Why People Leave UBF, Part 2

leave-churchWe cannot agree as to what the solution to a problem is unless we agree as to what the nature of the problem is. People leaving UBF is a problem. Often (and sadly) the nature of the problem is placed on the person who left, such as “He is demon-possessed.” This is not tenable, because people who leave UBF did not “run away,” as has been stated too often. Rather, they joined other churches, often over some frustration with a UBF leader regarding unresolved issues during their time in UBF. Martha, in a recent comment, said, “It’s frustrating to speak with leaders and realize that ‘Wow, they just don’t get it.’”

UBF, on a wide scale, needs to acknowledge that blaming the person who leaves UBF is never the way to solve any problem. Blaming others fails to take any personal responsibility. So, people will continue to leave, as has been the case. Last month another couple left after two decades in UBF. In 2013, my hope and prayer is that issues that have existed for many decades in many UBF chapters, big and small, may be addressed by taking more and more personal responsibility.

In Part 1, I shared Joshua’s well articulated comment that many people leave UBF because they feel their freedom in Christ restricted, controlled and dictated by their pastor (or shepherd or chapter leader). In Part 2, I post another perceptive comment by Joshua as to why people leave UBF even after many years: “the (40-50 year) unspoken and yet very present idea that individuals exist for the perpetuation of the ministry….therefore their lives must be externally controlled in a manner that is conducive to the continuation of the objectives of the ministry.” Aren’t Joshua’s comments valid? If so, perhaps solutions to problems may begin to be tackled by asking some hard questions:

Are some UBF members freedom restricted, controlled and dictated by their UBF leaders?

Does UBF compel its members to exist for UBF’s success, as determined by the leader?

Do UBF leaders take responsibility for causing people to leave UBF?

Is everyone agreed that UBF’s leadership style is authoritarian and hierarchical (which is unhealthy, unbiblical and un-Christlike)?

Based on Jen’s comment, should a UBF member be reprimanded for suggesting ministry ideas to her chapter leader, since she is “not the leader”?

According to David’s comment, a person who critiques UBF is interpreted as having their own problems or is in a bad mood. Is this true?

All seem agreed, including Chris, that communication and dialogue needs to happen. But according to Joe’s comment, both public and private communication has been difficult. Why?

Should UBF stop promoting Christianity as military training?

Do we need to address the way some UBF chapters help people to “marry by faith”?

Does UBF have a view to prosper the universal church?

Are we happy to genuinely speak well of those who leave UBF?

Thoughts? Further questions or comments?


  1. Now that’s the best question sheet I’ve ever seen, Ben!

  2. John Hwangbo

    I find the ‘Why people leave UBF’ series most exciting as in that it exposes a part of UBF that is often turned a blind eye upon.

    I do not think that LEAVING UBF is something that requires to be looked down upon or seen as something ‘bad’. It might just be that some people were meant to pass through UBF and it’s biblical translations in order to re-connect with the love of Christ and that their spiritual journey now needed a boost.
    I believe that all people are LOVED by God. And God’s LOVE, I believe, always takes care of it’s creations.

    If we presume the POINT OF VIEW that people leaving UBF is a ‘problem’, then we might as well say that God is NOT working in their lives (people who leave). But God actually is. He is ever present. He is ever loving. And through our faith in God, His Goodness and His Divine direction for their lives, I think we can allow people to leave UBF and bid them a wonderful spiritual journey, instead of saying that their leaving, was a bad thing.

    As UBF members and leaders then, our point of view then could assume the stance of STRIVING TO RESOLVE THE ISSUES THAT MADE THE PEOPLE WHO LEFT, WANT TO LEAVE.
    If, as was mentioned in previous posts, the problem was perceived to be ‘AUTHORITARIAN LEADERSHIP’, we should then study what it entails, how it affects negatively on followers’ spiritual growth and why leaders are perceived as being Authoritative.

    I BELIEVE that the THING that is proving to be detrimental to UBF’s healthy growth and it’s positive contribution towards humanity to bring people back to God, is the absence of……….FAITH. (Or so I perceive. My perception is but a perception and an opinion and does not necessarily mean that I am completely correct)

    FAITH of leaders, to implement new methods of preaching the gospel instead to holding on to the previous methodologies. New methods and inspiration will come inevitably through younger generations.

    FAITH of leaders, to TRUST completely in GOD, His goodness and His direction for ALL THE PEOPLE (followers of the church) through which, CONTROLLING, AUTHORITATIVE and PROTECTIVE measures and methodologies are lifted. Children are left to be guided by God, not PROTECTED by parents.

    FAITH of members to ADDRESS boldly and loudly to their leaders, the THINGS that are being felt by the collective as controlling or wrong. AND the leaders, through FAITH, accepting, changing and adapting.

  3. John, thanks a lot for posting here. Sounds like you’re a “2nd gen”.

    I fully agree with what you say, the way how UBF controls members (pressing them them to stay, prescribing them what to do and even who to marry) reveals a lack of faith in God.

    You also mention another aspect of the question “why do UBF members leave”? Actually, yes, leaving must not even be a problem. For all ordinary student churches or ministries, it is completely normal that people leave, these churches have a self-understanding of being a “continuous-flow heater”. They do not think that they somehow “own” their sheep as UBF does. In UBF, however, people cannot leave on good terms. If people leave, it is usually accompanied by hurt, frustration, disappointment and often even a traumatic experience. Often they are also defamed and told they lost their calling. UBFers and ex UBFers usually cannot stay friends, they stop speaking with each other. This also shows something is wrong.

    If UBF ever renews and changes itself, maybe even more people will leave UBF, but this will not be a problematic thing any more, as new people will come and those who leave have only good memories, keep a friendly connection and are used by God elsewhere.

    By the way, this is not a new discussion. I remember that we talked about UBF as a “revolving door ministry” 10 years ago already.

    • Thanks Ben for posting such great questions.

      What is the real problem? I find that we are making structural changes to the ministry, yet there needs to be inward changes. Many structural changes have been made in Toledo. But how can you change a persons heart to approach ministry differently when they strongly hold on to the way they were “trained”. We cannot change people’s hearts only God can. Perhaps, that is why its so frustrating.

      Recently, I shared my struggle openly at a friday meeting. I was being very honest. A few people felt that it wasnt the place for me to share such views, since students were there. Anytime I express or bring up any issue about the ministry, some people quickly take offense to it and point out how ‘negative” im being.They feel as if im discouraging instead of encouraging others. The problem is people are ready to move on. I on the other hand am not worried about structural change at this time, I want revival, repentance, brokeness before God to take place among us, then perhaps we can all be freed and experience the fullness of God in a unified Spirit. Perhaps the restructuring of the ministry would simply fall into place as we openly rely On God’s guidance.

      So what is our role in bringing change to the ministry and what is Gods role in all this? What is the solution? Is structural change really going to help us, or is it change of heart, one leader at a time?

      My experience at the Well, gives me hope that its possible.

  4. Yes, Chris, the revolving door discussion was cycled through in 2001 :(


  5. Thank you, RC-from-2002, for these insightful and relevant comments:

    “First, I thank God for this website, where people in UBF can share freely their thoughts and experiences. In the controlled environments of UBF meetings and conferences this is very difficult to do since usually real conversation about real issues is squelched. So, praise Jesus for the freedom we have in him. I had been praying for months that a way to share openly might come.

    My question is this: Even without addressing the alleged payoffs, the abortions, the assaults, the manipulation….so forth, there is still the question of all these senior leaders getting together to challenge Sam. What kind of church is it that raises up so many misguided, rebellious, and slanderous leaders and places them in key positions of leadership and tolerates them for so long? IF, and I say a BIG IF because I don’t believe they are slanderous or rebellious, they are such terrible people, then how could Sam put them in these positions and keep them there for so long? Even on these grounds alone, UBF has to step
    back and take a look at what they are doing, because it does not make any sense.

    First, there were the original UBF founders who challenged him in 1976, who remembers them? Then there was James Kim, Peter Chang, Augustine Park, and now it is a whole slew that I cannot even name, like Caleb Chung, Jacob Chung, Jimmy Rhee, Mark Hong, John Kim, Matthew Byun….the list goes on and on….These people are leaders with a capital “L.” Yet, Sam says they are rebels, slanderers and liars….Sam should be dismissed if indeed he did place such people in positions of leadership.

    Also, for you defenders of the UBF faith, contemplate this: you will probably be the next generation of rebels and slanderers….that seems to be the way it always works.

    Just thought I would share an interesting way of looking at things.”


  6. Joe Schafer

    Brian, I suspect that some readers are wondering, “Why is Brian bringing up all these things that happened so long ago? It’s time to forget and move on.” But, Brian, I agree with you. The most painful and embarassing stories about the community have only been whispered about in quiet corners or told on anti-ubf websites.

    This website, UBFriends, has not yet been systematically airing those things, although they are always simmering just below the surface and occasionally pop up in some comments and articles. I hope that UBFriends does not go any further in that direction. Rather, I hope that ministry leaders will recognize that members must finally be allowed, even encouraged, to tell those stories among themselves. And to start listening carefully to the stories of ex-members rather than minimizing or dismissing them.

    My wife and I have been reading some very interesting books on pastoral ethnography. This is a process by which members of a faith community open up and share their experiences with one another in the presence of a facilitator/observer. It’s not an easy thing to do. Every community tends to have a main story about itself, the story that members tell one another in public and quasi-public forums. (I wrote about that story in “My letter to Joe-2005.”) But privately, they have many other stories lurking in the shadows, stories which don’t fit the main story and may contradict it. Those stories need to be told first in a safe setting so that people have an opportunity to process them and begin to incorporate them into the main story. As those stories are told, members gradually begin to trust one another and honesty grows. (UBFriends cannot be the place for sharing those stories, at least not yet, because it isn’t safe. Some other opportunity has to be created to get the process started.) As the community story evolves, it may eventually incorporate the perspectives that now seem completely opposite, the perspectives shared by Brian, Chris, Vitaly, David B, and other ex-members. Right now, current members of the ubf community are unable to understand those opposing stories; they have no mental framework that would allow them to reconcile those stories with theirs. Doing so will take time and intentional effort.

    Here’s something to chew on. It’s a quote from Ethography as a Pastoral Practice by Mary Clark Moschella (pp 35-36):

    Ethnography can be especially useful for religious leaders who feel that their community is somehow stuck in the past, immobilized by some unfinished business. Those leaders may have a whiff of what the trouble was about but feel reticent to stir up the past. However, if there are old secrets or traumatic losses that were never fully aired or resolved in the community, these can put a damper on the life and health of the current congregation. In congregations as in families, “unfinished business” can shut people down emotionally and spiritually.

    For example, when a community does not sufficiently grieve the loss of a beloved leader, the general level of energy and enthusiasm for engagement with a new leader is diminished. Similarly, if there has been an ethics violation by clergy in the past, and particularly if the matter was not publicly disclosed or openly addressed, the community’s level of trust in subsequent leaders will likely be compromised. Allowing people to tell their stories of life in this community, including the good, the bad, and the ugly, is a critical pastoral task that can help people heal and free them to move on with strength and vigor.

    This may sound counterintuitive. People are often ashamed of congregational secrets, worried about the group’s public image, and thus try to move on quickly and forget about old wounds. But real community can’t thrive if stories are not told. Walking into charged memories, with great care and sensitivity, is really the most direct route through the trouble and into the freedom of new life.

    I believe we do need to walk into those charged memories very intentionally. And we need to do it with care and sensitivity, otherwise it is doomed to fail. Perhaps some people want it to fail, but I do not, because it’s what I believe the gospel is about. Please understand that I’m not trying to change ubf. Changing ubf is up to the members of the community and to God. What I want to do is to help stop the bleeding and promote understanding, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing among all persons involved. It will be costly for everyone. But I think the cross of Jesus demands it.

    • Thanks Joe. Just a few replies:

      “…It’s time to forget and move on.”
      > That is a key part of the UBF strategy. The leaders discussed adding the reform history to the 50th anniversary material. They decided not to do it. I think it is time to stop and discuss.

      “I hope that UBFriends does not go any further in that direction.”
      > In order for that to happen, we need someone to contribute non-UBF articles. My blog will remain an open mic for anyone to share anything they want. Just last week someone contacted me via my blog and shared how thankful they were that these public discussions allowed them to leave UBF after only 2 years with no need for psychological healing.

      “I believe we do need to walk into those charged memories very intentionally.”
      > My point in sharing the old memories is not to walk into them. I don’t think we need to go back 10 years and revisit all that stuff. That would be unhealthy and unproductive. I shared those memories for one reason: To demonstrate that communication between UBF and reform UBF/ex UBF has not happened. We continue to cycle mentally.

      > What we do need to walk into is the present. We need to bridge the gap between the 2011/2012 class of ex-UBF and the current leadership. How can that happen? Just as all the reformers in the past pleaded with SLee and the leaders to be united in Christ our Lord, I urge and plead with the current leadership to be united in Christ our Lord. UBF is headed for a split (2 way or 3 way), and has already broken off a huge chunk of people in 2011/2012.

      > Why can’t there be reconciliation between UBF and exUBF? Even the North Korea leader announced 2013 to be a year of working together with South Korea. So the answer is not cultural. Perhaps someone could compile a list of talking points to hammer out in some meeting facilitated by an outside party?

      > I won’t meet one or two UBF leaders in private, as has been requested several times to me last year. But I will meet in an open-door, third-party faciliated meeting with a pre-determined set of talking points. Perhaps such a meeting could be video-taped.

    • Joe Schafer

      Hi Brian,

      Comparing your comments to mine, I think we (you and I) are often using the terms “we” and “they” in different ways. Which is understandable, because our connections to the ubf community are somewhat different. As we write, we are accessing different experiences and observations, and it makes it hard to parse out where we agree and where we disagree. You may say something that appears to strongly disagree with me, and yet I may agree with the gist of what you are saying, with some differences in the details.

      I’m glad that you are able to communicate with ex-ubf members who feel (with good reason) that no one has yet listened to them. Your ministry of listening is a valuable one.

      Honestly, I have been trying to write some articles for this website that are not entirely focused on ubf. But it’s been very difficult for me to do so. Every time I start an article, I get bogged down and can’t finish it. Here is my quandary.

      * Nothing that I write with conviction or passion will be entirely divorced from experiences and issues facing ubf, because those are the things that have been driving a great deal of my spiritual journey. Even if I don’t use those letters u-b-f anywhere in the article, readers tend to assume (not baselessly) that I am talking about ubf. Then the comments start to appear, and the letters u-b-f appear very prominently in the comments. That tends to focus the discussion in a good way, but it also limits discussion in a bad way. Yes, I do want to talk about ubf, but not exclusively, because at the end of the day ubf isn’t terribly important. I want to do it in the larger context of understanding the history and nature of evangelicalism, thinking about where we as individuals and as the church are headed. That kind of discussion used to happen more often on UBFriends, but it’s harder to have now, and I’m not exactly sure why. (Please don’t think I’m blaming you or anyone else for that. I’m not. The reasons for that shift may have a lot more to do with what has been happening offline than what has been happening online.) Seeing those letters u-b-f in almost any article or comment now produces a negative gut reaction in me, because it tends gloss over the varied personalities and opinions of individuals in the community, a diversity which does exist but for various reasons (which you and I know well) has been hidden and suppressed.

      * If I write articles that have absolutely no nexus with ubf, then I am less passionate about them, and the readers of this website pay less attention to them.

      As I ponder these things, it becomes very difficult to finish articles.

    • Yes indeed, semantics play a huge role in communication, Joe. I found great relief when I started paying attention in detail to semantics. I had dismissed semantics all-together in the past. Now I find such things fascinating.

      Reading Charles Spurgeon is one spark that removed the past ministry from my mind. This video in particular inspired me greatly:

      The Story of Charles Spurgeon

      I am now SO very excited to dive into the vast ocean of the gospel! I found that my han-syndrome type thinking was dispelled by the magnificence of Jesus’ gospel, which was not at all the “good news” I once believed. I found tremendous excitement when I realized I had only known the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the gospel.

      I think our readers are also passionate about the gospel, and the related topics of mission, liturgy and discipleship. My article, What is the Gospel? and Sharon’s article about communication at the cross, sparked immediate discussion. I think we need more articles along those lines.

      One thing I learned from my new “virtual” friend, Robb Ryerse, is the need for a narrator. He used to be a pastor. But he left it all behind. Now he still loves the Church and loves theology, but approaches it entirely newly, based on the gospel. His “title” in his new ministry is simply: narrator. He aims to tell the story of what happens among them and to weave in the gospel narratives into their lives, including especially his own. I was about to give up on Christianity entirely before I read his book, Fundamorphosis. But instead I found a vibrant new faith.

      I would love to discuss the gospel! I never get tired of it. And it liberates me from human organizations, structures, etc. which do exist always in some form or another. Even in our new church (which is no utopia), I find that only the gospel of Jesus sparks my interest. I’m not a fan of “playing church” or “ambitiously building my own kingdom”. I am now simply an ambassador of Christ’s gospel!

    • Joe Schafer

      “Narrator” is really cool. It sounds similar to ethnographer.

      I think it is possible for a church leader to become a narrator without leaving the church community. But it would require him to consciously step out of the role of pastor, which is very hard for pastors to do, especially if their personal identity is tightly bound up with the community’s dominant story.

  7. As my wife and I write our personal narratives for our cohort group, we both decided not to write out UBF completely, as quite a few have done. We feel it is more healthy to try to find what God was doing, even in the midst of UBF. I think it would be healthy for all UBF members to write a personal narrative, as opposed to a “life testimony”. The process is much different, and has many advantages we’re finding.

    As I do this, I am discovering the spiritual abuse to be much deeper than I originally thought and far more formative than I had admitted. Had I been awake in spirit like now, I would have slapped somebody silly back then. But alas I was a young, self-demeaning kid who had just lost his father. Yes I made my decisions, but yes I was used and built up as a “hope carrier”– one in whom UBF people could look to for validation that the UBF system “worked” and was “God’s true way of discipleship”. I’ve discovered through my narrative that such hope is a false hope, and there is no “elite system” of super-apostles that God especially blesses above other believers, unless you want to talk of actual martyrs perhaps.

    In my narrative I view my time in UBF as a cocoon, a hardening of a shell around my life as I spun the web of KOPHN. I write honestly about UBF, as a cult of Christianity (btw, several pastors agree with that assessment). God’s purpose for me was never to be an elite holy soldier killing other people with the Bible. God’s purpose is clear: to transform me into a new creature.

    So in considering why people leave UBF, I suggest that we need to include the fact that some leave because God called them to leave in spite of UBF’s attempts to make them stay.

    And UBF will never change until such narratives are woven into the community’s dominant story.