Two Kinds of Shepherding

GoodShepherdBadChristianThis might be a redundant article in that I had recently written related articles: guidelines for best shepherding practice, how the Apostle Paul “feeds sheep”, and leading without lording over others. Also, there have been thousands of comments about authoritarian shepherding practices from countless UBF chapters–dating back to the 1960s. This article compares and contrasts 2 kinds of leaders, or 2 kinds of shepherding in a table. Hopefully, this may be useful as we prayerfully and seriously reconsider our shepherding practices going forward.

Why do we need such a distinction between good and bad shepherding? It is because every Christian’s default is on the left side of the table. Without the work of the Spirit and the spirit of humility no one falls on the right side apart from Christ. For instance, the 12 UBF spiritual legacies itemized by Brian have tremendous potential for good. What Christian will ever say, “I disagree that we should go back to the Bible”? The problem entirely lies with the way a shepherd or UBF leader understands the phrase “go back to the Bible,” and the way he/she applies and implements it. All the problems of “go back to the Bible” or any of the 12 UBF legacies depend entirely on the way the shepherd/leader understands them and applies them to his/her chapter.

Is this contrast clear and self-evident?

Hierarchical (Authoritarian) Leadership

[Our sinful default]

Shepherding (Christ-like) Leadership

[The work of the Holy Spirit]

“Over” others. “Among” others.
Control others. Respect others.
Elite. Common.
Exclusive. Inclusive.
Top down. Bottom up.
Oppressive. Liberating.
Based on position, rank, status, honorific titles. Based on godly character.
Measured by prominence, external power and political influence. Measured by humility and servitude.
Exploits their position to rule over others as “the older.” Shuns special reverence; regard themselves as “the younger.”
Operates on a political chain-of-command social structure. Flows from childlike meekness and sacrificial service.
Plants the fear of man. Causes awe, wonder and freedom.

Can you add any further distinctions between these 2 kinds of shepherding?

Reference: Shepherding Sheep (Mt 20:25-28).


  1. I want to add about motive:

    Being motivated by selfish ambition Vs. as an expression of love for Jesus (Jn 21:15-17).

    Shepherd needs deep trust and love relationship with Jesus first.

  2. What I mean: If my motive is not purified but mixed up with any selfish motive, I will be tempted to have a demanding spirit instead of serving sheep from bottom up with genuine humbleness.

  3. Dr.Ben, I know how my former director would reply if he ever read your article. He would say, “This Ben Toh doesn’t understand a thing. Disciples are made. We are called to make disciples (the way Confucius did, not the Holy Spirit) and sacrifice all our lives for that (ubf directors think that lording over is the most sacrificial life style)! And when will this Ben Toh leave ubf and stop his satanic destruction of (the God-made perfect church with a mission) ubf through internet?!”

    I don’t want to generalize but I think that the majority of ubf directors think this way (in CIS more than 90% of them). I am sure many ubf directors pray that God may bring some bad fortune on every one who write on ubfriends. And as they pray for 100000 ubf missionaries I wouldn’t be surprised if I knew that some of them prayed for the destruction of internet as of a satanic tool.

    So I would add to the table:
    is not afraid of former ubf members / cursing former ubf members
    openminded to Scripture and Christian fellowship in internet / a slave of the Confucian closed system of thinking and acting
    loves praise and glory of himself / for His is the glory
    master / servant, tool in God’s hands

  4. Thanks Vitaly. Your former director is “cute” for saying that. What he says, thinks and practice is sadly the opposite of the gospel.

    Check this out ( “Do you read the Bible as a helpful tool in your climb up toward moral betterment or as the story of God coming down to broken, sinful people? In a very real way, our lives are defined by how we answer that question. Specifically, our lives are defined either by a cross or by a ladder. The ladder symbolizes our ascension—our effort to “go up.” The cross symbolizes God’s descension—his coming down.”

    In the story of Babel Gen 11:4 is humanity (and your chapter director) in a nutshell: “We want desperately to be known, appreciated, lauded, and extolled. We want to secure our own meaning, significance, and worth. We give our all to these objectives. We are like the tower-builders: addicted to a ladder-defined life. We think that a life of ladder-climbing is a life of freedom.” (And that Ubfriends is preventing them from achieving their goal! Wow, we here are given such a credit, as though we are God.)

    I really do pray that God blesses our 2013 ISBC. But I am sorry if anyone’s inner motivation is to give their all so as to use this conference to show how great ubf is. That is why people are burned out and burdened by the conference and by its tremendous amount of work, effort and sacrifice.

    I love my brothers and sisters who do give their all for serving this conference because they love Jesus. But I also do feel very sorry if I perceive that they are burned out and burdened because they are simply being used by “someone at the top.”

    • “We think that a life of ladder-climbing is a life of freedom.”

      Which is foolish because what we think is a ladder we’re climbing up all the time is in reality a hamster-wheel when looking from a distance.

    • Yeah, Chris. People who climb ladders are tired, burdened and irritable. But those who treasure the God who graciously reaches down to them is uplifted, comforted and rested.