What Can UBF Do?

WhatCanIdoCharlieBrownComments heard are that UBFriends states ad nauseum all the wrongs of UBF without stating what can be done. Perhaps so. But I believe that some good and some progress, however small, has happened, perhaps for the first time in 50 years. Some say that all prior attempts at reform since 1976 has not led to much, if any, significant change in UBF. Authoritarian practices, abuses, humiliation, disgruntlement, anger, “going out to pioneer,” and mass exodus of UBF people (among both missionaries and natives) have continued to happen in UBF chapters through out the world, often unchecked and unaddressed.

What then can be done? (In related posts, I proposed nine practical suggestions for conflict resolution in a series on why we have divisions in the church.)

Dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue. This is so simple and accessible, yet so complicated, even painful. God says, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isa 1:18). But some older people are not quite “accessible” or “approachable.” They may implicitly communicate that they are “above” others, by virtue of their seniority, power ranking, leadership status, tenure, faithfulness, past achievements, fruitfulness, etc. Some younger people have expressed that it seems impossible to get a straight answer when they speak to some older UBF leaders, or when they ask specific questions. Can this and will this change?

Accountability must go both ways. Seniors expect accountability from juniors. But juniors should also expect accountability from seniors. But some seniors want to hold some exclusive rights, such as withholding information, not willing to give explanations, take exception to being questioned, plant the fear of themselves on juniors, elevate/defend themselves. Should seniors not be accountable?

DO NOT GUILT TRIP. What’s wrong with you? Why won’t you sacrifice for mission? We served for many years, why don’t you now serve like we did? Prove yourself as a shepherd, missionary! You must be faithful (to meetings, conferences, fishing, testimony writing, feeding sheep). I am not saying that these activities are bad or wrong. But I am very much against anyone who makes people feel guilty to make them do what the leader wants them to do. This is NOT how the gospel works. This is NOT how love works. This is NOT how grace works. Guilt tripping MUST STOP.

STOP legalistic impositions. Many UBF activities are good. Unfortunately they have become legalisms. As a result, freedom in Christ and freedom of the Spirit is lost. Worse yet, members are judged by whether or not they do certain practices: write testimonies, go fishing, attend meetings/conferences, whether or not they date, marry by faith, etc. These practices have become implicit/explicit impositions on UBF people if they want to be regarded as “good UBF Christians.” Will we stop imposing such expectations which promotes legalism and obscures the gospel?

Let local leaders lead. As good as some leaders may have once been, they are NOT the ones to lead the change for the next generation. They MUST be willing to step back, instead of holding on to their “positions of power” seemingly forever, or for too long. Ten more blogs can be written about this point alone.

Encourage critical thinking. UBF encourages compliance toward directives given by a leader, and an inadvertent accompanying discouragement of critical thinking. Where critical thinking is not encouraged, we become timid, passive, habitual, stale, predictable, boring and uninspiring.

Create safe places where anyone can say anything. Once a young leader asked me, “Can we say this?” I said, “Sure you can.” But the reality was that if she did speak up, she would have been “punished” or “marginalized” or “censured” in some way because it concerned the leader. So, she shut up. Do we have safe places in UBF where anyone can speak up freely without fear?

I think more than I do. I am not practical. So please do offer more doable, workable, practical proposals.


  1. Hi Brian,

    I think I have asked you this teckki question before: Is there a way to distinguish between plain BOLD and BOLD that is a link? They both look the same BOLD whether it is a link or not, and I/people can’t tell that it is a link, unless specifically indicated. So I have some BOLD in this article which is a link, which people may not realize, since it looks just like the other BOLD which is plain bold.

    Sorry that this sounds so confusing, since I am a tech nerd to the nth degree.

    • I think there is an easy solution, but I’ll check.

    • I turned on the “underline” for links… kind of makes some things less readable, but the links in articles stand out. The other option is to pick a color for links.

    • Can you pick a nice color for links, so that it looks different from bold?

    • I experimented a bit… we probably should leave links as they are. Our custom theme relies heavily on the links in other places outside of articles. Perhaps there is a way to affect only articles, but I’m not sure how with this theme.

      I did make the links be “black” and the bolded text be a bit lighter. Ideas welcome :)

    • I made links non-bold but underlined! Does that read any better?

    • Thank you Mary J! I think the links stand out nicely now. Is this what you were looking for Ben?

  2. In regard to your question, Ben, “What can UBF do?”, I would first of all say I agree with all of your suggestions (as unrealistic as they may be :)

    Here is the difficulty though. That one question really needs to be broken down into many questions. Such as: What can I do as a UBF sheep? What can I do as a UBF shepherd? What can I do as a UBF director?

    These are all tough questions when other UBF people are telling you what to do, and telling you to stop wasting time asking questions. It is also really tough given the fact that the UBF director says things like this in Africa: “God’s work continues through the disciples, not through the crowd. No disciple, no future.” (source) This is an outright lie. God works through both the disciples and the crowd. And there is a great future without making disciples. If it wasn’t for the crowd of people around UBF being friends to UBF, it would slip away as just another fringe cult. God works through the crowds.

    I already shared my suggestions on what good things happened as a result of the 4 reform movements.

    Here are my thoughts on what every UBF member could do. This is my personal 5-step recovery plan that the Spirit taught me in various ways.

    1. BE HUMAN. Face the fact– you are human. You bleed. You feel. You think. You fail. Get rid of the crap idea of putting your hope in “junzi” men. Our hope is in Jesus. What did the men in the 300 movie (and in history) accomplish? They all died. But they proved that Pharoah was not god, but was human just like the rest of us.

    2. MEET JESUS. Let go of all the activity for a moment and come face to face with Jesus. You won’t be condemned to hell or judged by Jesus if you stop your busybodiness. Get off the hamster wheel! Start thinking for yourself. Realize Jesus is your only Lord and Master.

    3. SEEK THE GOSPEL. All Christians can recite the gospel about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But ask questions, seek a deeper understanding, and don’t settle for the gospel=obedience trash. Stop with the nostalgic hagiographies and start learning how to listen to God’s voice. Hear the magnificent messages of the gospel!

    4. BE PART OF GOD’S KINGDOM. Realize there are many, many other Christians out there. And none of them understand your UBF-speak jargon. Recently I shared our marriage-by-faith process with our cohort group. Their jaws dropped to the floor! Normal people can’t process the loaded language. Start reading and connecting with resources and people in the greater body of Christ. Don’t rely just on Mr. Armstrong to save you. Get rid of the self-made question sheet bullshit and find proper study materials.

    5. FALL INTO GRACE, NOT LAW. God’s law has a purpose. That purpose is not to enslave you or to give you ammunition to correct other people. Realize that Jesus said your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees. Let that sink in for a moment. Do you really think you are better than Apostle Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees? Are you even better than Mother Theresa? Do you realize all your righteous works are but filthy rags before God?

    Oh and finally, have a beer and listen to some heavy metal once in a while :)

    • Hi Brian,

      I agree with just about every one of your points here, especially points three and five. When thinking of reform, it’s probably more prudent and logical to start with individuals rather than an entire entity. A bible student and even a fellowship leader can at times feel powerless to change things that desperately need to be changed. This is of course due to the powerful, perhaps seemingly wise (though in some cases it may have more to do with keeping traditions than adhering to actual wisdom) and intimidating influence or sheer tonnage of long-held ministry ideologies. But each person should take solace in the fact that they can fall deeper into the gospel of God’s grace. As individuals are transformed, they then have the power to influence those around them in perhaps subtle, slow but efficacious ways. Also, the gospel of grace enables us to confidently challenge various miscarriages of justice, rather than adopting a fearful or self-righteously proud mindset toward those we are speaking out against. I’ve seen this practically play out in Chicago these days. It appears as though the Holy Spirit is moving to deepen individuals’ perceptions and practice of the gospel. Old ideologies are being challenged and change is coming, albeit slowly.

      Lastly, I would say that while point one is a wonderful thing for us to espouse, we also need to adopt this mindset when interacting with others, especially those who seem intractable or stuck in a certain paradigm. At times, we can demonize those who seem to be impeding the progress of the ministry and its people. But we need to extend grace and patience toward each other, patiently bearing with our respective weaknesses while not being afraid to call each other out and up heavenward toward the gospel of Christ, however that may be done. We have to remember how God considers and is mindful of our frailness and limited-ness as fallen people.

  3. Hi Dr. Toh,
    Lot’s of good stuff here. One thing I keep on thinking back to though is why should anyone at UBF go by your biblical supported recommendations?

    I am sure the UBF leaders you take issue with can quote countless other passages to support their authoritarian form of leadership. As I have said before, i think UBF needs sound doctrine to follow. You need to take the power out of each individual members interpretation and put it in sound doctrine that the Church can agree on. Otherwise, the church is bound to be tossed by the changing attitudes of the leaders rather than a firm doctrinal foundation.

    In such an environment, it is natural for members to view each other as power hungry leaders and disobedient subordinates. And both viewpoints are correct since there really is no frame of reference for which UBF members can point to. Yes, there is the bible but again UBF is going to leave it an open question as to whose interpretation is correct. The leaders will claim there interpretation is correct given there position of authority. The subordinates will claim that there is wisdom in their humility.

    Instead, I think the leaders need to, as a group, leave it up to the Holy Spirit to decide matters of faith and church leadership. I guess I don’t see how you can expect UBF to change outside of sound doctrine.

    Then again, I look at the anglican church and the lutheran church and the various doctrinal positions they have taken lately and it makes me wonder if even forming doctrinal positions is futile.

    Sighh… I almost wonder if protestant churches have one of two options: 1) Form concrete doctrinal positions and fall into further and further denominations because of people who disagree on such solid positions or 2) Form loosely agreed on general positions which will inevitably lead to a sense of authoritarianism and marginalization by those who are not in charge.

    Is there a third way? Dr. Toh, it sounds as if you are suggesting more of a democratic process where the Church as a whole votes on these issues but I just dont see much evidence for this process in the old testament (i.e., Moses and Judges) nor in the new testament (Book of Acts).

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  4. Gerardo, may I remark two things concerning your last question to Ben? First, I don’t think the church should orient itself along the lines of the OT (Moses, Judges). We are living in the time of the new testament. The new testament church is really something completely different, and it is based on a completely different paradigm. As John 1 puts it: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” If you want to go back to the law, you can appoint up high priests and have Mose style leadership, but if you want to live by grace and truth, this is not the way to go. Second, you say that in the new testament you don’t see evidence that the church as a whole votes on issues. So what do you think of Mt 18:17? To me it looks like the church as a whole has the highest authority and makes decisions, not a certain leader figure. You mention the book of Acts, so what do you make out of Acts 6:5 according to which the whole congregation made the decision who should be deacon. This looks very much like a democratic process to me. Acts 1:26 also seems to indicate that the apostles tried to avoid making decisions by themsleves.

    • Chris,
      I stand corrected. There are several passages in the new testament that suggest this process. As Joe points out, I am not sure we can properly extrapolate the structure of the early Church from that of the church just 20 years let alone 2,000 years later. So looking at those passages you pointed out, I can see how they support this holistic voting process that Dr. Toh seems to be alluding to.

    • Joe Schafer

      In my opinion, it’s essential that all members of the church have the opportunity to have their concerns represented and taken seriously, with no one being brushed aside, because all parts of the body are important. If that can be accomplished through a process of democratic voting, okay. If that can accomplished through some other process, okay. But voting doesn’t guarantee that it happens. Rule by a single person can be oppressive, but so can rule by a clique of like-minded elders. Even popular rule can be oppressive; it’s what they call “tyranny of the majority.”

    • Joe,
      All of those methods are have the potential to be oppressive. But assuming the best case scenario, which is most efficient and less likely to lead to divisions?

  5. Two side marks. First, I don’t think it’s true that critics did not make suggestions what can be done. Many suggestions have been made in the 3 reform movements in the past. However, the main and crucial thing that needs to be done is to admit that something went fundamentally wrong in the past. That there is a serious problem. This is also the basis for any fruitful discussion which is the next thing that needs to happen, as you point out.

    Second, you mention the complaint of leaders “We served for many years, why don’t you now serve like we did?”. Joe also mentioned leaders demanding from him so many things in addition to having a regular job and being self-supporting. I just want to point out that the top leaders who are demanding such things, did not do these things themselves. Samuel Lee never had a regular day job, he was paid by the members. As far as I know he did not go fishing in the dormitories himself, he just blamed other people if they didn’t do enough of this. He did not share a testimony of repentance every week, he did not make 1:1 Bible study with his shepherd, he did not even accept any shepherd who would teach him or demand obedience. With other words, he demanded from other people things that he was not willing to do himself. The same holds true at least for the 3 Korean top directors in Germany. They are all paid from offering money, they do not have day jobs (our director only had a regular job for some years in the beginning). And they get a good pension when they retire. My chapter director did not go fishing, he did not make 1:1 neither with sheep nor with a shepherd, he did not share testimony, he did literally nothing of the things that he demanded of his missionaries and shepherds. So I don’t think you should feel inferior to these top leaders. At least your are self-supporting, something they never were. It’s hard for me to understand how they could live from the money of others while at the same time blaming the people who fed them for not working enough. It’s hard for me to see you still condemning yourselves for not being able to live up to their standards and expectations which they only imposed on others, not on themselves.

  6. Joe Schafer

    Hi Gerardo. You’ve raised some outstanding points. You wrote, “I just dont see much evidence for this process in the old testament (i.e., Moses and Judges) nor in the new testament (Book of Acts).” As Chris has pointed out, those aren’t the best places to look. I don’t think we can find healthy models for church governance in the OT. Acts has two important passages where the apostles wrestled with governance-related issues (chapters 6 and 15) but that was just the beginning. Acts is about the birth of the church, and doesn’t say much about ongoing church life.

    The best place to look is in the epistles, where you see Paul in action working with the churches, instructing them in doctrine and helping them to resolve problems at the same time. I’ve heard people say, “Paul wrote about elders and deacons, therefore a biblical system of church governance needs to have elders and deacons.” Elders and deacons may be part of a perfectly reasonable way to operate a church, but they are not a command, and certainly not a magic cure; and there is no guarantee that having them will make a situation better. To get the real scoop on what the Bible says about relationships among church members, leadership and problem solving, you have to read between the lines, delve into the whole story of what the early church was going through, and try to discern the big picture of what Paul is saying in books like the letters to the Corinthians and Timothy.

    How churches govern themselves is a byproduct of what they believe about the character of God, the nature of the gospel and the purpose of the church. If your primary image of God is a sovereign king who requires obedience, that the gospel is mainly about saving individual souls, that the church exists mainly to propagate the faith to nonbelieving individuals by proclaiming scriptural truths and principles, then it’s easy to see how you might end up with a system of church governance like the one found in UBF. The Roman Catholic church has a much longer tradition and different, more complex view of these things (for example, their understanding of the church is sacramental) and that feeds into a very different model of governance.

    • Hi Joe,
      I agree with your initial point. We should be careful to extrapolate early practices and assume they are the norm. But so too should we be careful of assuming that that was then and this is now (not that you are saying that).

      You brought up Paul mentioning elders/deacons and that we should not take it as a command that churches (i.e., UBF) should have deacons. But what do you mean a “command”?

      Also, I have never heard someone argue that this would be a magic cure. Rather, what I have heard and at times personally argued is that that having a visible system of governance would give people a greater sense of a living-organic church rather than a top down, it’s my way or the highway form of authoritarianism that people are upset about in UBF. Elders will not make things suddenly better but I think it is a step in the right direction. Then again, you could see the same individual problems arise in a group level.

      Again, I feel stuck on what I would do if I was to form my own church. We all obvioulsy agree that we need to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work. But do we do that through a visible form of government or through a single director? Either way, how do we know whether he is the best man for the job? Through Faith? If so, then what should our response be when he/she seems to abusing his position.

      Agghhh! so frustrating.

    • Joe Schafer

      By “command” I just mean this. I have heard some evangelicals say that the only kind of church leadership that is truly biblical is to have decisions made by a body of elders, and they are ready to proof-text that point. In essence, they are treating the Bible as a document to be combed to extract commands, rules and principles for every aspect of life. I’m just reacting against that way of approaching the Bible, which is commonly called biblicism. I think the Bible does provide guidance for many aspects of life, but it does so by proclaiming the gospel and leading us into a relationship with Christ, and by deeply understanding the gospel we gain wisdom for handling matters such as problems in the church. That’s what I see, for example, in the writings of Paul. Paul didn’t address problems in the church by exercising raw power, giving orders or imposing rules. He did so by explaining in great detail the meaning of the gospel and its implications for the problems at hand.

    • Joe,
      All of those methods are have the potential to be oppressive. But assuming the best case scenario, which is most efficient and less likely to lead to divisions? Agree.

  7. David Bychkov

    hi Gerardo! I’ve found your comment to be excelent. That is exactly what I’m struggling on lately.

    • Gerardo, that’s certainly true: Having a board of elders is not a guarantee that everything goes well. But still better than having a single director, and most of the questions in your last passage will not arise if you have a plurality of elders who carefully guide and serve (not rule and control) the church, and who are fully accountable to the congregation. The Bible, history and common sense show clearly that the single director principle is bad. Catholicism went downhill very fast when they started to appoint bishops and then a pope. Also, having single directors is just not compatible with Jesus’ teaching that Christians should not think in hiearchies, but consider each other as brother. Neither it’s compatible with the Biblical teachings that everyone is a sinner, and seducible even after conversion. So it’s not good to give one sinner too much responsibility and power. A third point is, when you have leadership figures that are sticking out too much, this makes people look up and follow that figure rather than Jesus. 1 Cor 3:1-9 shows that this was a problem already in the early church.

    • Chris,
      I will have to disagree with your points on the Church going downhill when the early Church started appointing Bishops and Popes. I will just leave it at that.

      As to your greater point that having leaders leads to abuse, I dont think we need to think in terms of worst case scenario and abuses. God gave us free will. That certainly has the possibility for abuse yet we dont throw out the doctrine of free will (well some Christians do). The concept of the Holy Trinity is very heresy prone for people who don’t understand it (i.e., most people) but we don’t get rid of that concept.

      I just think the best approach is to come to an agreement of what is the way God intends a leadership structure to be set up and go with that despite its possible or actual flaws.

      “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” – Matthew 23

      So is the true system of leadership a single director based? A community of bishops? A community of Bishops with one bishop as the head? A complete democracy at the level of the layman? That seems to be the question here. My point is simply that we shouldnt look at how error prone the system is in our decision making process.

    • Gerardo, if abuse never happened in the greater church history or in the short history of your own ministry, then we wouldn’t need to worry about how to prevent it and think in worst case scenarios. But the sad fact is that it happened more frequently than people want to admit. The German Karlheinz Deschner wrote a book titled “criminal history of Christianity” in 10 volumes. He did not have trouble finding material for his book, he probably could have written 100 volumes. The recent scandals in the Catholic church which happened not only in one country, but in so many countries, also show that abuse is a wide-spread phenomenon, that it does not happen accidentally but is rather predictable already if the system is set up in certain ways. So I don’t understand why you are saying abuse is not a problem that should be kept in mind when thinking about governance and leadership structures.

      I only see two viable solutions: Either you take the Bible literally and believe it is the “final authority in faith and practice” as per UBF’s statement of faith and as most Evangelicals do, then you would come to the conclusion that Biblical eldership as explained in the book by Alexander Strauch is the way to go. Or you start to depart from Biblical literalism and try to just implement the principles of the Bible, adapting it to modern times, and use common sense and experiences from history. If you follow that second path, then I see much less reason to implement a non-democratic single-person-leadership style. History taught us that democracy and a system of checks and balances is not perfect, but the best type of governance and prevention of abuse we could come up with. And Jesus’ teachings are very clear in that the new testament church should be non-hierarchical.

      Departing from Biblical literalism would also open a can of new questions that UBF needs to answer. So far UBF tried to give the impression that the Bible can be taken more or less literally and answers all questions (at least you should expect that the Bible answers questions about how the church should be built), and you just need to follow its simple instructions. With other words, the basic idea in UBF is that the Bible is not up to interpretation, there is no need to discuss about words in the Bible, but only to accept words in the Bible. Taking a different stance here would be a major paradigm shift towards something that has been called “ungodly liberalism” in UBF in the past.

    • Chris,
      I never said abuse did not happen. I said the possibility for abuse should not be the primary criteria or in my opinion, one of the major criteria by which we judge the rightness of a leadership system. Rather, we look towards the tools and the Holy Spirit which Jesus gave to us humbly understand what Go wants from his Church. We don’t make it up.
      Do you really think it was this chaos that he wanted? I doubt it, I sure don’t. Then what should the proper church leadership structure be? I am not arguing for one structure over another. My main point is simply that whatever the structure is, we should not look towards how error prone it is in guiding whether we should adopt it. If God choose a particular structure (which I think you would agree he did), then who cares how many times this structure leads to error if the structure in of itself is not erroneous. People are sinner after all.
      Again, look at the doctrine of free will or the Holy Trinity. You will see a very error prone set of doctrines but I imagine you yourself endorse nonetheless. Or take another example. Why did Jesus tell Peter to take care of his sheep when he betrayed him?! It would have made more sense to ask this of the apostle John who at least was at the foot of the cross. I will say it again, my point here is not to argue one form of leadership structure over the other but rather that we should be trying to figure out God’s will and not focus on which structure will reduce casualties.
      What is God’s will? That is an interesting but different issue which I wont get into as it is not the topic of the thread.
      Your message sounds as if you think we should be making up what the best leadership structure should be. If we are making it all up, then I agree with you, we should go with the structure with the least amount of possible error. But I don’t think we are or should be making it up. Rather, we should figure out what is God’s will.
      Thanks Chris

    • Gerardo, it’s hard for me to follow your comparison between deficient leadership structures and error prone doctrine. First of all, what you call “error prone” doctrine I would just call “difficult to understand”. I think of the apparent paradoxes of free will or trinity as similar to the paradoxes of quantum theory where light can be both wave or particle, and where you have many other phenomena which appear incomprehensible to common sense. But this is only because these theological doctrines touch spiritual dimensions which are outside of our common everyday experience, just as the dimensions of quantum theory are. The concept of trinity is just a “model” of the spiritual reality, similar to the atomar model we are taught in high school which is only a vizualisation of something much more complex. But it’s not error prone, it’s just a simple model just has its limits, and we should just know and accept such limits. But as a model, it is as good as it can be.

      Concerning church leadership however, we are not talking of outer-space dimensions, we are talking about social phenomena that happen in everyday life and that we has humans and social beings know very well. We also have thousands of years of history and know pretty what works and what doesn’t work. If I understand you correctly you’re saying we shouldn’t care if something works or not, we should do it anyway if it’s “God will”. But what is “God’s will” in the case of church governance? I’m sure not something that has lead to abuse times and again and running counter to the fundamental principle that Christians shall be brothers and there shall be only one master, Christ. Mt 23 gives us a good clue what’s God will in this matter. As I said, there are only two possibilities that seem somehow reasonable and consistent to me. One is you say the epistles in the NT are enough to fully describe the church structure even for today, then you inevitably will end up with a concept of eldership as advocated by Alexander Strauch, or you say we are free to invent different church structures not described in the epistles, which are suitable for modern times and which are in line with Jesus’ teachings. Then I see much less how you can come up with concepts that involve hierarchical structures, undemocratic decision making and one-man-leader figures.

  8. Sharon Schafer

    To me the most important first step for UBF is to humbly acknowledge the problem of our “posture”. I think most of the backlash against this ministry is related to a posture that lacks grace and humility. Fruitful discussion has to begin there.

    For an interesting discussion…


    • Thanks for the link, Sharon:

      We (Christians) can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news.” Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.

    • I’m really glad to hear your mention of “posture” Sharon. I am attempting to take Advent more seriously this year, and posture is very important to consider as we prepare our hearts and minds for a deeper relationship with Christ our Lord.

      For example, this website mentions some good thoughts about Advent:

      The Meaning of Advent

      Advent’s Holy Discontent – Repentance of:

      Advent’s Hopeful Anticipation – Meditation on:
      Jesus’ Second Coming
      Jesus’ birth
      Jesus in our lives

      Perhaps all of us in/out/don’t care could start with the posture of Advent? (Hoping Gerardo will jump in here :)

  9. One remarkable Biblical sidemark regarding Moses in this context is this one: “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Whoever wants to claim a similar authority as Moses had should also be as humble as he was, which seems to be impossible. Maybe he became humble by living for 40 years in the desert, or by struggling with his sin of killing a man, I don’t know. The remark indicates that Moses did not take up any of the power posturing that we see in bad leaders. But anyway, as I said, even Moses style leadership should not be the role model for modern day church leaders. 1 Pt 5:1-4 shows that it’s a totally different paradigm. Peter did not command, but he appealed; he did not speak from a position of a chief elder (though it would have been easy for him to claim such a position), but from the position of a fellow elder. I think that says it all.

  10. Joe Schafer

    I think Sharon makes a great point. It’s obvious to many that the ministry’s posture lacks grace and humility. And articles and comments on UBFriends have been pointing this out ad nausuem, as Ben said. But what about UBFriends? What posture do we reflect and model?

    This article is prescriptive, with seven things that UBF leaders ought to do. I agree with these things. I think they are spot on. But who among us likes to be told seven things that we must do? If I hear a pastor give a sermon listing seven things that I must do, I will start to role my eyes, even if those seven things are correct. This is one of the reasons, I think, why some people find material on this website so distasteful.

    Ben, I don’t want to beat up on you. But don’t you often say, “The indicative comes before the imperative, and the order is not reversible”? That principle applies not just to sermons, but to UBFriends articles and to all of life. No one wants to be told that they must have dialogue. To speak of dialogue in a non-dialogic fashion is rather self-defeating.

    In my opinion, Ben’s Point #1 about dialogue says it all, because once the real dialogue begins, Points 2-7 will eventually be dealt with. But let’s make sure that we understand what real dialogue is. In my experience, quite a few people think they are engaging in dialogue when they aren’t. Dialogue requires listening, and listening requires that the listener allow himself to be impacted and, yes, even changed by what the other person says. If that willingness is not present, then the listening is just a sham.

    I used to think that I was a good listener because I sometimes allowed other people to speak. Perhaps I dominated the conversation only 75% of the time rather than 100%. This is not an exaggeration: it took me almost 18 years before I actually started to listen to my wife in a way that would allow her to impact me. That kind of listening is rare among evangelical pastors, because we are trained to tenaciously hold to certain viewpoints and never let go, and in doing so we have surrounded ourselves with an impenetrable wall.

    I remember Samuel Lee talking about the importance of listening when you are trying to teach someone the Bible. He would say that you have to let the other person talk, sometimes for months, sometimes for years, until they run out of things to say and then you can finally teach them. That idea has persisted. Just a few days ago, a report appeared on ubf.org that said this:

    “…we must take time to make friends with our Bible students and to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:9). One shepherdess listened patiently to her atheist Bible student for two months until he had nothing more to say. Then he began to listen to her.”

    Listening is not a tactic or strategy to soften another person up or wear them down until they finally come around to agree with you. Listening is a risky act, a willingness to sacrifice your own cherished values and be proven wrong for the sake of loving another person. That kind of listening is rare and it is painful for all parties involved. I hope and pray that it can happen.

  11. Joe Schafer

    Ben, please don’t take my comment above as a criticism of what you have written. I know that you are a person who is ready and willing to engage in risky, self-sacrificing dialogue. A public blog is an awkward place for carrying on a dialogue, but it’s not a bad place to start, and its far better than nothing. Some blogging sites have become places where real dialogue occurs. Establishing that kind of online environment is possible, but it takes time and the coooperation of many people. I’d like to see UBFriends become that. We’re not there yet, and I hope we can move in that direction.

  12. I love all your comments! Thanks guys, and gal.

    Joe, your comments are without a doubt correct. I still love the indicative/imperative quote, though I spontaneously default to imperatives because that is so much easier than being indicative driven.

    No, I do not feel beat up at all, nor that your comments are a criticism. I wish others will speak to me up front as you did, because it is truly helpful, enlightening, even uplifting. I know that others can often see me better than I can see myself. That’s why I love Hebrews 3:13 as a crucial juncture for fighting/identifying sin, knowing self, and growing relationally in friendship and trust, which perhaps may be the single major weakness of UBF.

    • Dr. Toh,
      Do you have a modern church you could point to an example of what you think UBF needs to become? I understand what you dont want I just dont understand what you think is best. A living example would be great.

  13. Thanks for asking, Gerardo. I usually think in terms of Christian leaders and teachers who touch me through their words, teachings and subjective sensitivities. To be ecumenical, I would say that I would love to be influenced by:

    * Father Robert Barron. He does not lead a church (I don’t think) but his heart and communication of the gospel is what I would like to communicate as a Christian.

    * Tim Keller’s sermons and books have perhaps shaped me more than any other over the past few years. His Redeemer Presbyterian Church and church planting movement, I think, is gospel-driven.

    * Francis Chan’s life of “leaving” the mega-church that he built over 16 years, and now starting over and living in community in needy neighborhoods is awe inspiring.

    * John Armstrong’s vision of missional ecumenism and his own personal life example and friendship to me has also greatly influenced me.

    There are surely countless other “good” church models to follow.

    And btw, Gerardo, if you are praying to start a church, do let me know, and we can perhaps work something out that embraces both your Catholicism and my Protestantism. :-)

  14. “In my experience, quite a few people think they are engaging in dialogue when they aren’t. Dialogue requires listening, and listening requires that the listener allow himself to be impacted and, yes, even changed by what the other person says. If that willingness is not present, then the listening is just a sham.” Thanks Joe for this comment. I absolutely agree with you. Pray for more constructive way of dialogue in the future. We need a lot of wisdom and mutual respect and time to dialogue looking at each other’s eyes directly so that we can be mutually be impacted and be changed.

    • Joe Schafer

      James, thank you. Merry Christmas to you and your family. I thank God for you and for your willingness to participate in this forum.

      I agree that we need wisdom and mutual respect and substantial time to dialogue looking into each other’s eyes. I hope and pray that this will happen in the coming year. Please do whatever you can to facilitate this.

      Given the busy lives that we all lead, and the geographical distances that separate us, is it realistic to believe that we are actually going to do that for more than a few hours per year? We’ve been talking about the need for dialogue for quite some time now, but despite some leaders’ good intentions, that hasn’t really happened, because we haven’t been willing to make the sacrifice that would bring it about. To do it would require us to suspend some of our church activities and put aside business as usual. You and I agree that there is a desperate need to create space and time for extended dialogue. But on the rare occasions when we are physically present together — at a North American staff conference, for example — getting people to agree to set our usual activities aside — the group Bible study, testimony writing, messages, mission reports, workshops, etc. — to make room for dialogue has been very hard. All of those other things have been considered non-negotiable. Even now, some are saying that we need to get back to the Bible, that we need to talk less and study the Bible more, and somehow that is supposed to solve our problems. I think that if Jesus were standing before us today, he wouldn’t be telling us to study the Bible more. He would be telling us to put our Bibles down, put our Bible study questions away, and reconcile with one another first (Mt 5:23-24).

      In the meantime, until someone makes those face-to-face dialogues actually happen, I don’t think it’s wrong to have discussions on a website like this one. Some have been saying that UBFriends ought to be shut down, because we shouldn’t be talking online about matters that ought to be discussed face to face. In my opinion, that is a red-herring argument; it makes the ideal the enemy of the good. Until those extended face-to-face dialogues become reality, UBFriends is all we’ve got. The atmosphere on this website is far from perfect and needs a great deal of improvement, but it’s better than nothing. I hope and pray that it will improve in the months ahead. That will require concerted effort and greater willingness by some in positions of authority to make themselves vulnerable, as Jesus did for us. The first priority, I believe, is to actually communicate with Brian, Chris, Vitaly, and others who have left the ministry and hear them out. These brothers and sisters in Christ have some very important things to say to us, and even though they have been commenting extensively on UBFriends, they have not yet been heard.

    • Very well put, Joe. Taking a break and listening to each other is crucial. This is one reason I support our friends at “The Well”. On their blog, for example, they write: “If you’re anything like me, however, maybe it is the uncertainty of the future that you fear even more so than a rough past. Fear and worries of the looming darkness in the road up ahead paralyze you. So what’s the solution? We STOP. A direct order from God.” http://www.thewellretreat.org/blog/

      This week I had two conversations that are indicative of where we’re at right now in the “communication”.

      One senior American UBF person told me to forget everything and go get a PhD. He said my time would be better suited pursing a seminary degree and forgetting about UBF. He further said that all churches have divisions, problems, power-plays, etc. and that we should just accept such things as normal and move on. I told him I can’t accept any of that. I care too much to see UBF falter yet again. And if any church is no better than the mofia, what did Jesus die for?

      The other conversation was an hour long phone call from a woman who had left UBF decades ago. She is in her 50’s now. Even though she could tell stories that would take the paint off a barn, she really emphasized her desire to see UBF become useful and to see healing and reconciliation. She recalled how attending UBF worship service was like attending a funeral. Yet she doesn’t want UBF to disappear but to find the great joy God is waiting to give.

      It all starts with facing the facts.

  15. Ben, you asked here “What can UBF do?”

    The 200+ articles here on ubfriends give many answers to that question. Some claim that we “bitter” former members have taken over the blog… well that’s because the crickets chirp and the blog dies if we don’t comment. As I look back over nearly 2 years of articles and comments, I see numerous UBF people commenting. If we want to build a better blog, we need those people to contribute more, not retreat for fear of talking with former members.

    Our first article is perhaps the best place to start: communicate.


  16. Thanks, Mary, Brian.

    Maybe it is my Moxila browser, but the links do not look underlined unless I put the cursor on the bold print. Without putting the cursor next to the bold print, it looks similar to the bold print.

    With IE, it is underlined, but does it not look the same as phrases that are underlined but is not a link?

    Can we make the links look similar to this with both a different color and underlined even when the cursor is not on the link? http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/12/26/my-top-10-theology-stories-of-2012/

    Sorry for such picky teckkie ignorance on my part. Maybe I have been overly influenced by some commercial that says, “Image is everything.” So on a website, I may be simply obsessed by how the website looks and reads and by its visual appeal and user friendliness. Sorry!

  17. What can an organization do when they are criticized?

    So I was at a software company conference. About 2,000 people in total attended. The opening session was introduced and what was the first thing they did?

    They announced that in a recent customer survey they had asked customers to rate the company from 1 to 10. One man gave them a 0. What did the company do? They announced the man’s name. Then they read his email in front of all 2,000 people. Then the announcer walked into the audience, found the man, sincerely apologized and gave him a new iPad. Then what did they do? The announcer said that they will take this man’s feedback (as harsh as it was) and make the changes he sought. Even though they have over 11,000 companies as customers representing tens of thousands of people around the world, they could not bear to lose even 1 customer.

    Let that sink in. How the f’in h–l does a software company understand community and human nature better than a religious organization supposedly founded on the teachings of Jesus!?

    What can ubf do? Pick any one of the thousands of “0 out of 10” feedbacks and make it right!

    It’s not so hard. Geeks can do it. Why not you?

  18. @Brian: “How the f’in h–l does a software company understand community and human nature better than a religious organization supposedly founded on the teachings of Jesus!?” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2012/12/18/what-can-ubf-do/#comment-10960

    My short answer is that maybe, just maybe, the software company understands the parable of the lost sheep (Lk 15:1-7) better than many churches. They truly value “1 person” rather than the 99 who are with them.

    Am I wrong in saying that sadly, most churches are ready to throw the “1 person” under the bus, mainly because that 1 person is not “one of us”?