Organizational Health and the Church

“The single, greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it.”

AdvantageBookThat’s how management consultant Patrick Lencioni begins the first chapter of The Advantage. I learned of this book through a group of pastors in my town who meet regularly to pray and create opportunities for local churches to work together. These pastors recently read The Advantage and discussed it at a retreat, along with another book that has become a favorite of mine, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. These two books complement each other nicely. One deals with the health of the individual, the other with the health of the group. The Advantage is not explicitly Christian – Lencioni doesn’t quote passages from the Bible – but many Christian leaders have found it helpful, and for the last two years Lencioni has been a featured speaker at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit.

The Advantage resonates with Christians for two simple reasons. First, from an organizational standpoint, churches can be notoriously unhealthy, even more so than secular institutions. Second, the book is intensely practical, providing strategies to help leaders climb out of the morass.

Can Lencioni’s insights be helpful to churches? Some might claim that treating a church like a business is unspiritual. I’ve heard people say, “The church isn’t an organization; it’s a organism.” In the Bible, the church is never depicted as a profitmaking venture. And didn’t Jesus bring a whip into the temple and drive the moneychangers out? Yes, a church and a business ought to be different in many respects. But it is not unspiritual to acknowledge that, in the way that they operate, the two can be strikingly similar.

The Bible depicts the Church not as a human association but as the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the family of God, and a spiritual house. But the church needs organizations in the same way that families need homes. A home provides the physical and social space that allows a family to operate. A family that becomes homeless is likely to fall apart. Similarly, without the environment provided by organizational structures, the life of a church would be impossible to sustain.

Organizations that are healthy have huge advantages over their competitors.

Once again, I can hear the objections. “Churches shouldn’t be competing with one another. We are all supposed to be on the same side.” I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Competition among churches is distasteful.  But we need to face the cold, hard reality. After centuries of conflict – exacerbated, no doubt, by deficiencies in organizational health – the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church now presents itself through many different institutions, and believers have to choose among them. Belonging to a dysfunctional church is stressful.  If the organizational problems are too severe, sooner or later its members will depart for greener pastures. And eventually, the one who said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever” (Ge 6:3) may also bail out of an unhealthy church and choose to fulfill his purposes elsewhere.

Nursing an unhealthy organization back to health isn’t easy. It takes wisdom, intentionality and persistence. Lencioni’s book has loads of advice on how to do it. But organizational leaders often resist, because the work required may seem unglamorous. And it’s easier to ignore problems than to fess up to them.

 I suspect that many people don’t have a clue what organizational health means, because they’ve never actually seen a healthy organization up close. Lencioni offers a simple definition:

 “At its core, organizational health is about integrity, but not in the ethical or moral way that integrity is so often defined today. An organization has integrity – is healthy – when it is whole, consistent, and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy and culture fit together and make sense.”

A healthy organization understands and doesn’t hide its agenda. The purpose is clearly stated to insiders and outsiders. Its leaders and members behave in ways that are consistent with that purpose. Signs of a healthy organization include“minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among good employees.”

In contrast, an unhealthy organization is confused about its purpose. People aren’t sure what it’s about, because the leaders lack a unified direction and message. Human capital and resources are being wasted, with members devoting large amounts of time and energy to activities and projects that are unproductive. Over time, a high proportion of members leave.

A healthy organization isn’t perfect. It experiences conflict and makes plenty of mistakes. What sets the healthy organization apart is that its leaders look squarely at the problems, identify the sources, and respond with appropriate action. Healthy organizations cycle through problems and solutions more rapidly than unhealthy ones, and this gives them a competitive edge. Unhealthy organizations are unresponsive and slow to change, holding on to problematic practices without recognizing how counterproductive they are.

In essence, unhealthy organizations are collectively stupid. Lencioni doesn’t actually use that term. But he does explain that unhealthy organizations behave foolishly, and it’s not because the leaders lack intelligence. Individually, they may be capable and smart. But ingrained values, practices and culture prevent the organization from drawing upon the capacity of its members. Behaviors that would bring positive change are punished rather than rewarded. Leaders may have an average IQ of 130, but the group acts with a collective IQ of 70. Those who create and sustain problems are protected, and those who would solve problems are marginalized and pushed out.

People who remain in such organizations pay a heavy price. Lencioni writes:

“People who work in unhealthy organizations eventually come to see work as drudgery. They view success as being unlikely or, even worse, out of their control. This leads to a diminished sense of hope and even lower self-esteem, which leaks beyond the walls of the companies where they work, into their families where it often contributes to deep personal problems, the effects of which may be felt for years. This is nothing short of a tragedy, and a completely avoidable one.”

Perhaps you think that I’ve written this article as a backhanded way of criticizing UBF. Quite a few UBF leaders have been complaining about the negative tone of the articles and comments on UBFriends. “Don’t just criticize,” they say, “but provide constructive advice and real solutions.”

Well, Lencioni’s book gives plenty of constructive advice and solutions. In the weeks ahead, I’m willing to blog through this book, chapter by chapter, and dialogue about concrete steps that UBF leaders might consider to improve the health of the organization. But if there aren’t enough readers who will make a good-faith effort to participate in a constructive discussion, I fear it would just be a waste of time.

UBF in North America is in a state of crisis. In some places, it has been disintegrating rather quickly, and in other places the bleeding has been slow and steady, but signs are everywhere for those who have eyes to see. The most obvious sign is the large number of native leaders who have left the ministry, especially in the last couple of years, many of whom served alongside us for decades. They were (and still are) highly intelligent, creative and committed Christians, ready and willing to give and to serve. They include some of the best and brightest individuals I have ever known. Various circumstances caused them to leave, but no one can deny that, at the organizational level, UBF has failed to harness their talents and abilities in the service of Christ.

Some of you might say that I’m exaggerating. “We have problems, just as every church has problems. But don’t be so negative; God is still working among us.” Okay, God can and does still work, even in unhealthy churches. But that doesn’t absolve anyone of our God-given responsibility to identify and address the actual problems before us.

Perhaps I may never convince you that something is wrong. Perhaps you feel comfortable in UBF and would be happy for things to remain as they are indefinitely. Perhaps you think it’s wrong to be even having this discussion, and I should stop talking about it and get back to preaching the gospel and raising disciples. If so, then, God bless you. Perhaps God has given you other ways to serve in his kingdom, so go in peace and serve Christ wholeheartedly in the ways that he called you to serve. But don’t dismiss the possibility that some of us may have been called by God to identify and address the problems that you cannot or will not see.

Or perhaps you believe that discussing organizational matters is unspiritual.  You think that what the UBF really needs is a renewal of the gospel through massive corporate repentance. I hope and pray for repentance every day. But if and when repentance comes, people will begin to ask, “What should we do then?” (Lk 3:10) and someone needs to be ready with an answer. Repentance won’t erase years of history, nor will it instantly transform a community’s habits. Perhaps renewal is already taking place slowly and quietly in places that none of us have seen. But even if a moment of dramatic supernatural repentance arrives, I suspect that God will still ask those who are still around to do the difficult work of culturemaking and reconciliation. That work should be guided by knowledge, not intuition or guesswork.


  1. Thanks, Joe. I browsed rapidly through Lencioni’s book a few months ago, and concluded that UBF has not been healthy organizationally, as evidenced by the fact that we have lost (or driven away) so many good committed genuine Christians from through out the UBF world, some after two to three decades in UBF! This is clear unequivocal evidence that something is not good and not right and not healthy.

    As you stated, and which I have also expressed to those who would listen, is that there tends to be some reluctance to “fess up” and to take responsibility for causing such an ongoing exodus of good Christians from our church.

    I think that it is virtually impossible to correct/change anything, where there is an undertow of refusal to acknowledge that there is anything wrong.

    I’ve heard that some say that there is acknowledgment of wrongs in private among some leaders, and that some changes are taking place. Perhaps so. But regarding such clandestine and non-transparent ways of repentance, the Bible calls for public repentance, especially when the sins committed were also public, as in scores of people leaving angry, disgruntled, hurt, embittered, disillusioned, and wounded by their own shepherds and chapter leaders.

    Another reason for ignoring or minimizing UBF’s lack of organizational health is that there are “spurts of new sheep coming” in various places. This will likely continue to happen, because UBF’s strength has always been and still is hospitality, generosity and sacrifice for new young Bible students, what some have called “love bombing.”

    But this will not stop middle-tier UBF leaders from leaving (on average after five to twenty years), if we continue to not intentionally and specifically address areas of unhealthiness in our ministry.

  2. Joe – I am really thankful for this article. I have so much I want to share and discuss with UBF, not that I have all the answers, but there is so much to learn! I think there is much to learn from the organization health aspect.

    It would be so easy to change UBF– just face the facts and remove the bonds of shepherd/sheep authority. Then discussions can begin to make the organization healthy. But no valid discussion can take place until at least the first of those is widely supported.

    Alas, in the end, your words are deja vu… For example in 2001 our good friend James Kim wrote similar words during the 3rd reform movement.

    Can someone point out what is different about this 4th reform movement? I see a lot of re-arranging chairs but I see zero evidence of real change.

    Here is a relevant quote from James Kim’s 2001 letter (he died not long after this). The full letter is here: James Kim Open Letter 2001, but it is very long and a bit troublesome to read through all the details. He makes excellent points however, points that we are still talking about 11 years later:

    “Yes, we have had many great assets of His people who could have been Christian leaders in every aspect of society in the 157 countries. But it’s not too late if we reform and steer this organization of UBF in the right direction, no longer veering off from the right trail. Many prominent spiritual leaders, Bible scholars, theologians and Christian leaders in every rank and file can be raised up and we can truly become salt and light of our Lord Jesus Christ in this 21st century if we act now.”

    “If we don’t pay attention to the voice of truth now, because of our fear of the tight power of darkness, we will be subject to history’s judgment as the ones who disobeyed the Lord’s call. I believe that Korean reform shepherds and American reformers presented the full vision of the Reformed UBF through the blue print of the Reform UBF, which is already edited and published.”

    “Our Lord Jesus said, “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.” (Luke 5:36) Yes, unity is very important. But to the Lord there is no unity that can be accomplished by tailoring the reform movement to fit into D. Lee’s old system of a pyramid-style structure in which the leader never repents and everyone else always repents. This creates a double standard. Should we compromise for the sake of unity?”

    “Even if we want to do it, it cannot be done because of the characteristics of the kingdom of God. It is like tearing a patch from a new garment and sewing it on an old one. Again our Lord Jesus said, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:37-39)”

    “It is so sad that we have to undergo such pain and insecurity because the ministry we relied on as a part of ourselves has been shipwrecked. And I am sorry that I am one of the reformers who had to shake up and challenge the old system of UBF, which became like the old sweet wine in inflexible old wineskins. But I cannot curve the truth of the Scripture. The dynamic gospel work that is going on now must be put in the new frame of the gospel work in order to be fully fomented.”

    “On the other hand, I don’t want people to misunderstand in such a way that we deny all the good work of the Holy Spirit in UBF simply because we reject the darkness of D. Lee deeply embedded in LeeBF. We never deny the goodness of one-to-one Bible study methodology, of Christian training; nor give any hint of discrediting the great mission work of salvation through Bible Korea and world mission. The purpose of my letter is to disclose how much LeeBF has been off from the original purpose of the aforementioned spiritual directions of the Holy Spirit. Just as the reform confession indicated, the resource and power of serving Bible Korea and world mission must come from the grace of our Lord Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. As we realize the falsehood deeply embedded among us, we wholeheartedly return to the original purpose of our Lord’s will upon one-to-one Bible study and upon training and the world mission and Bible Korea. Therefore the UBF reform movement is not the work of division, but the work of restoration, returning to the true teaching of the Scripture and true rejuvenation in the Lord.”

  3. Joe Schafer

    Hi Ben,

    Like you, I browsed through Lencioni’s book quickly a few months back. It’s short and easy to read. But now I sense the need to go over it again more carefully, because there’s some excellent thinking in the book that deserves to be unpacked.

    You wrote, “I think that it is virtually impossible to correct/change anything, where there is an undertow of refusal to acknowledge that there is anything wrong.”

    For the most part, I agree with you. It’s difficult to start addressing problems that few are able to see or acknowledge. But God has a way of going ahead of us and starting to work things out before we are aware of it. Corporate repentance and public acknowledgement of failure doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the beginning of recovery. Perhaps it will happen more gradually along the way. Perhaps it will happen only in retrospect some years later, after some constructive changes are already in place. Or perhaps it will never happen. Those of us who would like to see change should be open to all of these possibilities.

    You and I see certain problems that others do not see. Is it because they will not believe that problems exist? Or is it because, for a whole host of reasons, they cannot believe?

    A common mistake in evangelism is to suppose that, if people don’t accept your offer of the gospel, that they are stubbornly and willfully rejecting it. Yes, sometimes people refuse to believe. But sometimes they are unable to believe because of complex historical, emotional and intellectual barriers that have not yet been overcome. Sometimes God works among hearers of the gospel in powerful ways that don’t fit the evangelist’s paradigm.

    I want to see positive change in the UBF community in the years ahead. I want to extend grace to leaders and give them the benefit of the doubt when I can, without being condescending or naïve. And I want to have eyes to see God’s work wherever and however it happens, even if it turns out to look very different from what I anticipated.

  4. I would like to see positive change in the UBF community as well, and I believe that those leaders who do want to examine the organizational health of their ministry need the tools and knowledge and discussion with like-minded to get that ball rolling, practically. Similar to the Leadership Summitt, which I attended, it would be helpful to have an actual meeting of minds, of those leaders who WANT CHANGE AND HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO BRING CHANGE into their ministry, who are actually directors, in a sense. I would not bother meeting with people who do not have actual authority over their ministry, because it would only bring them frustration and would be a waste of time. Actual decision makers need to get together. From there, one ministry should influence another ministry, or at least influence the director of a non-functioning ministry. There are many out there who are clueless to the change that needs to happen.

    • Hey Mark, I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating publicly: I would re-arrange my schedule to meet with UBF leaders who are willing to discuss problems and changes, and who can actually make changes. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I am saying I am willing to discuss ways to face the facts and move forward.

    • MarkO, great to see someone new chiming in, not just the usual suspects. But allow me to notice, from some distance, that your suggestion to only let those who have authority solve the problem of authoritarianism in the organization sounds somewhat funny, like wanting to put the fox in charge of the henhouse. The problem of UBF is the unhealthy separation between those who you call “leaders”, “those who have authority”, “decision makers”, “directors” and then the rank and file, a flock of dull sheep who have nothing to say, have been used to not think for themselves, are uninformed and just blindly approve and follow whatever their leaders decide. In my view this is the mindset that has to be overcome, not to be fostered by making relevant decisions by few in secret talks behind closed doors again. One thing that bothered me in the 2001 reform movement was that some of the German chapter directors seemed to base their decision to join or reject reform on the decision of their “mother chapter” in Korea, not on their own opinion or that of their congregation. I think all those who are considered “missionaries” or “shepherds” and gave their lives for the ministry should be involved in the discussion. The important thing is that a broad and open discussion takes place, and that a culture of embracing disucssion is established, not that some leaders make some decisions for the others behind closed doors again.

    • Let me explain more what I am referring to. My ministry is in a position of instituting change and I am in a position of making that change possible. We have had discussions with students,young leaders as well as doing a workshop with the whole ministry about healthy and unhealthy shepherd practices where senior missionaries, shepherds and students participated. There is still much more to do but this requires education for myself in how to initiate this change that many people in our ministry recognize needs to happen. That is where details come in and that is where people such as myself need to be able to discuss this in a group to see how that change can come about in the ministry. My point about being selective as to who is in that meeting is not to have people who do not seek change. That would not serve the purpose I am seeking. Also, I have no problem with other “rank and file” sit around the table. But I cannot help them change their ministry when their decision maker is not sitting around the table. My frustation is that they hear about the possibilities and then return to their chapter only to get stone walled. Maybe I am being selfish, but what I am referring to is a meeting where the ministry is ready to change, has the opportunity to change and is seeking practical guidance in instituting that change. Not sure if that made more sense, but I can say Chris that what you are speaking of in your post is not what I am speaking of. I appreciate your kind welcome!

    • Mark, I’m sure you did not mean it the way I paraphrased it, and I understand your intent to discuss only with those who are really willing to do something and not with those who would only participate in order to impede any progress. But you should not exclude those who “do not have actualy authority”. The point is that they don’t have authority because they allow others to have authority over them. The point is also that the very idea that some person should have authority over a ministry is wrong and one of the core ideas that needs to be challenged. But you cannot challenge that idea by silently accepting that idea. The congregation itself has authority, the group of elders has a certain authority. But only as a group, there as a single person, the “director”. And Mt 18:15ff shows clearly that the congregation as a whole has the final say, not the elders. And lastly the Bible has authority, e.g. Jesus’ teaching that Christians should think of themselves as brothers or servants, not as directors or masters. The thinking in these terms is what needs to be challenged, and so I think you’re setting the wrong signal by trying to focus only on those who have authority and making rank and file people believe anything they do to bring up reform is a waste of time because they don’t have authority do bring change anyway. That’s the self-imposed immaturity these people are suffering from for too long already. Here in Germany, change happened in 1989 (“the miracle of Leipzig”) when the rank and file went on the streets in masses and shouted “Wir sind das Volk!” (“We are the people!”). Maybe Americans would shout “we are the 90%” instead ;)

    • I meant authority should never be exerted by a single “director” person. There should always be a group of elders who make decisions together, and in agreement with the whole congregation. Highly recommended reading is the booklet “To What Should We Be Loayal” by MacDonald. It has one chapter title “no one-man ministry”.

    • Chris, I agree that a single decision maker model cannot be replaced with a “different kind” of single decision maker model. I am actually part of a three person pastoral team with a leadership council surrounding it. I guess what I am looking for is professional development insofar as implementing change in a ministry where the majority of ministry members (ie. rank and file) have clearly voiced their desire for change. Your point is well taken as far as empowering the rank and file to make their voices heard in their desire for change. Now how do you actually go about doing that? That is what I am seeking.

    • Good questions. I think it will help if you start embracing and exemplifying a culture of discussion and openness. In my time in UBF, the word “discussion” had a negative connotation of meaningles, fruitless, idle talk and speculation; it was understood as something that has to be avoided by Christians, something opposed to “making a decision of faith” i.e. blinldy following the “orientation” given to you by your shepherd or director. People should learn that there is a way to have meaningful discussions. Also, meaningful discussion can only happen if people are both informed and open, if all relevant facts come on the table, and if it is allowed to speak about the painful or embarrasing things. This is a second thing that needs to be un-learned or re-learned. Members have been kept uninformed and given one-sided self-glorifying information only by the leadership, on the other hand members were all too willing to never ask questions or actively search for information that would challenge their world view. It’s not a problem of leadership alone, but also a problem of the rank and file who found it very comfortable to let others think and decide for themselves. Maybe it would help to not look at your own organization in the beginning, but to similar problems in other organizations. A good example would be the ICoC which is in many regards very similar to UBF. In 2003, they started similar discussions. If you Google for “Henry Kriete” and “Open Letter” you will find a lot of material from this time. It can also help if you start with discussions about completely different questions. If you start a culture of having such open discussion, and invite members of other chapters as guests, I believe this can help a lot. I found it’s best to let somebody gather information and hold a lecture on a certain topic, and after such a lecture give people as much time as they need to talk about the topic.

    • David Bychkov

      Hi, Chris! Hope, you’re doing well.
      You’ve mentioned the ICoC and Henry Criete letter. Do you have any information about further development of ICoC? Have it brought any good to ICoC as an organization? As far as I know, the movement caused by the letter led to splits inside ICoC, and seems like they have not been able to find any constructive idea of further development.
      The big question I am asking – does UBF have constructive future even in case some acts like this letter will take place? Even discussion will go on? What can make UBF people, which were used to be connected b/c of authoritar leadership and certain beliefs, stay together and move in the same direction in case this leadership and beliefs are challenged?
      One thing is to challenge certain beliefs and practices, the other thing is to find new ideas, which can convince people to move further. Is it possible at all in our world with plenty of Christian traditions and forms? I think the UBFriends and people here showing somehow this attitude. We’ve challenged UBF practices and beliefs but we also need to seek for answers, we need to build new and more solid worldview. And that is not surprising, that we are heading in somewhere different directions. I am more or less strong in my classical Reformed theology worldview, someone more liberal or neoorthodox etc. That is healthy, or better this is reallity, and we can live with it. But if the organization like UBF shall find the new direction, not just to correct something, but challenge the basics, which I think is strongly required, how then it can choose new direction and make the people move there?
      Sorry if my comment is too messed..

    • Joe Schafer

      I really appreciate this thread of comments because it raises some of the fundamental questions that Lencioni deals with in his book.

      The very first question is: Who in the organization should be seated on the leadership team to clarify and set the direction for the organization? The discussion here between MarkO and Chris anticipates this nicely.

      And David, I really appreciate your comment. You are exactly correct. It’s one thing to challenge problematic beliefs and practices, and another to come up with effective solutions. Over the years, UBF members have held a variety of beliefs about all sorts of doctrines and practices, but we never actually discussed them. Once discussion starts and the diversity of beliefs is revealed, how do we maintain unity and move forward? How do we promote peace and honor one another’s beliefs and values in the midst of disagreement? How do we keep it from degenerating into political battles that cause more splits? Some would be happy moving in a direction of Reformed tradition and theology, but others wouldn’t. Keeping people quiet and stifling discussion so that the disagreements stay hidden is no longer an option. These are important questions, and Lencioni’s book gives some partial answers. But we all need to think about it more.

    • Chris and David, you are getting to the heart of what I am seeking. Chris I really value your comment, “meaningful discussion can only happen if people are both informed and open, if all relevant facts come on the table, and if it is allowed to speak about the painful or embarrasing things.” I was inspired by the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist came to prepare the way, preaching a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I thought how wonderful it would be to start the new year with a kind of repentance party, really looking at ourselves (not others, not sheep), over the years of our shepherd life, and see what areas we are in need of forgiveness and change, and to lay that all on the table, before others. We have all participated in some way in unhealthy shepherding practices. It is impossible to have avoided it given the culture of the ministry. I also appreciate David’s point. I feel that our ministry has gone through a process of challenging the one person decision making model, but it is more than than, it is our understanding of discpleship, theology, etc. The important step now is to identify healthy practices, new direction and move, move, move!

    • Mark, this sounds really encouraging. So far I heared only “reform needs time” from leaders, you’re the first one who says “let’s move.” I wish you all the best on this way. Maybe not everything will go smoothly, even some old wounds may break up, but it’s necessary to become healed and healthy again.

      One thing I learned personally is that we should stop pretending to have all answers concerning spiritual matters, and aspiring towards a perfect theological system. If such a simple system would exist, I think the Bible would teach it more clearly. Let the church embrace different opinions and systems in that regard, as long as they don’t touch the core doctrine that we are saved sinners, by the grace of God. Let the church become a place where people come together who are eager to learn and serve, who are honest with each other so that they can be true friends and brothers who can tolerate and respect different opinions and life styles. The new culture and mindset should be very different from the old culture of shaming and blaming, teaching and training others. This would also be my answer to David: UBF has always claimed it has “no system” and was “non-denominational”. I think that’s something good that could be kept. Well actually, we know that claim never really true, since UBF has sort of created its own rigid system and denomination, but it could become true in the future. So UBF could become a place where Christians with different cultures and theological systems can meet and read the Bible together, and share their views, and encourage each other. A questions would be whether this should be a place that exists in addition to ordinary churches (like Campus Crusade) or if it should be a full fledged church by itself. The former had the advantage that it could help bring more unity to Christians, to have more healthy exchange and cooperation between various churches. We do not need to have the answers right now. UBFers believe they don’t have time to discuss or experiment, they need to be busy with fishing, 1:1 and preparing conferences. But after more than 50 years, it is time to pause and think and discuss and reflect on why “doubling the ministry” and all other number goals never worked out, and so many people left hurt and disappointed. A reflective “time out” is sometimes necessary even if it looks like wasted time. The Bible is full of such examples where people of God took time out from activity and people, often in the desert, often for many years. Even the most active Paul seems to have taken such a 3 year time out after his conversion (that’s how I understand Gal 1). I think the whole machinery needs to stop for a while and only then start to move into another direction, not immediately chose a random new direction and start running again. Take time for healthy and open talks, healthy Bible studies, fellowship with other Christians, etc. and then see what God will make out of this. If you already know all answers and directions, you don’t need to talk. Be open.

    • So “to move” in this context means actually to stop outward acticity and start discussion. Don’t confuse this with idleness or standstill. If you want to make a journey and find you are lost, it will not help if you start blindling running into another direction. Take some time to reflect where you took the wrong turn, and find the proper direction again. It’s well invested time.

    • David, good questions. I think UBF has a good chance if they radically admit their mistakes and sins in the past and radically change. Probably it will become something completely different then, though. I think there are many elements in UBF that are highly attractive to university students. I’m sure many students are looking for a place where they can freely share their thoughts about God, worship Him, pray together, discuss difficult questions of faith and learn from each other.

      Concerning the development of the reform movement in the ICoC, I didn’t find much info on the Internet. We would probably need to find an isider. One thing I know is that many high ranking leaders, and even Kip McKean (the Samuel Lee figure of the ICoC) repented and apologized. However, when I read Kip McKean’s apology I immediately recognized it was not genuine. He tried to belittle his failues by saying his movement was a “religous experiment”. I think he was mocking those who trusted him and based their whole life on his idea. He should have told them that it was only an “experiment” and not bloody serious, don’t you think? I also read that later Kip McKean started to reestablish ministry in the old ways under a new name. Some of the old chapters seem to still follow him. The rest of the chapters seem to follow one of two different directions. One moderate faction, and one reform faction.

  5. Joe Schafer

    Hi Brian,

    Best wishes to you and your family. I’m glad that you are still part of this conversation, because you have a wealth of information. You have read and digested large volumes of material (such as the Reform literature) that most UBF members in North America have never seen, and your voice needs to be heard.

    When I read the letters by the late James Kim, I sense a great deal of hurt and pain that was never addressed. The issues that he and the reform leaders pointed out were and still are very real. But let me be honest with you: I don’t see much there that can help us to constructively move forward at this time. (I’m not suggesting that you do either.) I find their language to be highly spiritualized. There’s little awareness of the interpersonal dynamics and shame-and-honor culture that caused the previous reform movements to fail. His language is too triumphalistic. And, frankly, it just sounds too Korean. Here in North America, we need to understand and articulate a fresh vision with a truly American voice that respects and builds not simply on the positive aspects of UBF that ought to be recognized, but also on the strengths of American Christianity that ought to be honored.

    I ran across a very thoughtful article by a Korean-American Christian blogger about the structural problems in Korean immigrant churches that cause them to split so often. He wrote:

    “Most Korean Americans I know have experienced or witnessed a church split in their lives. At least one. And by the time they’re adults just kind of shrug it off as if they are inevitable, because in their minds and experiences, it is. Even pastors will say, oh, it’s that whole depravity thing. We’re sinful creatures, blah blah blah, drivel drivel drivel. As though that is an acceptable posture to project in front of a world that is mocking churches these days. Shame on us, judgment on us, and boo for us. A church splitting is absurdly normal for Korean communities.”

    The article has plenty of insights for those would naively believe that getting rid of a few dissenters or troublemakers (like you and me) would solve UBF’s problems. It also cautions would-be reformers against thinking that their ideas would solve the organization’s problems. The full article is available here.

    • Thanks Joe, yes you captured the essence of my thoughts quite well. I have no idea what UBF should look like. Nor do I think any of the past reform movement material is really helpful practically for UBF now.

      I do however have many, many ideas of what UBF should and must discuss. And as MarkO mentions, those with the authority to make the changes are sorely needed in those discussions.

      I do also find much in James Kim’s words and in all the reform movement material that is helpful– helpful to understand where we’ve been. Such facts are crucial to the discussion of how to move forward. Otherwise we will repeat history yet again.

      To answer my own question, What is different this time around? I would say first of all: JoeS, BenT, ChrisZ and BrianK are different. JohnA is heavily involved. And perhaps most importantly, there are many “Yoon’s” involved :)

      I will remain the critical voice. I don’t mind being labeled a “bitter, wounded, hurt, critical, rebellious heretic” :) I’m not going anywhere– I’m available if and when UBF leaders would like my input. My wife and I have moved on and are recovering well, and excited about this new phase of our journey.

  6. Joe Schafer

    MarkO, welcome to this discussion. Did you hear Lencioni speak at the Leadership Summit? If so, what did you think?

    • Yes, I heard him speak and I remember thinking, “sounds great, but he has no idea what we are facing,” and I left it at that. That is why I am glad that you brought it up.

    • Joe Schafer

      I’d like to see Lencioni’s talk. He’s a very effective speaker. Here’s a hilarious 3-minute segment from his talk in 2011:

    • Hilarious! Yet to confess a mistake/embarrassment would be seemingly impossible for some older people in a 50 year church like UBF with a pervasively strong shame and honor church culture.

      I’ve stated that even after becoming a Christian it might be easier for some to commit suicide than to confess a mistake/embarrassment that brings shame to oneself.

    • @Joe: I now LOVE Lencioni!

      @Ben: You raise an issue that should be discussed more deeply. Since I did not grow up in a shame/honor society but in a truth/freedom society, I have a hard time understanding the “Klingon syndrome”. But it is real. I too often forget how much value some place on shame/honor. I really did make every attempt to honor that honor-value system for 20+ years. In the end, I had to return to my roots– to truth and to freedom. I am sure there is a balance somewhere but it can only come from Jesus and his gospel.

  7. Wow Joe! I just read the link above. This is really helpful information. I think I should add the book to my list: “Creating A Healthier Church“. I found these characteristics of an unhealthy, “enmeshed” group highly applicable:

    We are on guard for any sign of interpersonal threat, always watching for any minor slight as well as overt attacks.

    We tend to think others are responsible for our experience, and/or we are responsible for theirs.

    We have a sensitivity to criticism, which creates a sense of feeling damaged or harmed by it, so we tailor our lives to avoid criticism, and we resent or fear those who give it.

    We seek approval and praise, perhaps believing we need this to be happy, and like an addict feel miserable if we don’t get it.

    We may work hard to please others, getting our feelings of okay-ness from pleasing them.

    We become overly concerned about our position in the hierarchy and whether we are receiving our due recognition or about whether our authority is being respected.

    We may have a reaction to the difficult circumstances of others that leads us to be overly sympathetic by trying to make things better for them, rescuing them, when they actually have to do the job for themselves.

    Conversely, we may think that others should be doing more for us, even when we are actually capable of doing for ourselves. (We see others as responsible for our happiness)

    • The ironic reality I find in the list above, is that it describes what I’ve felt as an ex-member. I found that for a least the first year (and maybe even now still), I reacted the very same way, all the things on the list, that I did when “in” UBF. I just juxtaposed everything to fit into an “out” of UBF world. I would like to think I’ve overcome all of these, but it is likely that more work on me needs to be done by Him.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, you’re right. In the end, this is not really about making an organization healthier and more effective. It’s about becoming better human beings. For those of us who think that the organization has big problems, leaving the organization doesn’t immediately solve those problems in our personal lives. But conversely, addressing our problems individually doesn’t automatically heal the organization. When people gather together, the group takes on a life of its own. Some organizations appear to bring out the best in their members. Some appear to bring out the worst. And some appear to do both at the same time.

    • I agree Joe, I’ve been seeking my humanity and striving to be a better human being. Such an endeavor is “rocky” but worth it.

      I read last week that a man named Dr. James Houston from Regent College in Vancouver BC shared this in a lecture to professors and students: “I want to be a Christian, but in spite of that, I want to be honest.”

      I now no longer care primarily about building an organization or changing the nations. I just want to be human and live honestly.

      That is a big reason why the first and foremost part of my biblical mandate is to embrace humanity.

  8. I’m just thinking that the 8 quotes you mentioned above have been experienced by most–if not all–who have been in UBF for some years.

    I think it’s called “noon-chi.” I’ve heard it referred to it as “power ranking.” (#6, or 3rd from the bottom.) So, sorry, Brian, since you left UBF, your power ranking is low down (not that you care)…except on ubfriends!

    I’ve called the last two listed as “unhealthy dependency,” which also applies to others at the top.

    Hey Brian, A technical question: I’m wondering if we can BOLD, italics, or tab/indent, when we make comments?

    • Yes Ben, my “power ranking” in UBF is now “zero” :)

      It had to be that way for me and my family. As a lone “house church”, we simply had to get out of all UBF authority. I think we have an advantage then, in the UBF discussion. We can speak free of authority. I don’t want authority and I’m not seeking authority.

      Btw, in our discussions about authority in our cohort group, I came across a quote indicating that those who seek authority are the least qualified to have authority. I think it was Chuck Swindol; I’ll see if I can find it again.

      In regard to comments, it looks like some manual html tags are available such as bold and italic. I know the link tag also works as well. I’ll see if there is a plugin for the format buttons…but some of those mess up our custom theme.

  9. Just some comic relief.. which I find very helpful for “organizational health” (Can anyone tell I have the day off work?)

  10. I am enjoying this multi-national discussion :) This kind of communication is really what opens up doors of healing. I think that dialogue is the best place to start. I really like Mark’s idea of a “repentance party”.

    Here are some thoughts that come to mind when I think about “organizational health” in the UBF context:

    Is UBF a church? If you want to setup UBF as a new denomination and as a proper church, I don’t see many paths forward that avoid division, discord and disunity. As mentioned in one of the links above, Korean churches seem to see splitting off as normal and have little problem with dividing many times. I think we have a chance to avoid division here.

    Can UBF return to its roots? In Acts 15, the Apostles struggled with the question of whether to propagate their Jewish church customs to the Gentiles. Their conclusion was in Acts 15:28-30 to instruct the new Gentile believes to avoid 3 things. That’s it. I see many paths forward if UBF can find a way to exist as a para-church network.

    Although these are big, top-level organizational questions, I see them applicable to every local UBF chapter. Because the UBF headquarters makes almost no demands of local chapters and insists on not getting involved, I see a huge opportunity for local chapters to become healthy.

    The first question I would ask at a local chapter level would be: What is the minimum requirement to be identified as “UBF”? Everything outside of those things are up for discussion and change.

    Over the course of 8 years, I found the answer to that minimum requirement question. Three things are needed 1) Send performance numbers 2) Send offering money 3) Attend at least 1 conference per year. #2 turned out to be a soft requirement. When I didn’t send offering (I sent $0 over 8 years), no one said anything. But larger chapters wouldn’t get away with that one.

    My point is that there is a lot of flexibility here at the local level. The rigidity and in-flexibility is mostly all in our minds. There is a huge gap right now between the perceived requirements and the actual, flexible reality.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, you make a very interesting and important point. Yes, there is a lot of flexibility at the local level. There are very few things that HQ formally requires of the local chapters. But there are lots and lots of expectations placed on chapter directors by the community which, although they are never formally stated, are nevertheless very strongly felt. Those expectations include
      * hold a worship service every week
      * start a student ministry
      * maintain fishing, one-to-one Bible study at all costs
      * remain independent of local churches
      Basically, it is assumed that, wherever you go, you will simultaneously plant your own church from scratch and build your own student ministry from scratch, and that you will do it even while holding a full time job as most chapter directors do. These expectations are unrealistic, and essentially no one can do this for an extended period of time and not get burned out. And if you get burned out, the assumed solution is to persevere, keep going, repent, work harder, pray more and study the Bible more. And when I say this, it’s not an exaggeration.

      When I finally realized (it took 18 years) that trying to do this was nuts, I put aside those expectations and decided to do nothing except what God was truly calling me to do. I put a stop to the insanity, changed careers, slowed down, and focused on my relationships with God and with the people closest to me. No one from HQ formally complained to me that I wasn’t doing enough. But plenty of others have made it clear that I’m not living up to the expectations. That’s a price I now gladly pay.

    • That’s my point, Joe. Your list of expectations is exactly what I had in mind. Can a local chapter of UBF not do some or all of those things? Sure. What is the result? Some ruffled feathers perhaps during conference time, but what is that if local leaders feel that Jesus is leading them to do something different?

      The choice for me comes down to: Listen to God’s voice or propagate UBF heritage.

      Perhaps the Spirit will guide local chapters to do those things, perhaps not. But there is no longer any one UBF “director” who is overseeing like Lee did. No one will check up on whether a UBF chapter is upholding the heritage or not.

      Ben (and likely you) has already paid a heavy price, taking the blows from leadership so that now the door is open to remain connected to UBF and yet follow the voice of God and follow Jesus wherever He leads. Of course there might still be a few hardships going this route, but it is doable and far better than being a fully rogue chapter.

  11. Actually, some UBFers do regard me as a “rogue chapter,” by saying things like:

    * “West Loop is not really UBF,” or
    * “Whoever joins Dr. Ben is no longer UBF,” or
    * “West Loop no longer goes fishing, writes testimony, carries out 1:1, teaches the Bible, or ‘trains’ anyone.”

    That’s why I LOVE being in UBF! They just “made my day!”

    • Quite frankly, Ben, Westloop is the main reason I am still in this conversation, even though I’ve been told to go away several times and clearly informed on no uncertain terms that my thoughts are not welcome in UBF (those kinds of things make my day!

      There are signs of change elsewhere, and talk of change everywhere, but Westloop is living the change right now!

    • Mark Mederich

      rogue is good/status quo is bad: Jesus was rogue, challenging ‘the system’ of his time; training can be control-freak, while guiding can be Spirit-led..

  12. Just tagging this post because I’ve now heard some of Lencioni’s teaching about organizational health and how it applies to the church realm– simply astounding!

    Thanks for this insightful article, Joe. It is unfortunate so many ubf chapter directors ignore such good advice.

    Also taggging this article because we were contacted by one of the former ICC members over at There is much in common between ICC and ubf in regard to the need for organizational health.