Bible Study: Is More Always Better?

BCDofBibleStudyIn the weeks before Samuel Lee unexpectedly passed away, the advice that he gave was, “Go back to the Bible.”

That saying, “Go back to the Bible,” features the word back. But this juncture, we have no choice but to move forward. No matter how much we pine for familiar comforts, we press on to a future that is strange and uncertain.

In this climate of postmodernity, we hear questions that  a generation ago were unimaginable. In my undergraduate days, people were asking, “How can I know that Christianity is true?” The words know and true needed no explanation. But today, many are asking profound, unsettling questions about the foundations of truth and knowledge. If we cling to old ways of speaking about the Bible without understanding the ethos of the times, we risk alienating an entire generation, rendering ourselves and our message irrelevant.

Is going back to the Bible an appropriate direction for today? That depends on the context.

Imagine you are speaking to Christians who have little or no engagement with the Scriptures. Telling them to go back to the Bible might be the best advice that you could give, and if that advice were taken, it could lead to genuine renewal.

On the other hand, suppose you meet someone who spends so much time in “spiritual” (translation: church-related) activities that he becomes detached from reality, ignoring his wife and children and the emotional, relational or financial problems that may be ruining his life. Telling him to go back to the Bible might be the worst advice imaginable. It would only encourage him to retreat deeper into an abstract religious fantasyland where the people in his life are summarily dismissed and the conflicts in his life are spiritualized** away.

[**Spiritualize: the practice of minimizing, dismissing or avoiding problems based on the misguided idea that this is what Christians are supposed to do.]

Or suppose you find a community that invests a great deal of time in Bible study. And suppose the community has cultural, generational and ideological conflicts that threaten the community’s health and existence, but leaders don’t want to talk about those problems, because they find those conversations too awkward and uncomfortable. I imagine that if Jesus were standing before them, he wouldn’t be telling them to go back to the Bible. Rather, he would tell them to put the Bible down for a while and start to act on its teachings, especially the teachings about relationships and conflict. Problems in a community cannot be solved merely through personal Bible study; they need to be faced by the community.

A few years ago, I asked a ministry leader, “Is it possible to study the Bible too much?” The leader immediately responded, “No, I don’t think so.” Yet I have seen people study the Bible too much. I’ve watched them retreat to their comfort zones when, in my estimation, they really ought to be doing something else.

Bible study is important. Hearing God’s word is essential. But more of a good thing is not always a good thing. Sooner or later you cross a threshold where studying becomes a cheap substitute for doing. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” If we are not careful, long hours of Bible study can become self-deception. It becomes what author Peter Scazzero has called, “Using God to run from God” (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Chapter 2).

I’ve spent a great deal of time studying the Bible over the last thirty years, and sometimes it’s been wonderful. The experience of sitting down to read and discuss the Bible with believers whom you love and respect can be exhilarating. But Bible study can also be boring. It can be depressing or even infuriating.

The outcome of Bible study depends on our attitudes toward Scripture. And it depends on the happenings of our lives and the drama of our interpersonal relationships. I have found that it’s very difficult – actually, it’s impossible – for Bible study to be effective among people who are in serious conflict. If participants do not openly acknowledge the conflicts and start to work them out beforehand, buried problems and suppressed emotions start to come out in inappropriate ways. Leaders start to use Scripture as a tool to suppress opposition. Pastors use the pulpit to stifle dissent and advance their agenda. I have watched people do this (including myself), and it gets very ugly.

Another set of problems arises when the entire community aspires to be Bible teachers. At times, we have placed such heavy emphasis on teaching that we spoke of spiritual leadership and Bible teaching as if they were identical. Not long ago, someone in our ministry noticed that, in Ephesians 4:11, the apostle Paul mentions five different kinds of leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers). This young man asked his elders, “What is an apostle?” He was told, “An apostle is basically a Bible teacher.” Then he asked, “What is a prophet?” He was told, “A prophet is basically a Bible teacher.” Then he asked, “What is an evangelist?” Again he was told, “An evangelist is basically a Bible teacher.” Every type of leader was portrayed as a Bible teacher, despite the fact that Paul’s intention in that passage was to distinguish the offices and highlight the diversity of gifts.

We have at times artificially inserted this emphasis on Bible teaching into the Old and New Testaments. Some have claimed that Jesus, in his three-year ministry, spent the vast majority of his time teaching the Scriptures. And that Jesus’ top priority for his disciples was to train them to carry on his work of teaching the Scriptures. But in fact, very little of Jesus’ ministry was devoted to expository preaching from the Old Testament. Jesus engaged in fresh storytelling through parables and all kinds of imaginative discourse.

Throughout the four gospels, the followers of Jesus are referred to by the Greek word mathetes which we translate as “disciple.” A disciple is not primarily a student of books or writings but a follower of a living person. The distinction is important. Writers of the gospels do mention some who could be regarded as the Bible teachers of their day. They are called scribes, teachers of the law, and experts in the law, and the manner in which they are portrayed is usually negative. Despite all the time and energy they had spent on Scripture and all of the knowledge they had accumulated about God, they failed to recognize the Son of God when he walked among them. Jesus delivered to them a devastating critique in John 5:39-40: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Is it possible to immerse oneself in the word of God while becoming disconnected from God? Not only is it possible, it is exceedingly common.

In a thought-provoking book titled What We Believe and Why, author George Byron Koch explains it this way (Chapter 22). Before us stand two doors. The first door is labeled, “The Way to God”; the second door is marked, “Lectures About God.” Going through the first is extremely frightening, so most of the time we opt for the second. In our study and in our worship, we talk about God, expounding on his attributes and discussing principles and doctrines. We speak of him in the third person as if he were not there. Rarely if ever do we address him directly. Encounter with God is buried under layer upon layer of abstract teachings. Over time, we cling to our ideas and imagine that they are the real thing, that in possessing them we have God himself, to the extent that we begin to worship our ideas. Without realizing it, our Christian faith mixes with religious idolatry which becomes extremely difficult to detect and root out. Our ideas, principles and doctrines may be good and correct. But by focusing on them rather than God himself, we become detached from him and from one another. And we begin to identify ourselves not by our common love for Christ, but by the unique teachings and practices that distinguish us from other groups.

When Samuel Lee advised people to go back to the Bible, I’m not entirely sure what he meant. But I have heard this motto used to reinforce practices which are thought to come directly from the Bible but are, in fact, just expressions of our local tradition. The misconception that we are purists who simply follow the Bible alone is common in the evangelical world. The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright wrote eloquently about this:

Most heirs of the Reformation, not least evangelicals, take if for granted that we are to give scripture the primary place and that everything else has to be lined up in relation to scripture. There is, indeed, an evangelical assumption, common in some circles, that evangelicals do not have any tradition. We simply open the scripture, read what it says, and take it as applying to ourselves: there the matter ends, and we do not have any ‘tradition’… But I still find two things to be the case, both of which give me some cause for concern. First, there is an implied, and quite unwarranted, positivism: we imagine that we are ‘reading the text, straight’, and that if somebody disagrees with us it must be because they, unlike we ourselves, are secretly using ‘presuppositions’ of this or that sort. This is simply naïve, and actually astonishingly arrogant and dangerous. It fuels the second point, which is that evangelicals often use the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ when they mean the authority of evangelical, or Protestant, theology, since the assumption is made that we (evangelicals, or Protestants) are the ones who know and believe what the Bible is saying. And, though there is more than a grain of truth in such claims, they are by no means the whole truth, and to imagine that they are is to move from theology to ideology. If we are not careful, the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ can, by such routes, come to mean simply ‘the authority of evangelical tradition…’

[Quotation from “How Can the Bible be Authoritative?” by N.T. Wright]

To go back to the Bible in the best sense could mean to put aside our notions, biases and traditions and approach Scripture as if for the first time to learn something new. Over the last three decades, I have frequently heard our leaders encouraging people to do this. I believe that we want to do this. But we overestimate our ability to put biases aside. Everyone who reads Scripture does so through lenses tinted by prior beliefs, experiences, traditions and commitments. It’s hard to take our lenses off because, most of the time, we are not even aware that we are wearing them. Despite our best intentions to read the Bible in a fresh way, our assumptions and habits are so deeply entrenched in our character that we can’t identify them anymore. At that point, it becomes impossible to get something out of Bible study that we haven’t gotten in the past. As the saying goes, if you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.

Let me say that again. If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.

Which leads to a paradoxical truth. In order to really get back to the Bible, we sometimes need to get away from the Bible.

When I came into this church three decades ago, I was taught a particular style of Bible study, a style that, perhaps with a few minor changes here and there, is still practiced by most UBF chapters throughout the world. For the first ten years, that style of Bible study helped me to grow. After twenty years, I was no longer learning from it. And after 25 years, it was actually making me worse. Not everyone has experienced the same problems that I have in the same manner or degree. But I have been around long enough to see that there are indeed some common elements to the ways that we do things. There are good habits and bad habits that have spread throughout the community. And some of the bad habits that I picked up were hindering my spiritual growth. Whatever bad habits I acquired, it is ultimately my fault that I acquired them. But I did pick them up in our community, and I spread them to others, and the community reinforced (or at least did not discourage) them.

My Bible study had become self-focused and moralistic. I approached every passage with the intent of finding and extracting the right principles and then applying them to my life. The point of every Bible study became, “What am I supposed to do?” In every passage, I tried to locate the tasks God was directing me to do, the sins I was supposed to repent of, the bad habits I was supposed to avoid, the promises I was supposed to claim and believe, and so on.

Over time, this reduced my Christian life to a to-do list. That list became so long that I could never, ever fulfill it. I constantly felt like a failure, because I was never living up to the standards and expectations that I had set for myself and that our culture had set for me. So I did what I had been implicitly taught to do, what others had taught me to do: Keep choong-shim. Maintain soldier spirit. Keep up appearances as an exemplary servant of God at all costs. I hid my weaknesses in order to save face, so that I wouldn’t become a “bad influence” on others.

As I treated the Bible so mechanically and hid my weaknesses so effectively, my soul withered; prayer became ineffective and my personal relationship with God almost nonexistent. But as long as I continued to say things in my Bible studies, testimonies and messages that sounded good, people continued to praise me, and no one seemed to notice that I was adrift. We had put so much emphasis on mission and so little on friendship, relational honesty and intimacy that no one could tell that I had any serious problems. No one, that is, except my wife, who saw what was going on and was greatly concerned.

For me, the keys to coming out from this difficulty were: (a) opening myself up to Christian influences in the greater body of Christ by reading articles and books and by making friends with committed Christians outside of UBF; (b) becoming honest and revealing my weaknesses, allowing myself to express doubts and ask tough questions about the Bible — the kinds of questions that raise eyebrows and make people uncomfortable in traditional group Bible studies, because they are considered too volatile, controversial or off-topic; (c) taking time off from my habitual Bible study to read, think, contemplate and pray, and just to be with God, and to be with God’s people; (d) to stop beating myself up over the fact that I never pray enough, never study the Bible enough, never work hard enough, and am always falling short of standards and expectations; and (e) to take seriously what the Bible says about the person and work of the Holy Spirit, opening myself up to living by the Spirit’s power rather than by self effort.

And thus it was by getting away from the Bible – more precisely, by getting away from the only kind of Bible study that I knew – and taking time to read, meditate, pray, and interact with people in other settings, that my Bible study was greatly refreshed. Although I spent less time in the Bible than I had done before, I got more out of Scripture than ever before. I began to own my faith. I began to write and speak with genuine conviction. I became an honest student of the Bible rather than a role-player and imitator of someone else.

Getting away from the Bible in that way wasn’t easy. Rumors began circulating (and still circulate to this day) that I had gone off the rails, given up my mission, and denied God’s grace upon my life. The biggest obstacle was my own fear that, if I stopped doing Bible study and testimony writing in the usual way, that God would become very disappointed in me and I would lose his love and blessing. But those fears were unfounded. I discovered the basic truth that God does not love me any more or less based on anything I do. And, quite ironically, when I stopped trying to live up to the challenge of Psalm 1 to meditate on God’s word “day and night,” I suddenly found that without trying I was, in fact, ruminating on Scripture and spiritual issues a great deal of the time. By apparently doing less, I learned to depend on God’s grace and experienced his love and blessing all the more.


  1. The problem is that every time we study the Bible inside our own group/church/tradition, we’re not only studying the Bible, but reinforcing the group’s special presuppositions, traditions and framework of speaking and thinking about the Bible, and it becomes harder and harder to shake this framework off. As you already said, this is the tragedy of the Pharisees as reported in the Bible itself. The other problem you are pointing out is that there must be a balance of head and heart, and of learning and application. Bible study is mostly done sitting on a chair, but Jesus often said “then go and do” or “stand up”.

    Thanks, that was a great article. I would like to comment more, but I must run to work.

  2. Joe Schafer

    Chris, thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you liked the article.

    Yes, we need a balance of learning and application. But reducing one and increasing the other won’t necessarily solve the problem. My Bible study only started to get better when my life started to get better. And my life got better as I shifted the focus from doing to being. What I do should flow from who I am, not the other way around.

    From the writings of the late Lesslie Newbigin, I learned that the separation of theory from practice is a form of Greek dualism that is not found in the Hebrew Bible. In the Bible’s examples of faith, believing and acting are one seamless whole. We tend to think of the mind, emotions, body (and then the soul, whatever that is) as different parts of the person, and we see the healthy life as getting these parts all balanced out in the right proportions. But the very fact that we see those things as separate shows that we are disconnected and broken. The life that Jesus has and wants to give is a full, healthy life where the individual is unified and whole, and the individuals are knit together into a loving community that exhibits real unity in real diversity. Whatever we do as individuals and in the church — Bible study, evangelism, charitable service, etc. — ought to be moving us in that direction. If not, we ought to pause and re-evaluate.

  3. Joe, as a member of the ubfriends choir, I heartily and readily say “amen”, as you might guess.

    I think the bible can become a sort of drug to Christians. I know it did become some sort of Vicodin for my own soul. In my observation, too much bible study is at the heart of my definition of spiritual abuse.

  4. Great article. Fully expressed everything I’ve been thinking. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my thoughts.

    A core value of UBF is “Bible study”. I really have nothing against Bible study as a core value. But at this juncture, it seems to me that the community is pushing a form of Bible study and making that a core value and now it’s become hammer to hurt some and a straitjacket that imprisons others. I have to say that for the first 5 years of my life, I grew a lot from the form of Bible study I was taught in UBF. Then eventually it got stale. And I felt dry. Then I met other Christians who began to introduce to me a core value of “Bible doing” or “Bible living” not just “Bible study.” I haven’t figured out what the right term would be, but I hope we can come up with a different core value than simply “Bible study.” Something that captures the idea of a reflective study and practice of living out the Word in one’s life and community. I just can’t think of a term that captures that in a succinct core value.

    If go back to the Bible means go back to our form of one-to-one Bible study and never change from that, then we’re in trouble as an organization. If go back to the Bible means returning to the Word (however form it may be) in order to listen reflectively and obediently to what Christ has to say to me and my community for this particular moment of time, then of course I will go back to the Bible. But as Joe confessed, ironically when I began to “go away from the form of Bible study” I had been taught and began to open myself to what the Holy Spirit wanted to teach (and remind me) through other Christians, their traditions, and their own practice of the Word, then the Word of God actually came back to me with fresh power and insight. I didn’t go back to the Bible. The Bible came back to me.

    • Joe Schafer

      Tanks John. (Hear dat Chicago accent?)

      I think that “Back to the Bible” (for Chicagoans, “Back to da Bible”) doesn’t capture it for two reasons. We need to go forward, not backward. And the Bible shouldn’t be the object of our study; it’s a vehicle for leading us to the gospel and to Jesus.

      Maybe “forward through the Bible to the gospel of Jesus.” But that’s not so catchy.

      I’m not very talented at sloganeering.

    • Hi John, Comparing your comment above, with my comment below, it proves our personality trait graph that you are a “high A, high D,” while I am a “high A, low D.”

      Sorry for our “insider language.” A stands for autonomy, D for conformity. It is based on a personality trait survey that we both took. It is supposed to be 98% accurate in predicting a person’s personality trait.

    • Joe Schafer

      I think of “Bible study” and “campus mission” as activities, not core values. Core values ought to be values. It seems to me that the core values of UBF, the ones that actually powered its founding and growth, have still not been identified or articulated.

    • I like “Bible study coming alive!” or “Bible study on fire” “Going forward through the Bible to the gospel of Jesus aflame!”

      Love the line in this hymn…
      “Cause your Word to come alive in me….”

      Immanuel, everyone!

    • Joe Schafer

      John, your character is hot. Mine is cool. Joe Cool.

    • This reminds me of Bonhoeffer in his first chapter of Life Together. The church has a tendency to fall into idealism, putting our own ideals before relationships and even Jesus in our midst. One very important corrective to this, Bonhoeffer suggests, is for the the church to submit to the One, Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church. Our Bible study can only improve when we open to the richness, the manifold wisdom found in the whole church. But this is scary to many, because it will certainly transform us and call us to give up or deemphasize our “core values”. These “core values” are valuable in that they tell the story of our church. But they cannot be equated with God’s story, told through the traditions of many. When we hold onto them as of first importance, we become idealists, and to Bonhoeffer, idealism is driven not by Christ, but by human desire.

    • Thanks Sharon.

      The point that you just made was something that I had wanted to say to Chris. The point about submitting to, or even just connecting to, the greater body of the Church. Simply remaining in fellowship with the rest of the Body will, over time, begin to correct our perspectives and heal our deficiencies.

      As I said before, I think that UBF needn’t feel threatened by connecting to the Body because the UBF core values — not the visible activities, but the actual values — that drove and powered the ministry were things like love for Jesus, concern for the world, and so on. But those values got buried under many layers of ideology, which is perhaps an alternative word for what your translation of Bonhoeffer calls idealism.

    • JohnY

      “Bible doing” or “Bible living” not just “Bible study”.
      > Love your words John!

      “If go back to the Bible means returning to the Word (however form it may be) in order to listen reflectively and obediently to what Christ has to say to me and my community for this particular moment of time, then of course I will go back to the Bible.”
      > Me too!

      “I didn’t go back to the Bible. The Bible came back to me.”
      > Yes, that is what I experienced too. Some ubf members told me they are “clawing on” and “hanging on by their fingernails” and “wanting to see any scrap of good news”. My suggestion to such people is: let go. Fall into grace, surrender to Jesus our Lord and begin the great, unknown adventure!

  5. Thanks, Joe. Your article is worthy of several posts!

    This resonated with me verbatim: “Although I spent less time in the Bible than I had done before, I got more out of Scripture than ever before.”

    Also, I “love” the rumors about you since I’ve heard them say of me that “Dr. Ben is only reading books and no longer studying the Bible.” Also, West Loop is not really UBF because she does not carry out 1:1 Bible studies, does not write testimonies, does not train anybody, that only teaches grace without truth, and that I just “let everybody do whatever they want.” Am I worthy of such an honor?

    Scazzero’s phrase “Using God to run from God” reminded me of Flannery O’connor’s phrase that “the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.” Thus, the religious leaders so “avoided sin” that they had to kill Jesus, whom they accused of not following the Bible, the law of Moses.

    It seems that we so-called “evangelicals” have so “(over)used”/(over)studied the Bible that the Bible no longer truly shapes and transforms us but that we use the Bible to justify what we want to insist must be done. Then we come across as standoffish, sanctimonious, superior, and elitist that we become irrelevant, unrelatable, and quite disconnected from the world we are praying to reach in love.

    It reminds me of the quote by St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Sometimes, oftentimes, the Bible prevents that from happening.

    • Joe Schafer

      Thanks Ben.

      In your last sentence, “the Bible prevents that from happening” — is that really what you meant to say?

    • No, I didn’t realize how that came across. What I meant was that “studying the Bible with our own blinders on (which we are often not aware of) prevents that from happening.”

  6. The sentence that struck me the most were:

    If participants do not openly acknowledge the conflicts and start to work them out beforehand, buried problems and suppressed emotions start to come out in inappropriate ways. Leaders start to use Scripture as a tool to suppress opposition. Pastors use the pulpit to stifle dissent and advance their agenda.

    I experienced that and also perpetrated it myself. To approach Scripture with someone when there are underlying conflicts and buried problems feels so artificial. Perhaps this is related to Jesus’ command in Matt 5:23-24 to be reconciled with your brother before giving an offering to God.

  7. Joe, you mentioned: “Core values ought to be values. It seems to me that the core values of UBF, the ones that actually powered its founding and growth, have still not been identified or articulated.”

    Whether you like it or not, and whether these are the core values of what people want ubf to be or not, the value system and work ethic of ubf has been clearly documented and articulated as a Christianized version of Confucianism. The 50th anniversary material documents this clearly. James already confirmed the influence of Confucian values on ubf recently here.

    I’ve written about the values: Christian Confucianism and Confucian values

    And ubf has published many times the following: ubf spiritual heritage

    If someone thinks these are not ubf values, please challenge my understanding! I’d love to know why these are not ubf values, if they are not:

    Etiquette – Learn the proper ubf rituals and learn to speak the ubf language.

    Filial piety – Respect and obey your shepherd and be thankful to your new spiritual family for your entire life.

    Benevolence – Be gracious always to all people with no negative words.

    Loyalty – Be loyal to your leadership.

    Nobility – Be the best and elite soldiers of Christianity.

    So if you take the above values, Christianize them with Scripture, and you have ubf lasting 50+ years. Add in “popes” (SLee or now directors in each chapter), the articulated ubf heritage and special training for non-conformance, and you have the ubf system.

    • Brian, I hear you. As I said before, I think that the UBF core values have not been clearly identified or articulated. There are many good and faithful Christians in UBF with whom I shared fellowship last weekend. As I fellowshiped with them, I sensed that, in their innermost beings, they are not really powered by the list of values you mentioned. Those may lie at the surface, and they are on display too much, but if that is all that was behind UBF from the start, then you and I and they would never have signed on. The 50th anniversary book has a lot of superficiality, and there are many who are still in the organization who don’t feel that the 50th book describes us.

    • Then I would say quite a few people in ubf are still living in a fantasy world of what they want to be seen as.

      The more time away from ubf I spend, the more deeply rooted I see the above values in me and in my wife. I “signed on” because of those 5 values, but I always wanted to “run away” because of the fear, confusion and distrust caused by not being able to reconcile Confucian values with what I read in Scripture or with my sense of justice and love.

      Your words show contradictions to me, Joe:

      “Those lie at the surface”
      > If they are superficial values, then why were me and my friends driven out of Toledo UBF when we began to openly question such values? They seem deeply rooted to me.

      “..then you and I and they would never have signed on.”
      > Actually, as I look back on my narrative, I signed on because of these values. I was at a low point in my life and I craved these values. I found they could not sustain me in the long term.

      “The 50th anniversary book has a lot of superficiality…”
      > From an objective standpoint, yes I agree. But how do the people feel who gave the lectures? They took such things VERY seriously! It is their passion!

      “there are many who are still in the organization who don’t feel that the 50th book describes us.”
      > True enough. But this points to a split in ubf, not to the values being superficial. Part of ubf people deeply value the 5 values. Part of ubf people don’t. That is true, and that is why ubf may not be able to avoid a split.

    • Brian, I’m surprised that you found contradictions in my words because, believe it or not, I agree with just about everything that you just said. People get driven away from churches of all kinds because the dynamics of the group tend to put the superficial aspects on display. They major in the minors. But if they are genuine Christians, then the deeper core values of God are there, because the Spirit of God is there, even if people have stopped listening to his quiet still voice.

      The only place where I might question you further is about why you signed on to ubf. You know yourself far better than I. In my case, it is easy to see how my own character flaws played in to my early commitment to ubf. But my decision to come into the community was not an utterly corrupt one. It was a real commitment to follow God and a real call from God. In the final analysis, I am where I am because God called me.

    • Perhaps I see contradictions because I’m a contradictory person…

      In any case, I agree with this:

      “…my decision to come into the community was not an utterly corrupt one.”
      > I would also say my decision was not utterly corrupt. My point is not that Confucian values are utterly corrupt, nor are decisions based on them. I am saying that decisions made on such values are not sustainable over many years and are prone to hurting others (just look at the Korean airline example). And I’m saying such decisions don’t bring about the amazing joy and peace found in the gospel of Jesus.

      “It was a real commitment to follow God and a real call from God. In the final analysis, I am where I am because God called me.”
      > I also agree with this. In spite of my value system I was responding to a call from God. My wife and I both say even today that God called us to ubf and God called us away from ubf.

      > I think there is a mixture of things, which makes all this so very difficult. God’s calling mixed with Confucian values, being driven away yet being called away, loving people yet not loving their ideology, etc. I find that my mind attempts to make sense of all this with semantics, for whatever reason.

      > And I certainly don’t discount the Christian fellowship you had recently. Such experiences are real and genuine. And there is hope for part of ubf to break off and become a genuine Christian ministry. Yet I think it will be a long time before I would ever say that ubf is a Christian church.

    • Brian, again I find myself in agreement with you.

      Honestly, it must have been very difficult for you to leave the ministry. Perhaps the final moment of decision was not terribly difficult. But the lengthy process of realizing that the things that truly mattered most, those deeper core values, were not being displayed, and in many cases they were sacrificed for the sake of the superficial ones. I’m very sorry that you weren’t able to stay. But my fellowship with you has continued and turned into a real friendship, and for that I am grateful. I like Hereticman better than Baghdad Bob.

    • “If they are superficial values, then why were me and my friends driven out of Toledo UBF when we began to openly question such values? They seem deeply rooted to me.”

      Don’t forget that the reformers of 2001 were also officially expelled for not respecting these “values”.

    • Yes, Chris. You are right. Sometimes those superficial values become non-negotiable and people will fight and die for them.

      What they are really fighting for, though, is probably something deeper.

      Does anyone actually want to give his life for one-to-one Bible study and testimony writing? Sometimes people talk like that. But deep down, what they really want is for their past decisions and sacrifices to be validated. They want their life stories, their narratives, to be honored. In other words, they want to be loved. But you can’t force people to love you. You can’t make people honor your story by pressuring your children and your disciples to follow the same path that you did.

      I could be wrong. But I think that much of what the traditionalists do is motivated by (a) a desire to please God without much understanding of what God desires, and (b) a misplaced desire to be loved. And, of course, the sinfulness that is inherent in every human being, including myself. If I think of them this way, then perhaps I can treat them with compassion and mercy.

    • Joe, that’s certainly true. But I would add (c) a misplaced desire to dominate others and (d) to be “great”. Or with other words, “pride”. Actually I think pride is the core sin behind all of the UBF system from the very beginnings. The wish to “conquer the world with the gospel” phrase has all of these elements (a) – (d) in it. If you google for it, you will first find a quote from a book by Paul C. Jong, a false teacher from Korea, and then links from UBF, including a message from Sarah Barry.

    • Chris, once again, I agree with you. Pride and desire to be great by influencing and controlling people are certainly there. Those things are very much in me as well. I may express my pride and desire to be great in different, perhaps more sneaky or subtle ways than they do. But those things are in me.

      In fact, some people think that I started this website out of pride and desire to be great. Some have suggested that my efforts to change or reform the ministry are motivated by that. And by a desire to gather people to myself. Surely they are partly right.

      Of the seven deadly sins, pride is considered the worst, because it is the primal sin of Satan, and it was the main temptation offered to the woman in the garden. “You will be like God.” In that sense, pride lies behind every sin.

    • Chris, here is a concrete example of my own misplaced desire to dominate others.

      God gives gifts to all his children. One of the gifts that he has given me is a measure of skill in using words to teach, persuade, convince, etc. I have tried to exercise that gift in various settings, including this website. But others who are less gifted in that area have been intimidated by me. At times I have used my skill to dominate others, like a bully. I could easily use that gift as a weapon against Korean missionaries whose English is more limited. Sometimes I have done that, and it is not right.

      One of the things that I’m learning is that the gifts given by God need to be exercised in the context of loving relationships so that they build up the body, not tear it down. In fact, the gifts seem to be for that purpose, to help build up loving relationships among people within the body of Christ. That is a very hard truth to practice.

    • Joe, I’m totally with you when you say that “pride” is possibly the worst sin. I think already St. Augustine recognized that. Pride can also cause horrible things to happen. Germany started 2 world wars because of “wounded pride”, and the current violent Islamism has a lot to do with wounded pride as well.

      You’re also right when you say that everyone of us has his or her problems with pride. But what I wanted to emphasize that in the case of UBF it’s a kind of collective and systemic pride that makes it so dangerous. The system itself is based on pride, and it arouses pride in its members, particularly leaders.

      And what makes the whole thing even more complex is that many ordinary members are well aware of the problem of pride in general. Even if they don’t see the inherent pride in the UBF system and in their way of understanding themselves as shepherds or aspiring greatness, they interpret and sometimes misinterpret many of their other feelings as pride. They go against this with an attitude of extreme humility, meekness and submissiveness particularly towards their leaders. This again makes the whole problem even worse. So we should actually add (e) misplaced humility to our list. Misplaced pride is more the problem of leaders, misplaced humility more the problem of lower ranking members. Usually it’s a strange mixture of the two things, they somehow blend together in middle-tier members like us and form a very unhealthy state of mind.

      It’s important to understand that self-esteem and self-respect, and also a healthy dose of self-confidence is important. Unfortunately, these things are often misunderstood as “pride” by many UBFers. But they fail to see the real, systemic pride.

      I know this is sometimes a difficult tightrope walk. I see how you can easily become proud of being more rhetorically skilled and intellectual than others, but I don’t think it would be the right solution for you to stop doing the things where you are talented most, e.g. writing eloquent articles. God wants us to use our talents and gifts, but we need to learn to see them as gifts from God, not as something we should be proud of.

      On the other side, as Brian pointed out and exemplified with the latest UBF messages, there is not even an awareness of the pride that is behind this system. Quite to the contrary, there is this continuous self-appraisal celebrated in every message, on every conference and anniversary, which nourishes new pride and blocks the path to humility and repentance and real change.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, I do agree with nearly everything you say.

      Having been to Germany a few times, I sense that the experience of two world wars (especially the second war) has left a deep mark on the people of Germany, making them sensitive to the dangers of corporate pride and how devastating it can become. Germany bears this corporate guilt for terrible things that happened 70 years ago. Yet I also sense that, at an individual level, many Germans who are alive today (most of whom were not alive when those terrible things happened) seem a bit tired of digesting and bearing guilt for things that they as individuals took no direct part in.

      I see a similar thing in ubf. Many members, especially younger ones, are weary of bearing the corporate guilt for wrongdoings that they (rightly or wrongly) feel that they took no direct part in. And yet, as long as the organization maintains a public stance that it has done no wrong, that corporate guilt remains and tarnishes everyone. I bear that guilt and shame whenever I appear in public as a member of the organization. It is a very painful thing.

      In your last comment, you wrote:

      “On the other side, as Brian pointed out and exemplified with the latest UBF messages, there is not even an awareness of the pride that is behind this system. Quite to the contrary, there is this continuous self-appraisal celebrated in every message, on every conference and anniversary, which nourishes new pride and blocks the path to humility and repentance and real change.”

      Again, I largely agree with that.

      Please allow me to share a couple of things that you might not know. I’m not doing this to defend ubf or to say that everything is okay now. I just want to let you know what I have observed.

      * Privately, some leaders, including some who work for headquarters, have begun to express an awareness of the prideful public stance taken by the organization. This awareness has not yet made its way into messages, reports and publications. I have no idea how long it will take or even how long it should take. I have no idea how many leaders will eventually come to a position of corporate humility. But the process of awakening to corporate pride has begun. I thank God for his longsuffering patience.

      * The message that the GD orally delivered at last weekend’s conference was a minor revision of the one published on the ubf website earlier this year. He kept the same outline and structure, but he changed many of the lines and phrases that critics (inside and outside of ubf) had found objectionable. He made a good faith effort to respond to criticisms of the earlier version, including the criticisms made by Brian and others on this website. On the whole, I don’t think that you would have liked the message. But it is significant that the GD made a good faith effort to change his message in response to criticism from outside of the organization. The words and phrases that he changed were those that displayed strong corporate pride. This is the first time I have seen a top leader do this.

      Once again, I’m not saying these things to tell you to stop criticizing ubf. I’m not trying to convince you that everything is ok to make you be quiet. I just wanted to share this with you because it actually happened. Please pray for the community, for those who are in it, and for those who left it. And please continue to follow your own wisdom and conscience in how you interact with us.

    • Joe, these are encouraging observations. The near future will tell if this is something real and more than just the usual appeasement politics. The current GD seems to not be such a stubborn hardliner as his predecessors; he’s more like a diplomat. On the other hand a “lukewarm” diplomat is sometimes worse than somebody who is clearly hot or cold. So I’m having mixed feelings about what is going on. I feel it’s time for a real “leap of faith” by UBF as a whole, as my chapter director always told us to make.

      Concerning Germany, your observation is right, many in the young generation have no historical awareness at all. For kids, Hitler is so far away as for us maybe Nero. And then there is the much worse phenomenon of neo-nazis and revisionists. Who exist, by the way, not only in Germany, which fills me with shame, but even in countries like Russia (which does not make sense at all, but neo nazism does not make sense anyway).

      Your observation that young UBF members are already tired of hearing about the past guilt and past problems, even though these issues haven’t been officially admitted a single time until today, and are continued and repeated in many chapters even today, makes me very sad. It also shows that if UBF does not start to process the past now and repent now and as quickly as possible, they will miss a historic chance.

  8. Interesting exchange, Brian, Joe. Strangely, I agree with both of you.

    As God is complex (3 Persons, yet 1 God), so also are we humans created in God’s image.

    I think that we were all led to Christ and/or influenced by “complex” UBF Christians, who are a mixture of good and evil. The good came from the transforming work of the Spirit. The evil came from our distortion of our original image of God.

    For varying years, I believe that we did truly love UBF and UBF people, because there are surely elements of God’s wonderful grace in UBF and UBF people. But after varying years, we also began to see elements of evil in her and her people, which makes it “a little harder” to love them as we once did.

    I think that all of us remember the wonderful loving elements of some UBF people, and these very same people now seem to cause us to cringe and cry in ways unimaginable, I think.

    Perhaps, that is why I agree with both of you. Sorry if I don’t make sense.

  9. Ben/Joe:

    I read somewhere that words communicated from the heart are heard by the heart. My heart hears your hearts through your words.

    My mind screams out for reason through semantics, my heart yearns for honesty through goodness and my soul hungers for acceptance through love.

    Someone also said (people from the Gallop Group actually) that the most well-rounded leaders are the least effective leaders. The best leaders they say are those who are imbalanced and surround themselves with other imbalanced people in different ways, in order to form a balanced team.

    These days I am embracing my imbalanced self and letting my thoughts and actions flow more naturally, instead of beating myself to become balanced. I find then, that I depend on others more necessarily. And I find that I long to be part of a team of other imbalanced people who invest in their strengths and are aware of their weaknesses.

    So I am a paradox like all humans. I am both Baghdad Bob and Hereticman. For example, I think ubf is a cult. And yet this coming weekend, I will worship at ubf and spend a whole weekend with ubf people. Life is contradictory I guess :)

  10. On the topic of maddening paradoxes…

    After leaving ubf I became closer to ubf, talk more about ubf and think more about ubf.

    After resigning my role in ubf, I now meet with more ubf people, listen to more ubf people and have much closer friendships with some ubf people.

    So I didn’t go back to ubf, ubf keeps coming back to me! Sometimes I rejoice in where God is leading us, other times I just say “ugh” :)

  11. To answer your question, Is more always better? No. This lecture is a good example of why ubf directors need to put the bible down and step away from it:

    Our Fellowship

    Contact me privately if you want my severe critique of this lecture and why I feel it is so damaging to publish this kind of thing online.

    • Brian, thanks for your wisdom and restraint in keeping your harshest critique offline. Perhaps you might consider sending your remarks directly to the messenger, or to a third party who can convey the essence of your thoughts to him. Such channels of communication have started to open up, and we want to do everything that we can to keep them open and expand them.

    • Well, I’m restrained for now. Sending my critique to him would be of no value, since I have no confidence of a response, given what I know.

      My main issue is the ubf hamster wheel of “we’re bad, people left, but we’re just going to keep proclaiming Jesus to new young people.”

      When will ubf directors realize that such a cycle is not pleasing to God and that the Spirit is hindered, grieved and insulted by such a thing? When will ubf directors understand the basic principle of the gospel work: to leave the 99 and go after the one?

      The angels in heaven don’t rejoice over 99 new students being contacted to join ubf fellowship. The angels rejoice over reconciliation with 1 ex-ubf member.

    • For the record, last year I did confront him in person about one of his messages. I was very honest and blunt in my criticism. It stung, but I believe that he heard me. In fact, I’m sure that he heard me. A few months later, I heard him make a similar point to someone else, the point on which I criticized him.

    • That’s great Joe. But a harsh critique coming from a former member… and from me no less… would not be received in the same manner as something from you.

      The lecture is so full of what I now call “spiritual abuse red flags”. And by the way, I need to clear up a potential misunderstanding. When I talk about spiritual abuse, I am using the term like drug abuse, as in the bible becomes an overprescribed drug for every human non-physical ailment. And I am also not referring to the abuse of “sheep”. I am referring to the abuse of “shepherds” by senior leaders.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, you may be right. But some people in ubf (like myself) share most if not all of your concerns. Feel free to bring them to me or to Ben and we will convey them. Believe me, I know that the concerns of former members have routinely been ignored. But that is closer to changing than it has ever been. And if there is to be a change, you are well positioned to be one of the instruments to help make it happen.

    • I too commend Brian on his admirable restraint.

      It seems Joe Cool is rubbing off you :)

      I shall now knight you: the BK (Bri-Kar) Cool Down

      Call me hence forth John Fire. Like this guy:

      All pretty random, I know. I’m going to bed.

    • LOL John Fire! Maybe I’ll just stick with hereticman…

  12. It seems that UBF may have studied the Bible so much by focusing on our “core values” (which are really our “campus mission focus” or our “ministry methods”) such that many in UBF no longer distinguish the Bible from our values/mission/methods.

    In fact some may regard UBF’s mission and methods more strongly than the Bible itself. Thus, perhaps without realizing it, UBF may fail to highlight Christ because she is so much more concerned about preserving our mission focus and our ministry methods.

    As a 2nd Gen said to me, no matter what text of Scripture is preached on or taught from, every Bible study and message invariably somehow ends on living a life of mission, or feeding sheep, or a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

    I think one can quite safely say that this is not healthy or wholesome or holistic Bible study.

    • Ben, sometimes I’m amazed at the creative ways that people find to squeeze those core values out of all sorts of Bible passages. If the only tool you carry is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

  13. Another thought: In my opinion, with a misapplication of Mt 6:33, some might think and sincerely believe that if they “put Bible study 1st,” they are seeking God 1st, and then God will surely resolve all of their life’s issues and problems: marital, family, children, financial, relational, etc.

    It is almost shamanistic and unbiblical and a bibliolatry. It is like the Israelites going to fight their enemies in Samuel’s time by taking the ark of the covenant with them in battle, as though it were a good luck charm and a guarantee of victory.

    I love the Bible and to study and share what the Bible teaches, probably more than anything else. But it is always a good caution for us to know that we can easily study the Bible and “put Bible study 1st” in ways that cannot even remotely be justified by the Bible.

  14. Yes Joe, I appreciated the change in the lecture:

    “The message that the GD orally delivered at last weekend’s conference was a minor revision of the one published on the ubf website earlier this year.”

    Both versions are still published, but at least an attempt was made. I still don’t like the message :) But most of the major elitist comments were removed. Here is the new version of the lecture.

    Why am I now restrained from ripping off blog posts criticizing ubf? It has nothing to do with what was taken out. It is only because this paragraph was added to the lecture:

    “I’ve never given much thought to the fact that my chapter and UBF as a whole is God’s household—a family. In the midst of all hardships, families can maintain the strongest bonds because of love. This thought led me to think of one leader who had been in my ministry for years. When he left after all my labor of love for him, I thought he had problems. Yes, he had problems just as I had. In fact, I had a more serious problem—I didn’t love him and treat him as I loved and treated my son and my brother. I didn’t try to understand his deep inner struggle. I served him with my own expectations and my own agenda. For this I repent before God and ask forgiveness for the hurt I gave him. Recently we all have shared the pains of our coworkers who experienced departure of some long standing leaders in their chapters. I ask God for his comfort and new strength for those coworkers. I also ask God for his comfort for those who left and pray for the healing of their wounds whatever they may be. Let’s make this an opportunity to humbly examine ourselves so that we may build up a Christian community that fully displays the glory of God.”

    So here’s a secret (well ok not so secret since this is public…)… Do you want to restrain me and my vocal criticism? The solution is to repent like ATK did in the paragraph above. Remember the LEADERS who left your ministry and realize YOU did something wrong to drive them away, and then DO something about it, like share this in your lecture.

    Much more should be done, but this is a glimpse of godly sorrow, which is rarely if ever seen among ubf leaders. I always see much self-pity, agony and hopeless self-loathing, but rarely have I ever seen evidence of godly sorrow toward the reconciliation of former ubf leaders and members who left the ministry in trauma. Where is the earnestness, eagerness, alarm, concern and readiness? (2 Corinthians 7:11)

    If a leader family left in your ubf chapter, you as the director have the utmost urgent task of making every effort to reconcile with them. And it starts by hearing them, listening to them and honestly engaging in the messy dialogue that ensues.

  15. It seems that we can learn from step 5 to 10 of the AA 12 step program (cut and pasted verbatim):

    5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

    7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

    8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

    10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

    • Here’s the issue Ben: Can an alcoholic do any of these steps while intoxicated? I don’t think the 12 steps mean anything to someone who is not sober. And if they do the 12 steps without being sober, would anyone really take them seriously? I don’t know much about AA, so please explain if I’m not understanding the steps.

      So likewise, until detox happens, 12 steps aren’t relevant. In the case of spiritual abuse, I would say that the bible has to be put down and a time-out from ubf activity/structure has to take place. Unless there is even a small sobering up period, I don’t see how any such steps make any sense.

    • Phil 2 Five


      “Can an alcoholic do any of these steps while intoxicated?”

      > I do agree with you on this: until detox happens the AA steps (5-10 as Ben mentioned), I believe, do not apply! An intoxicated person cannot obviously think straight! I have a friend who once told me something that I think it’s relevant to the point I’m trying to make: He said, “A drunk person, in most cases, is the first person to reject/deny his/her drunkenness!” How can you convince a person who has been intoxicated with some bad UBF theology or UBF training methods, that they are wrong or need change?

    • “How can you convince a person who has been intoxicated with some bad UBF theology or UBF training methods, that they are wrong or need change?”

      > Good question. I have become convinced that such a thing is only possible by God’s divine intervention. So I think God must do it. Only God can remove the scales from our eyes and ignite our heart when we look into the mirror of our scary self.

      > However, that doesn’t mean I think that means I should be idle. In my case, I have discovered that God has given me a ministry of listening ans speaking. I will continue to listen and to speak until God restrains me.

    • Phil2Five, your raising the crucial question! Brian said it needs divine interaction, which is right, but I think we can also help by talking about good and bad theology and confronting people with things that happened in the past due to bad theology, including the ugly things. Some people believe we should only talk about positive stuff, only look forward and forget about all the ugly things. They even think this is a Biblical view, based on verses like Phil 3:13. But I think that’s a misapplication of such verses. Open your eyes: The Bible is full of ugly stories about God’s people. If the Bible would have been written by UBFers, we would not read about any of their failures.

      As you say, the fundamental step is that people recognize and admit there is a problem. Or, maybe just to recognize and admit that there could potentially be a problem. Some UBFers seem to believe their bundle of teachings and practices (their “spiritual heritage”) is untouchable, a set of axiomatic truths that cannot be challenged, holier than the Bible itself.

    • Phil 2 Five


      “However, that doesn’t mean I think that means I should be idle.”

      > Agreed! Also, I believe your approach of listening and speaking is crucial and necessary.


      “Or, maybe just to recognize and admit that there could potentially be a problem.”

      > Here’s what’s ridiculous to me! If someone left the ministry, I would question myself. I believe it’s only natural to ask, “Did I have anything to do with him/her leaving the ministry? Was I too harsh perhaps? Did I listen? Did I speak with them about what’s bothering them? Did I understand their concern and take it seriously?” I asked those questions many times when people left the ministry and on many occasions I believe God helped me to become a more Christ-like person by convicting me of what is wrong and what I ought to do (for example: in one case, I was too harsh and talked way to much and God thought me that I should listen, really listen, more and God has helped me tremendously in that area). I haven’t seen that in many UBF leaders that I’ve known. Instead I’ve seen pride and an unwillingness to consider serious issues. Either the stories and experiences shared on UBFriends, here on this site, are all BS and a pack of lies or there are actually true! If UBF leaders believe all these told stories are BS, they should continue to take little or no major step in solving it. If the stories and experiences shared are true, and UBF leaders acknowledge it, why not take a huge step in solving it?

    • Phil2Five, actually, I have sometimes (unfortunately not very often) heared missionaries in UBF, after their sheep “ran away”, admit something to the extent “I have been too harsh”, and even kind of repent. Recently even Abraham Kim seems to have written something like this in his message. However, this is usually understood as a personal problem, not of the system and of the fundamental assumptions the system is based on. On the one hand, it’s good when people blame themselves and not the system. But in this case, I think they should make a step further and challenge not only their mistakes, but the assumptions which caused them to make the mistakes. Instead, they half-heartedly repent for being harsh or overbearing, often phrased as “I have not loved my sheep enough”, and then continue as before, searching for the next sheep, and doing principally the same with the new sheep, maybe a little bit softer and less apparently. But the fundamental problem is not solved, and it is never fundamentally clarified what the role of a shepherd in the church is, what a shepherd is allowed and obliged to do and what not.

  16. @Phil2Five:

    “Here’s what’s ridiculous to me! If someone left the ministry, I would question myself.”

    > Yes, self-awareness is an important reaction to leaders leading the ministry. More important is communal-awareness, something this virtual community of friends of ubf is attempting to do. But back to questioning yourself. Here’s how the pattern usually goes for a ubf shepherd after someone leaves:

    1) I’m a bad shepherd (so they do look inward– to a fault actually). I am so full of shame and guilt. I’m the worst of all sinners.

    2) At least I tried. At least I am still “in”. At least I didn’t bring shame to the community. And there’s nothing really wrong with the ubf system since some third-party Christian pastors are loyal to us.

    3) I will forget about what is behind me! I will press on to win the goal! I will pray for 99 new sheep!

    > This cycle is not a Christian response. A gospel-driven, Jesus-like response is to leave behind the prayer topic for 99 new sheep and call or email the leader who left your ministry.

    > And make no mistake: Many, many, many UBF directors and members are reading this blog. And many discussion about us (as individuals) and ubfriends (as a website) are occurring in real-time. The silence we experience here should not be mistaken for actual silence. I’ve confirmed, for example, that at least 4 major UBF conferences ubfriends has been a topic of discussion. At one conference the ubf leaders gathered to discuss the “poisonous effect” our virtual community is having. So UBF directors are not actually silent. The are discussing what we say. But also many UBF members are also discussing us and reading silently. No longer can information be controlled by UBF shepherds.

    • Phil 2 Five

      @ Chris:

      “Instead, they half-heartedly repent for being harsh or overbearing, often phrased as “I have not loved my sheep enough”, and then continue as before, searching for the next sheep, and doing principally the same with the new sheep, maybe a little bit softer and less apparently.”

      > I believe most people are able to say ‘sorry’ but not many are able to really mean it! I mean I’ve said ‘sorry’ and sometimes did not mean it and just used it to not deal with my real problem!

      “But the fundamental problem is not solved, and it is never fundamentally clarified what the role of a shepherd in the church is, what a shepherd is allowed and obliged to do and what not.”

      > Exactly! Chapter directors/pastors/missionaries have too much control over people’s lives, whether it’s marriage, job, career, etc…Since when did God hand over control of a person’s life to the chapter director, pastor, missionary!?


      “This cycle is not a Christian response. A gospel-driven, Jesus-like response is to leave behind the prayer topic for 99 new sheep and call or email the leader who left your ministry.”

      > Right on! Of course, those who leave are often the “rebellious” ones and are immature. Since I’ve left the ministry, I haven’t received any email asking, “Why did you leave?” What does this tell me? They don’t want to hear what I have to say! I’m not suggesting a church planting or decoration ideas. It’s serious issues that result in spiritual abuse and excessive control over that particular individual’s life.

    • Phil2Five:

      “Since I’ve left the ministry, I haven’t received any email asking, “Why did you leave?””

      > Right, and I would be surprised if you did. The pattern I’ve observed after seeing dozens of people leave and reading hundreds of former member’s testimonies is this: if you went through the marriage-by-faith(TM) process, then the chances for your chapter director to reach out to you are rather good. You’ll typically get one last email or one last phone call or one last meeting. Then you won’t be contacted again. ubf will then consider your family as “sent out” to the local church regardless of your situation.

      > But if you are single and have not gone through MbF(TM), or worse yet you left during the MbF(TM) process, then you likely won’t ever be contacted again. Your chapter director and others may pray for you to “recover” or “come back to your senses”, but you likely won’t ever be contacted again. ubf will then consider you to have fallen into the ways of the world. [Note: To “recover” means to return to the MbF(TM) process, submit to your shepherd and thank God for all the help you received.]

      > Footnote: If you were a chapter director, you might get an honorable discharge in the next ubf newsletter. And no I’m not talking about what happened 40 years ago or in some isolated chapter of ubf. I am referring to what is happening right now in multiple places, and what has happened since 2010 around the world.

  17. “Chapter directors/pastors/missionaries have too much control over people’s lives”.

    That’s true. But the other crucial point is that the amount of control is not apparent. For instance, the rule that members are not allowed to date, only leaders may arrange a marriage, and may also cancel marriages if people are not obedient enough. We don’t agree with that rule. But what it makes so much worse is that these rules are not publicly revealed. They are unspoken/unwritten rules that members learn only over time. They are not mentioned on the UBF “about us” and “what we believe” page on the Internet. This non-disclosure of rules is one of the typical characteristics of a cult. It also makes it difficult to discuss the problems of UBF on a forum like this, because it always leaves the possibility for UBFers to claim that “it is not so”, or “it has changed now”. Unless there is a written statement by top leaders about these issues, things will continue and every chapter director can do what he likes. Some will try to follow the UBF heritage and lord over people like Samuel Lee, some will try to be softer, but there are no guidelines from the top what is right and what is wrong. There is no single instance of abuse that has been officially condemned by the top leadership, so that members have a reference. Even extreme cases like those reported in the 1976 letters have not been commented by the leadership. UBF leaders ask everybody to write “sogams” which means “personal statement”, but they themselves avoid making clear statement by all means.

    That’s also why vague apologies like “I have been too harsh” or “I did not show enough love” are not really useful. We need concrete apologies, concrete examples what is considered too harsh and what not, which of the many reported cases of abuse have been legitimate complaints and which not, and we particularly need concrete and clarifying statements about how marriage and dating is supposed to be handled and how much leaders are allowed to interfere in marriage.

    • Chris,

      Your point needs more discussion I think: “But the other crucial point is that the amount of control is not apparent.”

      The issues facing former members and those who become shepherds is just that: undocumented teachings.

      Accepting the initial one-hour-per-week invitation to bible study is tantamount to committing your entire life to these undocumented teachings. If there is anything that should be done in ubf, it would be to document, explain and clearly identify what is meant by these undocumented doctrines. That is where I would start if I were in charge of ubf.

  18. The worst feedback is indifference (often expressed as silence, I guess): So, UBFriends is “making a difference” even if some may be quite irate and incensed.