Are UBF Leaders Cult Leaders?

Question. Brian asked a legitimate question on a previous post Spiritual Bullying: “Does Mr. Ludy explain what many senior UBF leaders have been doing for 50 years?” Ludy describes in great detail the multiple characteristics of controlling and manipulative cult leaders in A Cult Leader’s Worst Nightmare.

My answer (which may please no one) is: “No, but … UBF has (what cult groups have called) cult-like behavior.” Why?

UBF leadership is authoritarian and hierarchical. Authoritarianism invariably results in cult-like behavior by both the Christian leader and their members. For 2 decades as a UBF fellowship leader, I practiced most, if not all, of what I describe below. I am convinced that many in UBF can relate to or have personally experienced the following (If this is not true, please refute and categorically contradict!):

1) The leader makes you think and feel that he has the God given right and authority to decide your life and your future: who you (can or cannot) marry, when you marry, how you marry, threats to cancel your wedding unless…, not support your independent decisions. As a result, some UBF members live in fear of their leader (cf. Prov 29:25). They learn how to “act” and “behave” to be seen in their good graces, so that they will be given “the blessing to marry,” or so that they won’t be mentioned as a bad example in the Sun message or announcements. I have lied countless times as a fellowship leader by misreporting the number of people who came to church, so as to “avoid receiving training.”

2) The leader is practically and functionally like God. You cannot question the UBF leader without often suffering some retaliation, repercussion, caricature or marginalization. Likely, some will be greatly offended by the title of this post. Likely, they will not read it; if they do, they will not respond. So far, only a few UBF leaders have commented. Some want to shut down UBFriends.

3) Legalism based on the leader’s method, directives, preference, training, which becomes “absolute” and usually non-negotiable. Freedom is lacking because you cannot do what the leader doesn’t like or approve. For eg., “Shave! Otherwise, you cannot marry!” A young man once told me about a girl he liked in church. I said to him, “There is absolutely no way that you can ever date or marry her, because you are a new young unknown UBF member, while the girl is a senior UBF leader’s daughter.” He left UBF.

4) Unhealthy dependency of UBF members on the leader’s direction, and of leaders expecting compliance and “absolute” obedience/submission from members.

5) Leaders have great difficulty acknowledging or apologizing to subordinates for their mistakes. This may be because their mistakes stemmed from their well meaning good intentions, which I believe is often true. Even if they may apologize, they may do so out of “duty,” but it may not be from the heart with brokenness and contrition. I once apologized to a Bible student for calling him a punk. But in my heart I felt fully justified for doing so, and was not really sorry for “telling him the truth.”

6) Deep trinitarian equality and friendship with others is lacking, because the leader may carry themselves as “above the rest.” John Stott says it best in Basic Christian Leadership: “…it is my firm conviction that there is too much autocracy (or oligarchy) in the leaders of the Christian community, in defiance of the teaching of Jesus and his apostles, and not enough love and gentleness. Too many behave as if they believed not in the priesthood of all believers but in the papacy of all pastors.” For decades, I refrained from being vulnerable before my church members; otherwise I could not “train them.”

UBF is not a cult. Despite all the above, UBF leaders are not cult leaders, because they love and trust the Bible, even if they may overemphasize certain teachings, such as obedience to God/them, rather than the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24) or Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23; 2:2). They do not go off to extra-biblical revelations, as cult leaders often do, as described by Ludy. But I understand that it would be very easy to think of us as cult leaders, because many do not realize how controlling and manipulative they may be. As I said, I know this full well. I did it for over 2 decades and felt perfectly fine!

Christian leaders have historically been abusive. The prior paragraph may be terribly hard to swallow for those who have clearly been abused by some authoritarian UBF leaders, because abuse, intended or not, results in deep inner wounds that may take years, even a lifetime, to heal.

These quotes are my current signature in my Gmail:

  • “History is full of disgraceful examples of self-righteous Christians who acted as though their own convictions about God’s call justified their ill treatment of others.” Anthony Gittins, Reading the Clouds.
  • “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely expressed for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” C.S. Lewis.
  • “There is no deeper pathos in the spiritual life of man than the cruelty of righteous people.” Reinhold Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics.

I am optimistic that UBF will gradually change and is gradually changing, not because we are able to change, but because God is good.

Is this a satisfactory answer? Please chime in, comment, critique, correct, contradict, and communicate in context concretely your consciousness and your conscience, or offer concise (or elaborate) counter proposals.


  1. Joe Schafer

    Ben, thanks for this article. Some people might regard your conclusion as illogical, to say that an organization is not a cult even though it engages in cultish behavior. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, what is it? The answer to your question depends entirely on the definition of cult. Personally, I have no desire to split hairs over the meaning of words. But I continually hope and pray that we (members and leaders of the organization) will stop postponing the inevitable, which is a frank discussion about the excessive behaviors that have gone on (and in many cases are still going on) under the guise of discipleship. I understand that this is very uncomfortable. I understand that it will cause some to experience psychological pain. But that discussion must take place.

    If someone claims that UBFriends is not the right forum for such a discussion, then I say: “Okay, fine. Then please do something to create an occasion and forum for such a discussion to happen.” If you are going to say that this website is counterproductive but do nothing to create an alternative, then in my opinion you are just playing a political game.

    • Joe, I read a rather insightful quote last week that reminded me of your mention of the classic line: “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, what is it?”

      The quote I just read says: “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but need batteries, you have the wrong abstraction.” (underneath a picture of a real duck and a toy duck with batteries.)

      The parallels to my experience of the ubf heritage are obvious: It looks like Christianity, sounds like Christianity, but needs batteries (i.e. much pushing) in order to make it work. This is called the “Liskov Substitution Principle“. This principle is necessary for inductive thinking to work properly.

  2. Darren Gruett

    During my first encounter with UBF, over a decade ago, I was quite wary for the first few months because it felt so much like a cult to me. Fortunately, I had the benefit of growing up in a church other than UBF, and I attended a number of other churches prior to this, so I had something to use as a comparison. Despite all the things that were strange about it, my ultimate conclusion was that it was not a cult, and I decided to stay.

  3. Ben, two quick thoughts come to mind after reading your article.
    First, authoritarian leaders support, protect, advocate and defend other authoritarian leaders within ubf. There is a “no-entry zone” when it comes to correcting one erring leader by his peer or even those above him.
    Not being authoritarian is good, but tolerating it is a serious issue in the sight of God. Thesedays you are writing Revelation messages. The problem of the church of Thytira was not that every church member practiced the teachings of the woman Jezebel into sexual immorality and ate food sacrificed to idols. But Jesus charged the church as a whole for tolerating that woman to continue with a position of influence and authority over church members. To this woman who was given time and yet unwilling to repent and those who committed adultery with her, Jesus threatened intense suffering. A serious problem of ubf is treating Jesus like a God in the history in stead of a God who is living, a God who does not want his people tolerate wickedness and is going to punish even people inside the Church. UBF seriously needs to hear the truth of Jesus punishing bad Christians and bad churches.

  4. Ben, thank you for the courage to reply. Most people dismiss my questions as being rhetorical. But my questions are not rhetorical; I believe there are answers, complicated answers maybe, but answers. Most certainly there is a discussion to be had here.

    Just a couple observations (my 1.5 cents worth…)

    – Ben2012 is certainly not a cult leader :)

    – Each person in UBF tends to create a barrier zone to protect themselves or their direct reports.

    – If this was 1977, just after the first major reform movement in UBF, I would be very lenient with UBF directors. This is, however, 2012, one year after the FOURTH reform movement.

    – Like you, Ben, I too see the complexity of the answer. On my blog, I answer my own question with both “yes” and “no”. To say “UBF is a cult” is a problematic statement. UBF is really more correctly a new religious movement made up of hundreds of personality cults.

    – When I say “senior UBF leaders” I am referring primarily to UBF Korean directors.

    – Why are UBF leaders called “directors”? What does that mean? It means they are responsible to direct the lives of those reporting to them. That is what Ludy calls evil. UBF directors and some shepherds/esses put themselves in the “director’s chair” of people’s lives (to use Ludy’s terms). It is similar to selfishness, where one puts “self” in the director’s chair. In reality, only Jesus belongs in that chair!

    – I found myself saying “Yes, yes, yes, that’s it! That’s what I did. That’s what I allowed others to do to me.” all through Ludy’s video. I know I am not alone. I know most if not all UBF members know exactly what I’m talking about. My purpose in making all this public is to encourage many more to speak up and not be enablers for cult-like behavior of UBF directors.

    I will be sharing more on my blog, but here are ten things Ludy says all Christian leaders should be saying. I think it is wise to ask: “Do I hear my pastors and leaders saying these things?”

    I was so happy to hear this list because in just 1 year at our new church, I have heard 8 or 9 of these already.

    1.Test Everything I say against the Bible!
    2.Go! Get out of here! You have a job to do!
    3.Your spiritual life can thrive without me!
    4.Truth is not exclusive to our little group!
    5.Let God direct your giving. Give to the work He asks you to give to – even if it’s not here.
    6.I’m not perfect! But, Jesus IS!
    7.I don’t deserve special treatment!
    8.Jesus forgives thoroughly and completely! And I choose to do the same!
    9.Don’t be quick to judge the motives of others!
    10.The only message that counts is Jesus and Him Crucified!

    UBF people should at least listen to the 10 minutes or so of this video from Eric Ludy starting at time 34:01.

    Ex-UBF people should at least listen to the 10 minutes or so around 51:00.

    And I think everyone should hear the final 10 minutes.

    Here is a PDF of the outline/notes: Ludy sermon notes

  5. Ben two more thoughts on your article. I felt that you understand extra-biblical revelations as a certain ingredient for being a cult. Yes, on occassions supernatural claims have led to confusion and created “super-leader” centered ministries. But I think the Bible tells us to expect supernatural. for example, we are told to be eager to prophesy and not to forbid tongues (1Co 14:39). But we are also told to test every super-natural claim so that if it is from God, we must accept it, and if it is from man or the devil to reject it. I for one am seriouly tired of “words” and “preachings”, and without the supernatural I see no difference between Christianity and any other religions, and would find no reason to remain a Christian. By equating extra-biblical revelations as cultish, I think we are in conflict with the Bible itself. Certainly history has shown that some extra-biblical revelations have produced cults, but there may be a small fraction, which is not.

    Interesting enough, those “authoritarian, hierarchical” and “leaders who display cult-like behavior” in ubf, have now become experts in branding other churches and leaders outside ubf as “CULT!!!!”
    When I left ubf, in stead of looking inward at their failures and shame, started to cook up which ministry or individual had influenced me and to brand it as cult? Intentions are very clear: ubf is perfect, any outsider who has any influence on ubf members cannot but be a cult.

    My Korean wife always says, “Why do they forget how ubf had been struggling, not so long ago, but just 10-12 years back because of being branded as a cult in almost every country, esp the USA and S. Korea? Now somehow they have managed to come out of that phase, but why do they keep calling other churches and ministries as cult?”

  6. David Bychkov

    thanks for the article, Ben. After my recent church history studies I am tending to consider UBF as on of forms of radical christianity. there were a lot such forms/groups during church history.

  7. Darren Gruett

    I heard this many years ago in a sermon long before I was in UBF, and so I thought I would share it with the group since I think it does a good job of defining what a cult is.

  8. Thanks, Gajanan. I do not believe you are violating commenting policy. I love Bickle’s 7 excellent points for churches and ministries that are either cults or have cult-like tendencies. Personally, I think it would be very healthy for all of UBF to examine them. 7 characteristics of cult(ish) groups:

    1) Opposing critical thinking.

    2) Dishonoring the family unit.

    3) Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving.

    4) Emphasizing special doctrines outside Scripture.

    5) Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders.

    6) Crossing biblical boundaries of behavior.

    7) Separation from the (whole) Church.

    I just love bullet points!

    • This list of 7 qualities sparked my memory this morning. I really want to move on and stop discussing UBF (believe it or not!). I am weary of talking about such things! But I am compelled to tell my story and explain the way I used to think.

      As most UBF people reading this blog know, I was the “Tom Cruise” of UBF, defending UBF practices on the internet for several years. I received a lot of emails from 2003 to 2007 from UBF people thanking me for my defense.

      My main defense? Proot-texting the list above! I just realized today that I knew all the cult-like behavior going on. But I accepted it as the “real Christian life” and prided myself in having “figured it all out” based on the Bible. (I am sickened now realizing how many cult-like behaviors I justified. I feel like Joseph Goebbels.)

      For example, here is how I used to defend the accusations, all of which have been levelled against UBF for many decades. I weaved these thoughts into many testimonies and messages and online discussions.

      1) Opposing critical thinking.
      I answered this by pointing to Hebrews 11:1. I claimed UBF does not oppose thinking, we promote faith above thinking.

      2) Dishonoring the family unit.
      I answered this by pointing to Luke 12:51-53. I claimed that Jesus brought division and that evidence of division was a mark of true discipleship. Those who had close relationships with family members were weak and in danger of losing their mission.

      3) Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving.
      I pointed to John 6:66-68. I claimed that I could leave UBF at any time. That is what we taught. But I was a real Chrsitian and *chose* to stay because I found the words of life.

      4) Emphasizing special doctrines outside Scripture.
      I pointed to John 21:25 and John 14:12. I claimed that since the whole world could not hold the books that would be written about Jesus, I and UBF were fulfilling this prediction with our testimonies. I claimed we in UBF were doing greater things than Jesus and thus we should not be surprised by special doctrines.

      5) Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders.
      I pointed to 2 Timothy 3:14 and 1 Corinthians 4:16. I claimed that Paul and Timothy had a spiritual parent/child relationship that God intended all Christians to have. Loyalty demonstrated thankfulness to leaders who sacrificed so much for me.

      6) Crossing biblical boundaries of behavior.
      I pointed to verses like Luke 19:22, and the Rebekah/Jacob/Esau story in Genesis. People who claimed abuse, I taught, were just weak people who viewed UBF missionaries as “hard men”. I claimed such people couldn’t handle the truth and were just unthankful. I further claimed that the servant of God was justified in using any means necessary to bring glory to God, even if it meant lying, stealing, or other harsh words/actions. If only God is honored and the name of God’s servants is upheld, any behavior can be justified.

      7) Separation from the (whole) Church.
      I pointed to the isolation events Jesus took his disciples on, such as in Mark 6:31-32. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places. So I justified withdrawing from Christian history because I felt close to Jesus and a small number of true disciples.

  9. Thanks, Brian, for sharing. Your defense of UBF is surely creative and cute, perhaps even biblical!

    My choleric defense was probably more blunt, brutal, uncouth and surely quite unrefined, such as, “Shape up, or ship out,” or “You can’t handle the truth” (aka Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”), or “If you don’t like UBF, you can leave!”

    I didn’t actually quite say these exact words, but it was exactly what I felt in my heart, and communicated it as such with an elevated elitism of self-exaltation, and with a big grin!

    BTW, the buttons look great! Thanks.

  10. I think that this article and discussion have a right direction. Dr.Ben so often tried to say that UBF is a christian church with problems like other churches may have. He also compared Lee and UBF leaders with Moody, Spurgeon, etc. Though there is still the opinion that it is not a duck that looks like a duck and is quacking like a duck, nevertheless now UBF leaders are compared to cult leaders, and rightly so. It is very hard to find resemblence of UBF leaders and the Bible leaders (like Paul, Moses, etc) and great church leaders (like Moody), and it is really hard to find a diffirence between UBF and a cult. So many points from different sources and articles and every one is to the spot! So it is quite possible that e.g. Lee was “a typical power monger” and UBF is a typical cult, and the defenders are either “from the close circle” or have been in a “special positive” UBF chapter (or may be some of them are still trying to be Tom Cruises of UBF). My opinion is that UBF leaders are cult leaders, and it is the Lord who has led so many christian people out of UBF. And now who can defend UBF and UBF leaders? Tom Cruise?

    • Darren Gruett

      Vitaly, am I to assume that when you say “UBF leaders are cult leaders” that you are referring to a specific group of people within UBF, or do you mean anybody who is a leader in UBF. I certainly do not consider myself a cult leader within UBF, and I doubt Ben does either.

    • Vitaly, I’d like to know if you are still in UBF. I ask this because currently, I am and I personally know several of the leaders. While I am critical of UBF at times, I would not categorize any of these leaders as cult figures. Of course, no one is perfect but to accuse them of this is, in my opinion, very short-sighted at best and at worst borders on slander. I think that if this discussion is going to continue in the right direction, then we shouldn’t continue to throw knives at caricatures of past figures who may or may not have been what we thought they were. I understand that you have probably been deeply wounded by some UBF leaders, and I empathize with you; I even apologize on their behalf, if that makes any difference. But in order to move forward in a positive manner, we at some point have to resolve our bitterness towards them at the cross of Jesus and ultimately, in love, pray that they will be changed by God. Vitriolic libel does not create a path for personal healing or healthy dialogue.

    • CharlesB: I will let Vitaly respond for himself. I want to point out that I was “in UBF” from 1987 to 2011. I and many of my friends left UBF last year and this year. We were all leaders. I was a Director as well. I find it more than coincidental that our observations in 2011/2012 are nearly identical to the views expressed every 10 years or so by people who leave UBF.

      I agree that not all UBF leaders are “cult leaders”. Many are simply “cult-like behavior enablers”. I guarantee however that there are numerous UBF leaders in 2012 who could easily be classified as personality cult leaders. I won’t name names here, but this is a discussion that needs to be had. Since no one will have it in UBF, it is being had here online.

  11. Ben, I read through your original post and two statements jumped out at me:

    “Christian leaders have historically been abusive.”
    > I categorically disagree. A few quotes do not convince me of this. Do you have other information that would lead you to make such a statement?

    “Some want to shut down UBFriends.”
    > I have backups of all posts and comments. If this website is shut down, I will rebuild it on my own server.

  12. Hi Vitaly,

    Christian leaders, including UBF leaders, ARE sinners (i.e. not perfect). So, as sinners they/we sin in REAL ways, even if they/we may not publicly (or privately) confess how they specifically sin. A sinner ALWAYS hurts others (and themselves) when they sin. I love my wife dearly, but I am humbled to the dust by the number of times I have hurt her over 3 decades of marriage. Thus, her “gospel” love for me makes Jesus more real to me, and I love her and Jesus “more” as a result.

    I would think that one of the most important attributes of a Christian leader is that he loves his wife (children, family). But some “great” Christians in history did not love their wives: Charles Wesley, William Carey, AW Tozer, David Livingston. How can a Christian leader possibly NOT love his wife when they obviously love Jesus and the church?

    Our sin is often our blind spot. Our sin hurts/wounds others, our wives, our children, our families, our fellow Christians in church. Some sins hurt/wound worse than others. UBF leader’s sins of spiritual and leadership abuse have hurt/wounded others in real and painful and inexcusable ways. It is not because they are cult leaders. It is because they ARE sinners, whose salvation is by grace and not by their works (which is the topic of another story!).

    • Darren Gruett

      I knew about the problems that Charles Wesley had with his wife; I did not know about the others. Another slightly different example that often comes to my mind is Martin Luther who, among other things, wrote what is considered today to be some real antisemitic things against the Jews. And that was not when he was young or immature, but later on his life, if memory serves me correctly. Great saints are also great sinners.

    • Darren Gruett

      I also should add that I know of at least a couple of well-known contemporary Christian leaders who have had problems with their marriage as well.

  13. Hi Brian,

    I guess those “few quotes” convinced me that Christians (including leaders), as sinners, ARE abusive when they sin. I was abusive probably for 25 years as a Christian leader in UBF, without nary a thought that I was, not even remotely!

    Perhaps for some of the 24 years while you were defending UBF, you were “being abused/used” without knowing it, while your leader sincerely (and perhaps wrongly) thought he was truly loving and serving you.

    Maybe, as you pointed out, the phrase “Christian leaders have historically been abusive” may be extreme. However, I was “abusive” for a quarter of a century, at least. Even now when I do not want to be abusive any more, I know in my heart that I still “loose it” at times, even if no one else may perceive it. Maybe they do and just don’t tell me.

  14. Charles, I left UBF last year. A month later my wife was ordered to leave. I left when I phisically felt that I am going to REALLY DIE very soon if I don’t leave. I think that Brian’s testimony about Sarrah Thompson, a UBF “mother of prayer”, an Anna Karenina of UBF testifies about UBF atmosphere clearly. I was a UBF member for 16 years and my wife – for 19 years. Recently I watched a film “The next three days”. A teacher saves his wife in the film. My wife says that the story is similar to the story of our family. She thanks me for sacrificially saving her from the prison of UBF. (I agree that a christian leader should love his wife)). I mean that atmosphere inside UBF was/is destructive and cult-like. The kingdom of God is supressed. Do you think UBF is like a healthy church and every/most christian church has such an atmosphere and behavior? Or is UBF like a TYPICAL cult? (BTW I attended many churches in our city, most of them don’t know anything about UBF though are in close contact with each other; and those who heard about UBF say that UBF is a cult with wrong teaching). What I wanted to say in my previous comment is that I can’t find a difference between UBF and a cult in the lecture of Ludy and in other articles about cults. If you say that there is a difference I suppose you still admitt that UBF is 99% cult-like. I would express my thought this way. Jesus said, “…needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean” (this may be a description of a healthy christian church). I would say about UBF, “…needs only to wash his whole body; his feet (1%) are clean”. Dr.Ben, yes, UBF leaders are REAL sinners but cult leaders are THE SAME. I wonder what would you say about other TYPICAL cults and cult leaders and cult-like organisations.

  15. Hi Vitaly,

    Every time I hear your story, or Brian’s, or Chris’ story, my heart cringes and breaks, because I know that what happened to the 3 of you, and to others, is horrible, inexcusable, and unChristian, and it IS UBF’s responsibility, and for which we ARE accountable. Again, for what it is worth (very little, I suppose), I personally apologize. My personal wish and hope is that there may be some degree of healing and reconciliation between the parties involved.

    As Joe mentioned, the definition of what a cult is, plays much into what you consider a cult. Without answering your question, I will say that there are large segments of the evangelical Protestant community who say that the largest cult in the world is the Catholic church.

    When a top evangelical leader was asked a few months ago, what one question he would ask the pope, he said, “That’s easy. I will ask him, ‘Why don’t you believe the gospel?'” I love this leader’s biblical teaching. So it was hard to hear him coming across so strongly against the Catholic church, because of his unmovable and inflexible insistence that salvation is by faith alone, and that Catholic doctrine has added works to faith.

    This leader may not call UBF a cult, because UBF says and believes that salvation is by faith alone, even if some live and teach as though their works increases their/your status, stature and standing!

  16. I just read a quote by G.K. Chesterton:

    Yea, we are mad as they are mad;
    Yea, we are blind as they are blind;
    Yea, we are very sick and sad
    Who bring good news to all mankind.

    Because of our own sins, we, UBF shepherds, Bible teachers and missionaries are all “mad, blind, sick and sad” (even if we refuse to admit that we are!). When we share the gospel and make disciples, our madness, blindness, sickness and sadness affects our “sheep” and disciples, sometimes devastatingly and horribly, as shared often on UBFriends.

    This is NOT/NEVER to excuse or justify or rationalize abusive “sick and sad” cult-like UBF practices and behavior. NO!!! This is simply to try to explain and understand that even genuine sincere Christian leaders are “sick and sad,” and who still desperately need Jesus.

    • Ben,

      Here’s the problem: Chris, Vitaly and I have already heard many apologies and explanations. I for one, accept all the apologies. I also understand the explanations. What we want are not apologies or explanations. We want acknowledgement and repentance.

      The cult conversation is a circular dialogue that will never result in any kind of helpful answer. The big question, as I see it, is this: How long with God put up with UBF? In Genesis, we know that God will not contend with mankind forever. At some point, God’s judgment fell and God started over with Noah’s family.

      I am convinced that 2012 is a year of reckoning for UBF people. If there is no acknowledgement and repentance this year, God’s judgment will fall. I don’t know what that will look like or how it will happen. I am convinced however that God will not contend with UBF past 2012. Something will happen.

      I say this publicly because of two reasons: 1) My experience and honest evaluation of the past 50 years of UBF history and 2) the Holy Spirit’s confirmation around the world, especially in Gajanan Nial. The Spirit has been teaching Gajanan, a man I never met, half way around the world some of the same things that the Spirit has been teaching me, and at almost exactly the same time, and in nearly identical UBF situations.

      Ben, I’ve come to trust you, not because of your apologies or explanations, but because of your acknowledgment and repentance. When will an honest word be spoken among UBF directors?

      For example, will anyone acknowledge that Toledo UBF no longer has a director? Will any UBF director change his mind about the UBF hagiographies? Will any UBF director honestly evaluate and respond to the cult allegations? Or will the directors just praise God and continue to ignore division? Will the directors continue to ignore the cries of people like Sarah? Will they continue to sweep events like those in Winnepeg under the rug? Will the directors continue their deception? And what is going on with the ECFA? Why were no 2011 financial numbers published?

    • Brian,

      I say this in love: you’ve beat this dead horse enough. I mean, what you’re trying to get out of UBF, which is acknowledgment and repentance, is something only the Holy Spirit can bring about. True, God inspires his people through the Holy Spirit and speaks through them, but I honestly don’t see the evidence of that in your words. It sounds more as if, because of your wounds which are real, you are looking for healing balm, which comes in the form of UBF leaders’ repentance. I honestly don’t think that they will repent because of the things that you are saying. Real repentance comes through an encounter with the cross of Jesus; that goes for you, me and UBF leaders.

      When you post sensitive information such as old testimonies (which, by the way, are only one side of the story) and old reports and heck even current information, that just infuriates the opposing party even more and perhaps further hardens them in their stance. Jesus pronounced woe upon the Pharisees in his day, but it was not just a woe of judgment. Jesus grieved over their spiritual condition and though he spoke harshly to them, he loved them with the love of God. But from you, I just see only a woe of judgment. And your evidence for saying that UBF will be judged somehow in the near future is pretty shallow. I can give you many examples of how the younger generation in UBF is showing signs of true spiritual awakening due to their genuine reception of the gospel. Even older people, including missionaries, are beginning to change. Some second gens are acknowledging what the older generation did and are forgiving them and giving their lives to the work of Christ. Do people still need to repent? Absolutely, perhaps even publicly in some cases. But it will probably come through compassionate, humble, Christ-like prayer which is genuinely concerned for your enemies. We can’t shout at people and expect that they will change. What if someone only blasted you for all of your past sins without showing a shred of compassion or empathy? Ultimately, you need to submit your angst to God and turn UBF over to Him; only he can bring about true change.

      Brother, for your own spiritual well-being, just see UBF for what it is (whatever that may be) and leave it in the hands of God. With all of the energy your expending on focusing on UBF, you could just as well pastor a small flock or give your heart fully to some other work which God has ordained you for. I don’t think that your job is to be the OT prophet of UBF. I could be wrong, but probably not. You probably feel as though you have lost many years to these people or this organization, but obsessing over it is not spiritually healthy for anyone. Take it from Paul, he could have been bitter over how the Pharisees trained him and promoted him to their higher ranks in such a short time, which only fueled his self-righteousness and subsequent hatred towards Christians and Jesus Christ even more. But did he remain bitter? No, actually God wouldn’t even let him focus exclusively on them; he made him a minister to the Gentiles. And towards the end of his life he said,

      “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)

      And this was in the context of him speaking about how he left his old life as a Pharisee behind to pursue Christ whole-heartedly. Please Brian, let it go and give everything to Jesus, the Head and Chief Shepherd. Love, Charles

    • Charles, what do you mean when you say “acknowledgment and repentance, is something only the Holy Spirit can bring about”. Sure, in itself the statement is not wrong. But when UBF people say it, it always seems to have the implication “therefore we shall not demand repentance”. This is a fallacy that can easily be refuted if take Jesus’ words in Mt 18 seriously: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, …”. And this is not something new that Jesus talks about, you already have it in Lev 3: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” The passage in Mt 18 also goes on and explains what shall happen if they do not repent. “Treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”. Not “wait until the spirit helps them to repent, even if you waited already for decades.”

      I don’t understand why UBF people claim to obey the Bible as closely as possible, but completely fail to apply what Jesus commanded there in Mt 18. Or do they believe when Jesus talks about “If you brother or sister sins” this cannot include UBF leaders?

    • Chris, your comment is well taken. I realize that some can justify others lack of repentance using what I said. But also what I meant was that an environment in which the Spirit is free to move and touch peoples hearts is necessary for proper repentance. We cannot force someone to repent with our words alone. Often times, when we want them to do so, it is usually done by us in an emotional and unproductive way. In conflict resolution, we need to be absolutely ruled by the Spirit and our the one who needs to repent must have an open heart as well. Also, excommunication needs to be handled as carefully and as Spirit-led as possible for it is not a trivial matter. Perhaps because there is no clear guideline on church discipline or excommunication within UBF (I’ve only heard of/been subjected to weird spiritual training), we need to start thinking about this topic. I appreciate the food for thought that you have given me, Chris.

    • Thanks Charles for being open to discussion. I really appreciate this.

      I fully agree when you say that excommunication should be handled carefully and that it is not a trivial matter. Unfortunately, UBF top leadership did not think so and excommunicated the whole reform UBF in 2001, which comprised maybe half of the UBF community at that time. There were many other cases where people in UBF were arbitrarily excommunicated, like the case of Augustine Hope Song in Moscow. I myself have been excommunicated once, by my personal shepherd, without any reason, I just was not subservient enough in his view. The director, other members or the non-existing elders were not involved when I was excommunicated; my shepherd just told my director that he had kicked me out, and that was it. You’re right that there are no guidelines for these things in UBF, it’s just done at the will of the leaders. It’s usually done when people stop following the traditions of UBF or start being critical.

      Even if conflict resolution should be ruled by the Spirit as you say, as you also say there should be written regulations and clear proceedings to be followed, based on the Bible. Such official written by-laws were one of the things that the reformers wanted to be written. But I guess UBF still after 50 years has not yet made this step. The top leadership prefers the regiment of “unwritten rules” because in reality, such unwritten rules are much stronger than written rules. But they can never write these rules down, because as soon as you do it, the ridiculousness and cult-likeness of these rules would become obvious.

      When I mentioned Mt 18:15ff it was not because I had in mind to excommunicate anybody. I think the main point of this passage is to show that obvious sin that has affected others *needs* to be repented of, and the church can and must *demand* such repentance even if it is true that only the Spirit can bring forth repentance. Remember that church members are considered to be born again people. If confronted with real *obvious* sin, like those things mentioned in the 1976 letter, they *will* repent. This is the meaning of 1John 3:6 “No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” If they don’t listen and continue to sin, it’s a sign they haven’t been born again, and that’s why Jesus said such people should be treated like pagans. That does not mean to treat them badly or “hate” them as is sometimes implied we do, it just means they should not be considered as Christians, much less spiritual leaders, as long as they are unwilling to listen to the complaints of so many people they have hurt.

    • Chris,

      Just want to point out something: “Such official written by-laws were one of the things that the reformers wanted to be written. But I guess UBF still after 50 years has not yet made this step.”

      Such by-laws do in fact exist, at least in Chicago UBF (good luck trying to get a copy. I do have a ubf friend who has a copy however.)

      The maddening trend has been that UBF leaders silently evaluate what the reformers say, and then implement those things behind the scenes. Then, after things settle down, they can declare “See, we don’t do that. See, we have by-laws!” Then they train new young students who don’t know the history and who will defend them.

      That is what happened to me in the 1990’s. All the while the James Kim god-father-like events were going on, I and my friends were “protected” from all this and only thought “UBF is great!”, not realizing how the family we all loved was being destroyed step by step.

      UBF has had an unhealthy pattern of silently “changing without changing”, which then requires a constant re-write of history in light of the new actions.

      A similar thing happened to me. I posted a ton of Christian quotes and ideas of how to change UBF on my Facebook page. When I met some UBF leaders in person, one of them told me they agree with almost all that I posted, and that they had started doing some of the things I wrote about. However, they’ve not talked to me since and would of course not admit that they were doing anything I suggest (probably because I’m so “evil”… :)

    • “Such by-laws do in fact exist, at least in Chicago UBF (good luck trying to get a copy).” Probably they created it when they wanted to get re-accepted by the NAE. But as you say, they question is, has the ordinary member access to such documents? If you become a member, are you required to read it? Does it contain all the critical issues, like the proceedings when church members misbehave, or how the ordinance of elders is done on what their role is? Would be really interesting to know.

  17. “I say this in love: you’ve beat this dead horse enough.”
    > And I say this in truth: The horse is not dead :)

    “I mean, what you’re trying to get out of UBF, which is acknowledgment and repentance, is something only the Holy Spirit can bring about.”
    > I agree 100%.

    “True, God inspires his people through the Holy Spirit and speaks through them, but I honestly don’t see the evidence of that in your words. It sounds more as if, because of your wounds which are real, you are looking for healing balm, which comes in the form of UBF leaders’ repentance.”
    > I already found the “healing balm”: the grace of God. Internet blogs cannot portray emotion well. Most UBF people must see me as a bitter, angry fanatic. Perhaps I am at times. But I think Ben and Westloop can comment on my nature.

    “I honestly don’t think that they will repent because of the things that you are saying. Real repentance comes through an encounter with the cross of Jesus; that goes for you, me and UBF leaders.”
    > I agree 100%.

    “When you post sensitive information such as old testimonies (which, by the way, are only one side of the story) and old reports and heck even current information, that just infuriates the opposing party even more and perhaps further hardens them in their stance.”
    > I don’t just post other people’s old testimonies or reports. Where do I do that on my blog? I am sharing my personal journey of life and faith, and sharing my thoughts and honest reflections and emotions on my blog and here. Pastors I’ve talked with outside of UBF are able to handle that kind of sharing, and in fact, they encourage such honest sharing (though perhaps not on blogs.)

    “Jesus pronounced woe upon the Pharisees in his day, but it was not just a woe of judgment. Jesus grieved over their spiritual condition and though he spoke harshly to them, he loved them with the love of God. But from you, I just see only a woe of judgment.”
    > Then you don’t know me.

    “And your evidence for saying that UBF will be judged somehow in the near future is pretty shallow.”
    > That is based on my honest review of the past 50 years and other church history, including the SVM. By the way, UBF is indeed following the pattern of the SVM organization whether they know it or not.

    “I can give you many examples of how the younger generation in UBF is showing signs of true spiritual awakening due to their genuine reception of the gospel. Even older people, including missionaries, are beginning to change.
    > Good and amen.

    “What if someone only blasted you for all of your past sins without showing a shred of compassion or empathy?”
    > Indeed…

    “With all of the energy your expending on focusing on UBF, you could just as well pastor a small flock or give your heart fully to some other work which God has ordained you for.”
    > God has not called me to pastor a small flock. God has called me to be a witness against what UBF directors have done.

    “Please Brian, let it go and give everything to Jesus, the Head and Chief Shepherd.”
    > I used your thinking for 20+ years, and even that verse you quoted about forgetting. But where did such thinking lead me? I sat by idly watching over 30 families and over 100 people be destroyed in some way. I made a promise to a friend that I would not let this go. And I won’t until something very specific happens.

    Love and truth and grace,

    • Brian, perhaps I have mischaracterized you. Please forgive me if anything I insinuated about you in my last post is not true. You have your reasons for doing what you’re doing. While I don’t necessarily agree, it’s ultimately your prerogative. I’ve said my piece. God bless, Charles

    • Charles, I would say likewise. I welcome any comments or corrections to anything I’ve written. I share not to persuade anyone to agree with me, but to learn and grow and express my thoughts. Unfortunately most UBF people remain silent and never share their honest thoughts to anyone. I appreciate that you did.

      I believe we are both Christians and can learn from each other. We don’t have to agree, nor do we need to use flattering words. If someone can convince me that I’m wrong, I’ll change or adjust my viewpoints.

  18. Thanks Charles and Brian for your last 2 exchanges!

    I think this was a hope of UBFriends at its inception, in that we can talk freely and openly about anything without “attacking,” and also without “avoiding” issues.

    Just as speaking inappropriately is a sin. But it is also a sin by being silent when one should speak up.

    May God bless us to dialogue with humility and respect more and more. Our trinitarian God is always in loving fellowship and communication with each other. And so must we as brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Avoiding dialogue and communication is avoiding an understanding of the very nature of God as Trinity.

    • Ben,

      I recently read a good article entitled “Seven Ways to Destroy Your Marriage“. The seven ways also apply to a church or organization. The best way to ensure a church will fall apart is to stop the dialogue.

      That is why I believe in the purpose of ubfriends and support these dialogues. Perhaps we could discuss the trinity or the gospel here soon?

      Here are two good ways to destroy relationships:

      Talk about the person and not to them because doing so will be awkward. This will ensure destruction, and the silent treatment is really an amazing weapon when it comes to refusing to communicate. (Don’t worry about the fact that five-year-olds do it… just own it!)

      Interrupting my spouse during conflict to immediately correct them and then trying my best to make a stronger point always helps tear a relationship to pieces.

  19. Brian, you forgot the rest:

    As soon as I hear (or even think) something negative about my spouse, it is absolutely essential to carry that thought to its fullest illogical conclusion. Don’t ever ask for an explanation or clarification as more open communication will only lead to a stronger marriage.

    If you realize you are wrong about something, you must allow pride to dominate your thoughts. This will unleash a barrage of accusations that actually have nothing to do with what the original argument or discussion was about in the first place. Win at all costs, even if it means saying things that hurt and wound deeply.

    If you want a great marriage, you cannot see your spouse and you as being on the same team. You must view everything as some sort of game and make it a goal to compete with them and not actually complete them.

    You’ve got to talk about how much they are “not meeting your needs” and how they need to “step up and do better” more often. By all means do not take a good look at yourself and what you could do to improve the marriage. Everything must be blamed on them and you’ve got to see yourself as flawless and perfect.

    Heck no! You need your set of friends and your spouse needs their set. Don’t have mutual friends. Don’t have date nights. Don’t do anything fun as a family. Also, make sure that when you are out on a date as a couple you spend as much time on your phone as possible because communication with your spouse will do nothing except make your marriage stronger.

    The above is exactly why the relationship is broken here, and I do not wish to reply.

    • Jim, I see what you did there. Moreover, what if Jesus related to his bride, the church, according to these standards? Either no one would ever repent or Jesus would have an eternally unhappy wife.

    • Jim,

      I appreciate your breaking the silence. Here are my thoughts on your comment:

      > Your implication is that I am assuming the worst about UBF. My questions: Why should we even have a life-long shepherd who rules over or cares for us? If we don’t assume the worst, then am I to assume the best always? What I want is an honest assessment.

      > Your implication is that I am here just to win an argument. My questions: How would UBF leaders like to settle this dispute? Do UBF leaders even know what the dispute is about? Is there a way to settle the dispute without closed-door, secret meetings?

      > Your implication is that I view UBF leaders as my enemy. I can understand why you might feel this way. I view people these days according to how they treat me, not according to how they speak to me.

      > Your implication is that I only point out the inadequacies and shortcomings of UBF. I concede this one; that is true. I am a UBF critic.

      > I’m not sure about this one. I think it would be good however to have a beer together sometime.

  20. Charles, what if Jesus related to his bride, the church, according to the standards of UBF leaders? You have already answered. After leaving UBF I persomally can’t stop admiring the amazing grace of Jesus and the kingdom of God (instead of the kingdom of korean men).

    • Vitaly, I’m sorry for you what you endured, but that does not justify or lend credit to your sweeping generalizations. By the way, I thank God that you found the grace of Jesus. Please continue in it and apply it to those you are commenting about.

  21. @Charles:
    “Either no one would ever repent or Jesus would have an eternally unhappy wife.”
    > Must we think in “either/or” terms here? I’ve learned from Messianic Jews that the power of the Bible lies in the “and” way of thinking. I contend that it is possible to be honest and faithful at the same time.

    “I persomally can’t stop admiring the amazing grace of Jesus and the kingdom of God (instead of the kingdom of korean men).”
    > I understand this thought very well. I can’t say Amen enough to this. UBF and God are being unbound in my mind and it is so liberating.

  22. Brian,

    All of the comments here are not related to UBF per se. In fact, as a leader in UBF, all of your comments are directed to me personally, not an ambiguous organizational hierarchy. It refers to my relationship with you, and others.

    You modified the headings, which in fact came from the article you referenced. (I find that interesting.)

    My issue is that you view the worst about me; you want to win an argument with me rather than have a relationship; you view me as your enemy; you focus on my inadequacies and shortcomings (which I freely admit are too many to list); and we do not have fun together, but antagonize one another.

    So, I find it very difficult to continue a discussion within this environment. Should I be more mature spiritually? Without question. Should I embrace those who once encouraged me as friends and now seem to only want to find fault with me and correct me and expose my sins? Of course. But what spouse would tolerate such a relationship? I assume you do not treat your wife this way.

    Please pray for me to be more like Jesus to embrace everyone. I am not perfect, nor do I claim to be. I live by Jesus’ grace, and want to help others know his grace as well. That is all.

    • That’s part of the issue I have with the comments as well. I don’t understand the broad generalizations being made. How is this actually going to open up an honest dialogue concerning past and present (real or perceived) wrong-doings by UBF leaders? My approach has been to talk, face to face, with the specific leader whom I have disagreed with. I have found no positive in venting about it or blasting them from afar. And in doing the former, by the grace of God, I have experienced genuine reconciliation with some leaders. But if I make the generalization that everybody is behaving as my adversary, then I end up alienating those who might have initially been sympathetic to my pain.

  23. Charles, I 100% agree with you. I cannot deny there are many wounds in many hearts. I absolutely don’t want to belittle them. I pray they may all be healed by God’s grace. There is an issue if a specific leader refuses to discuss. Then it becomes an issue for elders and the church, as Jesus stated.

    But I will state simply that I believe that nothing is outside of the Almighty God’s sovereignty, and all things work for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose. So I pray to accept everything as from the Lord, good and bad, and pray to grow in Jesus’ image through it all.

    In the end, the only person I need to please is my Lord Jesus Christ, because only before his throne will I stand. What others say in the end means very little, except that Jesus said we must love one another. I pray we all grow in Jesus’ grace, in his glorious image and in love for one another as he commanded.

    • Jim,

      I see two major events happening in UBF these days, which to my knowledge have never happened before:

      1) Specific issues with specific leaders are being discussed. Finally, the blatant sexual immorality and other sins of high level leaders are beginning to be addressed in a healthy manner. Some people are starting to realize that “covering up” and “covering over” are not the same thing.

      2) A growing number of younger people seem to be a able to see through the facade of the traditional UBF heritage and make decisions for themselves, whether to stay or to leave. There is evidence of the Holy Spirit working newly to rebuild UBF ministry.

      One of my fundamental calls for UBF leaders (including you Jim) is to face the facts, like Abraham did, about your situation. I agree with what you say above but I would add that it is necessary to face the facts, rather than spin a new hagiography.

      This article explains more of my thoughts better than I could:

      Are we ready for the coming evangelical collapse?

  24. Thanks, Jim, Charles, Vitaly, Brian, for this honest and refreshing interchange! Our unity in Christ must truly be in diversity (differences and disagreements), and NOT in conformity or uniformity.

    Ideally, as Charles has mentioned, we primarily need to have such discussions face to face, man to man, heart to heart with ALL cards on the table. But as many of us know, realize and have experienced, UBF has historically not generally promoted a culture for grievances and difficulties to be expressed or even addressed, especially if it concerns some older missionary or leader. This I will categorically say is not healthy, nor biblical. As I stated in the article, it makes the leader out to be like God, because genuine younger leaders often cannot question his decisions and directives without suffering some repercussion.

    I have also experienced and been told where an older leader seemingly tries to listen to you, but they are only patronizing you, without truly affirming what you have said, and responding accordingly, because after the “so-called” conversation, nothing really changes. So eventually, you learn not to waste your time and their time by having any dialogue, because the dialogue was not a true exchange. As Charles says correctly, we should not generalize this to all UBF leaders.

    I have made this statement many times and will do so one more time: “It is not that we in UBF cannot solve/resolve our problems. The problem is that we cannot even begin to address them!”

    The culture may now be gradually changing, perhaps because of UBFriends, where no one can now say, “Just be thankful. Just trust God. Don’t complain. Don’t waste your time talking about that, or reading UBFriends. Just go feed sheep.”

    Btw, for the record, I am very pro-“feeding sheep.” But I am also pro-HOT (honest, open, and transparent), not COLD (calculating, oblivious, loveless, disinterested.) Thanks again for all who comment, for all of you are clearly NOT COLD!!!

    • And thank you for your balanced input, Ben.

      “Our unity in Christ must truly be in diversity (differences and disagreements), and NOT in conformity or uniformity.”
      > Amen.

      “Ideally, as Charles has mentioned, we primarily need to have such discussions face to face, man to man, heart to heart with ALL cards on the table.”
      > I agree. And such meetings are my preference. I have already met in Chicago and in Toledo face to face. Those meetings went well in my opinion, but it is rather difficult for me to travel around the country. I was in a rather interesting situation in regard to UBF (and I believe God intended to use that very situation for good). There never was a “chapter” here; just my family.

      “I have also experienced and been told where an older leader seemingly tries to listen to you, but they are only patronizing you, without truly affirming what you have said, and responding accordingly, because after the “so-called” conversation, nothing really changes. So eventually, you learn not to waste your time and their time by having any dialogue, because the dialogue was not a true exchange.”
      > Exactly. These are some of the primary reasons I am blogging as I am. The more UBF leaders refuse to talk, people will have no choice but to talk about them.

      “As Charles says correctly, we should not generalize this to all UBF leaders.”
      > I agree. Korean UBF directors are usually in my mind when I speak out critically. But so are the Americans, Russians, etc. who enable unhealthy behavior. I don’t know Jim or Charles enough to know what position they have. But I wonder why UBF people always play the “it’s personal” card, as if there is no capacity to objectively and honestly look at UBF ideology and heritage.

      “I have made this statement many times and will do so one more time: “It is not that we in UBF cannot solve/resolve our problems. The problem is that we cannot even begin to address them!””
      > Exactly why my blog exists.


    • Well said, Ben, I fully agree.

      Concerning the innuendo that our “goal is to win the argument rather than actually settle the dispute” I can only say neither is our goal. Our goal is to help solve the problems that are so evident, and in order to do that, we need to clearly point out these problems. Yes, it’s not comfortable, but it needs to be done.

      This is not just like an insignificant dispute between husband and wife, but about serious things that harm(ed) the lives of so many people, and it’s also about sin and repentence, i.e. it has a spiritual dimension, and it’s about the future of the whole organization/church. Hundreds and thousands of UBF members have repented of their personal, intimate sins in their testimonies in the last 50 years. Now it’s time that the top leadership and the organization as a whole also starts to repent for their sins which have been much more grevious and significant. It’s not just about “settling a dispute” and going on as if nothing happened.

  25. Thanks, Chris. It is not that UBF leaders cannot repent. I personally believe that they do repent in their own heart and in their own (cultural, private) way that they may not share with “juniors,” or “native” leaders.

    They also do not like/accept “their sheep” or a younger person pointing out their faults or mistakes, or correcting them or their sermons/messages, or telling them to repent, while they have no problem telling their sheep to repent, or correcting their sheep.

    They definitely do not like this done publicly, in (mass) emails, or in blogs. It shames them. It makes them loose face. It touches them at their deepest core value of honor and shame. They feel as though you just “spit in their face.” They feel traumatized, violated and “stripped naked.”

    But they may also not like/accept it when told or corrected privately by someone they regard as a subordinate. Why? Because a subordinate has “no right” to question them, correct them, or tell them to repent.

    In my opinion, they do believe Mt 18:15-17, but perhaps in an unhealthy authoritarian hierarchical “top-down” way. They may get quite angry and upset when you do this in a “bottom-up” way, as many think that UBFriends is doing.

    I think that almost everyone who has experienced UBF knows all of the above. If the above is not true, then please speak up.

    If UBF is to remain viable, effective and relevant as a global cross-cultural church, this ABSOLUTELY needs to change, and WILL change, albeit gradually.

    • BTW, IMHO, I think that UBFriends has done more good for UBF, compared to all previous “failed” attempts to reform UBF since 1976. Sorry for “bragging.” Kudos to Joe.

    • Ben, I cannot accept the excuse that the leaders can only repent privately and have done so.

      First, public sin must always be confessed publicly. And most of what we are addressing here are public sins, misconduct in their private lives. If your sin affected other people, you need to repent at least in front of these other people. If your sin affected the whole church, you need to repent in front of the whole church. Second, I simply don’t believe that they have repented, because their behavior hasn’t changed and they are still bragging about their “achievements” after 50 years, instead of bemoaning all the ugly things that happened, and they are still unwilling to talk. This is not the behavior of somebody who repented. Don’t fool yourself.

      What you are saying is essentially that they are unable to repent. That’s a very serious thing, since repentance is the one and only simple thing that is necessary to be a Christian and to be saved. It’s the one thing that Jesus preached from the beginning. It’s the one thing that God likes to see, where all angels will sing and dance. No matter how much we sacrifice for God, if we miss repentance, then it is all in vain. If you say somebody is unable or unwilling to repent, in my view it’s tantamount to say that the person is not a Christian.

      You say they understand Mt 18:15-17 in a “top-down” way only. Yes, that’s in fact their big mistake. In Jesus there is no “top-down”, there are only brothers, and all are sinners in front of God.

      The crazy thing is that they believe they it makes them loose face if they repent while the opposite is the case. I would have the greatest respect for them if they made this step. Just like I started to respect you when you made a public confession. But it’s not about how I or others think anyway. It’s a spiritual thing. If you care more what others think about you than what is right to do in front of God, you’re not a spiritual person.

      Here is a good article about repentance by William Webster, these UBF leaders should really read it if they think they can go without repentance:

      “To deny or diminish the necessity for repentance is a repudiation of the gospel of scripture and of the Reformation.”

    • Of course I wanted to say “most of what we are addressing here are public sins, NOT misconduct in their private lives.”

    • Chris,

      “The crazy thing is that they believe they it makes them loose face if they repent while the opposite is the case. I would have the greatest respect for them if they made this step.”
      > Yes and so would I. One honest word goes a LONG way. And yes, I agree that repentance means only one thing. We really need to start conversations here about these topics:

      1. What is the gospel?
      2. What does it mean to repent?
      3. What does it mean to be directed by the Holy Spirit?

  26. Darren Gruett

    Ben, I wholeheartedly agree with your last comments, especially about the value of this web site as being a place where we can dialogue about these things.

  27. Yeah, Darren,

    We ABSOLUTELY NEED dialogue without demonizing or defensiveness; honesty with humility and without hubris; comments, critique and confrontation without caricature and condemnation; to address issues without attacking; generate goodwill and gospel-speak without making generalizations (my weakness/failure); promote reconciliation rather than revenge or retaliation.

  28. Thanks, Darren. Yup, I love alliteration and also bullet points. Here’s another “list” of unhealthy churches and Christian organizations from Ed Stetzer that a friend sent me privately:

    1. The church or organizational culture does not value those serving, just those leading and the function of the organization.

    2. The leader is the only one who is allowed to think.

    3. The organization or church thinks everyone else is wrong and only they are right.

    4. People rationalize that the good they are experiencing is worth the abuse they are receiving.

    5. People often know of the glaring character problems of the leader, but no one can speak truth to the leader in power.

    6. Many times, the leader gets a pass for the fruit of his/her leadership because of some overwhelming characteristic: preaching ability, intelligence, ability to woo others.

    It is amazing that “good” Christian leaders and organizations can be quite “bad.” This list states it differently, yet it is quite similar to an earlier list by Mike Bickle of unhealthy churches posted in an earlier comment above:

  29. “Too many in the body of Christ are not encouraging wounded struggling people to begin their healing by resting in the grace of God, but rather to work harder for the benefits of salvation.”

    Perhaps UBF people can relate to this interesting quote from the book, “Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: The Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church” by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen.

    As Brian said, a very useful question is to ask “What is the gospel?” Sometimes, UBF leaders are unclear about the gospel, in that they repeatedly (over)stress the benefits and results of the gospel (repentance, hard work, mission, commitment, dedication, etc), more than the gospel itself. The result is that the sheep does not experience the grace of Jesus, but instead feels increasingly burdened, even abused by well-intentioned shepherds and Bible teachers.

  30. “Spiritual abuse is a real phenomenon that actually happens in the (church). It is a subtle trap in which the ones who perpetrate the spiritual abuse on others are just as trapped in their unhealthy beliefs and actions as those whom they, knowingly or unknowingly, abuse.” David Johnson, Jeff Van VonDeren, Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.

    This quote may not be very comforting for those who have experienced spiritual abuse. This may explain but not excuse the perpetrators of spiritual abuse in churches.

    • Ben, I’ve also read that book and recommend it to every UBFer.

      One thing that I like about this book is the use of the term “*spiritual* abuse”. It’s different from physical abuse or just emotional abuse because it has a spiritual component. All kinds of abuse hurts the soul of people, sometimes it goes very deep down into the soul. This is also and maybe particularly true for spiritual abuse. That’s why some people even after years or decades are still talking or thinking about it. Other people may not understand and think the abused people are just “whining” because what has been done to them is mostly invisible, and they should just “get over it”. I also think spiritual abuse harms mostly those people who *are* spiritual because otherwise the abuser would have no lever to manipulate them. It’s ironical that particularly such susceptible and sensitive people are shamed as being “unspiritual” in such systems.

      I also agree that the “UBF system” is like a trap not only for the ordinary members, but also for the leaders. It holds their soul captive in different ways. It’s difficult to get out, but it’s not impossible. Recognizing that you’re trapped would be the first step to get out of it. If this website succeeds in revealing the nature of this trap, that would be extremely helpful.

  31. For a while, I was beginning to become a bit disillusioned by the progress (or lack thereof) and tangential nature of ubfriends. But this topic seems to be reviving the sites initial aim, which was to promote healthy, transparent dialogue. This discussion seems to be rivaling that generated by Sharon’s great article The Way of the Cross is Dialogue. Taking a cue from Brian, perhaps we should revisit a topic such as that in order to move forward in our dialogue.

    I have observed that much of the dialogue generated in this discussion alone comes from a place of deep woundedness and a subsequent search for understanding, healing and perhaps reconcialation. I’m sorry to anyone if I have come off with the tone, ‘just get over it’. But at the same time, I think that the angst has been meticulously articulated in as many ways as possible. Though people are encouraged to keep coming forward with their stories, we need to move forward with the overall narrative of our lives inside/outside of UBF.

    We have a lot of great articles on this site which promote internal ecumenism, that is reconciliation and unity within UBF. Many of the comments, which I empathize with, are beginning to come off as repetitive and one-sided. Why don’t we start publishing stories or guides on how to move forward and even personally repent even in an environment in which others are not willing to do so. One thing I commented above to Chris was about thinking of guidelines as to how to carry out church discipline according to Matthew 18:15-17. How do we do this biblically? In the ministry I have not seen a good example of this, only strange and perhaps unbiblical methods of training. The point ultimately is to be gospel-centered, and willing to dialogue at the foot of the cross when such a thing is undertaken. (By the way, Joe S., is there an official protocol for church discipline or restoration to the body?) In moving forward and healing, there are many other topics which can be written about.

    We are all beginning to see what was done to us or even others now; since we have documented it through eloquent acts of articulation, why not now move forward in a constructive manner? Can we perhaps do so and even publish something comprehensive based on it? Write a book about our journey outside of and inside of UBF? Perhaps even have a conference in the future :)

    • In my reference to Matt 18, perhaps the focus should not be so much on church discipline, but rather creating an environment in which Spirit-led, gospel-centered repentance can occur. Brian brought up these three aspects in a few of his comments and suggested that we begin thinking about how to move forward along these lines. I whole-heartedly agree.

    • Good thoughts, Charles. I just want to point out two things that may help you understand my viewpoint (and that of a lot of former members). I hope you can help me understand you as well.

      1. You write above “inside/outside of UBF”… THAT is the thinking that must stop. I am utterly amazed as I dialogue with Christians and begin a Christian leadership study group. Everyone says “at church”, such as “at Grace Community” or “at some other church”. The “inside/outside” thinking reveals an area to repent (change your mind) and see people who need the grace and love and truth of Jesus.

      2. You asked some questions:
      “why not now move forward in a constructive manner?”
      > Because still even today, if I/Chris/Vitaly move forward in a constructive manner, I feel we would be moving on alone. That is what happened to most people so far for decades. I think we want to move onward and into the grace of Jesus but not without our ubf friends.

      “Can we perhaps do so and even publish something comprehensive based on it?”
      > Good purpose for ubfriends perhaps. We former members have quite a bit of comprehensive documents.

      “Write a book about our journey outside of and inside of UBF?”
      > I wrote over 100 articles on my blog about my journey. I plan to write a booklet about the gospel.

      “Perhaps even have a conference in the future :)”
      > Now this is the kind of thought that gets people like me upset. I don’t want any kind of conference or “celebratory event”… An open forum or question/answer session, yes! Conference, no!

    • Brian, I understand how the word “conference” has got a negative connotation for you. But I think it could actually be a good thing for UBF. If people are not able/willing to talk on the Internet, then maybe personally on a conference? What other chance do they have to talk about “global” UBF things and build a community? But I mean a “real” conference where there are both well-prepared lectures about relevant things like the history and problems of shepherding/discipling, and spontaneous workshops where people can freely discuss various ideas what can be done to move forward.

      I see only one problem, namely that most UBF people are just not used to such free talk and open discussion, the leaders are not willing to allow that; they always want to have everything under control up to the wording of the lectures. But even if they would allow it, the ordinary members might be too shy and afraid to talk. I remember how in my chapter when we had church meetings, all the missionary women sat together on one side and hardly ever dared to say anything, even when explicitly asked for their opinion. I also remember when our director asked for an open opinion, it was often a “trap”. After one UBF conference, he asked some of the participants for their opinion, and then when a Bible student said she found the afternoon testimony sharing bording and repetitive, she was scolded. Another time, he asked us how we liked the lecture delivered by our dear leader, the German director, and one shepherd remarked about his bad German, he was heavily chewed out for not being spiritual etc. So people learned to really not utter their honest opinion in the UBF envirionment.

      But I can imagine if a conference has many small workshops or seminars where like-minded people can talk openly without the director or their direct shepherds controlling the setting, it could be a good thing.

    • Chris,

      This would be a “conference” I would accept:

      “But I mean a “real” conference where there are both well-prepared lectures about relevant things like the history and problems of shepherding/discipling, and spontaneous workshops where people can freely discuss various ideas what can be done to move forward.”

      I wonder if such a conference could exist. UBF has to pre-plan every minute of their conferences. Even “free time” is scripted out…

      One time I remember some people wanted to make a more flexible schedule and not pre-plan everything. It sounded quite good. But on the first night of the conference, the director added all the old scripted stuff back into the schedule so that we had to do both the new and the old, and some of the new of course got cut out just due to lack of time.

      This cuts to the heart of being led by the Holy Spirit. I really enjoy studying the Bible now without the ball-and-chain of question sheets, and the freedom to read 2,000 years of Christian authors and actually believe their words.

    • Chris has captured more or less by what I meant by holding a conference. Apart from main-line UBFers unequivocally condemning something like this, I don’t see how this could be a bad thing at all.

  32. I agree, Chris, Brian and Charles. I would add a number 4 to the Brian’s list: 4. What is the role of missionaries?

    Joe wrote some articles about this. Chris mentioned that the reform movements were led by Koreans. Now we talk about repentence before God and biblical things. I agree with Joe and Viola and the Bible that a missionary call from God is very rare. And Paul, missionary №1, didn’t make himself a leader for any local church. He left trusting a church to God. Where is there such a trust in UBF?! Is it possible for Korean missionaries to really repent and “have faith in God” so that also to leave the “mission field” and let “the local leaders lead”? I see the opposite in UBF. I mean that UBF people pray for 100000 (mostly Korean) missionaries (now through the 2 gen)to be forever leaders of (mostly) every chapter in every country. This is not according to the Bible and a must-to-repent thing. I believe that true repentence would lead UBF leaders the opposite way, the biblical way, the way home, to Korea. Otherwise it is absolutely impossible for UBF to a healthy biblical church. Charles, if by the dialogue you mean, “Let’s have a dialogue and reconcile but let UBF leaders lead and the rest to humbly obey; ‘let him who does wrong continue to do wrong…, let him who does right continue to do right…'”, then such a dialogue is not quite possible, the parties are not equal.

    • Excellent question:

      “4. What is the role of missionaries?”

      Perhaps we could have 4 volunteers to write a short introductory article, one per topic, and submit it to Ben for publishing. The only suggestion I would have is that the first article not mention ubf at all (we all know that eventually ubf will be mentioned in the comments :) Thoughts anyone?

    • Brian, I was recently thinking about writing an article about this very topic based on my personal knowledge of and interaction with two missionaries. It might serve well as either an intro or concluding article to a series like this.

    • So in order to move away from Ben’s repeated, rambling ruminations…(which I thoroughly enjoy by the way!), maybe we could tentatively plan like this:

      1. What is the gospel? > Brian K
      2. What does it mean to repent?
      3. What does it mean to be directed by the Holy Spirit?
      4. What is the role of missionaries? > Charles B

      I’ll volunteer for the first topic. I’ve already got it started.

      If we have multiple articles perhaps we could do a series on each topic. I think Ben would make a good moderator to decide what/how to publish each one, so the articles would need to be submitted to Ben.

      Any other takers? Thoughts? Criticisms? :)

  33. And I think there is something unfair in demanding the abused party to repent, to forgive, to forget and stop telling their stories; while “believing” that the abusing party have repented and repent privately, and nothing has changed and is not going to change because the Confusian culture is above the gospel in UBF; now let’s have a dialogue between the parties as they are, and unite our church. I agree, Charles, that BOTH parties should/must go down to the cross and have a dialogue there. The problem is that especially one of the parties which has climbed up very high doesn’t understand and doesn’t know how it is to look down and to go down, there is no “honor” down there.

    • I agree: “And I think there is something unfair in demanding the abused party to repent, to forgive, to forget and stop telling their stories;”

      I think you expressed the maddening frustration of former members very well, Vitaly. I have learned to lay this frustration down at the cross, knowing that at the cross is the victory. Then I am reminded of Colossians 2:15-17 and I usually become more vocal publicly.

    • Vitaly, Brian, this is something that I would like to ponder and perhaps find a resolution to as well. We know that there can be no real conflict resolution apart from a cross-centered conversation. We can resolve the conflict internally by personally coming to the cross. But what if the other party refuses to? Are there any other viable options? I too am tired of hearing the phrase, ‘just move on’ especially when it involves two parties which should be able to reconcile everything in Christ. This is frustrating indeed.

  34. Chris mentioned this: “I also agree that the “UBF system” is like a trap not only for the ordinary members, but also for the leaders. It holds their soul captive in different ways. It’s difficult to get out, but it’s not impossible.”

    That echos some thoughts my wife told me after a conversation recently with one of our friends who just left UBF last month. This person had been a long-time leader, committing about 30 years to UBF. He told my wife how happy they are now! He does not discount what happened; God worked in us and was glorified many times in our UBF fellowship.

    But the ministry is so different now, he said. It’s all about business and performance. Now, they could finally leave in peace (after one final “last straw” event). He saw how people could live “outside” of UBF and still be Christian, and how foolish it is to think in terms of in/out of UBF.

    By the way, we should be aware that long-time leaders are still leaving or deciding about leaving as we dialogue here.

    • Brian, by inside/outside UBF, I simply meant those who are members of UBF (who are not in any way superior to other Christians) as opposed to those who are no longer members. I was mainly implying that every Christian’s story is important and pertinent to the church at large regardless of what local body they belong to. Please don’t peg me as one who suffers from spiritual myopia which comes from living in the so-called UBF bubble!

    • Charles, I am starting to see that you are not myopic! (even as I recover from my own “curvature myopia” :) I am glad to hear your thoughts and hope to understand your viewpoints better.

  35. Thanks Charles, Chris, Brian, Vitaly, and also Jim and Darren (earlier), for this healthy interchange that Joe had envisioned for UBFriends at the outset. Sadly though, as has been stated here and also on other Christian websites/articles discussing spiritual abuse in churches and Christian ministries:

    1) Those who most need to read and listen to this conversation have not, will not, and will likely never do so. They are too busy “serving God.” Even if they do read this, they will not comment. Even if they do comment, their comments are general and tangential and “(super)spiritual” and not intimately engaged, nor invested. Maybe this sounds too pessimistic, but it is my observation.

    2) Those who most need to be healed from UBF spiritual abuses also have not, will not, and will likely never join in this conversation, nor will they comment. Their hearts may be too damaged, disillusioned, discouraged and disinterested to do so, because it would involve “reopening” all the painful wounds and abuses which may be just too painful to do. Also, they may think, “What’s the use” just as some UBF leaders may dismissively utter, “Get over it and move on.”

    3) The real fear of participating in this by current younger junior UBF members. These younger UBF members are more likely to read this than the above 2 categories. But they know that if their names ever appear as commenters on UBFriends, they are “branded.” If they are single, they will be afraid that they will not be “introduced to the one they like.” If they are ambitious, they will not be recommended to be Bible messengers at major conferences, etc. So, they just CANNOT risk it by commenting without being viewed negatively by their leaders. My advice is for them to please comment under a pseudonym.

    Honestly, I do not know what to do about these 3 REAL groups of people. I especially empathize with #2 and #3 and do fully “side” with them. With #1 I am quite disappointed, but there is also nothing I can really do about it, I don’t think. Please do correct me, but I think that the above categories are quite comprehensive and correct and covers “all of the UBF world.”

    • Good summary, Ben. I would suggest a number 4 category. Chris, Vitaly and I seem to fit into the “vocal critic” category. We kept our faith (became stronger and more healthy actually) and we continue the dialogue. My “wounds” have been all but healed. I can speak openly now (and can now ramble on and on…).

      I am willing to meet any ubf friend any time that is practically possible. And I’ve done so in the last year, having numerous 2 and 3 hour in-person coffee-shop meetings. For our silent readers here, consider yourself openly invited to Detroit for coffee and dialogue!

    • And if some ubf friend wants to talk to me via email or in person, you can do so without fear of being exposed. I won’t reveal your name and your conversation will not end up on my blog (unless of course you attempt to bring me back to ubf :)

    • You can make such a categorization, but I think there are more groups with different issues, like Koreans vs. Non-Koreans, missionaries vs. shepherds, 2nd gens vs. new members with parents outside UBF etc. Also, be careful when putting people into the category “will never change”. I’ve also done that, but actually I have seen people who have been for decades in UBF radically change. For instance, the Korean missionary who once kicked me out of UBF (see above) left after 24 years and has become a dear friend of mine.

    • Chris, I think I try to catch myself from saying “never change” to saying “likely never to change.” Your friend who left after 24 years, and Brian’s friend who left after 30 years of being in UBF are “rare,” I think.

  36. Yeah, Brian, your 4th category of “all of the UBF world” is acknowledged (vocal critic), except that it is unfortunately and sadly the absolute minority, since you can virtually count them in the fingers of 1 hand.

    Most people like you, Chris and Vitaly sadly fall into the 2nd category of those who find it way too painful and unproductive to reopen past UBF-inflicted wounds. So, my heart goes out the most to them, since I personally contributed to UBF spiritual abuses for over 2 decades.

  37. Hi Chris, I think that anyone who wants to read what the UBF by-laws says should be free to do so. I think I have seen a copy somewhere sometime ago, but I am not sure if I can find it. I can always request for it. If you want to read it, please email me:

  38. Brian wrote “Perhaps we could have 4 volunteers to write a short introductory article, one per topic, and submit it to Ben for publishing.” Please do so! I look forward to it.

    Otherwise, you are only going to get my tired old recycled repetitious ramblings and ruminations about rumors, rebels, radicals and rascals!!

  39. Above I claimed that UBF still does not have written rules and regulations. Ben then pointed out that UBF USA actually do have, at least since 2008, written by-laws (that was the year when UBF was re-admitted by the NAE). I have already discussed these by-laws with Ben privately, and don’t want to repeat everything here because it’s a bit off-topic, I just want to sum up some points. Concerning the by-laws we should ask the following questions:

    Are these by-laws known to ordinary members? Since UBF claims the Bible is their “only rule of faith and practice”, are the by-laws then in conformance with the Bible (e.g. the office of an elder or a deacon can be derived from the Bible, but what about the office of a “general director” and other director and president offices and boards mentioned in these by-laws)? Are the by-laws followed in practice or are they only a piece of paper? Do the by-laws fully and honestly describe the necessary qualifications for members and leaders, and the rules that govern the church? For instance, the reformers were expelled for “leaving the traditions of UBF”. Do the by-laws then explain these traditions and make their acceptance a requirement for members? Do the by-laws mention limitations of power and authority?

    If you look at the UBF by-laws, all these questions have a negative answer. The by-laws should either comprise all the rules, beliefs, traditions and regulations required by members, or they should refer to another document that lists these rules. For instance, the Presbyterian Church in their by-laws refers to their “book of confession” and “book of order.” When UBF separated from their mother church, they completely failed to replace these documents with their own documents.

    The “book of order” of the Presbyterian Church contains all the points we were discussing above. Concerning church discipline, it has detailed regulations. The introductory passages are interesting to read. E.g. it speaks about “correcting or restraining wrongdoing in order to bring members to repentance and restoration.” So yes, they believe the church should “bring members to repentance,” and that’s not only the task of the Holy Spirit. It also speaks about “upholding the dignity of those who have been harmed by disciplinary offenses” and then about “restoring the unity of the church by removing the causes of discord and division.” I often have the impression that some UBF members just want to remove the discord and division itself, but not the actualy causes of discord and division.

    I believe all ordinary churches have such “books of order” and that’s one of the things that differentiate them from cults. They do not operate based on unwritten rules, but they do have clear regulations and governance, and they openly and fully disclose their beliefs and rules.

    • Very good points,Chris. Such questions must be asked. Most church planters recommend re-visiting a church’s by-laws/mission/vision/etc every few years.

      My family feels way more at-ease with our current church due to the transparency, honesty and blatant commitment to Jesus above programs.

      On one hand, UBF needs to go through a total transformation and get to the point where they can share something like this publicly, as pastor Bryan has: Mission Plan. Such things, I believe, for a Christian church, are all about edifying our journey together.

      On the other hand, UBF is not a church in any sense of the word. UBF is a network of cell groups led by directors and overseen by a general director. UBF would be more correctly called a mission network.

      I see a two-way or three-way split coming soon, as the power centers seem to be going in different directions (Bonn, Chicago, Seoul). Some in UBF want to create “UBF schools” and others want to do “UBF business mission”. The loose network of chapters could only be held together in the past by the strong-arm tactics of Lee. Now in his absence, I see various forces tearing the group apart as each chapter director forms his own network and each sub-group goes their own way.

      It seems UBF top leaders don’t care one way or another as long as performance numbers and offering are reported.

      (If I’m wrong about any of this, please correct me! I say that these discussion are about 30 years overdue in the US.)

    • In regard to business mission and the massive business network that many ubf members are part of, someone should look into things like this company, which was formed by the same UBF people as the defunct CoWorld GMBH:


      * Notice how the Korean version of this website (click the upper righthand corner) has so much more detail. Notice the ubf-like “vision” and “ambition”. Note that the graphics in the mission, etc. sections look similar to the ubf training material (found on my website).

  40. Chris,

    Thanks for sharing these quotes: “upholding the dignity of those who have been harmed by disciplinary offenses” and then about “restoring the unity of the church by removing the causes of discord and division.”

    There it is, in black and white. That is what former members are up against–

    1) the dignity of those who have been harmed… you might think this would refer to former members. No, this refers to missionaries and shepherds. In the ubf mindset it is always the leader who is harmed and people leaving after being hurt become some sort of badge of honor.

    2) restoring unity…by removing the causes… this is the classic Chinese concept of “qi” (or “gi” in Korean). It is not the “ministry of reconciliation” that Apostle Paul fervently urged.

  41. Thanks, Chris, for your very helpful comments and critique of our UBF by-laws! It is very much appreciated by me, and also by others, though they may not vocalize it publicly. Like you, Brian, Vitaly and a few others, we are regarded as “annoying” vocal critics by some. I regard myself as a “polemicist,” and sometimes I just can’t stop myself from doing “ranting and raving” polemics, which obviously needs the exercise of self-control!

    Please send in your articles. Frank Viola recommends lengths of 300 to 800 words, but this is not absolute, though I try to follow it myself, but not always successfully.

  42. As Brian aptly suggested, UBF’s cult-like practices may stem from a misunderstanding of the gospel, which is entirely God’s grace (Acts 20:24). Whenever the gospel is not clear, legalism prevails.

    F. F. Bruce says that legalism is “the idea that performance will win acceptance before God.” Simply speaking, legalism is a false, non-Christian religion that says that God’s love is gained or lost, increased or diminished, based on one’s behavior. It is an “if-then” religion – “If you are a good Christian, then God will love you.” Legalism is a lie, and the exact opposite of grace.

    It is quite sad whenever any shepherd or Bible teacher or missionary communicates such legalism to those they are discipling or mentoring.

    • Ben, yes, legalism is a lie. Some Christians live a life that looks somewhat legalistic for good reasons: To not fall into temptation, to not bring others into temptation, to learn frugality and discipline, to concentrate on the essential things and have more time for these things etc. However, as soon as you start to believe your salvation is earned by living such a life, or as soon as you start to think you’re better than others because of this, or if you start to even preach others to do the same, then you’ve misunderstood the meaning of the gospel. The gospel gives freedom and peace. It should not be a yoke for you to put on, much less a yoke that you put on others.

  43. A great quote I saw online: “The broad highway of US-THEM thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies.”

    • The older I get the more I start to understand that this “us-them” thinking is really at the root of so much evil in the world. But it’s so deeply ingrained into our human nature, and even if I try to be aware of it, I know I am not an exception and not free from it. Btw, this is also the reason why I am very sceptical about patriotism. It can easily lead into wrong direction. We should love other countries as much as our own. And this is also true for churches and religions. We must not agree with what other people believe and practice, but we should love them anyway. I still remember how Samuel Lee started to preach “hate the enemies of God” during the reform movement. I think such talk is not appropriate for any disciple of Jesus.

  44. Agreed, Chris. Yes, most if not all …isms are anti-biblical. You mentioned patriotism, with it’s many very close cousins: nationalism, racism, imperialism, moralism, elitism, exclusivism, and you can even add UBFism. It is so very easy for me to SEE these sins SO CLEARLY in others. But I know that they are in me as well!!!

  45. Hi Ben, you said, “I regard myself as a “polemicist,” and sometimes I just can’t stop myself from doing “ranting and raving” polemics, which obviously needs the exercise of self-control!” You said exactly what I wanted to say to you. Among five ways to destroy your marriage as Jim mentioned, 4. Make sure the goal is to win the argument. 6. Focus as much as possible on their inadequacies and shortcomings. You are a gifted polemicist and excellent debater. But we need more gentle polemics as if we talk to our own spouses! No ranting! Maybe one time is enough.

    • James, I agree that we should be usually as polite as possible.

      But I have a question for you. What do you think when you read verses like Jer 5:21 or Mt 3:7 or Mt 23:13-36 or Mk 11:15-17? Do you agree that it can sometimes be appropriate to speak plain text instead of always sugaring the pill?

      Personally, I don’t think there really has been “ranting and raving” on this website or things have gone overboard. I feel people are pretty moderate in view of the seriousness of problems we’re talking about.

      And I think the more UBF people start writing here and join in a reasonable discussion, the less loud Ben and others will be. It’s the “deefening silence” of both regular members and leaders that makes critics want to speak louder and more.

    • Joe Schafer

      James, I love you and respect you very much. I appreciate that you, more than any of the UBF elders and leaders, have taken the time to participate in the discussions on UBFriends. And regarding Ben’s tendency to rant: I agree with you. Often Ben spreads that polemical peanut butter too thickly for my taste. But it’s part of who Ben is. For the most part, he can’t help it. And we still love him.

      And I also agree with what Chris has said. In view of the extreme discipleship practices that have gone on in UBF through the years — and I don’t think that anyone in UBF can plausibly deny that some extreme things have happened, and that some people have been deeply hurt by them — the emotions and opinions expressed on UBFriends are not so extreme. Chris and Brian and Ben have been hurt in significant ways that most UBF leaders have not yet acknowledged. That perpetual silence, that refusal to acknowledge, is dehumanizing and causes the hurt to intensify. In light of that, I think that they have not been extreme. In fact, I think they have been showing a great deal of self-control and thoughtful restraint. I am amazed that they continue to engage us in conversation when it would be far easier for them to just blow us off.

      I would like to share with you part of an email exchange that I had with a friend some time ago. That friend (who will remain anonymous) wrote:


      …i think neither Chris’ nor Brian’s assessments of UBF are in any way balanced and fair. i agree with everybody who says that UBF desperately needs change. But whenever i read “UBF-is-irredeemable-and-only-awaits-God’s-judgment”-comments, i feel as if one is reducing and simplifying UBF to everything that is evil and bad in UBF.

      Considering just one little fact, namely, that many missionaries in UBF to this day are honest people and unbelievably sacrificial and truly Christ-loving, i do not think such a reductionist view is helping anybody.

      Or am i saying all of this because i wasn’t laughed at by the Chicago elders as Brian had to experience it? I don’t know.


      This is how I responded to my friend:


      Regarding Brian and Chris: I fully agree with you that they are not fair and balanced. But in my opinion, helping them to become more fair and balanced is not important, at least not now. At present, their role is more like plaintiffs in a legal case. When plaintiffs bring their complaints before a court, no one tells them, “You need to be more balanced and see the other side’s point of view.” They are supposed to tell their side of the story, and that side needs to be fully heard. Then it is up to other people (the judge and jury, who are less emotionally invested) to weigh the evidence and try to be fair.

      Brian and Chris were hurt deeply by UBF, I believe that their stories need to be fully heard and processed by you and by many others before they can ever gain a perspective that you would regard as fair. Many ex-UBF members have become radicalized, and I believe the fault is ours because no one in UBF has fully listened to them to the point where they feel they have been heard. Rather, they are continually being corrected. Over and over, they are being told that their tone is wrong, that they are too angry and bitter, that they are not objective, that they need to see both sides, etc. Trying to correct them at this point is just making things worse.

      It’s going to take a long time before they, and you, and I, and everyone else can come closer to a place that we regard as fair. Getting to that place will require us to listen to them very carefully and validate their experiences and emotions and withhold judgment until we too gain a better perspective.


      Once again, James, I really appreciate the fact that you have been trying to listen and participate in this discussion. I hope many more will listen attentively to ex-UBF members until we really hear what they are saying and reserve judgment, because the judgment of everyone involved is very cloudy and subjective and will be for a long time. The critics of UBF are not fair and balanced, and neither are we. God is the only one who is objective in this matter. Right now, I think our job is to listen to them and allow their words to sink in for a good long time, and not judge them for sharing their honest opinions which are rooted in actual experience.

    • Excellent points, Chris. I agree. If more UBF people would join in these dialogues, and better yet, submit articles about issues they want to talk about, the more I would back off. I consider dialogue to be essential to an ongoing walk of faith. The “deafening silence” is indeed a big part of what has driven me to blog the way I have. The only people who truly understand are people who have gone through the shunning process. Most young people in UBF probably just say “what shunning process?”

    • James, I deeply respect you for commenting here from time to time.

      Joe, thank you for sharing carefully and honestly. I would tend to agree. I am not a news agency who gives a “fair and balanced” report about something. I am a critic of UBF, and based on what I’ve seen and heard, I will need to remain a critic for quite some time. I need to grow and learn much, but one thing I will never be again is silent.

      In regard to UBF, I’m well aware that most people don’t understand me, and will have a tough time processing my words. It has been utterly amazing however, to speak my unfiltered heart and soul. The common feedback I get is of course silence. The one or two comments I do get go like this: “I don’t like your tone, but thank you for helping to move us away from the status-quo.”

      If you read my blog and comments here, I think you’ll find that I do speak of redemption. I don’t see UBF changing, or reforming. But I do fervently believe in the power of Jesus to redeem. I know that these things take time, so I have never expected a quick answer. I knew last year that I was committing myself to decades of difficult conversations and intense spiritual battles.

      But I also knew that the undeniable voice of God was speaking through His Spirit and telling me: “Be that man. Be the man who speaks honestly. Be the man who turns every dialogue back to the gospel of Jesus.” I knew that I was embarking on an amazing journey into grace. The new and old friends I’ve made have been stunning examples of God’s love.

      This has indeed been a difficult journey based on the choices I’ve made. I’ve made mistakes and have not always listened to the Spirit’s direction. But I am free now, and I have indeed cried endless tears. Not tears of pain, but tears of joy as I see God’s work of reconciliation taking place.

  46. Thanks, Elder James, for responding to me directly. It is so refreshing and encouraging!

    John Armstrong told me something similar about being a “gentle polemicist,” while still remaining a polemicist, because that is the way that God wired me.

    Regarding “one time is enough” I wonder though. Someone estimated that every teaching of Jesus that is recorded in the 4 gospels, Jesus likely repeated at least 500 times during his 3 year ministry.

    When we are encouraging our children (or grand children) to play video games less, or to stop fighting, or to do their homework, it seems like “one time” is not enough.

    So in my humble opinion, “one time” is not enough, especially if a desired result has not been obtained. William Wilberforce fought his entire lifetime to end slavery, because “one time” was not enough.

    But I am open to arguments and persuasions that support Elder James proposal that “one time is enough.”

  47. Joe, I like your answer. But one point is always bothering me. It sounds as if people like me talk only because they have been hurt so badly. Well, yes, I have experienced extreme spiritual abuse in UBF several times on my own. But that’s not really what is motivating me to write. The problem is that I know that I’m not the only one who experienced these things. If it would be only me, I would be silent. I have talked with many people and read many testimonies. I know that what I experienced was not a singular case. So I want to be the voice for all those who haven’t been heared. This is really not about personal problems that Ben, Brian or Chris experienced. It is about problems that literally hundreds or maybe thousands of people experienced in UBF. Some are already dead, and still these things have not been addressed. It is bothering me that people think I am the problem, just because I am currently one of the few who did not just stop talking about these things and who is luckily still alive.

    • These things do irritate me as well, Chris. What do I want? I want to talk about reconciliation instead of apologies; to talk about healing instead of wounds; and to discuss the path going forward together on the journey instead of glorifying the past.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, I’m sorry if that’s how it sounded to you. I did not mean to suggest that you are motivated solely or even primarily by your personal hurt. I’ve been reading your words carefully and do not think that about you. Frankly, I’m amazed are how reasoned and well thought out your opinions are.

      Like you, I’ve also been hurt. And, like you, my primary motivation in speaking out against excessive behaviors in the ministry is very much like yours. I am concerned about others who have been (and still are being) hurt. And I think God is offended and dishonored when Christians do unChristlike things in his name. And, like you, I really don’t like it when people say about me, “Joe is just bitter because…” or “Joe’s spiritual problem is…” We need to listen to people carefully, not make quick judgments about their motivations.

      When I wrote my last comment above, I tried to edit it carefully because I didn’t want anyone to think I was being dismissive of you or Brian or anyone. But I wasn’t careful enough. Actually, my wife wanted me to edit it one more time and I should have listened to her. But it was getting late and I decided to just post it. I’m sorry about that. Please accept my apology.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, I would also like to add that it’s difficult to gauge how much a person has been hurt and how much that hurt is motivating him or her. In many cases, we simply don’t know. Not even when that person is me.

      Speaking for myself: I have been hurt by people through this ministry. (And I’ve also hurt people through this ministry.) I still do not understand how much I’ve been hurt or what that hurt is causing me to do today. When people hurt me, I was taught by example to ignore it and keep marching forward like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Over time, I became more and more disconnected from my emotions, to the point where I was simply numb, not knowing what I felt anymore. That was a dangerous position to be in, because I lost the ability to be honest with myself. When I argued with my wife, I could say to her, “I’m not angry!” even though it was obvious to her and to anyone watching that I was indeed angry. I wasn’t consciously aware of the emotional pain that had been inflicted on me (or the pain I was inflicting on others), but it doesn’t mean that the hurt wasn’t real. It was very real, and it was motivating me in ways that I did not understand.

      So I must hesitate to judge the degree to which any individual is hurt, or the degree to which he or she is healed. I simply don’t know.

      Speaking more generally, however, I have seen in longtime UBF members a tendency to consistently underestimate how hurt they are. We accepted the mantra, “Feelings don’t matter.” We became desensitized to the pain we were feeling and the pain that we were causing others. We became like lepers, unable to feel hurt and take corrective measures to heal. Jesus and his gospel can heal us, but as that healing takes place, we will probably have to feel more of the pain that we suppressed over the years.

    • Joe, you don’t need to apologize. I just wanted to clarify this point. Please continue to write without “carefully editing” your thoughts. It’s a bad habit of UBFers to be so “careful” in talking that you can only understand what they want to say when you start reading between the lines. Let’s speak openly and frankly with each other, let’s not mince words and just call a spade a spade. Also, I’m not so easily offended.

      I noticed that many UBFers seem to have a very self-centered view of these problems and are also insinuating such a view to others. I’ve met so many with this mindset that if they didn’t experience anything extreme on their own, or if their chapter is more or less ok, then they don’t care. Or, if somebody is complaining, he or she must be just bitter or hurt.

      How can people be so indifferent? When I first heard about the forced abortions, misarranged marriages and divorces, beatings, humiliation etc. of others, it broke my heart. Apostle Paul wrote I think in 1Cor 12 “If one member suffers, all the others suffer together”. Contrary to that, I have often experienced that if one member suffered, the others didn’t care or told him or her to stop complaining. Looking at the title of this article, certainly not all UBF leaders are cult leaders. However, there are certainly some chapter directors who have in fact established quite a personal cult around themselves. Even if only a small percentage of chapters would be dysfunctional, should not the whole community suffer and try to solve the problem instead of looking away? UBF is very strange in this regard. On the one side, there seems to be such a great community spirit. But on the other hand, people are so careless about each other and the community as a whole, if just their own environment feels good currently.

  48. Thank you for your comments, Joe, Ben, Chris, Brian. I am very optimistic about healthy dialogue that would happen in near future. And I believe God will bring healing and reconciliation. I want to believe that we are not far from each other and we have much more common ground than the differences. I am for healthy dialogue at the foot of the cross.

    • Thank you too, James, for participating in this discussion. It’s highly appretiated. Please help convincing other Korean missionaries to join the talk.

  49. Thanks, James. Yes, a healthy dialogue must include the real discomfort of discussing many specific, painful, uncomfortable and unhealthy aspects of our ministry, which is a main reason why we are even having a dialogue. Otherwise, we will only be talking past one another.

    Chris, Joe, Brian, Vitaly and others: Regarding being hurt and wounded by UBF, I will have to say ONE thing that is so very frustrating. Yes, it is bad but perhaps understandable and pardonable to forgive the one who hurt you, which I believe most if not all of us have done to whatever degree.

    But what is really tough and much more difficult to deal with is when other UBF leaders begin to defend the UBF leader who hurt you as though he should be untouchable: he did not intend to hurt you; he meant it for your good; his culture is different; God has blessed and used him so greatly; he is the Lord’s anointed; God is sovereign.

    Other totally infuriating dismissive comments include ad hominem statements: what’s wrong with (fill in your name); you’re proud; don’t complain; be thankful; just get over it and move on; you already left UBF, why are still talking about UBF; if not for your shepherd, you may still be single; etc, etc, etc.

    The latter things that happen AFTER the offense is so so much more exasperating than just forgiving your offender.

    • Ben, you’ve expressed my thoughts almost exactly. I would add that the biggest “angst” I deal with is the continued “praise God, ignore division” attitude.

      I understand UBF people have to “get back to business”, but it is so very tough to hear about a conference in India entitled “Freedom in Jesus!” or in Germany entitled “Fan into flame the gift of God!” or in the USA entitled “One Approved!”.

      Why don’t the UBF chapters in those places pause from UBF activity and engage in some constructive, pro-active dialogue to address the painful division? But of course, they just plow forward with a self-approving false sense of freedom within the confines of UBF walls.

      I understand clearly now why Chris and others felt that I was pouring salt on the wound when I went around praising God and defending UBF back in 2004. I owe them a huge apology!

  50. After attending local Church for a while where Pastor John Piper is a senior pastor, I realized what church leaders should like. I think UBF leadership should go to local Church like Pastor John’s Church and see and learn from his example. I am not saying his leadership is perfect but there is transparency and humility and more. I don’t think UBF is a cult but there are a lot of practices and theology which is not healthy. It can be very harmful sometimes and that’s why there are much hurt and casualties. We are talking about eternal souls and children of God. May God help us to see our sins and faults and repent them and renew our church for his children and his glory.

    • Thanks, Charles. Welcome! I agree. I “envy” you for being able to sit at the feet of Piper’s preaching, teaching and influence every week.

    • Welcome Charles! Good to hear from you again. Your words brought this to mind: Perhaps instead of asking “Are UBF leaders cult leaders?” we should be asking, “Are UBF leaders teaching the gospel of Jesus?”

      I asked my UBF shepherd and several leaders “What is the gospel?” last year. The answers were: “Answer this yourself.” and “That question would take years and a PhD thesis to answer.” and “We don’t have time to discuss such things.”

      The implicit and often explicit direction to me the 24 years in UBF was: Don’t worry about it. Just go fishing. Stop wasting time thinking so much. Just go write your testimony.

  51. A friend recommended to me and to all who have been wounded to read “Total Forgiveness”:

    Has anyone read this?

  52. A friend sent me the constitution of his church. I found this very helpful and useful for us to always remember as (older) leaders of any church. It is a qualification and function of an elder/leader/pastor:

    “He is not to lord it over those allotted to his charge, but he is to be an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:3), that is, he is not to use his position for selfish gain or to demonstrate dictatorial attitudes. Rather he is to lead by example—obviously a Christlike example, as demonstrated in the qualifications just listed (1 Tim 3:1ff; Tit 1:5ff).”

  53. Joe Schafer

    Our Sunday message this week was from the last part of 2 Corinthians 1, where Paul is talking about his relationship with the Corinthian church. I was struck by how Paul made sure not to lord it over his disciples, even when they had problems that needed to be solved, because by lording it over them he would actually rob them of the chance to exercise their own faith.

    2 Co 1:24 (The Message):
    “We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.”

    • Yes, many passages in 1+2Cor are blatantly at odds with UBF theology, that’s probably why they are nearly never studied in UBF. In my 10 years in UBF, we read them exactly zero times, except the chapter 1Cor15 which was read (and learned by heart) every year.

    • Joe Schafer

      Over the weekend, I spoke with a prominent UBF leader in North America. He lamented that, until now, the ministry has focused far too much on the study of the Old Testament. He admitted that we’ve tried to develop an understanding of church life based primarily on the Old Testament, while paying too little attention to those parts of the Bible that actually discuss church life (i.e., the Epistles). And now he’s advocating a new focus on the Epistles. I was glad to hear that. I wholeheartedly agreed with him.

  54. A lot of things can be resolved if there were membership meetings and votes and members are enabled to use their gifts freely.

    Membership meetings and votes enable members to be heard and issues to be addressed and resolved. Traditionally in organized churches, elders and deacons are voted in by the members of the church. I believe UBF should go this route. If issues are only being decided by elders, then members aren’t heard and they may feel like an outsider. Here’s a resolution: To communicate ideas abroad, why don’t we use the UBF website, which already is in Drupal and has the capabilities of group memberships and discussion forums?

    In regards to members using their gifts, Paul is clear on this, people should use the gift the Lord gives them. Not everyone has the gift to fish, evangelize, teach Bible, and raise disciples, but they may have the gift to serve in some other capacity. As long as members are using the gift the Lord has given them they will feel useful and fulfilled.

    If members aren’t being heard and aren’t allowed to use their gifts, and they’re being told what to do and how to do it, then naturally they’ll feel like they’re being controlled, and for some they’ll feel like they’re in a cult. It’s really a matter of the leadership in each chapter.

    • Darren Gruett

      Lorie, I certainly agree with you about encouraging everyone to use whatever gifts they have been given. Unfortunately, there is a strong mindset in place among many people in UBF that everyone should be a Bible teacher and that everyone should be involved in campus evangelism. While these are noble endeavors, they are not everyone’s calling, and it is unfortunate that for those who find that it is not their calling to feel as if they have no place in this church.

    • Phil 2 Five

      Hi Lorie…here are my thoughts on your statement:
      “In regards to members using their gifts, Paul is clear on this, people should use the gift the Lord gives them. Not everyone has the gift to fish, evangelize, teach Bible, and raise disciples, but they may have the gift to serve in some other capacity. As long as members are using the gift the Lord has given them they will feel useful and fulfilled.”
      >> God’s Holy Spirit has given each believer a certain kind of gift. Those gifts as you have said are to be used to serve God. I also agree with you that not everyone is called to be a Bible teacher, though that is the mindset of many UBFers. 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 talks about these Spiritual gifts. Some people are honestly not good in teaching, just like me! I don’t consider myself as a good teacher. I believe that’s not how God has wired me. Anyhow, we (believers) are all called to evangelize but not all of us have been called to be evangelists. Just like our bodies, an ear has a different function from the eye because they serve different purposes. An eye cannot obviously decided that all of a sudden it will start listening…that’s not it’s function (well…dah)! In the same way in the body of Christ there are many parts serving and participating in God’s work of redemption! I also believe that UBF would be more effective IF we allow the Holy Spirit to move and use people according to the gifts God has given to each individual.

    • Lorie,

      You make a lot of good points. Such valid points ought to be seriously and openly discussed. However, they will be dismissed.

      Until the hagiographies and utterly absurd proclamations stop in ubf, the cult label will be a cloud over the group.

      For example, why are statements like these tolerated? These are part of a “declaration” by KIMNET. I see such groups as highly dangerous.

      “1. All churches should mobilize all their resources.”
      >>> So is KIMNET creating an army? The word “stop” comes to my mind.

      “1. We should consider the international students in the USA as the object of evangelism and discipline them as mission resources”
      >>> So international students are now the targets? People are simply “resources”?

      “2. The training for mission should begin at home and the world mission should be included in the Sunday school curricula.”
      >>> It is troubling to see children being indoctrinated and groomed as missionaries. Are all children in ubf to be missionaries?

      “2. We must consider the USA as an object nation for evangelism as of first priority and pray for saving the USA.”
      >>> As an American, I say go back to Korea and leave us alone.


  55. Thanks, Brian. The “utterly absurd proclamations” are indeed quite sad. Though it is still inexcusable, it is partly or partially an “English problem.”

    Since English is not their primary language, they vocalize what they want to say in Korean and translate it into poorly worded English sentences.

    I have already expressed to a few people that anything that is written by a Korean that is going to be posted/published in English should be checked by a native English speaker.

    This would obviously be tedious, and it would take much more time and effort. Also, it may be likely that some older leaders may not like or be comfortable with what they write being checked by someone who is younger who is fluent in English.

    Asian countries influenced by Confucianism tends to communicate their goals and strategies in militant terms, which just comes across horribly, unlovingly, nationalistically and imperialistically.

    They likely just have no idea that they just communicated that they are superior, and that they are God’s gift to the world, and that God wants them to save all the poor pathetic pitiful native heathens, who desperately need them!

    • Those are good points Ben. I would say there is far more to it than English. But taking that point at face value, there is a discussion to be had. For example, UBF Korea might want to spot-check the translation of an ancient Korean word that means “advisor”. On their Korean ubf website, that word translates as “torture”. So they are saying to the English speaking world that they have a department of torture :/

      I was the “English servant” for many, many Korean missionaries. Such times of “correcting the message” were rarely, if ever, a time for the missionaries to learn English. It was a time for me to be “trained in obedience”. Rarely did my English suggestions make it into the final draft of their messages. In fact, several times, I remember some Korean missionaries arguing with me about the correct English word to use.

      All this for me comes down to the essence of the Nevius mission strategy which was used by outsiders to share the gospel with Koreans. Why do many Koreans now insist on ignoring such a strategy?

    • Brian, I can say the same about me, just replacing “English” for “Russian”. The UBF model of leadership is wrong in itself, but foreign leadership makes it even worse. I have not met a church in my city and in Russia where a foreigner would be a pastor. I heard many many times that our “sheep” could not understand the “russian” messages of our Korean director. But the director said that the students were not spiritual enough to understand his deep spiritual message :) Once I asked a sheep how he liked the message. He answered that he was touched that we train asian people to believe the Gospel and even to read christian messages! He could not imagine that a foreigner could be a leader, even the director.

    • Good points, Vitaly. I know that there are numerous people in China UBF who would also substitute “English” and “Russian” with “Chinese”. In my observation, we could also substitute Mexican, and likely other countries. That alone indicates a systemic problem with ubf ideology, and not just a problem with one or two power mongers.

      You raise an interesting observation also, about how surprised someone was that a foreigner was in charge. The power hierarchy of ubf is a key hindrance to hearing God’s voice and progressing along the journey God intends. Holding onto such hierarchy will keep the cult questions/lable and eventually rip the ministry apart.

      Church politics and authority structures are in all churches, but I see clear differences between a healthy church structure and an unhealthy one. If someone wants to deny the cult label, fine. But no one can deny the unhealthy nature of leadership in UBF.

  56. Yeah, Brian. I hear you. I had written that “some older leaders may not like or be comfortable with what they write being checked by someone who is younger who is fluent in English.”

    This is the result of centuries of a hierarchical authoritarian system that has just created so much “preventable” havoc in UBF. Because “the younger cannot correct the older” or “the native cannot correct the missionary,” a major re-education program needs to be intentionally done on a global scale for anything to even begin to make a small dent.

    • Perhaps someone could submit an article about John Nevius and his mission work?

      It would be most helpful if a ubf member prepared such an article. I think it would tie together the last 5 or 6 ubfriends articles quite well, and perhaps even in a non-ubf-bashing way.

      In speaking with Sarah Barry and others directly, there seem to be numerous senior people in ubf who are in favor of returning ubf to this strategy.

  57. I’d have to say that the Nevius plan is excellent. But I’ve heard some older missionaries say, “It won’t work in UBF.”

    The reason seems obvious: The chapter leaders who are predominantly missionaries will have to give up their “power and control,” which some have already held tenaciously for up to several decades. This might be harder than death for some, as you can guess.

    • And that is precisely why I had to leave ubf and exactly why the cult label questions and allegations remain. I would contend that it is not so hard to change this. Numerous Pharisees did it. Paul the “pharisee of pharisees” did it. Why can’t a Korean missionary do it?

  58. Hi Lorie, Welcome to UBFriends. Thanks for your comments which I agree with. 1) Members should have a voice. 2) Not everyone needs to “be a Bible teacher.”

    UBF would agree with #1. BUT UBF has functioned “top-down” for 50 years, so it is “hard” for them to give up control and learn to practically and wholeheartedly function “bottom up” without fear. Some leaders fear not having the final say to overrule what they do not like.

    UBF might even agree with #2, but anyone who does not express that they want to be a 1:1 Bible teacher will be “looked down upon” in some negative caricature.

    • Phil 2 Five

      Ben, as you well know, 1:1 Bible study is emphasized almost at every meeting, Sunday service and sometimes indirectly enforced! Nothing wrong with studying the Bible 1:1, but it’s often over-emphasized! How many ‘sheep’ did you feed this week? How many ‘sheep’ did you invite to conference, sunday service, etc…? How many…how many? Are we more concerned about numbers than people’s souls? Hopefully that is not the case! If someone does not invite another person or they don’t ‘feed sheep’ (not to mention, some of these questions are asked to people who barely started to attend UBF), are regarded as ‘lazy’, ‘no love of God’, ‘no faith’, etc… All these are done is subtle ways and sometimes in a very blunt and controlling manner. Question: 1) Why keep track of ‘who’ and ‘how’? Is it to humiliate the person who doesn’t ‘feed sheep’? Is it to perhaps encourage the person who doesn’t ‘feed sheep’? Is this how directors/leaders/pastors are honored, based on numbers?

  59. Hi Brian, I understand why you and many others left UBF. To some people, it was amazing that you stayed as long as you did! Other than the Gambers, you might be #2 for staying for 24 years before leaving. Is that doggedness or what??

    Why can’t a missionary “give up their power and control”? This is a great question. To make it personal, why can’t I give up watching movies? Stop playing with my 3 cats? Not that I want to or will.

    I think that having power and control is a “stronger addiction” than addiction to porn and free sex. In UBF culture, this power and control is inextricably tied to honor and success.

    That’s why I say that to give it up is virtually to give up one’s core identify. So, on the same deeply felt emotional level would be Jesus, title, status, seniority, honor, success, “UBF ranking.” That’s why giving up power and control feels worse than death for some.

    But I have to say that not all missionaries are power mongers or control freaks who need to have the final say. Perhaps, some natives and non missionaries also have a strong need to validate themselves by having the ultimate control and power within UBF. So, this is a universal sinful human being problem, rather than a strictly Korean missionary problem.

    • I read an article about Nevius by Samuel H Lee, the former Korea UBF director. But I heard that he was told to rewrite the article to prove that “Nevius plan doesn’t work in our time”. And I read some statistic data about UBF in Abraham Kim’s report. So there are about 5100 UBF members and (as far as I remember) about 400+ “native leaders” worldwide. There are 1545 UBF missionaries and 33 of them are non-korean. About 60% of missionaries are in North America (where there are the most “difficult to pioneer developed countries), about 25% of UBF missionaries are in Germany, and so the rest (about) 200 missioanries are in the rest 90+/- countries. Where is UBF’s “world mission” success and God’s blessing? In statistics I can see just a korean organization (and maybe some “korean” success, so the Nevius plan worked in Korea) and those 400 natives I can find even in Baptist churches in my small city in Russia. UBF wants to share its rich world mission experience with other “stagnant” churches and prays for 100000 UBF missionaries. But it seems that UBF is more like a Napoleon in a psychiatry clinic. The ordinary UBF missionaries will go on with “sacrificially” obeying their world mission command and natives will go on leaving UBF more and more…

  60. Thanks, Phil 2:5 for your “painful” questions about (over)emphasizing 1:1 Bible study: “1) Why keep track of ‘who’ and ‘how’? Is it to humiliate or encourage the person who doesn’t ‘feed sheep’? Is this how directors/leaders/pastors are honored, based on numbers?

    Since UBF is a church with the Asian sentiment of Confucianism, then functionally we have operated on the basis of shame and honor. You are “shamed” if you do not do what is expected of you by the leaders (such as carry out 1:1 Bible study). You are “exemplary” if you do.

    Don’t you think that we should seriously and intentionally address and change such a dysfunctional and unhealthy modus operandi? How?

    • Phil 2 Five

      Of course such a dysfunctional and unhealthy modus operandi has to change! How? Very great question and perhaps a difficult question to answer! UBF leaders often talk about co-working. ‘Co-work’ with your ‘Co-worker’, ‘Co-work’ with your Bible teacher, ‘Co-work’ with your pastor/chapter director, etc…CO-WORK. However, there’s not much co-working! From my point of view, it’s more like ‘Submit’ to your Bible teacher. ‘Submit’ to your pastor. That doesn’t sound like co-working to me. It’s sounds more like a one way submission to the person in charge. Did ever a Bible teacher in UBF (other than the few who actually actively listen and seriously consider concerns and issues) seriously consider listening to the Bible student? We always talk about Bible students ought to listen and obey the Bible teacher but hardly or never mention Bible teachers listening to Bible students. How to change? Co-work! Not dictate, not control, not ‘just obey’, etc… Co-work to me means, both parties, Bible student and Bible teacher, Pastor and congregation, get their hands dirty to fix a problem…Not from top to bottom, not bottom up, but from inside out!

    • Ben, in my former chapter people just stopped filling the “number forms”. Or they wrote something like, “Praise Jesus for his work this week!” instead of names and numbers. And the director couldn’t do anything. You say that for some missionaries honor is more important than life. I suppose that the korean director of my former chapter will also leave UBF for he won’t be able to participate in the yearly directors conference as “the worst and the last” of all the director for he has lost his power and control completely. What would you suggest for him to do?

  61. Thanks, Vitaly, for your UBF statistics which does sound about right. In most “small” UBF chapters, it is likely that it will be a chapter with the missionary’s (Korean) culture, while “bigger” chapters may have some natives to give it another cultural flavor, though still “ruled” by the predominant ruling culture of the missionary.

    3 prominant Christians who have studied church planting missionary movements are David Garrison (still alive), Newbigin (~50 years ago) and Roland Allan (~100 years ago). They have all emphatically and unequivocally stated that churches that thrive and are wholesome are those where the natives are leading the church and ministry. This is rarely ever the case in UBF for the last 50 years. It will unfortunately take time for such a prolonged culture of missionary leadership to be truly transferred over to native leadership. As some have said, this may not happen until this generation of older leaders have passed on. I regard this as funny, realistic, and not morbid.

    • Those are 3 very good people to listen to Ben! I don’t know much about Garrison, but Newbigin and Allan continually come up in my journey.

      I suppose UBF leaders will point to numerous cases where national leaders are indeed “leading”. But those leaders probably won’t point out the figurehead nature or just-for-statistics reasons for appointing such leaders.

      Jesus said “not so with you”, yet UBF continues to say “it is so with us.”

  62. Phil 2 Five, “cowork” is IMPOSSIBLE in UBF. Once natives in our chapter had a talk with missionaries. For one hour the natives tried to explain what it means “cowork”, “both parties”, and believe me the missionaries really COULDNOT UNDERSTAND those things. Just couldnot, sincerely unable to! They have never heard, have never thought in a different, non UBF-style way. May be there is hope that they will partly understand one day, but to change and to come to some “coworking” in practise is very very far from possible ever reality.

  63. Thanks, Vitaly. It reminds me of “ever hearing but never perceiving.” I think this shows how deeply entrenched our primary culture is. To Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, the power of the a strong sense of honor is overwhelming. That is why some Muslim extremists react violently and viciously to even the slightest perceived offense directed at the prophet Mohammed or at Islam.

    Some of our missionaries “react inwardly” in the same offended way to any perceived disrespect toward them, but they perhaps do so in a “Christian way,” because I believe they are Christians. But their honor shame culture still needs to be evangelized by the gospel.

  64. Yes, Phil 2:5, it may be quite hard for some missionaries or older leaders to “co-work” because for 50 years of UBF culture, some have simply just given direction, directed, commanded, told others, without having to really listen to others. So old habits die hard.

    Also, in a shame honor culture, a very hard verse for older leaders to apply to themselves in John 15:15. Just simply being “friends” (which means being “equals”) just simply does not compute functionally and emotionally in a strong shame and honor culture.

    • Phil 2 Five

      People listen to people who listen! I read this in an article. When Bible teachers authentically listen to their Bible students, then the Bible students will listen to Bible teachers. Often that is not the case… Although it’s hardly verbalized directly, the root is this: ‘You will listen to me’ because I’m older, I know better, I have more experience, I have been in Christ longer, etc… Romans 12:10 is not usually the case! Why do people feel that their not respected or feel their outcasts? No one is attentively listening to them! I quote from the article “Simply by listening attentively to someone you show that you care about that person: you place value on them.” Now, I’m not at all suggesting that Bible students are right 100% of the time. No one is right 100% of the time. However, listening to others and what they have to say and hearing these phrases can make someone feel appreciated: ‘I agree with you 100%; I couldn’t agree with you more; TELL ME ABOUT IT; You have a point there; I was just going to say that; How do feel about that? Do you agree? What are your thoughts on this?’ These are ways to communicate with others! Hardly these questions are asked! And if they are asked, then hardly they are taken into consideration! I’m working on these areas myself! I’m far from being the best communicator. However I believe that in order for UBF to function in a healthy manner, Bible teachers, Bible students, young and old, ought to listen to each other mutually to hear and address the issues, rather than hiding the issue as if they aren’t there! What’s your take on this Ben?

  65. Thanks, Phil 2:5, I agree with you “that in order for UBF to function in a healthy manner, Bible teachers, Bible students, young and old, ought to listen to each other mutually to hear and address the issues, rather than hiding the issue as if they aren’t there.”

    The 3 Persons of the Trinity are EQUAL. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not 1,2,3, but 1,1,1. We are made in the image of the Triune God as equals, regardless of age, gender, seniority, tenure. Unless equality is not only expressed but also communicated from the heart, any church or ministry will be operating in a functionally unhealthy manner.

    The greatness of Jesus is that though he is clearly greater than all, yet he came to be truly lower than all (Phil 2:5-8). The more Christians can apply this personally in relationships with others, the happier and more wholesome we will be.

    Rom 12:10 can only truly happen through the gospel.

  66. Phil 2 Five

    Amen and right on!

  67. Great conversation everyone. So the gist of what’s being communicated here can be summarized based on one of Ben’s statements above: “Just simply being “friends” (which means being “equals”) just simply does not compute functionally and emotionally in a strong shame and honor culture.”

    Jesus’ whole point was to be a friend of sinners. Our friend John A. always makes a point of explaining the gospel of Jesus as friendship.

    To summarize what I hear being said in the various comments is this:

    A “national” member of UBF must find a way to preach the gospel to his/her leaders who live and breath and promote a strong shame and honor culture, without being crushed/discouraged/dissuaded by those same leaders who are at the same time attempting to preach the gospel back to the national leaders.


  68. I think it is a good a right model… for some time. For there is time for missionaries to trust everybody to God and leave before the natives would say, “As an American, I say go back to Korea and leave us alone”. I say exactly the same as a Russian. It is high time for UBF missionaries to go back to Korea and to their senses.

  69. Phil 2 Five

    Brian, here’s my thoughts on…
    “A “national” member of UBF must find a way to preach the gospel to his/her leaders who live and breath and promote a strong shame and honor culture, without being crushed/discouraged/dissuaded by those same leaders who are at the same time attempting to preach the gospel back to the national leaders.”
    >> Bottom line I believe is this: Humility. I’m quoting The Imitation of Christ, Book Two by Thomas á Kempis, “Hence, you must not think that you have made any progress until you look upon yourself as inferior to all others.” I personally cannot judge someone’s heart. Struggling with pride is a big issue. Philippians 2:5-8 as mentioned before shows how Christ being the King of kings and the Lord of lords, God’s Son, humbled himself and became friends of sinners and tax collectors–friend of social outcasts! I fall short of that! I often think I’m superior to those around me! I acknowledge that and repent! However, often I notice there’s no or very little humility to admit a wrong-doing. To summarize what I have said, unless UBF leaders, including me, do not imitate Christ’s humility, there cannot be ‘co-working’ amongst UBF leaders. A leader cannot listen to others (including ‘sheep’), if he’s proud! A leader cannot be a friend of sinners, if he’s proud! Jesus humbled himself and that is the exact reason why people followed him.

    • Phil25:

      “Bottom line I believe is this: Humility.”

      >>> I would tend to agree on the importance of humility. But I do not see humility as the bottom line. In Eastern thought religions, yes humility is indeed the bottom line. However, for us Christians, love is the bottom line. Faith, hope and love remain, but love is the greatest. To be a friend to sinners and enemies and those who disagree or are different from us is far more valuable and Christ-like than humbly submitting to someone or some ideology. When you think humility is the bottom line, you are on your way to developing the han syndrome. That is not the gospel message Jesus brought.

    • Phil 2 Five


      I do agree with what you are saying! Love is the gospel message (Luke 10:27) I also believe that true love manifests itself through humility. God’s love manifested through Christ humility according to (Philippians 2:5-8) and (1 John 3:16). Rick Warren quoted, “Pride builds walls between people, humility builds bridges.” All the failed attempts to reform UBF point to lack of love manifested in humility. D.L. Moody said, “A man can counterfeit love, he can counterfeit faith, he can counterfeit hope and all the other graces, but it is very difficult to counterfeit humility.” People can pretend to love! How does love prove itself as genuine love–humility! I’m not talking about blind submission to someone or some ideology. I’m talking about true love for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ will prove itself authentic by a way of humility. What do you think?

    • Interesting thoughts, Phil25. In my mind and observation, it is easy to fake humility and nearly impossible to fake love. I would say it is possible to be humble and not have love. People can act humbly, and others can see through such a veil of humility. But I think humans cannot pretend to love. Children know if parents love them or not regardless of talk or action.

      This gets into the pathos level of humanity. We humans somehow have the ability to fake a lot of things, but I just don’t see how love can be faked.

    • Phil 2 Five

      Good point Brian! Genuine love cannot be faked! Also genuine love will manifest itself in action (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a). Again, I also believe that humility is the manifestation of genuine love. Patience, kindness, selflessness, sacrifice (time, money, etc…), are all manifestations of genuine love which we see in Jesus. As Adrian Rogers said, “You can sing all you want about how you love Jesus, you can have crocodile tears in your eyes, but the consecration that doesn’t reach your purse has not reached your heart.” Now about humility! Perhaps humility can be faked too! But again, genuine humility will manifest itself in action (1 John 3:16). As John Stott quotes, “The very first thing which needs to be said about Christian ministers of all kinds is that they are “under” people as their servants rather than “over” them (as their leaders, let alone their lords). Jesus made this absolutely plain. The chief characteristic of Christian leaders, he insisted, is humility not authority, and gentleness not power.” Jesus humility manifested itself in service (Mark 10:45). So if love is genuine, it will manifest itself in humility, and humility if genuine, will manifest itself in service.

    • Fair enough, Phil25, fair enough.

  70. We can talk about all the various problems and how some of the Korean leaders won’t humbly co-work; but what can realistically be done to resolve this issue that is ultimately tearing apart the church? Several times it’s been said that they won’t listen, so how do we get them to listen?

    This is why earlier I mentioned there needs to be membership voting. Perhaps this is where it should begin. What if the national leaders in America request membership voting abroad? If everyone is in favor, then maybe the elders will listen.

    • Yes, Lorie, action is needed! I hope you know that MANY actions of MANY kinds have been attempted for five decades. Your suggestion is good, but who would the suggestion be made to?

      Note to our readers (and please correct me if I’m wrong here…) UBF has a special group called “member shepherds/shepherdesses”. Mostly this membership group is Korean, but not completely. This exists in the US, but not sure if it is open worldwide. To be an official member of UBF you have to be invited to join this group, which always meets in January or February each year, one week before the national staff conference. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you are not a member of UBF. No matter how much activity you participate in or how many years you participate in UBF, you are not a member and have no voting rights or say in ministry matters.

      It is not clear to me how much influence or “vote” member shepherds have or what requirements exist other than being invited by a Korean missionary to join. But I would suggest bringing up some topics at the upcoming member meeting. I myself would be doubtful of any success going this route. Who ever heard of a “vote” on UBF decisions?

      In regard to action, remember that in 2011 my exodus from UBF began by simply inquiring into problems in a chapter that was not my own. In addition to being hierarchical, UBF directors are viciously territorial.

  71. Brian, I’m sorry you weren’t respected, especially as you were a good leader. I think many were surprised at your exodus and it brought some attention. I respect the fact you’re on here communicating with Ben and Joe and others, bringing some light to the table.

    Actually, I haven’t been attending staff meetings because we have four kids, but Gideon has gone to some of them. So, I’m not sure what goes on there, and anyway I don’t think I’d have a big influence. But people like Joe and Ben would, or I would think they would. It’s a matter of communicating with others, and this website is a good start. I believe the purpose of this website is to promote peace and understanding, but we also need action.

    In Chicago, some of the CBF leaders pushed for a change in how CBF was handled. Some of those changes that I personally was interested in finally happened. So my point is, it’s a matter of continuous trying and praying, and we need to involve the right people. I would love to see change and not just talk about it. We need to continue to talk about it, pray about it, and take action, but in a civilized manner as we are the body of Christ. God will answer because this is ultimately his church; it’s just a matter of time.

    John Armstrong said some great things about UBF, but he said there were two big issues that hinders UBF from being effective in America. Those were 1) UBF didn’t interact with other churches. 2) UBF had a lot of Korean traditions. Of course, I know there are many other issues, many of which have been discussed in this website, but I think the many of them stem from Korean traditions. Now it’s my understanding that Dr. Abraham T. Kim is working on the first issue, and I know that the second issue is being talked about.

    I believe our main weapon in fighting this issue is simply we need to go back to the Bible, particularly, the Ten Commandments. Putting a shepherd over someone and making them as “god” over a sheep is breaking the first commandment: “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” It’s okay to disciple them, but instructing them in the details of their life as God’s direction is taking the place of God. Our job is to point the sheep to God and teach them to listen to the Holy Spirit. We can give them counsel pointing them to God’s word. The second commandment is “Thou shall not make for yourself carved image…” This is idol worship. Idols back then were carved, but I like what Tullian Tchividjian said, we can make anything into an idol, even our own children. Whatever takes precedence over depending upon God and his word is idol worship. Paul talked about this in some of his letters. He was making a distinction between serving God versus traditions and what is the true Gospel versus false teaching. And this is what we need to bring to the table.

    In addition, we need use an example of an exemplary missionary who got it right when it came to converting natives in another country and request proper missionary training. Before Hudson Taylor went to China, other missionaries who came taught the Chinese the Bible along with mandating them to follow their culture. It didn’t work. Now Korean missionaries have been able to raise up some disciples, but with a lot of chaos and hurt amongst everyone. Korean traditions are fine, but shouldn’t be imposed on Americans as Christian living. There ought to be some type of missionary training course taught to our missionaries so they know what to and what not to do. I don’t know where Korean missionaries are trained, but if they get trained at the headquarters, then a lot of prevention can begin.

    • Lorie, thanks for joining the discussion! I think your (and Mr. Armstrong’s) belief that the *main* problem of UBF is being too Korean, or more specifically, imposing Korean style on Americans, is not true. I have already mentioned this, but I’m not getting tired of repeating my argument: The point is that the typical UBF problems appear not only in America, but everywhere UBF is operating, including Korea itself. The first UBF reform movement appeared already in 1976, where 7 top *Korean* UBF leaders “rebelled” against Samuel Lee. So I believe the problem is not the “Korean style” but the “Samuel Lee style”. These people were Koreans, yet they noticed that something went fundamentally wrong. Unfortunately, UBF internally never talks about these events and the documents about that would have been lost if they had not been republished during the 3rd reform movement in 2001 which also orginated in Korea, not in America, and it was mainly the Koreans who wanted the reforms, first in Korea itself, then in America, Germany and many other countries. I myself witnessed how 10 years ago more than half of the Korean UBFers and chapters in Germany tried to achieve a reform with valid and serious concerns, but they were branded as rebels and then finally kicked out. So if you say the core of the problems is Koreans imposing on Americans, why then were the Koreans those who complained in the first 3 reform movements? And it were not only the young Koreans who wanted the reform, but particularly the senior Koreans. I think this behavior of imposing Korean culture is only a subproblem, not the real problem. Btw, if you haven’t read at least some of the documents and open letters of the 3 reform movements, please try to do so now. It helps a lot understanding the root problems of UBF. Unfortunately, UBF directors and their lawyers try to threaten and shut down websites that publish these documents, but I hope you still can find some of them.

    • I would second your observations Chris. I’ve shared my thoughts extensively on the reform movements already:

      Thoughts on UBF reform

      In regard to Mr. Armstrong, I feel that I must share that he indeed knows that the problems ubf faces are far deeper than culture clashes. In fact I was in a meeting with him discussing these very same things that you mention Chris. He had a sort of “eureka” moment where he realized that one big problem with ubf is the Moses style leadership, which is far beyond mere culture clashes, which happen everywhere and can be overcome. Moses passing the baton to Joshua however… that’s an entirely different set of problems to deal with.

  72. In short, we need to start at the UBF HQ and staff meetings. And the issues that need to be focused on are: 1) addressing how traditions are causing us to break the first two commandments 2) missionaries need to properly be trained at the HQ office.

    • Well-said Lorie! I have always believed that women should have a greater voice in UBF. On another note, I definitely appreciate Gideon’s friendship as well!

  73. Phil25, I noticed you quoted quite a few people. Here are some of my favorite quotes, from Frederick Douglass, an American abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer; and a man who was born as a slave.

    I would hope our readers would take note of one fact: Many of us former members find much strength and consolation in people like Frederick Douglass, William Wilberforce and William Wallace. Their struggles have so many parallels with our struggles with UBF directors and UBF ideology. That should give you some direction as to what actions to take while you are a member of UBF.

    In addition to quotes like the one below, many movies have been helpful to many of us, movies that have striking parallels to our situation. Maybe if more ubf members watched these movies and tried to see things from another point of view, you could start to understand the plight of an ex-member of UBF. Our situation is not “cute” or “funny” but rather serious, fraught with psychological, spiritual, emotional and relational difficulties. Most of us, especially me, are just getting to know our spouses for the first time in decades.

    Here is the Douglass quote:

    “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

    This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.

    Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.

    The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.”

    (source: West India Emancipation on 8/4/1857)

    • Phil 2 Five

      Thank you for sharing Brian! Great quote and indeed much to consider and learn from! The beginning of that quote really caught my attention: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress…” Indeed progress does not come without struggle, suffering and sacrifice. A quote by Charles Spurgeon, “The Christian life is very much like climbing a hill of ice. You cannot slide up. You have to cut every step with an ice axe. Only with incessant labor in cutting and chipping can you make any progress. If you want to know how to backslide, leave off going forward. Cease going upward and you will go downward of necessity. You can never stand still.” This does not only apply in one’s personal life but also in a church. Unless there’s serious discussions about the issues brought up on this site, I’m afraid there wont be any progress. Thanks again Brian for the quote! :)

    • Continuing this thought about struggle… I say we need many more people in UBF to participate in a relentless nonviolent resistance movement. If you want to know what it is like to go outside the gate to meet Jesus (like Hebrews 13 directs us) or what it is like to “be crucified” for your beliefs, start openly discussing some of the topics we’ve covered on ubfriends with your shepherd or director.

      I hope that many more after me may not have such a rough time. And by the way, we all owe a BIG apology and thank you to Chris (who is commenting here), his wife, James and Rebekah Kim, Vitaly and his wife, David B. and his wife, and many many more such as Ben and Christy, Joe and Sharon, all who paved the way before us with far greater struggles.

      Here is the process I went through in 2011:

      1. I asked some questions and raised some issues (via a conference report) after observing some problems for several years and hearing the stories of coworkers in UBF who confided in me (April 2011)

      2. I received a rather harsh verbal rebuke immediately and told it was “none of my business” since I was wanting to know about my friends in a different chapter.

      3. I asked more questions via email and phone (and to be fair I sometimes got extremely angry myself)

      4. I received very harsh emails (at this point it became clear I would not be welcome in UBF unless I stopped asking questions about past and current events that troubled me)

      5. After numerous attempts at dialogue (which ended in “shut up and go away” commands), I could no longer find any role in UBF.

      6. The 50th anniversary material was published (June 2011)

      7. I could not accept the new direction in the 50th Anniversary material, and told others about it.

      8. I decided to make it clear that I left UBF and resigned permanently. I had hours of in-person meetings (even with Sarah Barry) and phone calls and emails. So I sent email to over 200 UBF leaders saying I resigned (August 2011).

      So that is the 4 month “process”.

      After this process, Chicago leadership tried to convince me to stay and find some role. I said no.

      Other leaders in UBF told me to just be a rogue chapter, and do my own thing. I said no.

      Some secret reformers in UBF tried to convince me to stay and help them secretly reform UBF. I said no.

      Our hope is only in redemption, not reform or destruction. Our family found a good grace-centered Bible-believing church locally in July 2011. We’ve not stopped going and I’m beginning to serve there.

    • Phil 2 Five

      Thanks for sharing your painful experience! I do agree that we need more people to stand up for what is right, just and biblical! And as you mentioned there are many people who are doing so, standing up for what is true and biblical!

    • Agreed, Phil25!

      To make things clear: I do not think UBF should be destroyed. I do not think UBF can be reformed.

      I do believe and trust that UBF can be redeemed. What would a redeemed UBF look like? I don’t know, but one example of redeemed UBF is Westloop UBF. I have not visited Penn State UBF but I would suspect is too is redeemed. Redeemed UBF is what I seek. Someone recently asked me if I would accept funds from UBF to attend a leadership seminar. I said no, but I would gladly *give* UBF all my money if they would just replace their authority structure with the grace of God.

  74. Thanks, Brian. I’ve not heard of West Loop UBF being referred to as “redeemed UBF.” But it does have a nice ring to it!

    • Just to clarify further for our readers (I think you already understand this, Ben!). I do not think it would be a good idea to change all ubf chapters to look like Westloop. That would be disastrous because Westloop has been developing programs/idea/concepts/etc fitting for the people at Westloop.

      I’m preparing a ubfriends article for your review Ben that describes my ideas about “redeemed UBF”.

      My main point is that UBF (and all churches for that matter) need something more than reformation. If a church is not redeemed continually, it dies and falls apart. Reformation is good and needed at times, but is not the solution. The gospel message is rooted in redemption. And reformation without redemption is hopeless and at times even dangerous.

      I was edified significantly the times I’ve worshiped, shared and visited with Westloop UBF, not because you’ve reformed anything ( perhaps you have), but because I saw evidence of redemption. I’ll share more in my article soon.

  75. I am trying to understand why ubf “serves” students. I remember SL’s story about the beginning of ubf. He became a pastor. In the church there were many elders and 6 students. The elders didn’t like Lee but he thought about how to help the students. Then he started ubf with the 6 students. I suppose that it was difficult to manipulate the elders but to “serve” students was much easier.

    I know how they do “fishing” in Korea. For example if you are a student and you stop a younger (even 1 day younger) student in campus, the younger one MUST stop and listen to you until you allow him to go. I haven’t heard about ubf fishing when a younger one would fish an elder one. When ubf people go out as missionaries they are not students and they are going to “serve” students who are younger. And the students will always be younger. But such things wouldn’t work long outside Korea.

    In Russia former ubfers say that usually when people are over 30-35 they leave ubf. When people become older in non-korean atmosphere they are not going to “just obey”. In Korea they would. Sometimes I think that Korean ubf missionaries left Korea because they wanted to leave Korean culture for a better one. Of course, “to serve perishing American and European students” is an official motto, but what is the reality? Why are more than 85% of ubf missionaries eager to “serve students” in the countries that are the best the most developed western countries and the most Christian countries in the world? And why students? Why not just serve “perishing unspiritual selfish Americans”, all of them? Maybe because adult Americans wouldn’t listen to a Korean teacher who wants to control their life?

    Joe, once you shared that now the usual ubf methods don’t work in your life. Why? Is it not because you became older and not so blindly obedient? I’d like to ask, If you would never meet ubf before and if ubf would be an organization using its usual methods but serving all (not only students) “perishing Americans”; would ubf successfully fish you now? What do you think? Thanks.

    • Great question Vitaly! “would ubf successfully fish you now?”

      My answer: Not a chance. никогда. nunca. ніколи. jamais.

  76. Hi Vitaly,

    I hope you do not mind that I paragraphed your comments for easier reading.

    To be fair, I think, as many have said, that when one is approached by a missionary, no one suspects anything, because I believe that many of our missionaries are truly genuinely hospitable and warmly embracing and welcoming people who want to invite you into their own family, as well as the family of UBF.

    That is the power and attractiveness of Christian hospitality plus the strong spirit of communalism which is quite prevalent in Asian and middle eastern countries.

    • Ben, your words express the beginning of one of the most important distinctions we need to make in regard to ubf:

      “That is the power and attractiveness of Christian hospitality plus the strong spirit of communalism which is quite prevalent in Asian and middle eastern countries.”

      There is a power of Christian hospitality and there is a power of Asian communalism. The two seem similar, almost indistinguishable at first. But what is the difference?

      > Christian hospitality is rooted in freedom and justice, and yields people who becomes slaves to righteousness under the Lordship of Jesus and personal direction of the Holy Spirit.

      > Asian communlism is rooted in loyalty and obedience, and yields people who become slaves to the community under the authority of a leader and personal direction from a human director and/or some sort of community spirit.

      If you read the 50th Anniversary book lectures,you will see this Asian communalism described very well.

      These things are so clear to me now, but for many years I could not make this distinction. This distinction highlights the reasons why I think we should be preaching the gospel to ubf missionaries and shepherds.

    • Yes, Ben, I agree with “many of our missionaries are truly genuinely hospitable and warmly embracing and welcoming people who want to invite you into their own family, as well as the family of UBF”. But all this is to YOUNG people, not just people. And I don’t think that they are “truly genuinely” hospitable. I saw so much hipocrisy in our chapter missionaries that I can’t trust such hospitality at all. It reminds me of Prov 2:16-22.

    • I’m not sure how Prov 2:16-22 relate to what you are saying?

    • Generally, yes, “missionaries are truly genuinely hospitable and warmly embracing and welcoming people”. But, as Vitaly already said, this is often tainted and spoiled by limiting the invitation to those who promise the most “return of investment”, preferrable young stundents who are vulnerable, alone, naive or in a life crisis. I remember the wife of our chapter director telling me how much they served the “Abraham of faith” for years, even letting him live in their home, and then she concluded, pointing to his faithfulness and devotion to UBF and absolute obedience to the chapter director, how much this “investment payed off” (yes, she really used these words). This spoils the whole thing for both sides. You should consider twice whether you accept and invitation for a meal or common life if people have such motives. In the end they will use it to point out how much they served you and that now you owe them so much and must pay back with eternal loyalty and thankfulness. The point is, raising such loyal followers is the whole goal of UBF, so even those who want to show *genuine* love and hospitality, are inevitably tainted by this, and cannot be sure even themselves how much their servantship is genuine and unconditional and how much it is because it just serves a goal of raising disciples. Again, this is not their problem, but the problem of the system they are commited to. In many ways, as Vitaly said, it drives people into becoming hypocrites, even if they are actually good people.

      Sure, there are examples where UBF people have also served not-so-young not-so-promising people who were not in the target group of elite students. But this happens often out of desperation, because it’s better for a missionaries or shepherd to have at least one sheep instead of having nobody. And as you know, Samuel Lee then told these missionaries or shepherds to send their sheep away, because they were “uncle sheep” or “other sheep” (too old or wrong race, i.e. not Korean or Caucasian). The wife of my chapter director also sent several people away who did not fit in the target scheme, and encouraged others to do so. I also remember a story told by Samuel Lee in the newsletter, how UBF once at Christmas cooked a meal for lepers in Korea, and how they forced these people to attend because they were not used to such love. The crucial point here is that this was a one-time-event. After Christimas was over, nobody in UBF continued to care for the fate of these people. They were just used as trainings object by Lee to teach people his “serving spirit”, and to make an example out of them to show how good UBF is, but when the meal was over, they were left alone. Nobody continued to invite them to meals or make Bible study with them, because they did not promise any return of investment.

    • To clear out, Dr.Ben, Prov.2:16-22 describes a very attractive invitation for a young man, but a very dangerous one in the result. )) I saw how missionaries smile so nicely before young students and it seems very difficult to discern if there is any danger behind the smile. When some students accept ubf invitation they don’t know what kind of organization they have stepped into and what possible future is awaiting them.

  77. Thanks, Brian. Your distinction is excellently stated!

    As I’ve expressed often, I believe that our UBF missionaries do love Jesus. But their Christian love, like ours, is clearly imperfect, and usually becomes increasingly more obvious and unpalatable with time.

    (What flaws me daily with awe and trembling is that though my wife knows virtually all of my sins and shortcomings, yet she still loves me. This compels me more than ever to want to change and improve for Jesus and for her.)

    I believe that many of our missionaries today are tired; they are experiencing their own sins and limitations after many decades. They either face up and own up to it and be liberated with new life from above—or they can stubbornly cling to their past and become increasingly obsolete and irrelevant.

    • (What flaws me daily with awe and trembling is that though my wife knows virtually all of my sins and shortcomings, yet she still loves me. This compels me more than ever to want to change and improve for Jesus and for her.)
      After I left one of the Moscow shepherds sent me a letter. He wrote, “Even when I am not quite well with my wife I am not able to pray well, but how can you live and have relatoinship with God if you are not well with your missionaries?!!!”
      (btw with “truly genuine hospitality” which he learnt from his missionaries he wrote, “I believe that before anyone else leaves your chapter God will destroy you, your family and your children”.

    • I’m glad you shared this example, Vitaly, for two reasons:

      1. Your story is a wake-up call for ubfers, many of whom probably think “We never do things like that” or “That stuff only happened in the ’70s with Slee.” But you (and I) are living examples of the dual nature of ubf missionaries in the current time. Be loyal to ubf missionaries and the ubf heritage, and you’ll get the “kimchee” side of the directors. Post on ubfriends or ask some questions about something that bothers your conscience, and you’ll get the “dear Leader” side.

      2. Your story demonstrates the level of commitment ubf missionaries ask. Some third party pastors in America made some brief contact with ubf around 2005 to 2007. They claimed that ubf is just a “high demand” group that is focused on a holy life of discipline. But those pastors failed to see the dark, “hotel California” side of ubf. They didn’t realize ubf missionaries expect you to “marry” ubf. My wife and I feel that we didn’t just marry each other, we married ubf. This explain why we former members have such a difficult time moving on or even to leave, because it is like a divorce. In reality, we had to divorce ourselves from ubf in order to save our marriage and family life.

    • [So in my case, I “separated” from ubf in 2003, to get some breathing room. I tried to live as a house church. I made every possible effort I could to make the relationship work, and hoped to work things out. But in 2011, things hadn’t worked out and so I “filed for divorce” from ubf.]

  78. Vitaly, So sorry to hear this coming from a Moscow shepherd.

    To give him the benefit of the doubt, he may be a true Christian who loves Jesus. But perhaps he bought the “UBF lie” that once you become committed to UBF, you can NEVER EVER LEAVE (without getting slammed and condemned)!

    The greatest tragedy of this lie is that it denies the gospel of Christ that gives freedom. It also promotes a slavery to UBF (to build up our own earthly UBF kingdom), though the intention may be to promote faithfulness and loyalty. It fails to exercise and display love and grace, but communicates the sickness of control and manipulation that is so common of any “shepherding” movement.

    Really sorry about this. Do love and forgive him for this, which you may have already done so.

    btw, Vitaly, are you on facebook?

  79. Why do “love” and smiles of ubf missionaries toward students they fish change one day for open hatred and curse toward former ubf members? Maybe this short article gives some explanation. What do you think?

  80. No, Dr.Ben, I am not on facebook. But I have at least two American friends on VK (Russian version of facebook which is much better btw)). They are Maria Peace and Sheryl Corrado. Both of them speak some Russian. Sheryl worked for IFES when I was a student. For some months she was my teacher and taught me “gonna” and “wanna” )) And she openly expressed her concerns to me about ubf. She said, “I don’t like this… I think it is not biblical… I think it is not good… It is strange… It is not normal…”. Why didn’t I listen to her at the very beginning of my acquaintance with ubf?!

  81. While not trying to defend the missionaries, I will simply say that they are sinners too who sin in real ways. But unfortunately, their culture, their deeply entrenched hierarchy (and their sinful pride) prevents them from being able to be humbly acknowledge their “spiritual abuses,” duplicity and working for a ROI!

    As I stated in this article, I believe that they are truly well intentioned (imperfectly of course), and perhaps because of that they can’t see how all their serving and sacrifice for sheep is really a selfish filthy rag (Isa 64:6).

    So, you understand that they need Jesus too. Perhaps they do too in their own hearts, except that they perhaps cannot admit it to others. They especially definitely cannot admit it openly, and definitely not on UBFriends (where they likely feel that they are being crucified as martyrs unfairly)!

  82. Also, as an Asian, our missionaries have such an overpowering “debtor’s ethic,” which sounds biblical but is really not.

    In their mind, they suffered and sacrificed so much for “you sheep.” Of course, their blind spot is that they cannot see or cannot acknowledge that it is also for their own sense of honor or accomplishment to be a “fruitful missionary with many sheep.”

    So, in their mind, “you owe them (and UBF) for life.” In my opinion, some missionaries cannot get out of this mind set. So they suffer as much pain and wounds from being betrayed by “you sheep running away after receiving everything,” just as you suffered from their authoritarian “just obey” abuse.

    Again, this only proves that the Bible is true when it says that “all have sinned and fall short” (Rom 3:23). Even our missionaries fall short and desperately need Jesus just as much as “you sheep.”

  83. Timothy Ha

    >> Vitaly, So sorry to hear this coming from a Moscow shepherd.

    Same here. Hard to believe that could come from a Moscow shepherd. Moscow disciples aren’t so “hard-core” guys, from what I can observe.

  84. Yes, Timothy, I know that most of the Moscow chapter shepherds are mild and gentle. Still there are some who learn from the missionaries very well. I think that the condition and character of the shepherd is a fruit of ubf missionaries. For the missionaries it was natural to call me “Satan” when I left ubf. Then they said that I am a good Christian but if anyone from our chapter would talk to me then “Satan works powerfully through talks with him”. How would Satan work powerfully through a talk with a good Christian?! )) But this is a ubf reality.

  85. Recently while driving a car I listened to a news radio. It is the most popular news radio in Russia called “Moscow Echo”. They were talking about some Russian laws and somebody said, “What about those strange Baptists who refuse medical care….”. And he used the word “sect” which in Russia means “cult”. Some minutes later he apologized publicly and said, “Of course, I made a mistake, I know and all know that Baptists are not a “sect” (cult), I meant Jehovah Witnesses who are a “sect” and who refuse medical care”. Then about 10 minutes later he said, “I apologized three times already but still we have many calls about Baptists. I want to say once more, I apologize. The Baptist Church is a normal Christian church and I never meant to call it a “sect””.

    I attend a Baptist church now and it was very pleasant to hear such words about the church. And what about ubf? Internet is full of articles and testimonies that ubf is a cult. In my city pastors from all churches gather together from time to time but they never heard about ubf. Some Baptist pastors heard about ubf from some sisters who left our chapter in 1996, and the pastors openly say that ubf is a cult. (Though they would never say that even about orthodox and charismatic churches with which they have some sharp disagreements).

  86. I am in UBF and I love my brothers and sisters in UBF. Over the last few years I began to also love my brothers and sisters who left UBF, which I did not before, probably because of my dualistic, “either you’re in or you’re out” way of thinking. I realize that God is far far bigger than my small brain, and definitely far bigger than UBF. It is embarrassing that it took me 3 decades of being a Christian to figure that out!

    As stated in the article, I believe that what UBF believes about Jesus and the Bible is pretty orthodox, and thus not a cult. Unfortunately, what some UBF leaders practice definitely makes it a spiritually abusive cult. The present ongoing tragedy of UBF is our repeated and persistent refusal to humbly acknowledge the latter.

    I am personally waiting for the day that UBF will officially say so publicly and apologize for all the cult-like abusive practices that have been going on for so many decades already, many of which have already been repeatedly documented on UBFriends, Wikepedia, Cult Awareness groups and other sites.

    Until that happens, the “glory days” of UBF will be in the past, no matter how much some want to forget and ignore our past, and just blindly press on forward.

  87. Good thoughts, thanks for sharing Vitaly and Ben, Timothy and everyone.

    Until ubf people rise up and demand accountability and request a mission statement that includes the word “Jesus”, ubf leaders will have to deal with the cult-leader label.

    The last time I went “fishing” on campus many years ago, a student told me “I’m not joining a bible cult.” and walked away before I could even say “Hi, how are you?”

    New ubf mission statement for the next 50 years does not mention Jesus

    • I don’t see this current growth by the ICOC as something extremely healthy, based on the article and the comments.

      I see ICOC supporters making the same kind of self-flattering statements as many ubf people:

      “I am very thankful for my American brothers and sisters, in U.S.A., for sacrificing their lives for Jesus Christ and preaching God’s word to, almost, every major city, country and continent, around the world! I am thankful for my International brothers and sisters for raising up to lead God’s humble churches around the world and for, courageously, preaching God’s word boldly, in the face of persecution and hardships. You are my heroes in the faith! Praise God. May every disciple of Jesus Christ train and raise up a younger “Timothy” in God’s church- children, teens, campus, singles and marrieds, to be the future leaders and followers of Jesus Christ, in 2013. Will all the mighty men and women of God, please, stand up for Jesus Christ? Amen.”

      And then there are voices of reality:

      “Speaking of leadership, God hasn’t raised up new voices to lead his people in the last ten years? Of course God has raised up leaders, even though the icoc has gone from a one man show to a more collaborative effort, those same leaders from the past who encouraged the systemtic errors in our past are still involved in it’s recovery. I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t but similarly where are the new voices that will lead further. Have things improved? yes; but I think and know that there are more things that appear like the old icoc than this articles is trying to portray.”

    • Interesting stats on the ICOC:

      “The ICOC’s reported membership hit a high of 135,000 in 2002 — the same year worldwide leader Kip McKean stepped aside.”

      In ubf the ICOC came up from time to time among the leaders. We discussed how bad they were and how much better ubf was than ICOC. I was led to believe ICOC was a small, fringe movemnt that was disintegrating in the 90’s. But actually ICOC was growing and far more successful than ubf at recruiting college students. ubf has never (to my knowledge) exceeded 10,000 and is currently at around 8,000 worldwide. ICOC was well over 10 times bigger in 2002.

    • “Can this happen corporately in UBF one day?”

      No. The chance to corporately repent was missed big time. What can happen through ubf now is that new movements could spawn. We are already seeing this happen, albeit rather slowly.

      Consider this:

      In 2002, Kip stepped down from ICOC. That kicked off 10 years of restructuring, corporate repentance and rethinking their shepherd/sheep relationships– and lead to some growth and some positive signs of becoming a healthy ministry.

      In 2002, SLee died in a fire. That kicked off 10 years of enforcing the top-down single person leadership structure, preserving the ubf heritage and a renewed commitment to CME so that ubf authority is cemented through shepherd/sheep relationships– and lead to a fourth “crisis”/reform movement and a plethora of negative signs of becoming a cult.

      [Note: If you don’t know what CME is, why are you in ubf? CME is a method used by hardliner ubf Koreans to galvanize conformance to ubf ideology and to enforce the preservation of the ubf heritage. I call it “Cult Management Education”. It is a graceful means of B.I.T.E control and indoctrination.]

  88. big bear

    YES AND NO. It depends on the chapter and the leader. UBF has many clones of the founder…I believe they are cult leaders and many who love and serve Christ wholeheartedly and are sincere Christians are not cult leaders. The danger is in the clones. The clones are highly abusive and artificial. THIS COULD BE SAID ABOUT OTHER CHURCHES AS WELL. The answer is denounce the evil practices and create healthy bibical change.

  89. Thanks, big bear, for this remarkable list of 10 warning signs of a “potentially unsafe leader” (or group):

    Interestingly, this does not just apply to churches but to any group or organization, where “someone” (autocracy) or an “exclusive group” (oligarchy) wants to have CONTROL over their group or organization.

    Sadly, but not surprisingly, Christians in many churches may also display such “potentially unsafe (unhealthy)” characteristics. It almost seems like every single one of the “10 warning signs” can be individually written up as a stand alone article. I have already written about the first warning sign countless times: “Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.”

  90. Joe Schafer

    Ben, I know you love acronymns, so here’s another one to add to your vocabulary.

    Roger Olson just posted an interesting article about “Unsafe Sects.”

    For various reasons, he and many others are now reluctant to describe aberrant churches as cults. Rather, he suggests using the term “TACO”, which is an acronym for “Totalistic, Aberrational Christian Organization.”

    He gives a nine-point checklist to help determine whether a group is a TACO. The first seven points are very descriptive of UBF. I’m not saying that all these things go on in every ubf chapter all the time. But I have seen them happen enough times in enough places to say that, yes, they do describe ubf. And leaders have shown show little or no resolve to root them out.

    So I guess that UBF is a TACO.

    The full article is here:

    • The TACO discussion already happened back in 2004. Chris gave some wonderful insight. That discussion was something that helped open my eyes and begin my journey of recovery from University Bible Fellowship and the 12 point heritage, although I denied it at the time.

      Call ubf what you want– the ubf ideology is a breeding ground for all kinds of abuse. The only time abuse does not happen in ubf is when people withdraw and protect themselves. People are unwilling to come out of those little pockets of protection out of fear and out of self-perservation.

      The terms change (cult, NRM, TACO, abherrant, etc). but the facts remain. Until ubfers face the fact that their ideology is as good as dead (like Abraham did) then they will remain a wounding machine hidden behind fake smiles and gifts of kimchee.

    • Just a note about what we are dealing with here… ubf is made up of a top layer of heritage-preserving leaders and a lot of what I call “pockets of protection”. It is important to not break those pockets. My hope is for an outpouring of gospel grace and love and justice, but if we break the pockets, people will be harmed by our “troublemaking”.

      The insight the Spirit gave in 2011 was to connect the pockets of protection, by opening horizontal dialogues among ubf members. ubf directors prefer only vertical or one-way discussion. They are deathly afraid of mutual discussion, and multiple discussion networks.

  91. [rant] ubf makes me SICK to my stomach and the ubf 12 point heritage comes straight from the pit of hell. [/rant]

    Ok I feel better now. Still this weekend is a disgusting weekend for all of us former ubf members. We all know what this week is. Anyone up for some arranged marriages this week?

    • I’m not sure if you have something particular in mind, but the wedding on from Montreal was not arranged. The couple was together before entering UBF, as far as I recall. I know them; they have a interesting counter-example to the normal marriage-by-faith route, and have done so (as far as I can tell) in a very mature and God-honouring way, even though there was some contrary opinions along the way.

    • Hey Joshua, no I wasn’t thinking of anyone in particular. I didn’t even know about that couple. I try not to go to the ubf website; it still makes me want to punch the wall and rip out my hair :/

      I’m just saying that this is the first weekend in October… so time for some ancestor worship and arranged marriages soon.

    • They are an interesting counter example for sure Joshua but Montreal did slightly adjust their outward policies on such matters. There was one other couple who had been married a couple of years ago but they did so in their own church even though it was (maybe still is) that they serve for campus mission. I would like to emphasize the political tone to the posting however – notice that it says B. and S. – meaning brother and sister. So, then we will deduce that they are not YET shepherds – please tell me why? In any other community it would be normal to just say brother and sister, but here I know for a fact that whoever wrote the summary did so very deliberately. Language is coded unfortunately and it shows me that some things may never change.

  92. In my opinion, UBF might be “learning” (painfully, I might add) that too much control over UBF marriages does not sit well with this generation (or any generation?), and that many couples were badly traumatized and humiliated during the “marriage by faith humbleness training.” As a result, some left UBF after their marriage in UBF to join other churches, because of their painful marriage experience at the hands of their shepherds.

    Let me say that my own marriage by faith experience in 1981 was happy and memorable, probably/perhaps because I was still “in shock” when I was getting married by faith (in God) to a person I did not know: My happy recollection is that God’s hand was on me and that I knew and felt that it was God’s will and God’s plan for me to marry Christy, despite all of my own fears and doubts.

  93. Not that we need another list to tell, but here is another list:

    8 clues

    1. Power is not shared.

    2. Your needs and desires are denied.

    3. If you don’t comply you will be ignored or worse.

    4. Your discontent with the church is your fault.

    5. Little encouragement but lots of put downs (called constructive criticism).

    6. Doubts and questions are interpreted as betrayal.

    7. Shame is used to keep you in line.

    8. Your life feels micromanaged by the church.

    • Such lists are eerie. My thoughts are that since we are blind to our own faults and demerits, it is quite likely that cultish or cult-like groups cannot “see it,” even if it is so plainly obvious to everyone else.

  94. Hello. I am new here. Forgive me if I’m what I’m about to bring up has already been talked about…

    1.) Does UBF require “newly committed” follower/students to do outreach at college campuses? If so, is this voluntary or peer-pressured?

    1a.) I have heard that outreach/recruitment activities are so time-consuming, ppl are taught that “UBF is your family now” to justify the time spent away from their own relatives.

    2.) Is it true that UBF leaders “force” (thru peer pressure) ppl to have set roommates after college? I believe this is called, “Common Life”?

    3.) Do UBF leaders “suggest” where newly college grads should live (in close proximity to a UBF church campus) and openly encourage/discourage the person’s acceptance of jobs?

    4.) Do UBF leaders “suggest” marriage partners for members and “assign” them UBF members from foreign countries who need an American visa? I have read that quite often these ppl have no idea who they are marrying.

    5.) If any of these items are still true, why do UBF ldrs feel they are not a cult, and simply “following the Bible”? After all, I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible where Jesus/the Disciples/Paul exercised so much control over ppl’s lives.

    I have read many things. Most of which are highly critical of UBF. But I figured that I could be “set straight” here. And would appreciate honest answers.

    Thank you,


    P.S. I realize that some/most of these practices have probably happened at some pt in the history of UBF. How does UBF enforce “doctrine quality control” in these circumstances? Or, do they at all?

    • forestsfailyou

      I will try to answer your questions as truthfully as I can. But honestly a lot of this depends on the character of your chapter.
      1) No. At least not newly committed. As for as voluntary or peer pressured, that depends on the person- but both happen and either way it is seen as ok because it is fulfilling Mat 28:19.
      1a) I have not seen this idea, but when I once had a conflict were my mother did not like a proposed UBF activity I was told not to talk to her about it and she would come around. This is generally how all issues are dealt with. Wait around and hope they change.
      2) Yes. The idea is that Jesus’ disciples lived together so likewise UBF disciples should likewise. This is nearly a direct quote from Mark Yang’s book on discipleship. Common life “succeeds” when a “mature” (read: committed to UBF) person is places with a less “mature” brother. The more mature brother leads to less mature brother to become more like Jesus, which is redefined as someone who adheres to UBF policy.
      3) I have not been in this position, but I could see it happening. When it looked as though I might get a job elsewhere the church prayed that I get the job nearby. Their prayers went unanswered, but I got accepted to grad school and stayed in the area anyways.
      4) I have heard this, but I don’t believe it. I think the idea is that UBF very broadly defines missionary as anyone moving to another country who has the intent to do 1-1 bible study. This means that if someone is married to an American from Korea they get to call the Korean a “missionary” (even though “immigrant” is probably better). They see marriage as a way of fulfilling Mat 28:19. Another thing is that Korea has an abundance of people dedicated to UBF, where as in other countries that might not be the case. Since there is a general belief that marriage in UBF is for UBF, so it is just follows (in their mind) that we need to find a godly woman (or man) from Korea.
      5) I will answer with a quote
      “The proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its creator…We are …rebels who must lay down our arms…We all remember this self-will as it was in childhood…hence the older type of nurse or parent was quiet right in thinking that the first step in education is ‘to break the child’s will’. THERE METHODS WERE OFTEN WRONG…” (my emphasis added)
      There is a confusion that any means justify the end. For many UBF people they think that they are helping people become closer to Christ through “training” them. They see many passages in the new testament involving God disciplining his children, and conclude that they have will act as God’s agent. They will be like Paul was to Timothy, who called him his spiritual son. Their methods are carried out with joy, because they think this training produces Godliness. They think even if some boundary is overstepped, in the light of God I am justified. This was apparent when I studied the story of Rebekah tricking her husband to give Jacob the inheritance due to Esau. I was told that Rebekah’s lie was ok because God had told her that Jacob would be the son that would become Israel. They use an ends justify the means approach. This is not true everywhere, but it is more likely to be true the older your leader is, and closer he was to Samuel Lee.

    • forestsfailyou

      Sorry, for the “doctrine quality control”. All activities are approved and sanctioned by the leader. Furthermore, other chapter leaders tend not to respond to claims, accusations,email or even concerns from members of other chapters. When someone gets out of line he is labeled as rebellious, and then nobody will listen to him. The bottom line is that anything said from the pulpit will be prescreened by the pastor, even if it is a personal reflection. Any objectionable material will not be allowed. More broadly when it appears chapter leaders themselves are changing tone or reconsidering traditional UBF golden calfs (1-1 bible study, testimony sharing, etc) there are always staff conferences that push this doctrine back. Those are ran by the most hardline of the hardline. People who are in their 70-80s and have been in UBF since college.

    • Yes forests, I would tend to agree with almost all of your assessments.

    • And yes, I publicly admit that I was a cult leader, trying to build my own cult using ubf kingdom of priests and holy nation (KOPHAN) shepherding ideology and theology. My repentance is my blogging, my books and my exit counseling to ubf members who want to leave peacefully and safely. I pray no one has to endure the suicides and mental trauma that some former members have had to deal with.

    • Forest and Brian already gave good answers. The term “newly committed” needs some clarification. Somebody who has committed to take part in regular 1:1 and SWS could be considered “newly commited”. However, this is only the first stage of commitment. What UBF really wants of you is that you share a life testimony at a conference. UBF does everything so that this event becomes a two-in-one thing: First, it’s considered the point in time when you have been “born again”. But second, it’s also the point in time when you fully commit to being a UBF shepherd. These two events are melted into one. They try everything to bind the two things together: Your salvation and meaning in life and relationship with God and spiritual rebirth on the one hand, and your calling as a UBF shepherd and obedience to UBF on the other hand. Life as a UBF shepherd encompasses all the things that have been mentioned: Fishing on the campus, common life, arranged marriage etc. It’s not so much authoritarian pressure and peer pressure that keeps you doing these activities, but the idea they have at that time deeply implant into your mind that if you stop doing these activities, you leave your calling as UBF shepherd, and then you will also lose your salvation and meaning in life and relationship with God. That’s how it works. Added to that comes the other idea they implant into you, that UBF directors are “God’s servants” who are conveying the will of God to you. So if you don’t obey them, you stop obeying God, with the same consequences of losing your salvation and everything.

    • Very well said Chris. +1

  95. Hi David. The answer to all of your questions is yes. In fact that is a good summary of the authoritarianism and spiritual abuse that is rampant in ubf. The only better list of problems at ubf was given to me by a grandmother of a student: A Grandmother’s concerns about ubf.

    How do I know? I was a ubf-man from 1987 to 2011 when I resigned. I rose up in the ranks from sheep, to bible teacher, to shepherd, to fellowship leader, to marriage by faith, to pioneering missionary, to chapter director.

    I did all those things on your list. I and the other leaders made sure we had detailed lists of all members and sheep, and kept track of their daily activities. We kept “prayer lists” and discussed each person’s problems regularly.

    I wrote three books about my recovery from this cultic ministry.

    Even though things change on the surface, the harmful ubf shepherding theology in 2011 was no differnt from ubf shepherding theology in 1987.

  96. “How does UBF enforce “doctrine quality control” in these circumstances? Or, do they at all?”

    1) They usually do not care too much about doctrine quality. They care about their #1 values: loyalty to authority and obedience to your shepherd. Do that, and you can just about believe any doctrine you want.

    2) They employ a subtle, often-hidden, six stage training program.

    3) There have been 4 “reform” movements where leaders like me pointed out the problems with their flawed theology and practice. Those movements, in 1976, 1989, 2001 and 2011, have given the ubf leaders more Christian-sounding words. For example, all ubf chapters have a “chapter director” who is supposed to give training to the members of the chapter. But now they call this person (almost always a Korean) as a “pastor”.

    4) ubf tends to study only parts of the bible in order to condition members to believe their 12 point slogan called “spiritual heritage”, as their own website shows.

  97. Mark Mederich

    too much lukewarm consideration (which is really alternating hot/cold in myself & others over time); repent/do right, or forget it

  98. Public notice to ubf people:

    Removing parts of the Wikipedia article about your cult won’t help your cause. In fact, the removing of negative information is seen as vandalism on Wikipedia and will always be reverted.

    Another information blanking attempt on the ubf Wikipedia article

    If the Wiki blanking and internet scrubbing continues we must not only ask “Are ubf leaders cult leaders?” we must also ask “Are some ubf people stupid?”

    • forestsfailyou

      Actually that was me by accident. I thought someone had deleted it (hence my “This is important information to know.” comment), but I am not wiki savey and saw the semi protected status had been lifted so I undid a previous change (which I thought deleted it the cult info. Looks like I undid the undoing of the deletion instead of undoing a deletion.

    • forestsfailyou

      So the stupidity comment you mention is likely warranted here. :) Sorry.

    • Well what the heck. Thanks for being honest forests.

    • Darren Gruett

      This little exchange between you two was the humor I needed to brighten up my day. And what a nice little lesson about the value of honesty and grace.

  99. Is it hard to be a wiki editor? How tech and webpage savvy do I need to be? Is it hard to learn? I ask because I am probably as good a “ubf expert” as any, after being in ubf for 35 years and counting.

    • forestsfailyou

      Short answer is no. All you need to do is go to edit and anyone can change anything. That is unless it’s a controversial page and it can’t be edited, this is called protected. That’s easy.

      What is a little more complicated is deciphering past edits. I was trying to see if anyone had removed anything important about ubf being cult- like (and accidentally did that exact thing). What I did was went to history at the top and you can see all the edits people did. If someone vandalizes them (that means deleting large parts of it for no reason) then you can undo the edit and give a reason. Here I undid a revision (that’s the -4584, it means I deleted something) then I undid my own revision (that’s the +4584). I think 2602:30A:2C61:D2D0:71C2:A81C:D28F:26EF is my ip address (BrianK can correct me) which can be tracked here.

      (cur | prev) 03:20, 26 March 2015‎ 2602:30a:2c61:d2d0:71c2:a81c:d28f:26ef (talk)‎ . . (10,597 bytes) (+4,584)‎ . . (Undid revision 653555332 by 2602:30A:2C61:D2D0:71C2:A81C:D28F:26EF (talk)) (undo)
      (cur | prev) 03:15, 26 March 2015‎ 2602:30a:2c61:d2d0:71c2:a81c:d28f:26ef (talk)‎ . . (6,013 bytes) (-4,584)‎ . . (Undid revision 648621495 by 331dot (talk) This is important information to know.) (undo)

    • Ben, anyone can edit anything on wikipedia with some nuances. If you have a COI (conflict of interest) you will have a difficult time editing your own article. Only certain people are “wikiadmins”. They are a highly educated, rather advanced alien tribe of people who often speak many languages. They catch everything :) They don’t like self-published or self-promoted material. And they tend to remove things that are not academically provable.

      Forests, yes that long string is your ip address. It is the new “ipv6” format. The internet came close to running out of the old ip addresses in the old “ipv4” format. Most everyone now has either both or just ipv6.

    • So wikipedia is supposed to be about “what other people say about you” not “what you say about yourself”. This blows the ubf mind, hence the repeated attempts to blank out entire sections.

      Thanks for watching this forests, but there’s no need to worry. The wikiadmins get notified if there is more blanking. They will take care of it.

  100. Gajanan Nial
    Gajanan Nial

    Did you see “Announcement of Voting Result for General Director of UBF”?

    So white smokes have arisen over ubf’s pristine chapel; the illuminated College of Cardinals has finally chosen ATK as the Bishop of UBF for one more tern. The link says he was elected but who was the opponent, how many votes he secured and why the electors chose him for a second term are top secrets …. Shhhhh!!!

    What a way to choose the spiritual leader (or cult leader?) of an organization! Shouldn’t his achievements of the last term be shared with the world?

    Should democracy be exercised in choosing spiritual leaders? When Jesus finally declared himself as the King of the Jews in no ambiguous words, he had zero votes in his favor (Jn 18:37).

    Well, the King decides in the kingdom of God, but for the kingdom of this world, we need networking and voting, of course.
    Nothing less than a secret society.

    • fwiw, this year’s process of electing a new GD has actually been far more transparent than previously. Also, more people had a say than in the past when someone was simply nominated (selected, chosen) and everyone supposedly “unanimously agreed.”

      Though we might still have some ways to go for a fully transparent democratic process, it was certainly less clandestine and less politically motivated than previously. Yes, those who voted (over 90 people of the International Advisory Members) actually did have a choice between two candidates, which had never happened before.

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      Did you get to vote, Ben? Thanks for your response. I don’t like democracy and would prefer servant-leadership modeled after Jesus’ own example, but until the Kingdom fully manifests, so it be.

      On a second thought, I regret posting the above comment. Perhaps I was overcome… God bless me!

      I realized that most ubfriends are offering golden silence during this holy week, whereas I am trying to keep the pot boiling!

      Perhaps it happened because I am not celebrating Good Friday and Easter, as I haven’t yet found any clear instruction in the scripture to do so.

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      btw, Ben, you made me search the internet for the meaning of “fwiw” and there are so many of it:

      For what it’s worth.
      For whoever is wondering.
      From what I’ve witnessed.
      Forgot where I was.

      Which one (or how many of the above) did you mean? :)

    • Yes, I did get to vote. So did everyone else in the IAM for the first time. It’s good that you posted what you did. I’m not sure if Easter is why comments might be down. Perhaps so. imo, celebrating Easter is simply celebrating or commemorating what Jesus did for us. But then again, this is what Christians should be celebrating every day, all year round, every year!

      I only knew fwiw as “For what it’s worth.” I learned from you that there are three others!

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      You are right. When I said I am not celebrating Good Friday and Easter, I meant not as annual festivals of a religion. But I do celebrate and draw inspiration from the death and resurrection of Jesus.

  101. Mark Mederich

    gee heard it first here:) didn’t even know he was in the running to continue:) likeable guy but like forerunners no resolution/guts to usher change, so business as usual I guess..HAPPY EASTER!

    • Isaac Kim (LA) was the other choice. He lost by a large margin. It was great to read the 2 candidates’ testimonies about how they would lead ubf. ATK was the clear choice if reform had any chance of continuing. IK would have made my life very exciting, so I’m glad now ATK won. Now I can forget about ubf and truly move on.

    • forestsfailyou

      I have read stories about how Issac Kim stole lots of money and was so authoritarian that even missionaries couldn’t deal with him. Could be wrong about the exact guy though. When I mention his name to missionaries they know who he is, yet I have never heard a good thing said of him when they speak.

    • Even if IK was the nominee, he would still need to be ratified by the IAM body with at least 2/3rds majority, which likely would have happened, since in UBF longstanding members have generally tended to support, approve of and ratify “whoever God appointed.”

    • forests, as you sure that was said of Isaac Kim of LA? I’ve never heard of money being stolen, although I did hear he was very authoritarian in the past. But how you described him doesn’t sound like the person I came to know and work with for the last 10+ years. In my travels with him, he was always well received by missionaries.

    • Brian, it’s very interesting how you get access to information like this.

    • Mark Mederich

      “I have read stories about how Issac Kim stole lots of money and was so authoritarian that even missionaries couldn’t deal with him.”


  102. Interestingly, after leaving the LA chapter, a few people questioned me on whether I now say that UBF is a cult and whether even local leaders are cult leaders. What first came to mind was a quote from Toy Story 2, where Woody says to Jessie, “If the boot fits!” But I didn’t want to talk about labels. Rather than worry about how you’re being labeled, why not honestly address the very real issues of mistreatment and abuse? The question of whether UBF leaders are cult leaders or not became another method of dismissal, intentional or not.

    • forestsfailyou

      Oh I got the wrong guy for the money- looks like someone named Isaiah. But Isaac Kim is briefly mentioned here.

    • forestsfailyou

      The context. I asked someone if they knew of a Charles on the west coast and his problems with the chapter. The person said no. Then I said it is ran by somebody named Isaac Kim. The person cut me off and said “He must have had a hard time. Isaac Kim has a strong personality.”

    • I see, thanks. Just to clarify, it was under the new director, John Kwon, that I left. But that isn’t to say there weren’t issues being voiced while Isaac was the director. And it was not just because of issues with the LA chapter but with the many issues noted just on this site in many places and how UBF corporate has responded. I suppose Isaac does have a strong personality. I do too.

      I’ve read that post by James V. It captures an interesting time in west coast UBF. I came to UBF right as Isaiah Yoo was heading out. My first conference was his last where he announced he was splitting away from UBF.

    • Charles, you strike me as having many traits that some UBF leaders may not mind for themselves, but would not like in you especially if you expressed them:

    • Joe Schafer

      Yes that post by James V was an interesting read. I saw it years ago, but had forgotten about it. I remember “Reverend Isaiah Yoo” as he was called. I may have vene shared a hotel room with him at one of the North American staff conferences. One year, he vanished and CSUN UBF was never spoken of again, and I never thought to ask what happened, because I never thought to ask questions.

      One thought that occurred to me was something that Chris has pointed out about the Reformers. When they left UBF, but they carried a great deal of it with them; they apparently didn’t take time to reflect and examine what happened to them or rethink their approach or refresh their understanding of the gospel. A person can get out of UBF, but it UBF stays within the person.

      This is why, in the article I posted today, I tried to express that I did and do bear responsibility for what went on, for the abusive practices and scapegoating. For better or worse, UBF and I are still joined somehow. Although for many reasons I must distance myself from the organization, it would be unhealthy for me to say that the problem was entirely theirs. I was a victim, but I was also a perpetrator. UBF did not change me into a monster. When they found me, what they found was a little baby monster, and they fed me big bowls of monster chow. UBF used me for selfish reasons, and I used UBF for selfish reasons.

      It is also ironic to read that Samuel Lee rebuked Isaiah Yoo for comingling UBF funds with church funds, when Lee comingled ministry funds with his own personal accounts in ways that no one, even the people closest to him, could ever see. He would often give people monetary gifts, writing them checks from his personal bank account, and where those funds came from, no one really knows, and will never know, because no detailed records were kept.

  103. Thanks, Joe, for your gift of using words eloquently that virtually expresses my own sentiments almost exactly: “I did and do bear responsibility for what went on, for the abusive practices and scapegoating. For better or worse, UBF and I are still joined somehow. Although for many reasons I must distance myself from the organization, it would be unhealthy for me to say that the problem was entirely theirs. I was a victim, but I was also a perpetrator.” – See more at:

  104. Mark Mederich