Midweek Question: Message Do’s and Don’ts

A lively discussion has begun on this website over whether it is constructive to post reviews and ratings of specific messages delivered at UBF Sunday worship services. There are plenty of arguments that could be made for and against.

My personal opinion is this. Careful review and critique, if done in the right place and in the right way, can drastically improve the finished product. But having one’s own words scrutinized is painful and gut wrenching, even when great care is taken to keep the process fair, impartial and kind.

I have published many articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In most cases, those articles have gone through “blind review,” meaning that the authors’ identities have been hidden from the referees. Nevertheless, when I submit an article and then get the editor’s report, I hesitate to open the report because a feeling of dread washes over my body. My eyes don’t want to look at it, because I am afraid of what I will see. Although I keep saying to myself, “Don’t take it personally,” I cannot stop taking it personally. Because, after all, I am a person. And my work is important to me. Even when the process is carefully managed and highly professional, the criticism can sting. And if the reviews were not anonymous, then it would be impossible not to feel resentment toward a reviewer who pans and rejects my work. And if the reviewer who criticized my work happened to be someone whom I knew well, someone whom I had been in close contact with and had strong differences of opinion and conflicts with in the past, then that would make it much, much worse. As a protective strategy, I would try to convince myself that the critic wasn’t being fair, that his assessment of my work was clouded by our personal history, and I would not take the criticism seriously.

My point is this: Critiquing someone’s message could in theory be a useful exercise, if the author agrees to it and if the process is carefully managed to inflict as little pain as possible. In the environment that we are in right now, I don’t think it will do much good. I believe it will make dialogue harder, not easier.

That’s my opinion. If you disagree, then please say so. But I might take your disagreement very personally, because I worked really, really hard on this article, and if you don’t just love what I said, I’m going to lock myself in the bathroom and cry!

Having said that, let me now say this.

If you find certain qualities of UBF messages objectionable, then you ought to be able to say so. You ought to be able to articulate your objections as clearly and kindly as you can, and offer concrete suggestions for improvement.

Rather than focusing on any particular messenger or message — and rather than asking for general impressions about whether UBF messages are wonderful or terrible — I would like to ask you to hone in on practices and list some specific do’s and don’ts.

Do’s: What are the specific things that a messenger should do to make the message good and effective? Things that, if you hear them in the message, will lead you to say in your best Austin Powers voice, “Yeah, Baby!!!”?

Don’ts: What are the specific things that a messenger should avoid at all costs? Things that, if you hear them in a message, make you wince in pain and say, “I can’t believe he just said that!!!”?


  1. Joe Schafer

    Do: Keep the focus on Christ. Even if you are speaking on a passage from the Old Testament, keep the focus on Christ, because it is an axiom of Christianity that all Scripture points to him (Lk 24:27).

    Don’t: Draw principles and teachings directly from the Old Testament without filtering them through the lens of Christ. If the point you are trying to make is not highly consistent with what Jesus taught (e.g., in the Sermon on the Mount) then do not attempt to make that point.

  2. Joe Schafer

    Do: Assume that your audience is intelligent. They might be ignorant of certain things, but they aren’t stupid. (Even if they were stupid, they wouldn’t want you to be pointing that out.) Write a message that engages people’s minds, and give them good reasons to believe that what you are saying is right. Show them by example that careful thought is never the enemy of faith. Demonstrate that they can and should worship God with all their minds (Mt 22:37).

    Don’t: Encourage the audience to turn off their brains. If your intended audience is university students, don’t write the message at a sixth-grade level. Don’t make the point of the message “Just believe!” or “Just obey!” or “Just do it!” or “Just decide!” because such messages are pitting one part of the human being against another (mind against will, will against heart, etc.) A holy person is someone whose mind, heart, body and lifestyle are not warring among themselves but are working in sync and aligned toward God. Move the audience toward integration, not disintegration.

  3. For years–no decades–I copied/followed a UBF manuscript whenever I wrote a message. I stopped doing this over the past decade, because 1) UBF messages no longer encouraged me, 2) they are imperative driven, 3) they are predictable and 4) they instruct and inform rather than inspire me through the gospel of God’s grace (Ac 20:24).

    Now, whenever I prepare for my weekly sermons, I probably read a few commentaries, and read, watch or listen to a few sermons as part of my preparation. This takes much time and is time and labor intensive. But it excites and inspires me to study and read from many brilliant Christian scholars, theologians, pastors and preachers.

  4. I agree with Joe that being critiqued of one’s sermon is hard and painful to hear and to bear, especially when it is blunt, brutal, bludgeoning and bull-dozing! It’s a lot “easier” to hear critique if it comes from one I love and trust, such as my wife.

    Yet, it is still always a rather anxious and somewhat awkward moment for me as I stammeringly ask my wife after church, “Honey, eh, eh, how was my sermon today?” Her affirmative answer would make my day. A less than optimal answer would throw me into a slight depression the rest of the day. Sigh!

    • Ha! very relatable Ben. I love the “it is still always a rather anxious and somewhat awkward moment for me as I stammeringly ask my wife after church, “Honey, eh, eh, how was my sermon today?” After my last message I posed the question and I could see Martha cringing. She’s gracefully honest because she knows the work I put into it. It did leave me feeling kind of blah, but humbled and hopeful to improve. I kind of felt that it lacked as well.

      @Joe, I am actually enjoying this posting more than I thought it would. A list of do’s and don’ts can be overwhelming to consider when preparing a message. I am not really going through the list as I write, but reading these in small doses is edifying and hopefully gets absorbed somewhere in the back of my brain. So thanks Joe.

    • Joe Schafer

      Thank you, Mark. Maybe I will come out of the bathroom and stop crying now.

  5. Thanks for sharing these points, Joe and Ben. Indeed this is all good advice for a preacher. What I’ve been wrestling with lately is this question:

    How can UBF messengers be connected to such good advice?

    • Mass emails from you, Brian, with cc to Ben. That would certainly do the trick!

    • LOL Joshua… Been there, done that. And oh by the way, that approach earned me the threat of a harassment lawsuit. As long as that threat remains over my head, I communicate with UBF people via email at a high risk. The threat has not been rescinded nor apologized for so I have to treat it as real, especially given the past history of UBF.

      So people tell me “Just talk to people privately.” Yea ok, so email is out. In person meetings are highly inconvenient being several hours away from anyone in UBF. And 99% of communication has to be initiated by me anyway. I did initiate some in-person meetings in spite of this constraints because I value this conversation.

    • Brian,

      I know who you are talking about when you mention the harrassment law suit. He is no longer a messenger in Toledo and has no right to say this( unless you are bothering him or someone else who doesnt want to be bothered). Out of the 5 messengers in Toledo, 3 or 4 would welcome your input. Like Mark said, people welcome your feedback, its your mocking and cynical tone of voice that is in question. That is why I asked, what is your intent? You have a deep respect for Ben and Joe, so even if you gave them feedback or rated their messages you wouldnt use the same mocking, or cynical voice you use for Toledo messages.

    • Martha,

      I review without considering who the messenger is. If I did that I would just give 5 stars to every message, becuase that is what I think of each messenger as a person.

      I gurantee if Ben or Joe or JA or the Pope gives a message like the one in my review “Where’s the hope?”, I would use the same language. And for what it’s worth, my language in that particular review is generous compared to what I really wanted to say. If you’d like to see one of my raw reviews of some Chicago UBF messages (which I have done in private but don’t share publicly) I’ll send you a sample of what I’m talking about.

      And you say “He is no longer a messenger in Toledo…”

      I have to ask, when did that happen? I read one of his messages not too long ago. And that person seems to be involved, at least according to the Facebook pictures I saw recently and the informatio I know about the ISBC.

      And if “he has no right to say this” why did no senior UBF leader respond in any way when I reported the two incidents to Chicago? Apparently they think he can do that.

    • My intent in doing these reviews is to give the messengers a reality check.

  6. Do: Interpret Scripture using Scripture in order to (try to) identify the meaning intended by the author.

    Don’t: Quote a Bible verse and use it as justification for preconceived ideas.

  7. Do: Reveal the richness, wonder, beauty, and value of the Church, and the great mystery and breadth and multiplicity of members and variety of strengths that are given to the Church in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

    Don’t: Use sermons as soapboxes for the superiority of UBF over normal churches or normal Christians, making statements that imply UBF is doing “real” ministry, or they are “real front-line soldiers”, or implying that 1:1 campus ministry is the loftiest and most sincere form of serving God.

  8. Joe Schafer

    Do: Feel free to present your opinions on issues that are important but debatable, issues on which orthodox Christians hold different views. But state that they are your opinions. Model for your audience an attitude of careful self-reflection, self-doubt, self-criticism.

    Don’t: Pound the pulpit and declare to be absolute truth points that are debatable and non-essential to the gospel. Don’t think that your job as preacher is to discern everything for the audience. In today’s world, mature disciples need to learn how to exercise discernment, to navigate uncertainty, to think for themselves. Giving pat answers and preaching with over-reaching certainty can be a hindrance to discipleship.

    A great article on how Jesus taught discernment (rather than giving quick Bible answers) appeared today:


    And another great article about when to preach with conviction, and when to moderate your own convictions:


  9. Do: Address relevant and important matters within the congregation. Stimulate sincere concern for the prayer requests among your congregants in a graceful manner that edifies Christ. Draw the attention back to Jesus so that those who have been blessed may be thankful and those who have suffered loss may be comforted and redeemed by the Holy Spirit.

    Don’t: Remind everyone of their unfulfilled mission to go to campus as a guilt trip over the congregation. Stating that failure to follow your mission is the cause of losses and that success in doing so will receive a reward. Rationalizing that suffering is some how only a result of one’s inherent sin problem and that blessing comes to those who are faithful to the UBF heritage.

  10. Do: Be Christ-centric. Continually learn how to better articulate and reveal the gospel of Jesus through gospel words, gospel principles and gosple themes. Preach Jesus or go home. Pull the heart-strings now and then. Speak to people’s minds and hearts, and if possible their souls. Share explicitely what moved your heart or inspired your mind or opened your soul. Pick a theme and drive it home. Mix things up. Have two people share the message in the form of a dicussion maybe. Walk around the podium maybe. Be a preacher who is hopeful, lively, interesting, funny even. Be yourself. Listen for the voice of God throughout the week. Incorporate that week’s event(s) into the message.

    Don’t: Don’t be a monkey. Don’t be a robot who says “look at verse” every few paragraphs. Don’t feel you must explain or analyize every single blessed verse in the chosen passage. Don’t conform to a predictable pattern. Don’t feel you have to be Charles Spurgeon (because you aren’t and you won’t). Don’t share your message publicly because someone might review it publicly and give you a star rating (unless of course you really want to get honest feedback to improve :)

  11. A very interesting discussion and good links.

    I thought about the critique of ubf messages. To me it seems nice. But it surely touches the messengers’ feelings. But somehow I think it is the case only when we take a ubf-style message.

    I mean Ben made Joe’s message public. I am sure that neither Ben nor Joe is afraid of critique and deep analysis of the message. Yeah, baby! – that’s the most probable reaction to such messages. There are many Ben’s sermons available online. Anyone can take any of them and critique and try his/her power to bring the messenger into the bathroom to cry.

    I also prepared sermons after leaving ubf and preached them before joining the church. Now I prepare sermons to preach them in the church. And I am going to make them public. I am not afraid that somebody is going to examine and critique my messages. I like them myself and I do my best just to “translate” God’s word so that it might bear some fruit through my messages. But I wouldn’t make public almost any ubf message. There are too many strange things there and I am afraid for the possible “fruit” it might bear if made public. (The best fruit in this case would be a critique from responsible Christians I suppose). I prepared many sermons while in ubf. I like some of them, but most of them are not mine in full sense, they are broken, with many strange things included by the director and through “trainings”.

    For about a year I had friends inside my ubf chapter who sometimes preached the sermons. Did I like them (the sermons)? To be honest, no. Did they move me? Absolutely not. I know the friends too well to know whether this or that message is theirs or not. I know they tried to avoid ubf problems and preach non-charged sermons. Once there was a scandal when they refused the director’s trainings and rehearsals, etc. They tried to be free inside ubf. Still I wouldn’t listen to their messages, and nobody outside ubf would. They were not free.

    To make it short, is it possible to improve an inside ubf message? Yes, but it will be a ubf message anyway, and so in its essence bad. An improved bad message?! I wouldn’t like that.

    Is it possible to make a ubf message good? No. But it is possible to make it ubf-free, and then one day it might be good.

    To Mark I would say that you’d better listen to Joe’s advice and include the new ubf story into your messages. If you are going through a healing prossess then Brian and Detroit should be in your messages. Without them your message may seem irrelevant and hypocritical. Start the new story, start the honest discussion, become the new kind ubf messenger David Weed dreamed of.

  12. @Vitaly, can you expand on the following, “If you are going through a healing prossess then Brian and Detroit should be in your messages. Without them your message may seem irrelevant and hypocritical.”

    • I think Toledo ubf can not be healed when messages don’t even mention Brian as if he has never existed. Brian is about 80% of Toledo ubf chapter history. And about Detroit I was really moved with HOPE through Brian’s videos more than through “God’s hope” in the Toledo ubf message.

      When I left my chapter and I had been the Abraham of the chapter my brothers spoke about me and met me and talked to me even though the director told them “Don’t talk with him, he is a good Christian, but satan works through talking with him”. When I shared some Christian book or something they shared it with the director. The director asked, “Who gave you this?” And when they told him about me he became furious. I mean I was openly betrayed and cursed by the director but I was not betrayed by my brothers and sisters. When they wanted to stay in ubf they wanted to stay with me. And when I absolutely refused they thought about why I didn’t want to stay even in kind of new conditions. Most of all they prayed and tried to act before God. Then God led them “elsewhere” and I am glad that by that time I found a good church they eventually joined.

      And I wanted to ask a question about Toledo ubf: who appointed the new leaders and who decides who will be the messenger on Sunday? Is it the church? or the “honorary” director? Do you have meetings where you can make decisions as a church? Are you free to choose the text for the message? Are you free to speak what you want?

    • 1. Who appointed the new leaders? I am not being flip when I say that this was God’s leading for Toledo UBF. A Leadership Council had been formed by the votes of ministry members sometime after 2010 with 7 members, which included the director at that time. With God’s leading we proposed a pastoral team approach to succeed the director. It consisted of three Leadership Council members (three of us, myself included, felt led by the Spirit to step forward in this way and did so voluntarily). It was also agreed that the director would not serve on the Leadership Council after he was no longer director. And this has been the case. Ministry decisions are made by the voting process of the Leadership Council. We have a mix of perspectives and the age range on the Leadership Council is from 39 yrs to late 60’s.

      2. Who decides who will be the messenger on Sunday? We have a messenger schedule. We rotate among the 3 pastoral team members and some leaders who have a willingness to prepare messages. The schedule gets approved by the Leadership Council and is scheduled out about 2 months. The “honorary director” does not have a vote or say in these decisions.

      3. Do you have meetings where you can make decisions as a church? Right now, the Leadership Council meets once a month. Church members are encouraged to come to the Leadership Council to voice and concerns or issues. We just invited John Armstrong to have a ministry wide meeting to share our thoughts and perspectives on the ministry, given the transition we have experienced. This was the first of this kind of meeting that we have had since a family initiated this kind of meeting back in 2010.

      4. Are you free to choose the text for the message? It has been the Pastoral Team (3 of us) who initially prays and selects the passages or what books of the Bible we will be studying. This gets presented to the LC for final approval. We recently chose Colossians. We are considering other texts right now which will then be presented to the LC. Once the texts are approved, those in the messenger rotation are basically matched to a text and they prepare it. Depending on their schedule, we are flexible to make changes.

      5. Are you free to speak what you want? Our messages have a peer-review process available but the messenger can speak what he wants. Suggestions are made if you go through the peer-review process which you can take or leave out. In previous years, the director would review the messages, but he is no longer functioning in this capacity. I was tempted to go to him while preparing a message one time, but I realized that I needed to cut that cord and really develop my own voice as I felt God inspire me through a passage. I’m not saying I’m Charles Spurgeon (as Brian will attest) but I am seeking to learn and grow as a messenger, be inspired by other things I read or watch and see how I can honor the word I have before me. Am I old school in message writing? Yes. That is my training. Hopefully not so monkeyish, but maybe. Do I look at every verse. Yes. Am I willing to learn different ways. Yes. I am very open to different styles. But that is not where I am comfortable right now.

      As for Toledo’s healing (which sounds self-centered, so I would say, for healing among the families who have experienced wounds as a result of their experience in Toledo UBF – both those who have left and those who remain), I would agree that Brian does play a part in that, and many other families as well. And we pray that God may guide us towards that. I used to demand change NOW! I don’t anymore. I am prayerfully seeking God’s timetable and have peace about that. Toledo’s recovery will take years. But I don’t believe that God has written us off.

    • @Mark. So some changes were made in 2010. Why do you think so many people (and leaders) left Toledo ubf in 2011?
      Do you think Toledo ubf is a church, a parachurch or what?
      What do you think about ubf as a whole?
      Do you still focus on “campus ministry”? Why?
      Do you “hope” to raise many “house churches”?
      Do you pray about 1:1s and 100000 ubf missionaries?
      Did the director repent or did he have an honorary stepping down process? What is his status now? What is your opinion of him, his directorship and actions?
      What is your opinion on baptism in ubf and on communion?

    • Joe Schafer

      Vitaly, I disliked your comment for the following reason. You are asking Mark a large number of questions. These questions are good to think about. But if someone directed such a long list of questions to me, expecting me to answer all of them immediately or quickly, it would make me feel overwhelmed. Mark is engaged in a very important and difficult process of promoting honesty and relational integrity in his own chapter of Toledo. My sense is that, given the difficult situation he is in, he is trying very hard to deal with the immediate issues before him. I don’t think he can give definitive answers to all your questions right now, and that is not because he is trying to avoid them.

    • @Vitaly, I respect your questions, however, the word “overwhelming” did come to mind, before Joe even posted. My hope was to provide you with some objective responses to your questions, and I purposely stayed away from giving you subjective opinions because we are in the thick of working things out here in Toledo. My opinion would not necessarily present the reality of Toledo and would not benefit what I and others are working towards. I have always said, that Toledo UBF’s recovery will take years, and right now, I am at peace with that. For what it’s worth, we are not under any illusion that things are all fixed over here. But we are seeking to move towards a healthy body of Christ where Christ and the gospel are lifted up. And what I learn here is that quality messages are a key part of that, and I bear responsibility for my part as part of a messenger team) in ensuring this. As my wife correctly put it, Brian has lit a fire under my but to push me in the right direction. And I appreciate that.

    • Yes, Joe, maybe I asked too many questions and “used” the gracious attitude of Mark. But still I sincerely wanted to hear the answers. Why? because it seems to me that before moving to a healthy body of Christ the community should have some understanding of who is moving and to what goal.

      I see that some people are moving somewhere together. Why? Is it because they were together before? Who were they before: a church? Who are they now? If they are a church then why don’t they have some elementary thing which should be in a church? (possibly they have, I don’t know). If they are not a church and had never been before the agreement to move together whithout the directorship cord then isn’t it better to simply join a church? Joining a church would at once solve the message problem. Outside ubf messages don’t have ubf heritage and so they would help people to move to a healthy body of Christ much better.

      Mark answered that not everything is fixed in the chapter. That’s honest and very humble. Still if what is fixed was fixed in 2010 why did so many people leave the chapter? Maybe not Mark but someone who knows would answer. I don’t know why they left. But I, living in Russia, want to know why people left Toledo ubf, a chapter of the organization I was a member of. And if I were in the Toledo chapter I would surely know and make my decision. I suppose that the people who left thought that something very important was not fixed and was not going to be fixed in ubf. And so I suppose that those who stayed in the chapter thought that the unfixed things are not so important or that the things would be fixed in some time. If they think now that something has been fixed then is it just locally or in ubf as a whole. What would they do if ubf as a whole (or as a hole)) would kick them out as it did to many chapters in 2001? What if the chapter becomes healthy, becomes a church and sees that the “ubf” name hinders it to move on? Is it possible to be a healthy part of an unhealthy organization? If not then what to do? You made some decisions and I am just trying to know and understand what the decisions were.

      Being in ubf for 17 years I understand that ubf people used to “turn off the brain” and just move on under the directions of the director. But when people start thinking and asking questions they tend to leave because they see the light and don’t want to stay in the darkness which is not going to change. Asking so many questions I actually wanted to know whether they who stayed asked those questions to themselves when they made the decision to stay. They are building a tower but did they count the costs and thought about what kind of tower they are going to build (or a part of what kind of tower)?

    • And one more thing. As a leader (and messengers are leaders), Mark, you are responsible for others, for how well they are fed with the word of God and for how right it is to follow your example and teachings.

      It is my private opinion but I would be afraid of the responsibility for giving hope to the “sheep” that there will be some bright future in ubf. If I being a leader don’t have clear answers I would lead the sheep to good pastors and healthy churches whom I would trust myself and my family. I know that I wouldn’t trust my children to ubf leaders and teachings so I wouldn’t become a messenger ( a leader/a director) in ubf and wouldn’t recommend ubf to anyone as a healthy church to stay in.

    • Vitaly,

      Your questions above are indeed valid, and MarkO and Toledo UBF will need to address everyone of them as time passes. I know that they are addressing some of these, and yes it is not surprising for the list to be overwhelming to MarkO and others there.

      Vitaly, while you and I could answer these questions in about a 30 minute session, I for one am ok with MarkO and others in Toledo UBF taking years to do so. Why? Well because I have already been thinking about similar questions and issues since 2003. As most should know by now, I technically “left ubf” in 2003 when we came to Detroit. I wss “keeping face” since then.

      So I have to keep reminding myself that I have had a 10 year period of processing the questions that are just now surfacing in Toledo UBF. So I’m willing to be patient (well until the next fire has to be lit :)

      Still Vitaly, you ask a valid question: “if what is fixed was fixed in 2010 why did so many people leave the chapter?”

      I have firsthand knowledge of why all of the leaders left in a 9 month timespan in 2011/2012. It is too much to share here in a commnet. Perhaps I should make an article to answer this question?

      I think this may be a good idea actually, because UBF people have been told lies such as “they left becuase they couldn’t handle the burdens of life” and “they left because they didn’t like Korean culture” and “they left because they wanted to attend another local church”.

      Anyway, I also have firsthand knowledge of some things happening in Toledo UBF, so I know that quite a bit has already been corrected in terms of understanding we who left, especially with MarkO and MarthaO. And because I see the fire of the Holy Spirit in both of them, I have peace that Toledo UBF is on the right course even though there is SO much that I would do differently.

  13. Good points Vitaly. You mentioned: “There are many Ben’s sermons available online. Anyone can take any of them and critique and try his/her power to bring the messenger into the bathroom to cry.”

    I don’t think I would be able to make Ben cry by reviewing his messages (actually they sermons). While there may be pionts here and there that I would disagree with or enhance or removed, I haven’t yet come across anything in Ben’s messages that would warrant a full scale critique. Now Ben’s old messages…prior to 2008… when Ben was “Dr. Ban”.. those messages would inflame me endlessly. And guess what? I bet they would cause Ben 2013 much angst if he read his 2002 messages.

    So I’ve read many of Ben’s online messages. And I’ve read most Toledo UBF messages the past 2 years. Ben’s messages are always 3 stars minimum and many times 4 stars. Toledo UBF messengers would do well to pay attention to Ben :) I can’t help but say “Yeah baby!” when I read Ben’s messages.

    But my reaction every single Toledo UBF message the past year? I can’t help but shouting “WTF”? Then after I calm down, I can think more clearly and try to see what’s actually good and bad in the Toledo UBF messages (which often are just lectures instead of sermons).

    Many people in ubf used to quote Matthew 13:24-30, the parable of the weeds, to claim that we can’t “pull out the weeds now” because we may “damage the wheat”. That is a horrible principle for messengers! Pull out the weeds from your message! If you don’t, the wheat will be choked to death.

    And your point about including each other goes both ways, Vitaly, I think. As my journey of recovery and healing continues, I cannot exclude Toledo UBF. I cannot cut out 24 years of my adult-formative years. I cannot invalidate what has been done. I believe God has not called me elsewhere. Like it or not God has called me to Toledo UBF.

  14. Joe Schafer

    As I think about the discussion taking place, I see that it’s difficult to evaluate the quality and content of a message without understanding who the messenger is, to whom he is speaking and when, and the quality of relationships that he has with the audience and those who may hear his message. Context matters a great deal.

    For example, a message on 1 Thessalonians 5, “Be joyful always;pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances” might be a good piece of writing and have perfectly sound exegesis. But if thst message were to be given at a funeral, it would be offensive.

    Or suppose a messenger makes the point of his message,”Go back to the Bible.” It could be really good in certain contexts. But not at a time or place where God is urging people to attend to the conflicts that are swirling around them instead of getting lost in a scriptural fantasyland.

  15. @MarkO: “I was tempted to go to him while preparing a message one time, but I realized that I needed to cut that cord and really develop my own voice as I felt God inspire me through a passage.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/09/05/midweek-question-message-dos-and-donts/#comment-10614

    Kudos to you Mark. If all indigenous UBFers “cut that cord” as you put it, UBF USA will begin to more and more develop its own voice, shape and image, and you will become more and more of an American church, which would then have the greatest impact of reaching Americans. As it is, at present, there is a foreign culture in most UBF chapters in the US (as expected), that is very often a turn off to Americans, just as some Korean immigrants are turned off by churches that exude an American culture.

    It is very hard for the missionaries to accept “cutting the cord,” because in their own native culture they expect that the cord is NEVER EVER CUT, for that violates their “core values” of a strong sense of honor, loyalty and respect.

  16. Just to clarify: “cut the cord” does not mean “break the relationship.” It means the relationship changes as it should–like between a father and their children as they grow from toddlers to adults.

    Robert Lewis, in his series, “the Quest for Authentic Manhood,” says that when a child grows from a kid to high school to college to adulthood, the father’s relationship with him changes from that of a:

    * Coach (kid) to a
    * Counselor (high school) to a
    * Consultant (college) to a
    * Colleague (adulthood)

    When older UBF leaders (usually immigrant missionaries) are able to truly genuinely regard their younger indigenous leaders as colleagues (rather than as “my sheep”), UBF will become an increasingly healthy and vibrant ministry.

  17. Terry Lopez

    In Los Angeles we have a very similar method as Toledo does at the moment. It’s been like that now for a number of years, probably 4-5. The messenger rotation is 3 Americans and 2 Koreans. It used to be 5 Americans, 2 dropped out (including me, the other because of work). Msn. Isaac is not part of it at all. The messengers have a group Bible study of the upcoming passages several weeks in advance and share a draft 1 week prior, for peer review. (Msn. Isaac used to join this study, but hasnt done so for about 2 yrs.) No messenger is required to implement any of the critique’s given. The group study is not based on question sheets developed, but with an overview of the passage and what each thinks the point of the passage is about. It’s more a discussion than a Bible study in reality.

    We also have a planning committee that plans the books to be studied and the passage break up that each message is on. There are 4 Koreans and 4 Americans (again I dropped out). There is one Korean woman who is part of the group. Again, Msn. Isaac is not part of this group. I honestly can’t remember if he ever was part of this group or not. He no longer gives messages at all. He doesn’t give closing announcements. He basically takes care of the center, helping with construction and maintenance. He really likes electricity, so he got his electrical license and helps coworkers (like me) and takes care of the electrical needs of the center. Basically, he’s bumping around in his cargo shorts and praying for us. And enjoys his grandchildren. He also likes to blog a lot these days, but honestly I never read it. :-).

    As far as the messages, they are all online to be read and the video is there also.

    Also, I should say that I haven’t had messages I delivered, looked at for over 15 years. Not even conference messages. Other than the peer review for the Sunday worship service message.

  18. Speaking about the message Brian reviewed I think it is simply bad. I carefully read it through and I didn’t come across any “yeah baby” moments. I just kept asking, “And what? What do you want to say? What is your point?”.

    The messenger took quotes from different places and said that hope is “know-so” and we “don’t know” what God’s hope for us is. And he leaves the reader with the feeling that he/she listened to something about hope and that he/she is put in an exile situation by God and should be patient and keep suffering seeking that God will do something about it one day, hopefully.

    There is a smell in the message that God’s sovereignty put some people in Toledo (which is bad in many senses according to the messenger) and in ubf (which is in a crisis) and that the option is not to wait for changes “NOW” but keep waiting for better times. I suppose that Toledo is not the worst place on earth to live in. (btw If I chose where to live: in Toledo or in Detroit I would choose Detroit because there is hope there, Brian’s article convinced me about that). And I don’t think that to use such words as “God’s sovereignty put you here” or “you must be faithful to your church no matter how bad it is the same way you must be faithful to your spouse” is a good thing. Such words smell manipulative and unfortunately they are expressing the official position of ubf leaders now.

    So I would add a “don’t” – don’t make such messages like the one Brian’s friend did.

  19. Phil 2 Five

    I’ve never had a good experience with UBF messages. Almost all messages were recycled over the last 10 years that I attended UBF. I was also ‘volunteered’ to deliver messages and I never felt comfortable! Here are my reasons:

    First, I never wrote a message. The messages were written for me and asked to be delivered. My conscience bothered me and I did address these issues to the director but he swept it under the rug as insignificant.

    Second, I was always TOLD what I should accept out of the message they had given me. I extremely disliked this question, “What did you accept out of the message?”

    Third, messages were used to ‘train me’ to accept the director’s way of thinking.

    Fourth, I was told how to deliver the messages. At some point I stopped listening to ‘suggestions’ such as: do this motion, talk like this, act like that, to get a point across. It was unnatural!

    Fifth, God’s message and delivering His message to His people is not trivial. It’s a very serious responsibility and ought to be taken very seriously.

    Sometimes, Sunday mornings at message rehearsal I would get rebuked because I didn’t deliver the message with spirit! ??? Another issue was this: the messages were used as a tool to ‘bring an individual back to his/her senses’! ??? Is that biblical! I’ve never heard John McArthur, John Piper, Timothy Keller, Paul Washer and so many other great preachers misuse God’s Word in this way. That’s my brief take and observation on the messages given in the West LA chapter I attended.

    • “Fourth, I was told how to deliver the messages. At some point I stopped listening to ‘suggestions’ such as: do this motion, talk like this, act like that, to get a point across. It was unnatural!”

      Yes, but actually, this “artificiality” is deliberate. They don’t even want the messages to sound natural. In my chapter, we had a very small meeting room. Still, the leader wanted that we use microphones and speakers, a stage and a pulpit. Nobody wanted it, but of course as the leader he got his way. We needed to pay for the expensive equipment and a poor missionary was kept busy to set everything up properly for every meeting. Later, he insisted that we use it even in the early morning meetings. We were all sitting on a big table in the morning, and needed to share our early morning sogams. I told the chapter leader that it would be more natural to share from our seats while sitting together, but he shouted at me and forced me to read from the pulpit, 2 meters away from the table.

      They also insist on other unnatural things, such as the dress code of suit and tie which is very, very unnatural for German students. But as I said, the point was not to be natural. The point was to create an unnatural setting. That was done by intent. It is part of the mind control toolbox. In an unnatural setting, it is much easier to do unnatural and cult-like things. If you get people to the point that they dress and speak like you want them to, you made the first step to stop them from speaking and thinking freely, to accept and authoritarian regime and to force them into obedience in other things as well.

      By the way, another unnatural aspect of UBF messages is the habit of letting the audience read every verse together in one voice. I never saw this in any other church and it always felt strange, unnatural, boring, annoying and patronizing. But it also served to get the message across that people have to conform. People simply could not use a different Bible translations, or read more quickly or slowly than others. Again, if you tell UBF leaders to stop this practice because it is “unnatural”, they will only give you an irritated look. First, to them it is not unnatural, because they practice it since decades. Second, it was invented by Samuel Lee, so it must be the best thing since sliced bread. And third, that unnaturalness is intended and serves a purpose.

    • Chris,

      “They also insist on other unnatural things, such as the dress code of suit and tie”

      Our pastor delievered an amazing sermon yesterday. One of the notable quotes is this: “Well-meaning Christains often insist on dresing up for God. They say things like ‘If God were the President, wouldn’t you wear your best suit and tie? How much more before God in church!'”

      He went on to say, “Yes if I were to meet the President, I would were a suit and tie. Unless he was my father…”

    • Phil2Five,

      Your list is not unique. That is the standard practice I observed and experienced (as a messenger myself) for decades. It is no accident that you experienced those things.

      The hallmarks of Christian church are almost always ignored, dismissed or rejected outrigth in ubf chapters (though a few chapters are “going rogue” and starting to acknowledge these marks). Here is a partial list of the marks of Christianity that are so often overlooked are:

      1) personal conversion experience through the Holy Spirit (instead we have lifelong conformance to the heritage)

      2) desire for justice regardless of person (instead we have covering theology)

      3) edification of each person as a unique human being whose contribution to the world is unique (instead we have “unnatural training”)

      4) mutual submission and communication (instead we have lording-over authority heirarchies)

      5) compassion for the poor and weak (instead we have purging and outcasting of anyone who “can’t hack it”)

      6) connectedness with the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church (instead we have insults and rejection of all 3 Christain traditions: Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox)

      7) open practicing of the sacraments, primarily Communion and Baptism. (instead we have strange, secret, inconsistent baptism ceremonies, and rare, random communion– both of which are typically taught as a means of commitment to ubf).

      I hope there will be more than 3 redeemed ubf chapters one day, chapters who take on the marks of Christianity as a body as well as displaying the individual marks of Christ.

    • “Yes if I were to meet the President, I would were a suit and tie. Unless he was my father…”

      Brian, I can’t express how much I like this answer.

      Another good answer is that the NT does nowhere indicate that we should dress up, quite to the contrary (Mt 3:4, Mt 23:5, Jam 2:2). But your answer is much better.

      Anyway, if you are a missionary, you should dress the same way as those who you want to evangelize. Hudson Taylor for example dressed like the Chinese people. So if you want to evangelize students, you should dress like a student and not like a banker.

    • Terry Lopez


      I just wanted to let you know that Samuel Lee did not ‘Invent’ the responsive reading method for reading the Bible with a congregation. Here is a link from a website titled, “Better Gatherings” its from an initiative of the ANGLICAN church in Sydney, Australia. The author mentions SPECIFICALLY using a verse by verse responsive method, the same method used by UBF.


      Now it may be ‘unnatural’ for you, because you never encountered it, but it appears that others use this ‘unnatural’ method. I find it interesting that you consider responsive reading ‘unnatural’, I took a look at the message that Brian previously posted in the thread, “The Upside Down Kingdom”. And I found something very ‘unnatural’ to me. All the ‘props’ in the background to make it appear like a Hollywood stage, looked very ‘unnatural’ to me. I guess one man’s ‘unnatural’ is another man’s warm, inviting environment, or one man’s ‘unnatural’ is another man’s idea of keeping the audience engaged and alert…

      Now, I find it also interesting Chris that you made such a easily verifiable mistake as you did, concerning your claim that Samuel Lee ‘Invented’ the responsive reading method. Now if you can make a mistake like this concerning something that is sooooo easily verifiable, I wonder if perhaps, you’ve made any other mistakes in assessing the motivation or reasons why Samuel Lee did what he did or for that matter, the reasons or motivation for why that the leadership of UBF did some of the actions that they did. Unlike, your WRONG claim that Samuel Lee ‘Invented’ the responsive reading method, that could be easily proved wrong by a simple Google search, it wouldn’t be so easy to see if you’ve perhaps been wrong in other claims you make about the motivation of Samuel Lee or others in the ministry.

      To illustrate my point, we could take your clear mistake of claiming that Samuel Lee ‘Invented’ the responsive method to read the Bible. Some may think that your motive for doing so, was because you are soooo angry and bitter, especially about what happened to your wife, that you are blind and grab on any ‘evidence’ or ‘rational’ to ‘prove’ that UBF is a cult-like organization. Some may attribute it to even more dark and sinister motives on your part, that you did it ‘deliberately’ (kind of like your accusation that ‘unnatural’ methods are deliberate), because you want to darken the name of the ministry. Others, may just think that you are lazy and just say whatever comes to your mind. While still others may think that it was an honest mistake and let it pass without giving it a second thought.

      But which is correct? Fortunately, you are ALIVE and can tell us which it is. Any misunderstanding or misrepresentation on anyone’s part can quickly and easily be corrected by you. Unfortunately, Samuel Lee isn’t alive to have corrected you and shown you that he NEVER ‘Invented’ the responsive method to read the Bible and perhaps, he could tell you that he didn’t use the method to ‘deliberately’ control the minds of people. Maybe, he found it was a great method to keep the audience alert and engaged. Luckily for him, I just happened to look a little deeper and found that others use the method as well. But unfortunately there are still other allegations brought against him that know one can prove or disprove or even ask him about, because they are allegations about his MOTIVES.

      I also find it interesting that you claim that this ‘unnatural’ or ‘artificial’ method of reading the Bibile is part of a deliberate grand design in which to control the minds of the congregation. And yet other organizations, including the Anglican Church of Sydney also do so. If what you say is correct, then I think it would be of great importance that you start an immediate investigation of the Anglican Church of Sydney, because their congregation is in dire danger of having their ability to think freely taken away. They are surely practicing cult-like methods.

    • Terry Lopez


      My whole point could be easily summed up: Allegations against men’s motives is easy, but to know men’s motives is not…

      Something to think about…

    • Terry, I find little resemblance between the thoughts on your link and a UBF worship service, especially a service in Germany which Chris would be referencing. On the surface, there may seem to be some commonality but I don’t find any deep comparison between the two organizations.

      You do make a valid point about judging motives, Terry. I need to learn that point actually.

      Still I see Chris’ main point as being correct: SL did invent many things, which I think includes the peculiar worship service style still found in many UBF services. Maybe is would be more accurate to say SL copied or mimicked styles from other churches rather than truly “inventing” something new.

      These quotes from your link sound very different from the UBF services: (btw I like the “confess sin together” part; good idea)

      “At first, the daily services of Morning and Evening Prayer were relatively short, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer and a time of praise. Essentially, they provided opportunities for hearing Scripture read systematically and for responding with biblically-informed prayer and praise. An opportunity to confess sin together was added in 1552, and further prayers were added in later revisions.”

      I doubt any of us would disagree with this either:

      “1 Timothy 4:13 teaches that the public reading of Scripture is an important ministry in its own right, in addition to exhortation and teaching. The Prayer Book model of reading one chapter from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament at each of the daily services provides for breadth and length of reading, as well as sequence.”

      And this specific “responsive reading” is in regard to the Psalms meant for a corporate prayer service, not really a worship service:

      “Psalms can simply be read together as a form of corporate prayer, praise or confession. They can be read responsively, with the leader saying odd-numbered verses and the congregation responding with even-numbered verses. The leader can also read the first part of each verse (up to the colon in Prayer book versions) and the congregation respond with the second part of the verse. Some psalms can be read in sections by the leader, with the congregation joining in verses that are repeated throughout (as in Psalm 107) or in other ways. Let the structure and message of the psalm determine the best way to use each one.”

      I think we should consider what it would mean for a German like Chris to hear a group of people sharing (and sometimes shouting) bible verses and other slogans. How would that sound to German ears? As an American I find this practice to be strange, even though my prior Catholic church did similar things, the ubf method of all reading together was indeed strange to me. Particularly Chris’ point about “keeping up” is valid. I remember seeing numerous new Korean missionaries shamed about their English when they couldn’t keep up with everyone. I noticed the older missionaries couldn’t keep up either (even though we were speaking way slower than Americans normally do). But the older one’s would just skip words to keep up. That is highly unnatural. Often we would hear sort of an echo or wave of voices as we read.

      So I find Chris’ words to be accurate:

      “By the way, another unnatural aspect of UBF messages is the habit of letting the audience read every verse together in one voice. I never saw this in any other church and it always felt strange, unnatural, boring, annoying and patronizing. But it also served to get the message across that people have to conform. People simply could not use a different Bible translations, or read more quickly or slowly than others. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/09/05/midweek-question-message-dos-and-donts/#comment-10655

    • “I just wanted to let you know that Samuel Lee did not ‘Invent’ the responsive reading method for reading the Bible with a congregation. Here is a link from a website titled, “Better Gatherings” its from an initiative of the ANGLICAN church in Sydney, Australia. The author mentions SPECIFICALLY using a verse by verse responsive method, the same method used by UBF.”

      No, the author doesn’t. “Responsive” means that the leaders reads one verse (or part of a verse) and the congregations reads the other verse (or rest of the verse), alternating. Also, this reading method is only appropriate to certain texts like psalms, and the author explicitly talks about psalms.

      He does not suggest that individual verses and alleged “key verses” should be read in unison by the congregation interspersed into the sermon. I have never seen this method in any church, including Evangelical free churches. I haven’t even seen it once, but even then it’s a difference whether one leader does this occasionally in a Sunday message, or whether all leaders do it on every Sunday message and conference message in every chapter of UBF. Please show me a church that does this in the same strange way as UBF.

      Your claim that the author suggest to use the same method used by UBF is definitely WRONG.

      If you read my comment, my point wasn’t whether Samuel Lee really invented this method or other methods (like sogam writing and sharing), or whether he saw somebody else doing thes things and just copied and refined them. In any case he deliberately chose to use and implement this method, making it a kind of rule that every UBF chapter followed and copied until today. Also, I didn’t say that this particular kind of reading is what makes UBF a cult, but it still is a small element of many smaller a larger elements that all work together to create an environment that facilitates mind control. And the fact that all UBFers are doing these things pretty much in the same way as if it was part of a franchise smells very much like cult.

    • Mark Mederich

      debates can continue till kingdom come on whether something is cultish or not, well or evil intentioned, etc

      what really matters is fruit: if people do something (even with good intention) that produce deformed fruit: why not repent & let Holy Spirit help improve fruit

      if people do something (even with bad intention) that produce good fruit: why not repent & let Holy Spirit improve intention..

      i see the point to not overcriticise the dead, but i see to not overglorify them either..

    • Some more words about “responsive reading”. You should understand that psalms are a very particular literary genre. They are similar to our poems, but not in the sense of modern poems using rhymes. Instead, they use patterns like thesis-antithesis or parallelisms. This makes some psalms suitable for “responsive/alternate reading”, some psalms may have even been written with such usage in mind. However, for most other Biblical literature it is not appropriate. I can follow a OT or NT story or epistle or parable much more easily if it is read by one person with nice pronunciation. If the whole congregation is chattering the text with different voices and speeds, or only if the text is read alternating by different speakers, it breaks the mind flow and makes it hard for the listener to follow. It is really not helpful.

      I just asked my wife and she said students in the Ukraine were also put off by this habit, saying they felt like in a “kindergarden” because of this habit. And I heard German students say the same (also because of other things like the way BS was conducted with questionnaires as if the BS was for 1st graders).

    • Terry Lopez


      First off I should say sorry for typing Brain earlier instead of Brian, it was not intentional.

      Second, I’m not fully sure what you mean by ‘deep comparisons’. I think I understand you, but not fully sure. I’m not suggesting that a UBF worship service is like any other service by any other church. Tbh, I’ve been to some other church’s in my day, but I can safely say that every church’s service was different than every other church. Now, I can’t recall if I ever went to different church’s of the same denomination or not, to see if they are all alike in their worship or not, I don’t think I have, but I can say that those church services I have attended over the years, as much as I can remember were different from one another.

      My point was never to insinuate that the Anglican Church of Sydney’s worship service is exactly the same, nor even remotely the same as a UBF service. I clearly stated my purpose was to say, “Not every allegation is correct… And it’s especially, hard when you try to ascertain the motives of men.”

      Brian, I could be wrong but I don’t think the ‘main point’ that Chris was trying to make is that Samuel Lee ‘invented’ the UBF worship service. I could be wrong, but it certainly appeared to me that he was trying to say that Samuel Lee invented the UBF worship service to control the minds of young, impressionable students. Then he went through a series of items, INCLUDING responsive reading, to ‘prove’ his assertion. I just pointed out that Samuel Lee did not ‘invent’ responsive reading. I used this as a case in point that, “men’s motives are not easily ascertained” and can actually be misrepresented, we may think we know the reason why people do what they do, but unless you can talk to them, you really can’t say for certain…

      Also, I should share that before coming to UBF I never experienced a verse-by-verse alternation of Scripture and I found it strange, but I wont claim it was done in order to control my mind. I remember going to a Lutheran Church with a buddy of mine a long time ago and I found it strange that they have a book that is read responsively between the pastor (or whatever he is called) and the congregation; the whole thing is scripted, I found that very interesting and ‘unnatural’. But I didn’t find it sinister and a way to control the congregation and keep them from thinking freely either. Being ‘unnatural’ is not concrete evidence that something is cult-like; there are plenty of church’s that do ‘unnatural’ methods or practices, it doesn’t mean they are cult-like. But it appears that that is what Chris was trying to say in bringing up the whole matter of ‘unnatural’ practices in UBF…

    • Joe Schafer

      I agree with Terry on his last point. When I first showed up at ubf worship services, I sensed a very strange (from my perspective) atmosphere, noticing all the things that Chris mentioned, and many more. After some years I grew accustomed to it, and it no longer bothered me. After many more years, it began to bother me again, because I realized these practices were unnatural in the American context and posed unnecessary cultural barriers to newcomers. I began to think about worship and wrote a lengthy research paper on it in 2010. (The paper was well received by many people in ubf, but some top leaders didn’t like it, because I raised questions about many traditional ubf practices.) My present opinion is that the worship practices reflect the culture in which they developed, and for the most part people didn’t think about them much. I don’t think that responsive readings etc. were engineered specifically to control people. But to western people it might possibly feel that way, because Asian cultures (and Korean culture specifically) tend toward high levels of conformity and uniformity.

    • Terry Lopez


      Here is another website: http://books.google.com/books?id=p-CIkbAZgowC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

      It’s from a book titled, “Authentic Worship: Hearing Scripture’s Voice, Applying it’s Truths” it is a collection of writings by different people. It was edited by Herbert Bateman IV. One of the writings is by Timothy Ralston titled, “Scripture in Worship: An Indispensible Symbol of Covenant” on pgs. 195-222.

      The section I linked is from page 218. He writes the following:

      “It’s the ultimate act of liturgy (“participative” worship), and reading together in concert fostors the sense of community, corporate (family) responsibility, and solidarity under the covenant as we worship.

      In direct recitation, the entire congregation reads the passage in unison. (over longer passages the exercise often producs a chant-like rhythm.) In antiphonal recitation, the reading is performed between sections of the congregation (intracongregation alternation), OFTEN VERSE BY VERSE AS THE SIMPLEST FORM. In responsorial recitation, the congregation listens to a solo reader and make a set response after each set of verses recited by the leader. Thje response can be taken directly from the Scripture passage itself (following the example provided in such passages as Deut. 27:12-16; Pss. 136:1-26; 118:1-4). The response can come from outside the text, such as a simple “amen” or “alleluia.” It can take the form of a cantor with the congregation repeating each line. The African-American practice of “call and response” illustrates the subtleties of this practice within an extemporaneous worship environment. Finally, in responsive recitation, a reader and a the congregation alternate reading the passage, usually in equal segments. This format for Scripture readings OFTEN appears among the resources in evangelical hymnals. VERSE-BY-VERSE ALTERNATION OF READING BETWEEN LEADER AND CONGREGATION IS A COMMON PRACTICE IN MANY CONGREGATIONS.”

      Tbh, I have never, outside UBF ever experienced a verse-by-verse alternation, but Mr. Ralston says its a COMMON PRACTICE IN MANY CONGREGATIONS… Who knew??? I certainly didn’t. I never came across it before UBF.

      I find it amusing that you think that responsive reading is “ONLY APPROPRIATE TO CERTAIN TEXTS LIKE PSALMS”. Really??? The “ONLY” time that is appropriate is when there is poetry or song? So, it’s like a Duet, sung (or spoken) between two? That’s the “ONLY APPROPRIATE” time to do it? Personally, I find that arbitrary and nonsensical… It might be an appropriate way to read such passages, but I’m not sold on it being the “ONLY” appropriate time to do so…

    • Terry Lopez


      I remember the first time I went to a worship service of UBF. I was thinking “what in the world are these guys doing?” :-) lol… I still remember a practice that we did in Long Beach, where the Missionary couples would sit apart from one another. I was like, “Wow, what are these people doing?” But they explained it to me, that they didn’t want to have the students feel bad that they were single and stumble. I thought to myself, “Ok…” I kind of laughed to myself, but I accepted their heart. They really believed that they were trying to help me not to stumble over the sin of fornication and even denied themselves their right to sit with their spouse. Now, I can totaly say it was very strange and honestly it didn’t help me one way or the other tbh, but I still accepted their heart for doing such a thing for me and others. I have to confess after I got married to Mari, I ALWAYS sat next to her… :-). I don’t know if I ever made anyone ‘stumble’, but I was too much in love (and still am) with her, not to sit with her… :-)

    • Terry, you’re referring to page 218 of a book but we are unable to check the context of that page because page 217 is not available on the Internet. I assume it is about Psalms again, because the author writes about “such passages” and then gives some Psalms and Dt 27:12-26 as example, which is a special passage that is suited for such reading.

      Also, you are confusing some things. The church has always known something called “liturgy”. In Germany, both the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran churches have very old liturgies. A part of these liturgies is that the pastor says or sings something, and then the congregation responds something in unison. These are fixed phrases that every church members knows. They are part of the worship service. They are not chosen by the pastor. And they are not part of the sermon. When the pastor preaches his sermon, he does not request the audience to read certain verses in unison. I never saw this in any church. It is really strange and not helpful. Every German guest, be it someone from a Catholic, Protestant or free church background, immediately felt the cult smell when people were permamently asked to read certain verses from their Bibles in unison. It really feels like you are a kindergarden kid or 1st grader again, who have to repeat in unison what the teacher tells them. And I adhere to my opinion, this “1st grader” feeling is deliberately induced in the audience. UBF leaders want the members to have the feeling that they are the pupils/children, and they are the teachers/parents. The “reading in unison” of verses practiced by UBF (“responsive reading” is the wrong term for this practice) is only one of the many small elements that have been set up and meticulously followed in order to put members into that mood of subordinance and uniformity. I believe the unison reading makes people unconsciously agree with the content of the message more and accept the interpretation of the messenger, because it makes the listener part of that message. If it was not introduced intentionally by Samuel Lee, then at least “intuitively”, he obviously had a keen sense for how to manipulate people.

      Please give me a different explanation, why Samuel Lee introduced all these things, including abusive and humiliating “trainings” and telling people that they will experience accidents if they leave UBF, if not in order to manipulate people?

    • Terry, please tell me honestly: If you listen to an audio book with a nice story, or a lecture on a complicated matter, do you prefer to have one person read it clearly or do you prefer to have a room full of people read it in different speeds and pronunciations all together? I think the answer is clear. It really doesn’t help me to understand the Bible when everybody babbles mess, and it doesn’t help me follow the central theme of the message if it is permanently interrupted by such babbling.

    • Joe Schafer

      For what it’s worth, here is the research article that I drafted over three years ago on worship. I did in in response to a request by a high-ranking UBF leader. I put a great deal of effort into this report, wrote it very carefully, and I included some very gentle suggestions on how UBF chapters might improve their worship services. I had someone outside of UBF with academic credentials review it (he said it was good) and I hoped to distribute it to ubf staff, just to provide some food for thought to spark discussion.

      An Introduction to Worship for UBF Chapters

      When I showed this article to senior leaders in February 2010, some of them became alarmed. They quickly met behind closed doors to figure out how to “solve the problem” of Joe Schafer who had suddenly become a proud know-it-all and who was now causing a commotion about worship. Their solution was to appoint a three-member committee of senior leaders who would conduct their own study and issue their own recommendations on UBF worship services. The committee met zero times and did absolutely nothing.

      I would love to have anyone look at this article today and please tell me why it was so offensive.

    • Joe Schafer

      Here’s an historical note that might shed some additional light on the origins of the UBF worship service.

      The basic form of the UBF worship service is similar to a traditional Sunday *evening* service in the Presbyterian church. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the format was exactly that of the Sunday evening services being held in Presbyterian churches in Korea in the 1950s and 60s.

      The morning service at a Presbyterian church was formal and liturgical and included communion (the Lord’s Supper). The evening service was a bit shorter, less formal, and focused on instruction. It included prayer, singing and a message.

      When I started coming to UBF in the early 80’s, the SWS was actually held at 5pm. The rationale was that UBF was not trying to replace church, and its SWS should not prevent students from going to church if they wanted to. In fact, in the very early days of Korean UBF, just about everyone (including Sarah Barry, Grace A Lee, etc) went to church on Sunday morning before attending the UBF worship later in the day. After a while, however, the UBF environment became more demanding, and SL required leaders to demonstrate full commitment to UBF without any ties to another church. UBF made itself into a de facto church, although it claimed to be just a campus ministry.

    • 5 pm? I remember when I started in ’87 the time was 3 pm for us. I was told all ubf chapters worship at the same time all around the world, and that 3 pm was the “most holy” time of the Sabbath day, somehow even tied to the time when Jesus died. And we always sang “All Hail the Power” every blessed Sunday for decades. I can’t listen to that wonderful hymn anymore.

    • Joe Schafer

      In Chicago it started at 5 pm. After a while, it moved to 3pm. A few years after SL died, it was moved to Sunday morning.

    • ““responsive reading” is the wrong term for this practice”

      Maybe this needs some clarification. We’re actually speaking of two different practices.

      The one practice is to have the Bible passage read versewise alternating by the presider and the audience. I would not call it “responsive” because most of the passages do not have a question – response style or any similar structure. The division into verses is pretty arbitrary, I think was created by a Frenchman in the 16th century. It usually does not make sense to interrupt a nice story and parable in the middle of a sentence and let the audience murmur the other part of it in various speeds and volumes, so that you can’t even understand it without looking into the Bible. These texts are not meant to be read versewise alternating. As I said, there is not even a concept of a verse in most Bible texts except for the psalms and some hymnical passages.

      The other practice (that’s the one I actually had in mind) is to let the audience read passages in unision during the sermon. The preacher would say “Where did Jesus go soon afterwards?” “Let’s read verse 11 together, please…” And then the audience kicks in, reading “Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, …”, some will read loudly, some murmur, some will read quickly, some slowly (giving the verses an “echo” effect), and when the last person has finished reading, you already forgot what the preacher had been actually talking about.

      It’s this second practive that I find even more unnatural and hindering people from thinking deeply about the message. Instead it creates an atmosphere like in a kindergarden or 1st grader lesson, and also sets a subconcious tone of subordination and agreement with the interpretation of the Bible by the preacher. I believe both effects are intended and welcome by UBF leaders.

      As I said, I experienced neither of these practices in any other church (only the responsive reading of Psalms). And this is a third aspect of that reading style. It is unique of UBF, and UBF deliberately keeps a lot of unique traditions and habits. No matter in which country, UBF always performs the worship service very similarly, in their own style, which is deliberately different from the style of other churches in their country, and ususally does not fit their traditions. For instance, in Germany we rose up with different hymns than those of the “great awakening”. We have our chorals of Luther and Gerhardt, not the hymns of Wesley and Watts. Samuel Lee let members remove anything that reminded of traditional churches from the UBF center which had been a church building before. This was done by intend. Everything that Samuel Lee did was done on purpose. This was done to show that UBF is “different” and show his disrespect towards “ordinary” churches. He also deliberately neglected the sacraments that others churches have, particularly, Lord’s Supper was not an element in UBF worship services.

      I remember that my chapter director changed the time of our worship service back to the afternoon and made singing “To God Be The Glory” mandatory, saying that the imagination that every UBF chapter is singing the same hymn at the same time to praise God was so gorgeous. In principle (if you ignore the existence of time zones) this is understandable. However, when doing things the same as others around the world is such a marvellous idea, why does UBF deliberately do things differently than other churches, particularly why don’t they have Lord’s Supper like all the others, and why do they worship at a different time than other churches? Wouldn’t it be a much more gorgeous imagination that all Christians are praising God at the same time, and not only all UBFers? But in UBF, we were never accustomed to think in terms of global Christianity, but only in terms of global UBF. All thinking revolved only around UBF, we never saw the greater community of all Christians.

    • Joe, I just read your Introduction to Worship and must say it is a really well written article, and I like it very much.

      I’m sad to hear that your initiative was not appretiated in UBF, though that was to be expected.

      Actually, though I agree that worship in UBF is a big issue and though I agree with pretty much everything you write in that article, I don’t really understand why you thought worship service was the biggest problem in UBF that needs to be addressed. It is a big problem and sure needs to be addressed, but I see no point in improving worship service before there is corporate repentance in UBF over the things that happened in the past, all the abuse and division and sin caused be the stubborn adherence to Samuel Lee and his UBF system.

      You quoted the verse “worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth”.

      To worship in truth is only possible if UBF starts to admit the truth about their own history.

      The biggest problem of UBF in my view is that they don’t care about truth. I always remember this anecdote told to me by an ex member of Bonn UBF: He once pointed out to his director that a passage in the Sunday message was not true. The answer of the director was: “It is not important whether the things mentioned in a sermon are true, it is only important whether they are effective.”

      I observed this depreciation of truth and truthfulness many times in UBF. Samuel Lee faking the photos of the UBF conference and other photos was a symbolic and exemplary behavior that was brought up by the reformers in 2001, they brought it up becauseit was not this concrete fake, but the general mindset of creating your own realities, telling lies and disregarding the truth. In UBF, there is the concept of “absolute obedience”, but not the concept of “absolute truth” or “absolute truthfulness”. Truth was always flexible and relative. One of the Korean missionaries in my chapter even justified lying when it served the goals of UBF, giving Rahab’s lie as example.

      Until you come into the light and live in the light (a Biblical synonym for truth), there is no way and no meaning in worshipping God since “worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth”. Therefore, until UBF comes into the light, all thinking about how to improve the worship service is pretty much in vain.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, you wrote: “I don’t really understand why you thought worship service was the biggest problem in UBF that needs to be addressed.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/09/05/midweek-question-message-dos-and-donts/#comment-10797

      This is a great point, and it deserves an answer.

      I wrote that worship article because God called me to do it and he inspired me to do it. I had no grand scheme to change UBF. I was personally not ready at that time to face the myriad issues of abuse that I had buried for so many years. I should have been willing to look squarely at the abuse, but I was psychologically unable. I was in denial.

      In retrospect, I am glad that I spent so much time thinking about worship before facing the issues of abuse. The reason is this. I believe that everything we do in service to God — including working to call leaders to account and clean up abuse — should ultimately be rooted in a desire to see God honored and worshiped and glorified. The kingdom of God is a community of eternal worship. Abuse is horrible and needs to stop. But my motives to clean up abuse must also be purified. They shouldn’t be rooted in vengeance, in desires to vindicate myself, etc. My efforts to clean up abuse should, in the final analysis, be an act of worshiping and glorifying God, and should be rooted in a deep understanding of what Christ did at the cross for me and for the world. Focusing on worship was and is very important to me. Believe it or not, it is what propelled me to create this website.

  20. Maria Peace
    Maria Peace

    Joe thanks for this great article. Our chapter is so small but we also have a message rotation because John is doing seminary studies and works fulltime and is also a coach. Its hard for him to write every week. I am in the message rotation and I tell you it is one of the hardest week for me when it’s my turn. I kind of cheat though. I listen to all these great messengers on line especially the gospel coalition and when I hear one that make say, “yeah, baby,” then I put it in writing. I edited it just alittle bit to cut it to our limited 3 pages typed. When we post it on our website I write who was the messenger and that I edited it a little bit.

    So Do: listen to other people’s messages on line. Keep it Christ center. Show the beauty of God that makes people want to follow God.
    Don’t: talk about politics in the message.

  21. Don’t treat it like a lecture! Students get enough of that in school. The goal is not simply to teach and give people information. It’s good news – there should be excitement! Leaving room for a little spontaneity is always helpful, because a fully scripted sermon can often feel like a dry presentation instead of the proclamation of something encouraging and life-changing. It should sound more like a conversation than a speech. Having point form notes for all or part of your message will force the person speaking to really know what they’re saying, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Preparation is good, but that doesn’t always mean a complete transcript.

    • Hi Scott and welcome! I would agree completely: “The goal is not simply to teach and give people information. It’s good news – there should be excitement!”

      Scripted or not, I think any messenger (I prefer preacher) needs to stop and ask the question: Am I explaining my ideology or am I sharing the good news Jesus proclaimed? I’m not sure we can have it both ways.

      I’ve said this before but your comment about a conversation reminds me of several variations of preaching I’ve witnessed at our Baptist church: sometimes the “message” is just that: a conversation between 2 or more people at a table instead of at a podium. One time our pastor interviewed some missionaries who came back to the US for a visit. Those kinds of messages were most edifying.

  22. Terry Lopez

    This is the link to the last message I ever gave. It was in Sept of last year.


    Tbh, I forgot about it, but when I browsed through the message archives of Los Angeles, I came across it and watched it.

  23. “I had someone outside of UBF with academic credentials review it (he said it was good) and I hoped to distribute it to ubf staff, just to provide some food for thought to spark discussion.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/09/05/midweek-question-message-dos-and-donts/#sthash.i4I69TgW.dpuf

    Joe, your article “An Introduction to Worship for UBF Chapters” is very well written and personally edifying for me. I am sure that God inspired you to write this article and I appreciate that your attempt to address ubf problems are an act of worship. UBF as an organization and her leaders are just not ready yet to understand what you are saying in this article, only God can help them see this. But the day they do so, I am sure they will find solution to most of their problems and will be grateful to God and to you. While I was still in UBF, I was sensing that the root of all problem was related to worship and more so now after leaving. Your article certainly requires study and discussion even in this forum. Thank you for writing it.

    • Mark Mederich

      yes, worship of God Alone (instead of self/others) is the core issue

  24. Joe: I remember reading your essay on worship a few years ago when you had first prepared it and distributed it to staff members in N.America. Having re-read it just now, I’m reminded of how helpful and instructive it was for me when I first read it. I recall that reading your essay produced a paradigm shift in my thinking about worship, and especial corporate worship service, from being participant-centered to being God-centered. In my small UBF chapter, we were thrilled if one or two people joined our worship service, and it didn’t happen very often. The anticipation before the service was wholly focused on who and if anyone would show up. Honestly, my heart and mind was not focused on God in the least. In preparing and planning our service, the first consideration was always how a decision would affect the students in attendance, or rather, the students we hoped would be in attendance. Considering how starkly the main thesis of your essay—that worship is primarily about God and to God—flies in the face of the normal practice in many UBF chapters (whether that practice is deliberate or not), it is little wonder that your essay ruffled some feathers. Nonetheless, please know that it has borne wonderful fruit in my own understanding and practice of worship. Thanks–and I look forward to worshiping along with God’s people tomorrow!

  25. Thanks Joe for your research on Worship. I loved it. But I can understand why some older UBF leaders will have a hard time reading it: They have lived in an isolated and insular bubble that protects them from ever welcoming or receiving critique (except possibly from their own children).

    For what it’s worth, if anyone cares to do so, please critique my sermon last Sun which is about man’s absolute need to worship, entitled: Heaven? Worship? That’s It?.

    • Joe Schafer

      Hi Ben.

      I quickly skimmed your message on worship. What I’m writing here is not a careful (or even a careless) critique, but just a few things that I would have felt compelled to emphasize in a message like this one. Perhaps you did mention them, and my eyes glossed over them.

      * The meaning of “heaven.” Popular usage of this word is the place where believers go when they die. That word, and the title, suggest that the world to come is nothing more than an everlasting worship service for disembodied spirits. That’s not an attractive picture for me, because ao many of the worship services I have attended (and led) have been so boring and awful that being stuck there for all eternity would qualify as ECT (eternal conscious torment). I would have emphasized that this earth is our true, everlasting home. The Scriptures promise bodily resurrection and eternal life on a new earth that has been joined to heaven. We don’t know what life will be like, but I venture to guess that our resurrected life will be a full-orbed bodily existence where we will be doing a great deal more than what goes on at a typical church worship service.

      * Theology of Christian worship is rooted in the Trinity. Grasping God as Trinity helps us to see that a God who made us to worship him is not an egocentric monad but a loving community, and he invites us into that community to participate in the joyful perichoretic dance that has been going on since forever.

      * Since the earliest days of the church, the most constant element in Christian worship from the beginning has been the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. A modern Protestant worship service focused on preaching and exposition, with the Lord’s Supper de-emphasized or even eliminated, is a relatively recent (post-Enlightenment) construct.

  26. Mark Mederich

    message do: glorify God
    don’t: feel sorry that man is inglorious/must be unglorified

    • Mark Mederich

      Don’t Lord it over others; Do humbly include self/leaders first in who must listen/do God’s good teachings (otherwise followers are exempt too!!!:)

      NEVER use message to defend leaders/organization, that proves they’re wrong:
      if they are submitting to God properly, they don’t need to be defended.

      ALWAYS encourage body of Christ to ‘be all they can be, in the army’ (the army of the Lord that is)

    • Mark Mederich

      always let the Holy Spirit guide/rule; never serve yer own tender agenda:)

      point is noone really trusts God, do we; if we trusted God to work normally thru us, we wouldn’t need to sell people a ‘pig in a pogy’

      all talk of greatness (of selves/purpose/etc) are tricks from pit of hell:
      only God is great & He already knows it

  27. Thanks, Joe, I love/appreciate your comments.

    You’re right that I did not define heaven (#1), nor state where it would be. I primarily emphasized that our primary activity in heaven is the worship the Trinity, and by default all of our life this side of heaven should be expressions of worshiping/glorifying God (1 Cor 10:31).

    Your #2 was a major/primary emphasis in my extemporaneous preaching.

    Regarding #3, you’re right that I did not mention the Lord’s supper as part of worship. It is perhaps unfortunate for me and my own experience in that the Lord’s supper was de-emphasized. I do acknowledge today that it is important, and which we do celebrate with bread and wine several times a year on Sun. My justification of not having say a weekly Lord’s supper (though likely unjustifiable) is perhaps that my hope and goal is that I want the emphasis of every sermon to be on Christ, his person and his work/sacrifice in the context of the Trinity.

    • Joe Schafer

      Thanks, Ben. My understanding of heaven has been shaped by reading N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope. He claims that the New Testament view of heaven is not “the place where people go when they die.” Rather it is the abode of God and the angels and spiritual forces, which exists alongside the physical realm. Heaven is very near to us, though we don’t see it. It is something like a control room for the universe. If our souls go to heaven when we die, then it is only a temporary arrangement as we await the resurrection of the body and the inauguration of the new heaven and new earth. After reading that book, I began to see many passages in the New Testament (such as 1Co 15) in an entirely new light. And I began to see that the popular Christian notions of heaven — which Wright claims are not biblical, but merely expressions of folk religion — contribute to a gnostic-like tendency to see the physical earth and the human body as corrupt and unimportant.

  28. Agreed: “…contribute to a gnostic-like tendency to see the physical earth and the human body as corrupt and unimportant.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/09/05/midweek-question-message-dos-and-donts/#comment-10943

    I have not read Wright, but I have read other theologians and pastors who have said this, which has helped me to overcome my own dualistic and gnostic view of life. That’s why among my favorite personal stories that I love to mention in my sermons is my sheer love of food, my three cats and my wife, which actually helps me to feel the presence and nearness and goodness of God.

    • Joe Schafer

      It’s interesting to see how you and I are on the same page in so many ways, even though we arrived from different angles.

      The opening chapters of Surprised by Hope are a devastating critique of what Christian folk religion teaches about life after death. After reading that, it’s hard for me to go back and sing many of the hymns in the old hymn book, the hymns that talk about us spending eternity in heaven, because I can now see that they just don’t jibe with the New Testament.

    • Yeah, Joe, heaven happens now in Christ and by grace! But I wonder if others would agree that “we arrived”? :))

    • Joe made some great observations above. Personally this is the kind of discussion that I love the most in ubfriends.
      About a year back reading NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope helped me a lot to have a better view of life after death. In fact, I love the way NT calls it life after life after death. I believe understanding the New Earth, our resurrected bodily existence and our new roles to be revealed will help us have better perspective of our present assignments and certainly helps us better overcome the inferior pleasures of this present life. Certainly 1 Cor 15 makes better sense in the context of the New Earth.

    • Joe Schafer

      AbNial, thank you for your kind words. Yes, my hope is not in life after death, but in life after life after death.

      I like this kind of discussion as well. If there were an internal forum within the UBF community where people could speak up about problematic issues, and where leaders would actually listen, then there would be no need for people to talk about problems here, and the nature of discussions on UBFriends would dramatically change.