How Does Shepherd Paul “Feed Sheep”?

paul_the_apostleHow does the apostle Paul shepherd God’s flock? To emphasize mission and Bible teaching, UBF has loved Paul’s imperatives from 2 Timothy: Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:3). Do your best as a workman who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). Preach the word (2 Tim 4:2). 2 Tim 2:2 is also a great imperative (“entrust to reliable men”), but is not stressed in UBF.
Sheep have to be “told what to do” but what about shepherds? In my opinion, UBF leaders have tended to (over)emphasize the duty and responsibility of subordinates or “sheep,” who some might believe need to be “told (or commanded) what to do.” But what about the duty of shepherds and UBF leaders? If “sheep” have to be told what to do, what is the role or attitude of the “shepherd” or director or UBF leader toward their sheep?

What is Paul’s attitude toward his “sheep”? For sure, UBF places a “high value” on being shepherds, which is not a bad thing. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the proper attitude of a shepherd toward subordinates and “sheep” has not been adequately emphasized. So, who else better than to try to discern what “top spiritual general” shepherd Paul’s attitude was toward his sheep. Here are a few verses that come to mind:

“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Cor 2:3).

“I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love… I did not want to do anything without your consent” (Phm 8,9,14).

“I am the least of the apostles” (1 Cor 15:9).

“I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people” (Eph 3:8).

“I am the worst” (1 Tim 1:15).

“I served the Lord with great humility and with tears” (Ac 20:19).

Some questions. So these are some questions that I would like to ask you:

Is this attitude of Paul the sense that you, as a current or former UBF member, have perceived from your top UBF leaders, shepherds, Bible teachers, elders, coordinators, regional or continental directors/coordinators, chapter directors, fellowship leaders, etc?

Do your UBF leaders generally ask you, appeal to you and reason with you, or do they basically command you and tell you what to do (or what not to do)?

Do they approach you with great fear and trembling, or do you feel intimidated or threatened by your leader/shepherd?

Do they speak and act as though they are the lesser, and the least, and the worst, before you, as Paul did before the disciples he led to Christ, and before the churches he planted?

I’m just asking questions. That’s all. Have fun and smile answering them.


  1. This strongly resounded with similar questions I’ve been asking myself as of late. I have heard some leaders use 1 Peter 5 as somewhat of a proof-text for why younger members should submit to their senior leaders. But when I read this text recently, I picked up on a couple of things newly.

    The first is that Peter has to actually command/exhort the leaders to be shepherds of God’s flock and he actually has to spell out what this looks like. Some ubf leaders assume that because they are in a position of authority, then they are already doing what is required of a shepherd. This might lend credence to what some perceive as an air of confidence which can often border on pride/arrogance when the seniors relate to younger members. But clearly, this passage shows that they need as much sanctification/correction/clarification as the junior members do.

    Secondly, I picked up newly on Peter’s command for all to submit. In some translations the phrase Peter uses for this is a bit unclear as to whether or not he is telling the juniors to practice humility and submission toward one another or if he is commanding mutual submission between seniors and juniors alike. So I went to John Calvin and this is what he had to say:

    Yea, all He shews the reason why the younger ought to submit to the elder, even that there might be an equable state of things and due order among them. For, when authority is granted to the elders, there is not given them the right or the liberty of throwing off the bridle, but they are also themselves to be under due restraint, so that there may be a mutual subjection. So the husband is the head of the wife, and yet he in his turn is to be in some things subject to her. So the father has authority over his children, and still he is not exempt from all subjection, but something is due to them. The same thing, also, is to be thought of others. In short, all ranks in society have to defend the whole body, which cannot be done, except all the members are joined together by the bond of mutual subjection. Nothing is more adverse to the disposition of man than subjection. For it was formerly very truly said, that every one has within him the soul of a king. Until, then, the high spirits, with which the nature of men swells, are subdued, no man will give way to another; but, on the contrary, each one, despising others, will claim all things for himself.
    Hence the Apostle, in order that humility may dwell among us, wisely reproves this haughtiness and pride. And the metaphor he uses is very appropriate, as though he had said, “Surround yourselves with humility on every side, as with a garment which covers the whole body.” He yet intimates that no ornament is more beautiful or more becoming, than when we submit one to another. – source:

    I believe that Calvin is right because from a biblical stand point it resonates with the rest of scripture and secondly, I mean, it’s freakin’ John Calvin we’re talking about here, lol. Anyway, this was encouraging to hear from him. But I realize that we have a long, long way to go in actually understanding and implementing this. But God changes hearts through prayer, beginning with mine. So for now I’ll simply pray and hold up my end of the bargain as spelled out by this passage. Ultimately, I believe that I am blessed if I practice this as a senior to junior members and vice versa, regardless of whether others practice this or not. Thanks for the article.

  2. Yup, Anon, who can really argue with freakin’ John Calvin! Though some Arminians have nailed him, correctly I suppose, for approving the execution of Michael Sevetus because of his denial of the trinitarian nature of God.

    But yes, to use 1 Pet 5:5 as a proof text to expect unquestioning obedience by juniors before their seniors will only breed and produce an unhealthy authoritarian church, that raises a generation of Christians that do not know how to think critically for themselves.

    More than that, it causes younger members to fear their leader more than God (Prov 29:25), which is really ludicrous.

  3. Aw c’mon, you just had to pull the old Calvin assents to execution card didn’t you? If that’s not an ad hominem argument then I don’t know what is.

    Kidding aside though, those who subject themselves to an authoritarian system consequently assent to the forfeiture of their critical thinking skills. This is highly unfortunate when it occurs in the Christian church because we constantly need to be thinking through and revising things such as ministry practice, structure and ideology. Although leaders are in positions of authority, that doesn’t mean that they are always correct. This seems obvious from a secular point of view but when the Bible, the psychological weight of the church as an entity and religious speak are thrown into the foray some lines of thinking become blurred. One thing I’ve had to overcome is falling into a state of mindless agreement with leaders after being faced with opposition about a new ministry idea or practice time and time again. Some might reason, ‘since God sovereignly installed these people over my life for my well-being, then I should largely consent to their directives and believe that they are acting out of divine inspiration in how they lead me.’ But of course this does not comport with reality. I think that many of us have found this out the hard way as is evidenced by the very existence of this blog. Of course, as I stand before God, I should practice humility and respect toward my leaders, but at the same time, I believe that I have a mandate and right to call them out on bad or aberrant behavior. I have done this in a few instances with some leaders who were directly involved in my life. It was disconcerting for both of us at first, but in the end, it led to more transparency and a mutual, healthy respect for each other. I think that junior members need to know that they can also hold their leaders accountable. But this should be undertaken in the most factual, careful, prayerful, Spirit-led, biblical and humble way possible.

    • liveforchrist

      It is just recently that i began to think about these things. I didnt really think too much about it because i really believed that i should just submit myself to the authority. But how foolish was I….what i realized like what Anon said was that i lost thought of my own conscience and i began to start fearing what would happen if i did not agree with what the leader told me. I thought that i was being rebellious before God. But now i realize how dangerous it really is to just blindly submit and obey. I need to base their shepherding by looking at jesus’ leadership and if it is based on scripture. if its not then i believe it is wrong and we can stand up against it. But what people are afraid of is the amount of negativity and anger this gives to the leaders. i have had experiences myself. i am a son of a director and i am a have been in UBF almost all my life. Something must really be done

    • Anon, if Ben’s remark about the execution of Sevetus was ad hominem, then your original argument was ad verecundiam, so you’re even now ;-)

      Anyway, the Calvin quote was very appropriate and applicable, and I could not have said better what you said above.

      We need structures that promote transparency, non-hierarchical thinking, accountabilty, participation in decision-making etc. but the opposite is the case. Two days ago in China there was the yearly “National People’s Congress”. The way it was conducted reminded me a bit of UBF’s yearly “members’ meeting” that we discussed recently. People come together and agree and give their blessing to the decisions and policy of the top leadership and celebrate themselves. It’s something that is done to give the whole thing an appearance of democracy, but it does not encourage and promote real democracy, quite to the contrary.

  4. Thanks, Anon. Two noteworthy things you wrote:

    “Although leaders are in positions of authority, that doesn’t mean that they are always correct.” This should be a no-brainer. The more leaders convey this attitude, the more they will be real and not come across as “super-apostles.”

    “I think that junior members need to know that they can also hold their leaders accountable.” Only do so humbly, prayerfully and respectfully. But sorry to say, in my opinion, some older leaders in UBF make it very difficult, if not near impossible, for a younger member to call them to be accountable.

  5. Hi all,

    I recently watched a very interesting video by Francis Schaeffer based on his book “How Shall We Then Live?” ( In his discussion on the effect of the reformation in the realm of law and politics, he said that when Scriptural authority was placed as the dominant source of truth in the reformation countries, any person could stand up with a Bible in his hand and say, “What you are doing is wrong on the basis of Scripture,” even if he was addressing the king. The concept of Biblical authority leveled the field among people, preventing any one man from making himself immune from the reproach of other men. This allowed reformation countries to experience a relatively bloodless transfer of power from the monarchy to the people. In contrast, France, Italy, and Russia lacked the reformation basis placed on scripture, and as a result, there was no underlying foundation upon which authority could be transferred from monarch to the people. As a result, the power had to be transferred violently by force through bloody revolutions.

    From this video I learned that leaders need to carefully study the difference between the authority of Scripture and the authority of church leaders. Furthermore, I think that leaders need to be very careful that they do not mix the authority of Scripture with their own authority, hiding under the umbrella of Scripture, while actually preventing the true application of Scripture as indicated in the example of Jesus Christ.

  6. Ben you ask concerning the UBF leaders “do they basically command you?” My chapter director did so. Even though his words did not always sound like a command, it was clear that there was no alternative to obeying him. I mentioned how my marriage was immediately cancelled when I disobeyed him one time. Anon explained it quite well. If chapter directors have the nimbus of being “the servant of God” (note the definite article) and people really believe that they are such special people used by God to rule the particular church and to be mediators to God to give people “direction” concerning everything including marriage, to even be “personal” shepherds for you, then obedience towards them is the same as obedience towards God. And this nimbus does not come from nowhere, these directors actively create this nimbus for themselves, through their teaching with words and behavior. And those who blindly obey, trust, follow and praise their director without ever challenging him or holding him accountable reinforce that nimbus. If you see that nobody in the group is challenging the authority, you dare not do it either (see The Emperor’s New Clothes). I think UBF can only make progress if that teaching is clearly and publicly dismissed.

    Let me quote a passage that was preached from the pulpit in Chicago by Samuel Lee while I was in UBF:

    “To obey God or not to obey God’s word determines our fate. There were three medical doctors. They came as UBF missionaries to Chicago. But when their commander arrived, they all ran away so as not to suffer in doing the work of God. The leader was unhappy about them and did not bless them. Then soon one of the doctors, who was an anaesthesiologist, overdosed a patient for an operation and the patient died. So he lost his medical doctor’s license. Now he is running a grocery store very poorly. Another one, influenced by American relativism, cursed the servant of God. Then he left UBF. After several years, he was in a severe car accident. His body was totally crushed and his hands and feet were paralyzed. The third one got a proper job. But he has rheumatism in his right leg and in his left hand. He suffers day and night. All these events happened when they took God’s word lightly. This is to say that when we obey God’s word, God blesses us; when we disobey, God does not bless us.”

    Let us speak plainly and honestly: This is the “UBF heritage”. The original teaching of UBF and his founder is that a leader is a commander. And if you do not obey, bad things will happen to you. If chapter directors today command people, then this happens only because they have been taught to do so by the top UBF leadership over decades. The elephant in the room for me is not whether UBF directors today behave like that or not, but the fact that this teaching was never officially denounced.

    By the way, you can also see the crucial contradiction in UBF’s teachings here: Samuel Lee never accepted any human authority or shepherd or teacher above him. He separated UBF from the Presbyterian church and then degraded Sarah Barry from the top teacher to his personal secretary (as he proudly admitted himself). How does this go along with the teaching that every Christian needs a personal shepherd and must obey him to grow spiritually and be blessed, if Samuel Lee, who was the only one who never had a shepherd, is considered the most spiritual and blessed man in UBF? This was one of the questions to Sarah Barry in an open letter to her that was never answered. Maybe some of you members can ask her directly again.

    These same questions need to be addressed to Abraham Kim: Do you consider yourself a “commander in chief”? Should a leader think like that about himself? Is traditional UBF doctrine coined by Samuel Lee wrong in that regard? Who is your personal shepherd, Abraham Kim? If you say “the Apostle Paul” (as Samuel Lee did) or maybe “Jesus” then why do you think Jesus is not sufficient for any ordinary Christian? Why do they need to have personal human shepherds who supervise them?

    (Note: In all of the above, we’re not talking about the Biblical concept of shepherds = elders who are a group of people who care particularly and diligently as servants, not as lords, for the whole flock of people in a church, but about the concept of a personal shepherd in the shepherding/discipling paradigm, people who have absolute authority over others, who control and manipulate their lives every week for years and decades.)

  7. Joe Schafer

    Thanks, Ben for posting this article, and to everyone who has been commenting.

    As I read Ben’s article, I pondered the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s self-deprecating statements: “I am the least…”, “I am less than the least…”, “I am the worst…” and so on.

    Because these comments are fairly common in Paul’s letters. And it is fairly common to hear similar statements being made by ubf members and leaders about themselves as individuals (although never about their group or organization).

    Self-deprecation is a well known feature of east Asian languages and cultures. It’s like bowing to one another, or using titles and honorifics to show respect to those who stand above you in age, rank and social position. Basically, it’s a kind of posturing. In those cultures, the self-deprecating comment such as “I am the least” or “I am the worst” communicates something about the person who utters it, and it communicates something toward the person to whom it is being uttered. But the meaning is not that the speaker literally believes he is the least or the worst.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that when some people from Asian cultures read those self-deprecating remarks from the Apostle Paul, they imagine that Paul is using that language in the same way that they would — as a kind of social posturing. Perhaps they do not think that Paul literally meant what he said.

    But I think that Paul meant it very literally. Paul really did believe that he was the least qualified person on earth to be doing what God had called him to do, which was to communicate the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul was a Pharisee among Pharisees, a man who took the practice of the law very seriously and built his identity and sense of self-worth on his keeping of the law. Then God called him to preach a gospel of pure grace that would welcome Gentiles as full members into the community of God apart from any keeping of the law, on their faith in Christ alone. What on earth did Paul know about that kind of grace? What experience did he have in welcoming and accepting Gentiles as they were? None whatsoever. The fact that God called Paul to that specific mission is supremely ironic. Paul knew that, and that is why, I believe, he often made self-deprecating comments. To Paul, those comments where not just figures of speech.

    On the other hand, when ministry leaders make self-deprecating comments in the context of doing ministry, do they really believe them? If they did, would they be acting as they do?

    The painful reality is that, in many cases, people who find themselves in positions of authority are not really qualified to be there. Twenty years ago, I became a chapter director, a lay pastor, a church planter, a campus minister in the name of ubf even though I really wasn’t qualified in terms of training, character or self-awareness. I should have been saying “I am the least,” “I am the worst,” with real conviction because that was the reality. But I never said those things with conviction. I said them as a kind of social posturing and role playing.

    • Joe, I had similar thoughts. When during the reform movement in 2001 leader compared Samuel Lee to Moses and the reformers to Korah, I though about the verse that says that “Moses was very humble — more humble than any other person on earth”. How would UBF Koreans really understand the word “humble” here? If UBF leaders really would be humble, they would have answered the open letters of the past and not declined to talk with reformers. Neither would they emphasize their Ph.D. titles or position as “General Director” or things like that.

  8. Thanks, Chris, for new words/phrases. So to test them, would it be correct to say that UBF has inadvertently created and perpetuated a nimbus based on ad verecundiam?

    • That would be correct, Ben. And remember how susceptible people are to a nimbus of authority. Think of the famous Milgram experiment ( Such horrible things can be achieved with the authority granted through a white lab coat. What more can happen when people believe the authority comes directly from God, not from a white lab coat? Or in covering doctrine that says that if you obey the leader absolutely, then the leader will be blamed by God, but not you, since obedience is always right?

  9. Joe Schafer

    Roger Olson — an Arminian theologian who loves to challenge Calvinists — has just posted an article that is very closely related to this one. It appears that he would strongly agree with what Calvin wrote on the need for those in positions of authority to be held accountable.

  10. I am reading Olson’s book “Against Calvinism.” Being a (closet and hopefully “non-angry”) Calvinist myself, I don’t agree with his arguments for Arminianism, though I love the fair way he writes and argues.

    Great post, Joe. I wholeheartedly embrace “voluntary subordination,” but never “abject submission and unquestioning obedience,” which, in my opinion, has unfortunately become the subtle, subjective, implicit, unwritten imposition expected of UBF members and loyalists.

  11. Joe Schafer

    Ben, I’m glad you’re reading Roger Olson’s book. It’s a very healthy and helpful thing to read material by thoughtful people whom you disagree with.

    Regarding his article: I like his suggestion that every Christian organization appoint someone to be a truth detector, someone whose job it is to raise difficult questions and objections about what the organization is doing. Until UBF leaders begin to encourage and welcome dissent, I suppose this website will have to suffice.

  12. Hi Chris, Regarding SL’s objectionable paragraph of the tragic misfortunes of the 3 medical doctors who left UBF, I vaguely remember him delivering that sermon while sitting in the pew.

    My thought is that he wanted to plant the fear of God in people, which is ALWAYS a good thing for all Christians.

    Yet, my objection today, which I did not think of in the past, is that it promotes a very unhealthy hierarchical authoritarianism, which in my opinion has been decimating UBF for several decades already.

    Many of you good Christians who left UBF, I feel, all left for virtually the exact same reason: it is because of some unreasonable demand or directive imposed on you by your UBF leader/shepherd/missionary whom you cannot question without being in some way shamed, humiliated, put in your place, trained, punished, mentioned in a message or during the prayer topics and announcements, gossiped about, caricatured as proud, stubborn, immature, rebellious, disobedient, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc…

    Am I generalizing by saying that almost everyone in UBF who left left because of the same reason expressed above in different circumstances?

    • Yes, Ben, I can imagine how you and other listeners tried to rationalize the problem away by telling yourself that Samuel Lee preached it with good intentions. But read the passage again. It contains at least four extremely bad teachings: First, a kind of “health-and-wealth” cause-and-effect gospel (i.e. if you obey God, you will be healthy and wealthy, if not, you will become poor and sick), second, he instills powerful superstitious fears from leaving UBF in members, third, he implies that church leaders are “commanders”, and fourth and worst of all, he subtly equates himself (“the commander”) with God in this passage, by completely equating obedience towards him with obedience towards God. Read how he jumps back and forth between him/UBF and God, as if he was talking about the same thing.

  13. Can and should some UBF leaders be critiqued the way the highly revered Noble Peace Price winner and patron saint Mother Theresa is critiqued as being “a sort of a jerk”? It is jarringly and shockingly somewhat “hilarious”:

  14. Thanks Joshua for the youtube on the Reformation by Francis Schaeffer. It prompted many questions in me regarding UBF such as:

    Is salvation implicitly taught in UBF as being by faith in Christ alone, or faith plus the works of fishing, being a 1:1 Bible teacher, testimony writing, attending every UBF conference, no dating before being introduced and initiated by your leader, marrying by faith based on your leader’s approval and consent, etc?

    Does the authority of human leaders in UBF practically and functionally supersede the authority of what Scripture explicitly says?

    Is UBF more interested in preserving Christ, or in preserving UBF tradition and practices?

    • Hi Ben, I’m glad that you enjoyed the video; all ten videos can be found on youtube, with some searching. Regarding your questions, I can’t comment on UBF universally. However, my own experience makes me answer your questions like this:

      Is salvation implicitly taught in UBF as being by faith in Christ alone, or faith plus the works of …?

      In my neck of the woods, salvation was clearly taught as being by faith in Christ alone, by God’s grace, and not through human merit. To their credit, I can’t fault any UBF leaders for faltering on that point. But I can say two things:

      First, I got the impression from many that salvation is very “fluid.” For instance, a new student would be asked to share their life testimony (at a conference, say) briefly after beginning to study the Bible. It was evident from their testimony that they didn’t have a realization of their sinfulness, that they hadn’t renounced their sin or accepted Jesus’ forgiveness by faith, and they were not regenerate. When I asked why such a person was permitted to share a testimony, I was told, “How do you know that they are not saved? Only God knows.” Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seemed that there wasn’t a clear-cut view of what salvation involved, how it was defined, and whom we should consider as being “born again.” The only criteria that was used for assessing a person’s salvation and whether they are indeed saved or not was their faithfulness to Bible study, willingness to evangelize, attendance to SWS, obedience to the pastor, and other outward things. Thus, while the teaching was clearly “salvation by faith,” the practice became “we regard those who do such and such as being saved.”

      Second, there was an unclear distinction between God’s work and human effort in discipleship. It was made clear that salvation is God’s work in a person who has faith in Jesus Christ. But, as we were told again and again, salvation is only the beginning. If we are to please God, we must grow. And to grow, we must struggle, work hard, labour, serve, reach out, deny ourselves, overcome, become mature, bear fruit, etc. etc. etc. The line between the sanctifying work accomplished by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the works of personal effort in discipleship became very clear in doctrine, but very blurry in practice.

      Does the authority of human leaders in UBF practically and functionally supersede the authority of what Scripture explicitly says?

      I don’t think that they are power-hungry megalomaniacs who are purposely lording authority over others to gratify something in themselves. I am willing to accept that their over-arching desire is to serve God the best way they know how. I think that some, in their zeal to help students obey Scripture, have over-stepped the limitations that Scripture has placed on leaders in the church. Wrong things done with the right motives are still wrong. Bringing one’s authority to bear on a person to make them choose a good thing is still bad. It doesn’t align with the example of Christ or the apostles. In my view, such a misuse of authority occurs because of a confusion between the authority of Scripture and the authority of the one teaching Scripture.

      Is UBF more interested in preserving Christ, or in preserving UBF tradition and practices?

      I believe that UBFers are genuinely interested in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. The question is how? For many, the answer is by promulgating UBF tradition and practices as they received them. Like Paul said, “For what I received I passed onto you as of first importance…” I trust that those who are genuinely interested in seeing God’s kingdom advance and who are open to the Spirit’s leading, God will guide and direct them into His will. To allow this to happen, each person needs to allow themselves to be really honest, to live “in the light of absolute honesty”, as Joe says.

  15. Yeah, Joe, I agree with you that Paul’s self-deprecatory terms of “last, least” (1 Cor 15:8-9), “less” (Eph 3:8), “worst” (1 Tim 1:15) can quite easily be used as honorifics that conveys quite the opposite meaning of what Paul intended to communicate. Paul meant it, but we might easily use it as “titles of honor.”

    Don’t you think that the best gauge of whether one truly communicates “last, less, least, worst” is how others perceive us (since our sinful default is often always to see ourselves in a better and far more favorable light)?

    • Joe Schafer

      When you say “how others perceive us”, do you mean as individuals or as a group?

  16. I didn’t think of the distinction, but I was thinking individual UBF leaders.

    That said, surely how UBF as a group is perceived is also important, recognizing that our perception as a group will definitely be shaped by how people perceive individual leaders.

    Just wondering if the answer would be any different whether it is individuals or UBF as a group?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I’m ambivalent about judging the degree to which someone else is proud or humble. Perceptions of humility and pride are strongly influenced by culture.

      Here’s an example that I used in a presentation a few years ago.

      Suppose you look at a woman and tell her, “You look very pretty.”

      In western contexts, people are taught to accept compliments with gratitude. So a western woman would tend to say, “Thank you.”

      In eastern contexts, people are taught to deflect compliments with gratitude. So an eastern woman would probably say “Oh, no” and follow up with a self-deprecating comment.

      Both women are acting in accordance with what they are taught to do. Their reactions say very little about how proud or humble they are.

      But suppose each woman sees how the other one reacts.

      The eastern woman might think that the western woman is proud, because she accepted the compliment. And the western woman might think that the eastern woman is proud, because she apparently rejected the compliment.

  17. Hi all,

    When I was in ubf, my bible teachers would often say that if a sheep had a problem, it was really a reflection of the shepherd’s problem (i.e. my problem). I didn’t like it when my sheep had problems because ultimately it would mean that I had a bigger problem, as simplistic as it sounds. So if a Bible student stopped studying the Bible, the onus would be on me that maybe I didn’t love the student enough or maybe there was a similar sin issue in my life. This was not my own line of reasoning but something my shepherds taught me to have.

    I have since left the ministry but I have not left serving or caring for God’s flock. Instead, I feel like I can do so more freely without trying to hold onto them to make myself look good. I stopped seeing myself in them and could see them as unique individuals with struggles of their own. I have started serving the Lord through the Billy Graham online evangelism ministry as a discipleship coach. In this capacity, I am matched online with seekers or believers who are interested in online Bible study. We exchange emails based on the particular study. The relationship isn’t permanent- people can drop out anytime without completing the 6 step discipleship course. Two students I recently mentored did drop out. Today, I received an unexpected email from the Billy Graham web team regarding the web exchanges we had. I’d like to share it with you to contrast my experience in this ministry versus ubf:

    “We appreciate your faithfulness as a discipleship coach.

    Recently, we have had the opportunity to review two of your experiences as a coach where your students did some lessons but did not complete the course. They were [person A] and [person B]. While neither completed all the lessons, we want to commend you for the care you gave them both as you directed their thoughts in the lessons they did. We especially want to compliment you on your handling of the delicate situation with [person B] who began the lessons within a few days of having been with her brother who lost his 10-month old daughter. Though you were not physically present, we are sure that your words were comforting to [person B]. We do not always get to do these lessons in the best of times but, even in the midst of this pain, you stepped forward to help [person B] and your answers reflected the compassion you had for her situation.

    Thank you for serving the Lord as a member of this team.”

    Can something be learned from this in how we approach discipleship?

    Thank you.

    • Joe Schafer

      Hi Jen,

      Thanks so much for sharing this. I edited your comment to redact the names of the two students you were discipling. I’m just guessing, but it’s likely that the Billy Graham team has confidentiality guidelines that we wouldn’t want to accidentally violate.

      And, yes, I’ve often heard that proverb: “If the sheep has a problem, it’s the shepherd’s fault.” Which may be one reason why shepherds can become heavily invested in pressuring disciples to do certain things (attend meetings and conferences) and behave in certain ways. Because if the disciples do those things, the shepherd is rewarded; if the disciples don’t, the shepherd is criticized.

    • hi Jen, this is a beautiful story, thanks for sharing! The Billy Graham team’s response to you demonstrates that they understand the full context of passages like 1 Peter 5:1-4. ubf reads these verses and uses the command in verse 2 to justify their teaching that every ubf member must be a shepherd.

      1 Peter 5 “1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

      The Billy Graham people understand at least 3 important Christian truths from this passage however:

      1. Paul is speaking to the elders. This is a select few leaders, not the whole church. The commands here are highly suspect when we attempt to apply them to all the church, either explicitly or implicitly. The correct doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” does not mean that every Christian or every member of a specific context of the Body must be a bible teacher and shepherd.

      2. Paul explicitly forbids a permanent, “one over one” style of shepherding, just as Jesus did. John Piper explains verse 3 to indicate a “coming beside one another” for mutual edification and teaching. My current cohort group is practicing this and teaching this, and it is amazing!

      3. Jesus is our Chief Shepherd. It is not a Christ-like thing to view other’s problems as a direct result of your failure or success in shepherding them. God is Sovereign. Jesus is Lord. God’s work does not depend on your shepherding. We go in and out of peoples’ lives for various season. But we are to entrust all to Jesus our Chief Shepherd. Any “shepherding” anyone does is under the watchful eye of our Chief Shepherd. And I have seen His eyes full of tears of sorrow over the lording-over shepherds, and yet also filled with tears of joy as so many begin to throw off what entangles them and live as free men and women in Christ, and tears of hope as so many also become slaves to righteousness and submit to our Chief Shepherd.

  18. liveforchrist

    It is just recently that i began to think about these things. I didnt really think too much about it because i really believed that i should just submit myself to the authority. But how foolish was I….what i realized like what Anon said was that i lost thought of my own conscience and i began to start fearing what would happen if i did not agree with what the leader told me. I thought that i was being rebellious before God. But now i realize how dangerous it really is to just blindly submit and obey. I need to base their shepherding by looking at jesus’ leadership and if it is based on scripture. if its not then i believe it is wrong and we can stand up against it. But what people are afraid of is the amount of negativity and anger this gives to the leaders. i have had experiences myself. i am a son of a director and i am a have been in UBF almost all my life. Something must really be done

  19. To me, the feedback the BGEA (Billy Graham Evangelistic Assoc.) gave me revealed to me what they valued. They don’t value success based on how faithful the disciple is or whether someone completed the study in an “expected” manner. No mention was made about any particular words I said or whether the Bible study was powerful. What they did remark about however, was on the care, comfort and compassion given. I’m not saying this because I think I’m such a great shepherd- heck, no, I’m not and these days I hesitate to give advice actually unless someone asks my opinion. I bring this up because through their remarks, I learned implicitly what this Christian organization values in its volunteers. It’s not about numbers and getting people to do things their way. Many times in UBF, i felt like numbers were the bottom line ( # bible studies each week, # SWS attendants each week). Quantity over quality seemed more important.
    I agree with you, Brian, that not everyone is called to be a Bible teacher. UBF teaches that anyone can be a Bible teacher- you just teach someone the same thing you were taught. This regurgitation-model doesn’t sit well with me. It’s like saying anyone can become a high school teacher if they’ve gone through high school as well. One area UBF can definitely improve on is to view discipleship in its full gamut- not just the teaching aspect. And if anyone does aspire to teach within the church, i think some preparation, biblical training and accountability is necessary. For example, I went through a background check, three letters of recommendation, an exhaustive application and an interview process to be considered for training as a discipleship coach. And once I was accepted, I was mentored by a senior staff member and had to complete other online training as well. I don’t claim BGEA’s process is the best way, but I felt like they cared about my spiritual growth and readiness as much as they did whatever service I provided. I wasn’t just a means to an end. I hope this makes sense.

    • Hi jen, yes this makes a lot of sense (at least to me). What you describe is similar to what we are learning about following Jesus in our new church. It sounds like the BGEA has different methods and ideas compared to our Baptist church, but the essence seems similar.

      The approach to following Jesus that I’m learning involves discovering our self holistically, which includes the good, the bad, the ugly, the scary, the beautiful, and even the unknown. It also involves discovering a deeper understanding and appreciation for God, His word and the work of the Holy Spirit to gift and equip us. And thirdly, this approach we are discovering includes building relationships purposefully with others, starting with our spouse and family.

      There are many new elements to this approach. One that I especially like that I never learned before is the principle of including the supernatural element of discipleship through prayer together. Numerous times in our meetings, our pastor will ask us to all gather around a person who shared about their pains, and pray for that person, right there on the spot. The point is that many times there is no teaching, no doctrine, and no words for a person’s pain or struggle. Through prayer we invite and ask God for His intervention. It is rather amazing to experience this type of healing.

      How many times in the past did I share something vulnerable or here someone share deep pains, only to be grated over with the teeth of guilt, condemnation or self-pity? Following Jesus is never about inflicting guilt (that’s only the job of the Holy Spirit by the way! John 16:8; Jude 1:14-15)

      We have no right as Christ-followers to purposefully instill guilt on another person. We have no right to claim our work is God’s work.

      I am seeing that to follow Christ is often to stand in awe of His amazing cross, and marvel at the fact that He chose to love us– all of our scary, beautiful, crazy self!

  20. Today I came across this quote from Catherine of Siena: “Even if the Pope would be an incarnate devil instead of a gracious father, we would still need to obey him, not because of his person, but because of God. For Christ wants that we obey his representative.”

    I feel a bit bad for quoting this statement from Catherine, since actually she was known as a bold, courageous person who would “speak truth to power”. I believe if she lived today, she would have re-thought that statement. Maybe we should devote a thread to Catherine and her courageous life.

    The reason why I am quoting this here is that my chapter direction made nearly the same statement during the reform movement in 2001, only about Samuel Lee instead of the Pope.

    So I want to aks people on this forum: Do you think such teaching is Biblical, sound and healthy? Please give arguments.

    • David Bychkov

      btw, Catherine lived in the very hard time of the roman church. Papacity was located in Avignon, France, strongly influenced by the Franch crown. Catherine once came to the Pope Gregory 11 and convinced him to return to the Rome. – “She also tried to convince Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome.[10] She impressed the Pope so much that he returned his administration to Rome in January 1377.”(wikipedia)

    • Right, David. Catherine was a very courageous person. In the face of injustice and wrongdoings, she did not keep silent. She had clear opinions, she interfered and wrote many letters. (Today, she would have written blog articles and comments in the Internet, I guess.) And that at a time and in an institution where women traditionally have no say. In that regard, UBFers should take her as an example – see the article “When silence speaks volumes” on this blog. She did not look away and she did not keep silent.

    • Here is another quote from Catherine I found: “It is human to sin, but diabolic to persist in sin.” A good answer to those who defend UBF by saying “no church is perfect”.

  21. Hi Chris,

    Catherine of Siena’s statement regarding unquestioning obedience to one’s superior is not dissimilar from those of the Catholic church, or of those of the monastic orders. Perhaps they base it off Heb 13:17. Last week, even Pope Benedict said upon his resignation that he would obey the new pope. I know that some UBF leaders and directors would love such top down directives.

    But obviously, this is not the whole picture, for Jesus did not come demanding unquestioning obedience and blind submission, which unfortunately some church leaders implicitly or even explicitly expect.

    One of the greatest harms such authoritarian leadership produces is a generation of wimps who either fear church authority, or despise church authority. They either are silent is their submission or robust in their rebellion, with almost no “balanced” nuanced positions taken. Sorry for perhaps making another sweeping generalization.