible meetings that grew from three people to 10 to 20 to 100 to 500 and more, while I was still an undergraduate.
After school, God told us that it wasn’t just a youth ministry, but that he had given us a work that must continue, which is what we have done. So, about a year after graduation, almost immediately after my youth service, we set out. What is now known as Celebration Church had our first Sunday service on November 11, 2012.
You’re 30-years-old but you recently celebrated your 6th wedding anniversary, and you have two daughters. What would you say is the secret to a successful marriage? Does getting married early have anything to do with it?
I really think that for two people to work together, they must realize that one of the greatest causes of conflict is when people are set in their ways, regarding how things must be done. So, there must be an agreement if two people work together, just like the Bible says. As great as your parents’ marriage is or was, whatever be the case, your marriage will be slightly different. And even though, the values are fundamentally the same, practically every marriage is different. So, the people involved must learn to be flexible, must learn to be understanding; must learn to be forgiving, and just come together and find what works for the good of the home. So, I think that once that is achieved, and conflict resolution is something that has been mastered, a huge chunk of whatever might be the trouble will be out of the way. Of course, I can’t really give all the keys to a successful home in a few paragraphs, but I think that’s a major one I can share.
When it comes to marriage, everyone’s timetable is different. I feel like some people may not be ready to get married at the age of 30. Some may not be ready to get married at the age of 35. Some may be ready to get married at the age of 23. Some might be ready to get married at the age of 20. It’s not really about the age; it’s about the maturity, the exposure. Do you know what it entails and are you ready to play your part?
Marriage is an institution between two consenting and responsible adults. There should be some level of financial independence. There should be a social-cultural independence also, you should be able to stand on your own in a community and be ready to carve a niche for yourself and more. You should have the mental, emotional and financial maturity to raise a family. At the time I got married, I was through with school and already had a job. I had a (girl) friend that I was convinced I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
What do you think the role of the church should be in creating social change? And as someone who pastors young people, how would you advise them especially in these times?
The reality of the situation in Nigeria is that everyone needs to create his or her own experience. While we must keep demanding good governance, don’t allow the perceived failure of the government to hinder your destiny, because at the end of the day, it is your destiny. For everything that you ought to have had opportunities to do, and it has not been placed on your lap, create your own opportunities. Nigeria is full of very many brilliant minds and a lot of people have already done great for themselves, despite the trials and challenges. Whilst we keep encouraging more young people to get into government and advocating for our government to do better, I want to encourage every young person out there to stand up, create your own story, change the narrative, and show the world that despite all the challenges, you can still do well for yourself and for others. And as for social change, I believe that if everyone who is living a privileged life takes it as a responsibility to help more people; then change is imminent.
People say that the church is not doing enough to help the poor but is instead opening branches all over the place. How do we balance that?
I attended Covenant University, and when you look at a system like Canaanland that has had constant electricity for 18 years, that has good roads, good water and everything; it tells you that the government that we’re paying taxes to, can do even better if they are more prudent with finances. I’m not saying that the church is doing too much. There’s always room for improvement but chances are the church is doing way more than people know. For instance, our church was able to help at least six people with their schooling and school fees this year alone. That’s a church that is just eight years old. Growing up, even before I became a pastor, I was in a local church that was quite generous to the poor among us, but didn’t make a lot of noise about it. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen churches speak up against injustice and support peaceful protesters in dire need. As important as acts of charity are, the world needs to understand that we still have a message, that the church is fundamentally in the business of souls, of discipleship. I’m not saying helping the poor is not important. It is very important but it is still not our core message, because poor, rich, no matter your economic status, the gospel is that you will need to believe in Jesus to have eternal life, and that is still our fundamental message at the end of the day.
How do you relax?
I relax by going to the movies. I’m beginning to fall in love with traveling as well. A good game of basketball also helps me relax.