Does UBF Apotheosize Her Leaders?

NeoBulletStopMatrixI love asking questions, especially highly provocative ones (with a difficult word)! “Apotheosize” means “to exalt, glorify, deify, elevate to the rank of a god.” Does UBF elevate some of her senior leaders to such a level and degree that they are virtually and practically untouchable by the rest of UBF? (They ignore or avoid questions about what they have said or done.) I ask this because (ex)UBFers have shared how their UBF leader identify themselves—either explicitly or more often implicitly—as “the servant of God.” They are also sharing more and more painful stories they have personally experienced at the hands of their UBF leaders from throughout the world. Predictably, it includes varying degrees of shaming, shunning, lying, manipulation, guilt-tripping, threats, coercion, humiliation, marginalization, insults, being yelled at, gossiped about, slandered, treated condescendingly and rudely, etc.

How has UBF responded to such heartfelt accounts of spiritual abuse? Sorry to say that the loudest response is most often SILENCE. Next, the “typical” response from many in leadership has been quite defensive, as though the abuse experienced was somehow justifiable, if not acceptable. Why is this? Might this be because UBF has consciously or subconsciously apotheosized, revered and venerated her leaders?

The following are some common responses to allegations of spiritual abuse in UBF:

* “There are two sides of the story.” This may be the single most common excuse or reasoning for defending abusive UBF leaders. It acknowledges that the leader may have said or done some bad things. But the sheep who complained has also some very serious problems and sin issues that the abusive leader knows about. The implication of “two sides of the story” is that the abusive UBF leader is NOT fully responsible for the abuse of their sheep. Why? Because their sheep are also terrible and horrible “worse” sinners who in some way—known to the abusive UBF leader—deserved that abuse. Really?

* “Aren’t you also a sinner?” The horrible logic here is that because you are a sinner too, so how dare you accuse your UBF shepherd of sinning!! Aren’t you being a hypocrite?

* “You must forgive!” This skillfully and craftily shifts the burden of responsibility from the abusive UBF leader to the sheep who is addressing the spiritual abuse of UBF. It is like a husband who beat his Christian wife. After that he comes to her with a Bible and says, “As a Christian, you must forgive me.” Somehow, some in Christian leadership buy this logic.

* “You were blessed by UBF, so how dare you complain!” Such planting of indebtedness by some UBF leaders practically takes credit for the work of the Holy Spirit. When a sheep becomes a Christian (or a renewed Christian) after Bible study, this is clearly ONLY the work of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teacher/shepherd was ONLY the instrument. So if the shepherd made the sheep feel indebted, they have robbed God of his glory. Such a thinking is sadly ongoing to this day. “UBF taught you the Bible. UBF introduced your spouse. We fed you meals. You are so ungrateful. You are bitter and unforgiving.” It is the classical ad hominem argument that the problem of UBF is the problem of the person addressing the issue.

* Because God blessed UBF, UBF is OK. It is as though the bad of UBF is OK because God had blessed UBF for 50 years. This is very subtle and very flawed theological thinking.

Perhaps others have heard more creative and ingenious reasons to justify and defend the UBF leader for longstanding patterns of abusive behavior. But at its core do you think it is because UBF has apotheosized her leaders?


  1. Mark Mederich

    here’s an idea, let’s rise above/set an example of right & become true leaders..

  2. Thanks for centralizing this line of discussion, but I am not sure many want to restate their thoughts. I will just answer your point about ‘apotheosizing’ leaders. I would say it is a more implicit violation than an explicit one. Nonetheless, it is a violation.

    As for the comments, yes we are sinners, yes we were blessed, yes we should forgive and yes there are two sides to the story. However:

    1) For two sides – a student does not begin with an agenda to rise the ranks in UBF, BUT a shepherd always has the system in their consciousness regardless or whether they honour it or not.

    2) Yes, we are all sinners – that’s why Jesus is so desirable.

    3) To command forgiveness not only implies, but actually declares that wrong doing occurred. I think that point must be considered more deeply by leadership to be accountable.

    4) My favourite of the lot!! Oh yes! You showered me with food, gifts rides and so on – but in the beginning many sheep do not expect any of this. In fact some people get uncomfortable because of the ‘love bombing’ approach. After a while students may get used to it and even take it for granted, but that remains the ownership of the shepherd who continues to pursue those means to attain loyalty.

    *In terms of God blessing UBF etc… already have my comments for the record.

    • big bear

      I not just the leaders but the organization…my chapter director had a very deceptive approach…He use to tell us Ubf is nothing…he would point at us and say you are Ubf….I wanted to knock him out when he said that….Ubf is all he talks about….he would share my life story so many times for recruitment purposes but he was so evasive when it came to practical life questions…he always avoid two way dialogue…it was his way or the highway…his wife always had to shut him up in bible study

  3. This is a comment from Facebook:

    Every time I see such kind of articles I wander two things.

    1) I wander who is this ‘UBF’ monster that thinks and acts by itself? I used to think that UBF is me and my friends with whom we serve God together.

    2) I wander what is the goal of the author: to glorify God or just to blame someone?

    Excuse me Dr.Ben, you ask important questions but I don’t like you in a ‘dirt-thrower’ image. I would really appreciate if you show a practical example how you solve such problems in your local church. Or, if you have none, what solution(s) you think would be useful and practical. God bless you.

    • I would agree with 1) in this comment.

      “But at its core do you think it is because UBF has apotheosized her leaders?” – It is not clear who “ubf” is/are. I think that it is better to put the question this way, “But at its core do you think it is because UBF leaders have apotheosized themselves?” – Yes, I think so. They apotheosized themselves and want and demand others to think of them as of untouchable and special “servants of God”.

      I liked Wesley Notes on Jude 1:1 about the “servants”, “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ – The highest glory which any, either angel or man, can aspire to. The word servant, under the old covenant, was adapted to the spirit of fear and bondage that clave to that dispensation. But when the time appointed of the Father was come, for the sending of his Son to redeem them that were under the law, the word servant (used by the apostles concerning themselves and all the children of God) signified one that, having the Spirit of adoption, is made free by the Son of God. His being a servant is the fruit and perfection of his being a son. And whenever the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in the new Jerusalem, then will it be indeed that “his servants shall serve him,” Rev 22:3.”.

  4. big bear

    YES UBF does elevate many leaders as a god. In Cinti UBF, I noticed this with how the director deals with problems. He usually sided with leaders who were there the longest…it was always about spiritual order. Marriages were done in same way. He once told us that he always sides with those who are committed to Ubf when it came to right and wrong. I got to the point that I could do no wrong because of the spiritual order concept. I can see why Ben you got the monster shun. You in Ubf eyes are breaking ranks. You are never to question the system. Such mindset is why leaders get away with abuse. I pray that the secret code may be broken then healing can begin. Most people in Ubf are brain washed not to question anything so they see no problems. I was there myself until I witnessed the abuse. God has given you eyes to see it. You are a threat to their delusions of grander. My book will expose it all. I pray the bleeding may stop. Brian I welcome your help…maybe we can co author book.

  5. big bear

    SEE these signs describe many of Ubf leaders

  6. big bear

    MARK…yes an idol…Paul Ridge told me that the shepherds in America are 20 years behind those in London…why did they not stand up sooner..Ubf does not a pot to piss in if just a few shepherds stand up……the abuse has to stop…families are hurting big time

  7. As I thought about my former ubf chapter I thought about a second gen, the son of the director. Why is his name SL? Is it after the biblical Samuel? Surely not. It is after the SL in hope that the son will become “a great leader and a man of faith like SL”. I didn’t care, didn’t think about it before. But now it is just difficult to imagine the sufferings of the boy who has lived in Russia from maybe 3 years old until now when he is a graduate with this really rare and strange name for Russians. Inside ubf the name is OK. But outside it – daily sufferings.

    And I read a life testimony of another second gen of Moscow ubf. He is promising to be a shepherd for Russian students because it is “God’s call” for him. Inside ubf it is a nice sogam. (In our chapter I saw that the second gens knew how to write sogams, just putting some minimal “repentance” and a promise to be a shepherd for many Russians). But outside ubf it is simply crazy. I see youth of my church, they are many and they are free to grow in the Lord, and I can’t imagine what it would look like if a Korean young man appears to become their “shepherd”. When ubf directors and parents dictate such words to their children’s sogams they just don’t know what they are doing. It seems to me that they are destroying the faith of the little ones. They don’t allow second gens to hear God’s call but just put the “bury-your-bones-in-the-mission-field-missionary” heritage into them.

  8. @Vitaly: “They don’t allow second gens to hear God’s call…” In the early 2000s after SL died, I was overseeing the YDC (Young Disciples Conference), which is now called “The Well,” under the excellent stewardship of JY.

    I wanted to help the 2nd gens to hear God’s call for themselves personally and primarily before God, rather than secondarily through their parents and missionaries. I wanted God to be their own God, rather than simply the God of their parents.

    But the GD at that time told others something to the effect that I was not training the 2nd Gens, and that I was not “structuring” YDC. So he replaced me with a younger Korean missionary who would do whatever he said and wanted.

    But thank God that the precedent has already been set such that The Well cannot be scripted and controlled as much as other UBF conferences. Thus, according to many accounts, The Well (which is not controlled by older UBF leaders) is the best UBF conference.

    Sorry, if it sounds like I am bragging. Maybe I am. Lord, if I am then I already received my reward. Lord, have mercy!

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I attended The Well 8 months ago and it was an excellent event. But it was treated with suspicion and heavily criticized by some older ubf leaders. The team of young people that ran that event has been disbanded; JY is no longer overseeing it. The Well will not take place this year. I predict that the next time it happens, it will probably resemble a traditional ubf conference, reflecting the wishes and values of the older generation once again.

    • Mark Mederich

      when the idol is honor, only horror can occur: children sacrificed in the fiery arms of Molech..

      Faith or Observance of the Law
      1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing–if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

      legalism is the worst sin for it severely damages lives, pushing into either self-righteous fantasy or self-condemning apathy (either of which only intensifies bondage to other sins: hopefully not used intentionally to control for ‘religious’ purpose, for that would be an ‘unforgivable’ sin deserving the hottest fires of hell):

      only the Holy Spirit saves/sets free/rescues from such pernicious/vitriolic evil
      & only those who sincerely seek Him; may our children be saved from pandering control

  9. @Joe, @Ben, @JohnY:

    Joe you mentioned something that struck a chord with me: “I attended The Well 8 months ago and it was an excellent event. But it was treated with suspicion and heavily criticized by some older ubf leaders. The team of young people that ran that event has been disbanded; JY is no longer overseeing it. The Well will not take place this year.”

    I already knew this, however what strikes me is that I had a vision (really more of just an idea) while attending the WCA GLS this year.

    I thought, why not have The Well sponsored by ubfriends this year? Why not have a ubfriends retreat where people in ubf who never got to express their ideas could organize the event? It would be low-budget for sure, but couldn’t we pull it off if we worked together?

    • That would be really cool. I’d be up for attending that. Do you think it would turn into a gripe-fest? Perhaps coinciding with a “grape-fest” :)

    • Joe Schafer

      An intriguing idea. Yes, it would be very low-budget event. It would have to resemble tiny baby Jesus in the manger, as opposed to a big, flashy and expensive pageant like an ISBC that looks more like Caesar’s palace.(Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

    • I will jump in for bad humour.
      Who will organize? That is who is the most senior with years both in and out of UBF? Should we find a baby sitter or are kids allowed? Travel arrangements – what if we need to bring sheep? Bahhhhh……

    • Humor aside, good questions gc. The answer is “Who knows?” I’ve been pondering the “preparation and planning” I did in ubf. And I realize about 2/3 of such activity is not necessary. For exampe, every professional conference for work I’ve attended didn’t have all the “assignments” that ubf spends so much time and energy on. The conference people focus on preparing their presentation or whatever part they have in the event. No one gives a rip how you get there, when you leave or go and where you stay or who you stay with.

      So if we did have some sort of a retreat, most if not all of the pressure of a ubf conference would be non-existent because we wouldn’t be trying to control people. And we wouldn’t have to “plan for free time”. You are 100% free to do whatever you want during a professional conference. The event planners simply present and let people learn and attend.

      So like the Well, such a thing is more of an “event” and an “encounter” rather than a “program” and a “conference”.

      If we had such a retreat, I would volunteer to present Andy Stanley’s sermon from the GLS. (And Joshua the grape-fest would need to be handled carefully or not at all if underage folks attend)

    • Mark Mederich

      we thought the well was good since seemed like more freedom/chance for Holy Spirit to work; maybe could be a ‘Wishing Well’ (held centrally like Detroit) to wish for more Holy Spirit..

      i grew up by a little lake which had a wishing well to drop pennies in, but later it got filled up w dirt like a big flower planter so not a danger to fall in:)

    • Mark Mederich

      my wife wants me to add that while our kids were staying at the well we actually stayed at a discount hotel in area (give our kids space yet attend evening mtgs yet were free to celebrate our 23rd anniversary going around detroit/we have heart for detroit)

      so if there ever was a simple event, why not a place like to detroit to spur it’s economy, pray for it’s people, see what a blessed place it was/can be (island park in the river,etc)

    • Good idea Mark. I’m willing to spearhead things. Let’s see how the idea kicks around.

      “True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.”
      — Alfred North Whitehead

    • Joe Schafer

      If keeping costs low is a high priority, State College is also a good deal. We have a church building here that we could use for free.

    • That would be awesome Joe.

      JohnY: Any thoughts?

  10. Ben, in regard to your article above, I just had to share this email from a senior leader in the business world. I love the new leaders I’m surrounded with now!

    “Folks, If you really read this it should make you mad that we are this bad. Will anyone address this and the broken process and lack of visibility or will we just go on about our business and bury our heads in the sand?”

    Wow! I envision the day when senior ubf leaders say such things :)

    • And a quote for the day from Pablo Picasso “Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.”

    • Mark Mederich

      there is a (bad) reason some things become the way they are, a (good) reason to change, and hope when old or young have enough awareness/courage to try to do something about it

  11. Being a heady cerebral person, my glaring weaknesses include (but at not limited to) poor organizational and managerial skills and a lack of attention to details (both of which my wife takes care of!). But if someone begins initiating brainstorming among ourselves gradually, perhaps we might come up with something collaboratively within perhaps the coming one year plus.

    Manger/small scale/low cost/agreed upon location/theme, etc would perhaps be a good place to start.

    • Yes good starting point Ben. I don’t see a lot of planning or organizing needed. I’m thinking this would just be pieced together by whoever feels complelled to contribute something. All we really need to do is to discuss and decide the who, what, when, where and why. If there is some interest in this, I’ll post an article for a more focused discussion (or if such discussion breaks out here, we’ll just discuss it here.)

  12. Facebook reminded me that I wrote this two years ago today.

    Since I began studying and preaching on Isaiah the last few months, one of Isaiah’s main themes through out the book is to trust God alone (Isa 7:9b), which requires that you STOP TRUSTING IN MAN (Isa 2:22). Practically, this is to stop exalting our leaders and to stop self exaltation. (