Remotely Global

blog Feb 29, 2024

With Sam Adeyemi

While work from home has transformed the definition of employment for many professions, and churches continue to expand their online ministries, the concept of pastoring from a distance may be a bridge too far for most. But for Sam Adeyemi, pastor of Daystar Christian Centre in Lagos, Nigeria, it’s a role he believes God has been preparing him to take for 30 years.


Born in the Middle Belt of Nigeria—the region separating the Muslim north from the Christian south—to a father who was a builder, Adeyemi was drawn to study civil engineering in university. He anticipated pursuing a career in that field when he graduated, but his life was redirected when he came to faith in Christ.

As he was praying for direction, Adeyemi kept seeing himself standing before people and teaching. This was strange, he recalls, because he’s always been an extreme introvert. The vision, he decided, “could not have been a product of my mind.”

In spite of his reserved nature, Adeyemi was often chosen for leadership roles, from head of the Christian fellowship in college to leading in the National Youth Service Corps, Nigeria’s compulsory post-college service program. While he was in university and searching for a job as an engineer, he became youth pastor at the church he was attending. The senior pastor asked Adeyemi to come on full-time, but he declined the opportunity, citing financial responsibilities.

Not long after, he landed a job as an engineer, but eight months into the role, Adeyemi realized it was not for him, and he took the full-time role at the church. His previous employer—a Muslim—was concerned that he was leaving a successful career to “go into religion.”

“I’ve found an area of life where I’m talented,” Adeyemi explained to him. “Don’t worry about me; you will hear about me in a few years.” (His supervisor wrote him a letter many years later to say he was happy about what he was hearing about Adeyemi.)


For four years, he helped his church launch a new campus in Lagos, Nigeria’s capital, and in November, 1995, Adeyemi left to plant a church of his own, Daystar Christian Centre. The first three years were rough, he recalls. There was little money, few members and growth was not what he had expected. This culminated when he went on a retreat to ask God if he was supposed to continue pastoring.

“My primary calling is teaching, and I was receiving invitations to speak at conferences,” Adeyemi explains, “but my church was not growing.”

Maybe pastoring was disrupting his teaching ministry, he thought. However, his wife, Nike, reminded him that God had called him to be a pastor of pastors. If this was the case, he decided that Daystar would be a model to test what worked, and when he discovered what worked, he would teach it to other pastors like himself.

A key pivot point in this process for Adeyemi was reading Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church. He studied the book and believed he had found a template for building church systems. In order to see an impact on the church, it was not enough that he, the pastor, understand the principles of growth. Every member must embrace, own and practice them as well.

“I took my staff through the book, and we went into execution mode,” Adeyemi recalls. “Once we had our training system established, the church just went boom. In 10 months, we went from running one service to running four services. And in a little over a year, we had multiplied 10 times in size.”


Adeyemi did not uncritically adopt the principles he found in The Purpose-Driven Church. He adapted them to his context. For example, he cites how Rick Warren created a Saturday afternoon membership class for his church. Adeyemi notes that when he applied the same idea at Daystar, they ended up creating a membership school that stretched over 10 classes.

“This church is about to go through some huge changes,” he told the congregation in early 1999. “I’m gonna start classes one hour before the service on Sunday. If you want to be a part of the new thing, please come to the class.”

Daystar attendance was 500 at the time, and 300 people came to the class. In preparation for a second round of classes, he told the attendees, “There’s a big crowd that is coming. I am not gonna teach them. You guys are gonna teach them. So take your notes and apply them so you will have your own stories to tell when you are teaching the classes.”

Building this DNA into Daystar when it was relatively small made it possible for Adeyemi to scale for growth in a way that would not have been possible if he was bearing the entire load of leadership.

“The shift,” he says, “was that we were shifting the responsibility for ministry on the church members.”


This shift required moving far beyond a 10-week membership class to developing a process of equipping and mobilizing the congregation—from the grassroots to the leadership—to carry out the work of ministry. At the heart of this system is Daystar Academy (not to be confused with Daystar Leadership Academy, the training school Adeyemi launched in 2002).

“It has four levels of training,” Adeyemi notes. “The ministry membership school, maturity school, ministry school and missions school.”

The rigorous program includes 30 classes that orient people to the vision, values and DNA of Daystar. The church’s small groups become incubators for new leaders, and they provide a context for people to serve. To give an idea of scale, Adeyemi explains that this represents about 4,000 groups, each with a leader, an assistant leader and three or four other people to help coordinate.

“So whenever we called our leaders meeting, you had some seven to eight thousand people there,” he says. “The work was spread evenly over thousands of people.”

Adeyemi observes that this philosophy is not just about growing the congregation. It’s about giving leaders an opportunity to put into practice what they are learning.

“We told ourselves if you train people that they have capacity to lead, and then you don’t give them work to do, and there’s no place for them to lead, they’ll move elsewhere where they can find the opportunities,” Adeyemi notes.

His openhanded approach to empowering leaders applies not just to the congregation, but to the associate pastors who have served at Daystar—many of whom he has mentored and trained and have gone out with Adeyemi’s blessing and financial support.

“Some came out from our church, and when it was time for them to leave, we would pray for them and let the whole church know that we’re supporting them and then give them some startup funds to help with their takeoff—which was totally contradictory to the culture,” he explains. “What people were used to was seeing pastors and their associates fight whenever their associates go start their own churches.”


With the growth of his ministry in Nigeria, Adeyemi had a desire to take his message to leaders globally, and he felt the most effective approach would be to set up a base of operations in the United States.

“It was time to go global, and we would need technology. It would be a shorter distance from the U.S. to the rest of the world than from Nigeria,” he explains. “So, Atlanta became our second home.”

Beginning in 2014, the family alternated between living in Nigeria and Atlanta, and Adeyemi traveled around the world, teaching leadership and ministry principles. In 2018, he formally launched a strategic leadership consultancy, Sam Adeyemi GLC. (“GLC” stands for “Global Leadership Consultant.”)

Opportunities to coach leaders in the U.S. and around the world grew, right up until March 2020, when travel came to a standstill and church in most parts of the world went virtual. Even with the robust training and equipping programs Daystar had developed over the years, Adeyemi admits that the limitations of the pandemic “brought a whole new dimension to the running of our church in Nigeria and became the greatest test so far for the effectiveness of the systems that we set up.”

However, in retrospect, he sees that the systems they built allowed him to lead his church from a distance and sustained the church in his absence when travel restrictions prevented him from returning to Nigeria. 


As the initial impact of the pandemic began to ebb, lockdowns were lifted and international travel picked up, Adeyemi made plans to return to Nigeria. It was then that he says he began to have strange visions and promptings from the Holy Spirit that it was not time to return. Some of these visions even suggested that it would be dangerous to return. While Adeyemi does not know of anyone who wants to do him harm, he acknowledges that he has frequently challenged the cultural and political leadership values of his home country.

“When I study the Jesus kind of leadership, it is countercultural—it was counter-cultural in His day. In Mark 10:42-45, He said to His disciples that ‘among the gentiles, their rulers lord it over them. But among you it shall not be.’ So anyone who wants to be the leader has got to be servant. It was like turning the power structure right side up,” he explains.

“The culture that Christ lived in is very similar to the culture in Africa. The gap—the hierarchical distance—between the leader and the led is really wide. The powerful are very powerful, and the powerless are very powerless,” Adeyemi says. “I’ve been on the media, and I’ve been vocal about leadership, and it’s contrary to what you hear. In most of those dreams and messages that we had, there were things that reflected me getting hurt.”

One specific area Adeyemi spoke out on was in support of Nigeria’s EndSARS movement. In October, 2020, the country faced civil unrest not unlike the racial tension that tore through the U.S. around the same time. EndSARS was a social movement among Nigeria’s youth that raised awareness of abuses of power perpetrated by the Nigerian Police Force. (SARS is an acronym for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that became notorious for its corrupt practices.) The crisis came to a head October 20th, when police opened fire on peaceful protesters, killing 12.

Active on Twitter, Adeyemi has a large following of young people, and he began to align himself with the concerns of EndSARS, speaking out in support of the movement. This put him at odds with some in political power in Nigeria, and he believes it may have contributed to the direction he was receiving not to return. Could there be people back in Nigeria who wished him harm if he were to return to the country? He says he’ll never know for sure, but the dreams he was having were enough to make him reconsider.


An additional reason Adeyemi believes God may be directing him to stay in the U.S. relates to his global work coaching, consulting and working with leaders—something that he was not able to scale from Nigeria.

In his consultancy, he finds himself frequently helping pastors and church leaders in the U.S. who come from other global contexts and want to apply leadership principles in their multicultural churches. Adeyemi notes that, when he was asked to speak at the Global Leadership Summit in Chicago in 2015 and 2017, the most positive feedback came from participants from Africa, South America and Asia—places with cultures similar to his. He has found an eager audience of leaders who resonate with the way he melds Western education with Eastern values.

Along the way, he pursued his own studies in leadership, graduating with a master’s degree from the University of Exeter in the U.K. in 2008 and completing his doctorate in strategic leadership at Regent University in 2017. His latest book, titled Dear Leader, covers topics from personal motivation and core values to multigenerational leadership and conflict resolution.

The new book, along with Adeyemi’s consulting and coaching, reflect his desire to expand the reach of his work, and he believes his unique cultural and educational background have equipped him to speak into the leadership journeys of people from the developing world and from the West.

Although Africa has often been a recipient of Western aid and missionary activity, Adeyemi’s experience as a Nigerian church leader has given him a unique perspective on ways that the Western church can learn from the practices and heritage of the African church.

“African Christians have had to grow up in very difficult circumstances,” he explains. “You don’t have a welfare system, you don’t have infrastructure, you don’t have a mortgage to buy a home from the bank, you don’t get car loans, you don’t have a good healthcare system, you don’t have food stamps. We don’t even have good schools. The average person will literally have to pray for everything. So we’ve learned to pray and see God come through for us.”

Even as his U.S.-based consultancy grows, Adeyemi and his wife, Nike, stay engaged in the work of the church in Lagos. However, much of the day-to-day ministry is carried out by the leaders they have spent the last 30 years training.

When it comes to the Sunday preaching schedule, “My wife and I alternate with the pastors at home in Lagos,” Adeyemi explains. “We have a total of six centers [campuses] where people meet on Sundays. The pastors teach on one Sunday, and the next Sunday either my wife or I will  teach.”

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, Daystar had about 80,000 people attending every weekend. In addition to in-person services, the church streams its services online and utilizes traditional TV broadcasts—a medium that remains popular in Nigeria, as it reaches people who cannot afford the high cost of broadband internet data.

Do they plan to return to Nigeria at some point?

“Absolutely,” Adeyemi says, laughing. “I’m a national figure, so the question actually pops up in national media. ‘So what are they doing? Why are they coming back?’ We have to explain again and again that we also have attempted to return. Each time the messages come clear about not going.”

He admits that hearing from God about matters such as this can sound like a subjective thing when it’s given as an answer as to why they have remained in the U.S.

“Then I tell people, by the end of this year it’s gonna be 40 years since I gave my life to Christ as a college student. I think I have an idea how He speaks to me. I’m not afraid of anything or anyone. The only thing I’m afraid of is disobedience. We need to value our intuition in this matter and just follow on and see what God is going to do.”

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