More work equals more blessing?

hIn this article I’d like to discuss a clear ubf teaching that I heard very many times in my ubf chapter in Yekaterinburg. Brian provided us some space to discuss the ubf heritage through his series of articles. Somewhere he said that the heritage is very tricky and not clear so it can lead to different teachings in practice depending on the situation and “sheep’s spiritual condition”. But there are some very clear things in ubf teachings upon which the ubf practice and reality is based. And I want to discuss one of these clear ubf teachings.

A Clear ubf Teaching: more work=more blessing

This ubf teaching is “based on the Bible”. Matthew 25:21 says, “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord”. The ubf chapter director taught us many times that:

“The kingdom of God is not communist, it is capitalist. It is a kingdom of justice. So the more you work the more you have. The more you do to feed sheep the much reward you will receive from God in heaven. There is no equality in the kingdom of God. The more one served on the earth the more he will have in heaven. The more you serve on the earth the higher you’ll have the position in the kingdom of God. And who serve God more than ubf missionaries? Nobody! Many have become even enemies of the cross. But ubf missionaries sacrificially serve God’s world mission. They will have the highest reward in the kingdom of God and will be the rulers over many”.

I want to provide some practical application of this ubf teaching which the director also gave us. Once I fished a new sheep. And the director told me “to give the sheep to the missionary because he will serve the sheep better than you”. I asked a simple question, “Why?”. So there was a special meeting in the chapter to help this proud shepherd. Four Korean missionaries and one proud Russian shepherd participated. The director asked the shepherd, “What do you think who is higher and better before God: a missionary or a native shepherd?” The shepherd answered, “I believe that a man can become a shepherd or a missionary only by God’s grace and in this grace missionaries and shepherds are equal”. The director said (or rather yelled)…

“What?! How could you even think this way?! You are proud like Satan! A shepherd can never become equal to a missionary, never! Every missionary sacrificed his homeland, left his country and went to another country as a missionary. This alone makes every missionary much higher than any shepherd before God. And what, do you think that a shepherd can become equal with a missionary in the kingdom of God?! Never! Missionaries sacrificed more and that’s why before God whatever you do you will always be lower than missionaries! You are just a shepherd, a low soldier, and missionaries are like generals”.

Then the director explained to me that because I cannot become equal to a missionary then it doesn’t matter if I give my sheep to the missionary. I should devote myself to more fishing (anyway my heavenly reward will be low no matter what I do).

Another missionary told me that if I give a sheep to the director then God will give me two other sheep instead. This missionary had already given his two sheep (who were shepherds at the time) to the director and was never able to fish a new sheep since that. The director never had a sheep whom he fished himself. He simply took all the sheep in the chapter to himself. And he said very often that he raised many disciples in Russia, “not like you, lazy shepherds who are busy with I don’t know what! You are cursed because you are not fulfilling your mission and are more busy with your jobs!”.

A servant among you?

Another basis for the teaching is John 13. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Then He said, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet”. And “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him”.

The director taught us in this way:

“Look, I serve the whole chapter with the word of God and deliver the messages every Sunday. So I am like a servant among you. You are like masters. But who is higher before God: you or me? Of course it is me because I serve you”. Then, “Look, the servant is not greater than his lord. It is the same as in a family. Father brings his son up. He wants his son to grow up well. But whatever the son does he will be always the son. He will never become equal to his father. He will never become greater than his father. I see that you can become a great servant of God but for me you will always be like a son and I will always be like a father for you. I can have peace and not be afraid of your spiritual growth because you can never overgrow me. And you can grow only when I grow and train you well. So if you grow that means that I grow even more and train you well”.

The kingdom of unity and equality and love

Last week we had a group Bible study about the kingdom of heaven. And we talked about the beauty and attractiveness of God’s kingdom. We thought about the unity and equality and love in the Trinity of God. The kingdom of unity and equality and love is very attractive. Everyone would want to live in such a kingdom. It is the true paradise. And if a church is at least like a shadow of this kingdom of God then many people would want to be part of the church, part of the brotherhood of love. But I said, “You know, Korean missionaries believe that there must be hierarchy in the church and there will be hierarchy in the kingdom of heaven. They believe that they will have very high positions in heaven and will rule over many simple people like we are. So if that be true would you like to enter such kingdom of heaven and live there forever?”.

Guess what the reaction was… Everyone agreed that such a kingdom with Korean rulers would be very unattractive. And everyone agreed that this hierarchy and lording over and pride of Korean directors led the native people out of the ubf chapter. (btw if you make a google search for Presbyterian churches in Moscow you will find about 60 of them and absolutely all of them have Korean pastors/directors and mostly each of them consists of only the Korean pastor’s family. These churches with Korean pastors don’t attract anyone in Moscow and it is not difficult to guess why).

As I thought about this ubf teaching, I began to understand why ubf directors act the way they act. They will never wish to “let the natives lead” and will never wish to let the Holy Spirit lead and will never wish to let Jesus be the King and the Lord in the life of believers because if they let they will lose their reward in heaven. If they lose their high directors’ positions on earth then they believe they will lose their high positions in heaven. If they lose their authority on earth then they will be simply losers, in this life and even in the life everlasting. I understand why ubf directors like being in photos so much (in the special places of honor and leadership), why they like reports so much. I understand why there is such a competitive atmosphere in ubf. I understand why ubf like to pray about numbers.

Do you share the Korean missionaries’ beliefs about the kingdom of God? Do you think these beliefs are based on the Bible? Would you like to participate in the competitive and number seeking labour and other ubf activities? Is the kingdom of God more like capitalist or communist?  Is the kingdom of God more like the Trinity or like an eternal hierarchy? Is the kingdom of God more like Christian or Confucian? Would you like to join or stay in such a Korean church with such a teaching and beliefs?


  1. Mark Mederich

    @Vitaly: you made a good summary of main problems; leaders thinking too highly of selves is slippery slope causing many issues; seems like earthly authority is very tenuous with much ‘checks and balances’ needed (like U.S. government) to avoid misuse/excesses

  2. The picture of the church as portrayed by Vitaly in this post resembles an organization. Like any organization, there are the managers (missionaries/directors), there are the clientele (sheep and natives), and there are the ones doing the serving (shepherds). There is a hierarchy and an organizational structure. This was how the church was portrayed to me as well from UBF leaders. I had the impression that the kingdom of God was like a big stadium of bleachers, like the bleachers in the international conference. The directors and the great servants of God from history sat near the front close to Jesus in heaven, while the normal Christians sat up in the nosebleeds, far away from Jesus.

    However, after leaving UBF and studying Scripture, especially Ephesians 2:11-18, I realized that the predominant metaphor of the church in the New Testament is a body. Moreover, the metaphor of the church as a body is a unique identifier of the church; there is no parallel in the Old Testament. The church is sometimes called a bride, but the Jewish nation was also called a bride in the OT. The church is sometimes referred to as a building, or a plant, or a vineyard, but those metaphors were also used of the Jewish nation in the OT. Therefore, the church is something wholly new, something without a parallel in the OT, and something that can really be understood best as a body. The church is not something the OT saints saw coming. They especially didn’t see coming that all believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, would share a common life–Christ–just as all the organs in the body share a common life. But this is the thrust of Ephesians 2 and 3. There are not believers who are greater, just as there are not organs that are greater; the body requires all organs equally, great or small, and even a small problem in one small organ can cause a great sickness to the whole body. This view of the church has given me a totally new attitude of myself, of other believers, and it has revitalized my view of service to God and to others.

  3. Regarding the title of the article: “More work = more blessing?” I believe that this idea is very unbiblical. Jesus told the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Mt 20 to contradict this idea. In the parable, the ones who laboured hard and long were rewarded the same as the ones who worked only one hour. When I delivered the message on this passage in UBF, I butted heads really hard with the director because I believed that Jesus is teaching in Mt 20 that all believers share equally in the rewards of God through Christ that are administered to us by the Holy Spirit regardless of how long or hard we work. His opinion and viewpoint differed very strongly, and were more-closely aligned with what Vitaly described. Yet I believe Mt 20 is a clear lesson against “more work = more blessing.” The only way for the winner to be loser and the loser to be the winner (Mt 20:16) is if they all tie. Think about that; it’s true right? And so, those who labour much share equally in the reward of God as those who labour little, for God is generous and full of grace to all, not a respecter of persons, and does not show favoritism.

    The corollary of “more work = more blessing” is that blessing comes through personal labour, not from God’s unmerited grace. This totally contradicts James 1:17, which says that all good gifts come from God. Moreover, it places people on a scale of righteousness and provides ammunition for boasting (Eph 2:9). Those who believe “more work = more blessing” feel absolutely condemned when they are not blessed or absolutely proud when they are. They former ones work harder and harder until they burn out, never feeling contentment or peace in Christ (that used to be me). The latter ones are self-satisfied, proud, and boastful, advertising their labors and magnifying their sacrifice, dedication, and hard labor (that used to be me too, and still is oftentimes I must admit!).

  4. Thanks, Joshua. I fully share what you say. But didn’t you hear the ubf explanation what “the body” means? I heard it many times that the chapter is like a body and the director is THE HEAD of the body and all the rest parts MUST OBEY the head. It is very natural when parts obey the head but it is the Christ who is the head and all the parts of the body of Christ are equal and equally important and are in true unity with each other. The same goes true with the term “Father”. The only Father of the church is in heaven and all believers are brothers, absolutely equal in the family of God.

    • Yes, Vitaly, I’ve heard snippets of such horrid theology. I’m thankful that the director of my chapter had seminary education, and so his doctrine was thankfully much more orthodox than it seems in your community. But although the doctrine was ok, the practice was still a bit on the legalistic/controlling/abusive side.

    • Alec Sitalo

      The term “Father” is biblical:
      Apostle Paul sais: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers” (1Cor. 4:15)
      Stephen addressing to the jews says: ” Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken” (Acts.7:2)
      For early christians it also was conventional as for a big family.
      In (Math. 23:9) Jesus certanly condems such behaviour of your chapter members.

    • Hi Alec,

      You are welcome to comment here, but please explain yourself a bit more. Why do you say Jesus condemns ubf members’ behavior? And are you saying it is ok or not ok to call people “father”?

    • Hi Alec, your reference to 1 Cor 4:15 is interesting. I was actually given that verse numerous times by my chapter director as a reason why I am more indebted to him than to others. He said that other believers are merely instructors, but we in UBF are like fathers because we labour for our sheep in Jesus. Because I am like a father, it is okay to exercise life-dominating control over another person’s life. In fact, it is the most spiritual thing, because it makes us like Apostle Paul who was not merely an instructor but a father.

      Also, the verse was used as a reason why a member must never leave because the director is the father in the Lord and you owe everything to him like a son. Even your human parents are merely instructors but he is a spiritual father who supersedes all other relationships.

      Jesus’ teaching makes it clear that we are only to call God the Father our father. Only God should have that authority and control in our lives. Giving that kind of control to others is not healthy for either party.

    • Joe Schafer

      Joshua wrote:

      “Also, the verse was used as a reason why a member must never leave because the director is the father in the Lord and you owe everything to him like a son.” – See more at:

      If anyone tries to play that card, you can respond: The Bible teaches that a man is supposed to leave his father and mother (Gen 2:24).

    • Good point, Joshua. People who buy into the “shepherding/discipling” ideas use 1 Cor 4:15 as a pretext for their concept of “spiritual fathering”. It is also used by the Catholic church to justify their use of the title “father” (“pater”) for priests and the pope. But really, this passage doesn’t justify any of these ideas.

      Doesn’t Paul actually oppose the instructor (“discipler”, “shepherd”, “trainer”) to the “father” (the “genitor”) in this very verse instead of equating them? Only one chapter before this, Paul had already equated the “father” to “the one who plants” and the instructor to “the one who waters”, but he explicitly wrote: “Neither of them is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” In a similar vain, he wrote in the first chapter that he was happy that he did not baptize the church members so that they would not feel as if they belonged to him. He also explicitly did not want people to say “I follow Paul”. The mindset and practice of the Apostle Paul was very, very different from that of the self-declared shepherds and disciplers in groups like ICC and UBF. Please also read the article Spiritual Fathers to understand this error. How can anybody invalidate the words of Jesus in Mt 23 by referring to 1 Cor 4?

      UBF leaders really want to be considered all in one: shepherds, disciplers, trainers and fathers of their “sheep”. They want their sheep to follow them and to follow the tradition and ideology of UBF. In UBF testimonies like this one you can find how Samuel Lee operated, how carefully he crafted the image of himself in the minds of his followers, and image of being the only one who really knows the Bible, the one who should be obeyed and imitated in everything. Quote from the that testimony: “Someone said, ‘His message is like the essence of the whole Bible.’ Once he [Lee] gave me his Bible and told me to buy the exact same Bible and underline the Bible exactly the same way he had done using the same color of pen in 4 days.” How silly is this? And at the same time how presumptuous! Don’t you see how different the mindset of Apostle Paul was?

    • By the way, here is another quote from that testimony: “Dr. Lee to my recollection was never stingy in giving love. Some students went to missionary Samuel at the beginning of school semester and he helped them with school registration fees. In addition, he always invited guests to his home at lunchtime.”

      The point is, Samuel Lee himself lived from offering money. He also used offering money to make loyal followers. This was already mentioned in the 1976 letter. Lee himself considered that money as if it was his own money, and made other people people believe it was his own money. In reality, if anybody was not “stingy” then the ordinary, low level UBF people like many of us who are writing here. After the death of Samuel Lee, Sarah Barry wrote that she was consternated about the amount of money found on UBF bank accounts. If Lee really had not been stingy, no money should have been found. But there are still millions left. Then he was credited for inviting guests. But who paid the food and the house Samuel Lee was living in? It was all UBF money. Who cooked the meal and washed the dishes? It would have impressed me a bit more when he was the one who regularly did all of this, but I’m pretty sure he never made his hands wet or dirty after he became “general director”. What annoys me in these testimonies is how one man Samuel Lee is praised to the heavens, as if he personally suffered and sacrificed so much, while the work of all the low level UBFers is totally ignored, who really did all the work and paid for everything, trusting this person who betrayed them by not being accountable. Many of these have been expelled during the various reform movements when they started to point out grievances. They never got any penny as compensation for all their hard work. Pensions only get the “silver missionaries” in good standing who stay on the party line and never speak up. Thinking about this whole system and the adoration and defense of Samuel Lee makes me sick.

  5. Thanks for this article, Vitaly. It helps understanding the very root cause of most of the problems we are facing in UBF. It’s really a problem of misconception, not only of their own roles and importance (as Mark commented), but actually a misconception of the church, heaven and God.

    One thing I found amazing is how outspoken your UBF director was about his conception of church and himself. In that regard, at least he was honest. In my experience, most UBF directors and missionaries carefully hide such teachings in their mind and avoid speaking about them (much less explicitly writing about them in lectures which I assume your director didn’t do either – these things are only taught indirectly between the lines). But after many years, I also started to understand that this misconception was in their minds, consciously or subconsciously, and it’s the best explanation of their behavior that seems to be so irrational and unbiblical to us.

    Sometimes I caught a glimpse of their real thoughts. For instance, one missionary told to me that our task was to “rule over the sheep”, but “not as the world does – we rule by serving them”. Even when they serve people (sometimes they really do, sometimes they just call their interference “serving”), they still see it as ruling. For them, the serving is just a “mind trick”. For instance, using the phrase “the servant of God” for the UBF director. When they use this phrase, they indicate that this person is the unquestionable leader and must be obeyed absolutely. For them it fits perfectly that Moses was also called “the servant of God”. UBF directors are like Moses, those who lead the church, who have a direct connection with God and must be obeyed absolutely. They don’t understand that the Christian church is something completely different. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

    Another instance that showed me their real thoughts was a UBF newsletter article written by the European national director Abraham Lee. In this article he wrote about the teaching that there are different parts in the body. He wrote “for example, not everybody can be the head”. This showed that he really believed “the head” was one of the body parts that must be implemented by a member of the church (the director). He didn’t understand that Jesus, and only Jesus is the “head” of the church. There should be no other “heads” (see also Mt 23). This observation supports was Vitaly wrote in his last comment.

    Btw, Daniel 12:3 seems to be another Bible verse that UBF directors and missionaries have in their mind when thinking about their roles in heaven. They believe they are those “who are wise” (sometimes also translated “who teach”) and “lead many to righteousness” – so they “will shine like the brightness of the heavens”, “like the stars for ever and ever”. This is the expectation they have of themselves. The missionaries are the small stars, the directors are the really bright stars, Samuel Lee is the morning star, and the shepherds and maybe a few non-UBF Christians are decoration like the milky way in the background, only serving to emphasize their glamor. And all the other people will be eternally tormented in hell. I guess they like this picture.

  6. Thank you for sharing this article Vitaly. I wish my director and leaders in ubf had been so clear! As Chris mentioned, these teachings are at the core of most every ubf director and high-ranking leader, yet they hide behind many bushes. Those bushes are gone now, thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit!

    Your article points out two things for me:

    1) We can clearly see the non-Christian nature of the ubf belief system.

    We are not talking about one or two missinoaries in Yekaterinburg. We can see such teaching in the fiber of the ubf heritage system. Are there Christians in ubf? Yes. We know that, especially by Terry’s comments here. Can someone join ubf and become a Christian? Yes, that has happened numerous times. But why did people become believers after going to ubf? It is only because the Holy Scriptures are used by the Holy Spirit. This is testified to in many verses- all the ubf “work” to make disciples never made one disciple. This is true of all churches- such work is the work of God alone. Christ alone is our Head! All Christians everywhere say Amen! (that means you too Mark :) Christians disagree on so many things, but no Christian believes their group is the “head”. All Christians testify that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords! Hallelujah.

    2) We can clearly see that ubf is a bible study NRM/cult group.

    If ubf was a business network to make money, they would have done an intensive study right away on Yekaterinburg ubf. A whole chapter leaving at once? That would mean a loss of revenue if ubf was a business. Yes ubf does try to create businesses and some have succeeded in making their own self-supporting ventures. But clearly ubf is not primarily a business.

    If ubf was a Christian church, they would have done an intensive study right away on Yekaterinburg ubf. A whole chapter leaving at once? 100% of non-Koreans? Toledo ubf had 50% of leaders leave. Taiwan had many leaders leave. India had many leaders leave. All this happened between 2009 and 2012, around the world. Yet ubf senior leadership does not find out why. They do not care but instead honor those “faithful ubfers” who remained in such places.

    There is not one thing anyone anywhere at anytime that could be said to convince me that ubf is not a harmful cult. There are good people still in ubf, like our friend JohnY, but the ubf heritage and the ubf senior leadership and most directors are perpetuating an abusive cult that fosters elitism and sectarianism.

    If the people of Christ are a body, then ubf is a cancer sore on that body. Praise God that the Holy Spirit is now removing that cancer.

  7. Vitaly, I love the article. I have been wondering whether to comment or not, but I will and I’ll try to be brief.

    I guess missionaries (Korean) are the ones to be ranked – right? Sometimes I really smell that old inferiority complex brewing somewhere. What happens when you are in between two expanding imperialistic countries (China and Japan)? You use your inferiority complex as an excuse for just about anything. I suppose that anyone from any other country is far better off and richer than people in Asia and especially Korea. (hmm…except for those brown people) Sorry, not personally making any comment here but definately making observations.

    From over here there is definately jealousy (some say envy) from North Americans or any Europeans, who just happen to be today’s influence in the global world. There is also a superiority to those from third world countries. (I just love how my black co-worker from Chicago was told to go back to Africa. No, not ubf.)

    Not all missionaries are that offensive, but sometimes I really do wonder about the common men and women. If they would be usual and faceless unknowns in the general daily grind. There is no such thing as altruism when you have missionaries who do not go out to share the gospel, but to rather instruct others this way or that. Sure, at first it looks like the gospel, but go deeper and unreasonable demands are made upon everyone. You know it is funny when people share stories about their pets – I am reminded of hamsters. Why? Because if you are not careful a mother will eat her own young. In fact two of the same age may do so also.

    Anyways, we have listed the various works many times. But the certainty that you have illustrated here is very similar to most chapters at least somewhere in time. Oh yes, the biggest joke I can remember was the typical story of a chapter director. Most often the wife did the fishing, but her husband didn’t. Vitaly, in your accounts the general shepherds and immature missionaries are first robbed of their sheep and then raped as they are chastised so. (Yes, the wording is a little strong here – it is done so purposely.)

    • Btw, I just want to add one thing to clarify my thinking. It would benefit UBF to consider holistic training for missionaries – meaning – to become a missionary should mean more than just obedience to the heritage. It should also mean careful consideration for the kind of person who goes abroad. When you hear crap like the example from Vitaly’s chapter director I get the impression that he should never have left Korea. I also feel that he should not be permitted to have authority over any non Korean.

    • Mark Mederich

      obedience to heritage is devil’s deception of worst kind..

    • I will indulge the dislike, but would have rather taken the passive approach. ;)

      For example, one of our church members (who was in USA for about a year) made such a mistake based on cultural thinking and NOT the gospel. I will tell about it as it was while we studied a passage that dealt with lust in addition to a few other topics. He actually said to me, “You don’t suffer from lust because Korean women are not beautiful and attractive for you.”

      Sorry admin, but wt*! I am married to a Korean and have spent almost all of my married life in Korea so far. For more than a decade I have had varying degrees of relationships with Korean people including my social life and employment back in Canada. There are more ridiculous comments addressed to me by that couple, but that one is about the best. I will cherish it for a long time because it reminds me of how parochial some missionaries are. For a missionary candidate to boldly dismiss my possibility for lust is quite flattering really since in UBF if they could castrate a man they would. I am sorry to say that I am like any other who is vulnerable, but true enough lust has not been my weak point. My temper however that is…

      Anyhow, I reassure you all that I am confident with many Koreans to become missionaries but my caveat still stands. In terms of Vitaly’s main focus though I digress. We have indeed discussed works many times, but here we can focus the discussion to the spiritual measurement according to obedience to the 12 point heritage.

      What about those darned fast trackers? My…the usual timely approach to growing must burden those who want recognition or marriage? But, in my experience from my home chapter, even stamping out the heritage in committed daily life was not enough to be sure of a seat and place to be a member of the club. I love how the absense of a couple people ruined it for the lot in my experience…..tears…..there was no shepherds ceremony that night. So, we are indeed still spiritually immature because we are being judged by the works of others.

      When you obey the heritage what blessing do you get? What do you find when you unwrap your present? Most likely you find a false hope in a title accompanied by a list of more to do’s. You also find a millstone that can be tied around your neck, because if you fail to achieve your goal you will be shamed publicly among the silence from those you believed to be friends.

      Obedience to Heritage=Better Than Your Neighbours.
      Obedience=Greatness and Righteousness.
      Obedience=Supreme Biblical Understanding.

      We have said again and again that making changes in your life and applying Biblical or Christian values is not at all a bad thing. It is commendable. But, we are saved by GRACE – and that can be found in Jesus alone, otherwise by the Holy Spirit. We should not impose an organizational system of ‘obedience=blessing.’ I said once before that any blessing OUTSIDE of UBF is examined closely first and afterwards declared either from God or from Satan. But blessings in UBF are always from God – No really, they are!

  8. Darren Gruett

    Wow! I’m appalled to even read that things like this happened. I guess your director never read the parable in Matthew 20.

  9. Thanks for sharing this Vitaly. Like Darren, I am virtually speechless when I first read it.

    I am a person who generally likes to get more for less. That’s why I love grace; I love to receive what I do not ever deserve!

    Thus, after Lk 15:11-32, my favorite parable is Mt 20:1-16, because I am without a doubt the person who worked the least–just 1 hour (Mt 20:9), but yet I received the same tremendous blessing as the person who worked the most and sweated all day!

  10. Maria Peace
    Maria Peace

    Vitaly I am really sorry to hear this. You are right it is not Biblical. Joshua for you also.

  11. Perhaps it is time for mission agencies in Korea to begin thinking deeply about how they can send out missionaries who are mature spiritually and emotionally to carry out effective cross-cultural work.