Critique my Leadership Practice and Sermon

SpurgeonThis is a record third post in a day! After learning much from critiques of my sermon on Sin, here is my next sermon on Leadership (Dt 1:9-18) for this Sun. Do also evaluate my laissez faire leadership at West Loop (WL) UBF: Since our inception in 2008, all things WL have been delegated to our 11 WL families. Because of countless stewards and leaders, God has allowed me to spend my time with my head in the clouds! Basically, everyone does everything at WL, and I do whatever I want!! By God’s mercy, what I want may be reading, studying, thinking, praying, contemplating, preparing, problem solving, writing, blogging, emailing, planning, teaching, preaching, and finally……annoying others from time to time unintentionally!


  1. A quote I came up with which I later realized was not original and had multiple attributions: “You don’t need a title to be a leader.”

  2. Ben, last week your outline was essentially a 1 star outline in my mind, but clearly you turned it into an amazing 3 star sermon.

    This outline is starting out at 3 stars and has potential to become 4 or 5 stars with your extemporaneous preaching! I received much peace from reading your thoughts on leadership, which is a vast topic that needs years of study. I was glad that you stayed with just the topics in your passage. I would say that’s a good thing, rather than trying to comprehensively encompass all the ocean of “leadership”.

    There was only one cringe-worthy statement for me: “A good leader’s judgment should never be affected by any consideration other than the truth.”

    I think a leader must always consider the perspective of many around him or her and discern the truth in any given situation. Your sentence sounds to me as if a leader should be a dictator of truth, which I doubt was your intention.

    As an egalitarian in regard to women, I would love to hear something about women in leadership and pastorship. Or if you are complimentarian, then maybe you could express that view of women and leadership? As a man I’m fine with either view of course :)

  3. Dr. Ben, good sermon, but I think it might benefit from giving a bit of context about Moses life. We learn that he was very learned because he studied in Pharaoh’s court from a young age. Extra-biblical sources also say that he was at one point a skilled orator, studied and understood geopolitics, led military expeditions and was an accomplished general.

    Perhaps though what may resound with most of any audience is the fact that he spent nearly two thirds of his life in training and spent the last third serving. Hence, God took his time to prepare him. Moses probably made many more mistakes and personal discoveries than what’s recorded in the Bible. Good leaders are knowledgeable, but also lead from profound life experiences; both key successes as well as mistakes.

    Lastly, I would add that Jesus is the better Moses (Heb 3:1-6). You could make a lot of NT connections in talking about Jesus, the Holy Spirit enabling capable leaders for the church and so forth. But perhaps this would be outside of the scope of your current theme in the sermon, which is good and biblical in and of itself.

  4. Thanks, Brian. Yes, a good leader should not be a dictator of truth which he imposes on others.

    The cringe worthy statement, in context, is in reference to favoritism. It is to consider a person’s status and allow that to primarily dictate your decisions.

    For instance, there is a dispute between an older leader and a younger member. The truth clearly supports the younger member. But because the older leader is your personal friend you make a decision favoring your friend, rather than basing it on the truth which would support the younger member.

    I hope this makes sense.

    I’m probably going to stay clear away from the complimentarian/egalitarian divide, for fear of being stoned from both sides!

  5. Joe Schafer

    It might also be good to reflect on the possible ways that we, as Christians, are NOT supposed to emulate Moses. The coming of Jesus, the establishment of the kingdom through his death and resurrection, and the sending of the Holy Spirit on the church (all of it) has changed matters considerably. The new world order and covenant is different from the old. So leadership under the new covenant cannot be the same. Paul reflected on some of the ways that the apostles were not like Moses in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4. I wrote something about it here:

    • Right. This big difference is also expressed clearly in John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

  6. Thanks, Dave, for commenting in the midst of your intense Ph.D defense! I am excitedly looking forward to the day of addressing you no more as plain ole ordinary boy David…

    I didn’t think of it, but certainly God’s thoroughgoing preparation of Moses for 80 years is highly significant and noteworthy in forging him to be the leader that he became.

    Yeah, I was also considering how to tie Moses’ leadership to Christ–the paragon of leadership. I probably have not studied Hebrews in any depth to be able to do it in a manner that is not forced. But I am all ears for thoughts and ideas.

  7. Yeah, Joe, Chris, I think one of the most damaging ways that Christians have understood and taught the Bible is to “be like Moses” (or like Abraham, or David, or Paul, or even Jesus), the so-called “pull yourself up by the bootstraps Christianity.” Or in UBF some people might say, “Just obey.”

    I’ve seen the horrifically damaging results of such emphasis in Bible study among those who think they are like Moses (proud) and those who think they can’t (despair).

    I’m still in the process of trying to articulate the gospel from the theme of leadership. Any suggestions?

  8. Tentatively, this is the conclusion of my sermon:

    Jesus is the greatest leader. Jesus experienced all of the above attributes of leadership and he lived it perfectly as the perfect man.

    1) Jesus experienced the greatest unfathomable degree of stress by bearing our sins on his body on the cross (1 Pet 2:24).
    2) Jesus delegated his authority to us to go and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18-19).
    3) Jesus showed no favoritism and proclaimed justice to the nations (Mt 12:18).
    4) Jesus displayed humility through his incarnation (Jn 1:14), life and condescension unto death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8).
    5) Jesus is the greatest leader of all time with the greatest successors among men and women–both in quantity and quality–for the last 2,000 years and counting.

    Ultimately, the greatness of Jesus’ leadership is that though he possessed the ultimate authority, power and honor, he gave it all up, so that we might know the depth of his love for us (Rom 8:32). Indeed, the greatest leader is one who–out of love–gives up his live so that others may live. May God bless you to know the heart of Christ and be a leader of men in the image of Jesus.

    • Joe Schafer

      Hi Ben,

      I understand the desire to lift the name of Jesus high above everything else. But there’s something about your ending that doesn’t appeal to me. It’s hard to explain, but let me try.

      Your ending, although Jesus-centered, does not sound gospelesque. In the four gospels, Jesus did not walk around making overt statements like Mohammed Ali claiming that he was the greatest. He did make those claims, but mostly he did so indirectly using cultural references drawn from the Old Testament so that those who were plugged in to what God was doing would understand. He also spent a great deal of time describing what the kingdom of God is like. Jesus wanted people to catch a glimpse of the kingdom and understand the nature of the kingdom, how it works, etc. Jesus provides the kind of leadership that is consistent with that kingdom.

      It’s quite possible for someone to take the list of points you made about the leadership of Jesus, and use at least some of them to paint a picture of an ideal leader for just about any organizational entity, no matter how good or how corrupt. I can imagine a leader in ubf or a similar organization hearing your conclusion and thinking to himself: Check, we do that. Check, we got that one covered. And so on. That reaction could result from deep misunderstandings about the big picture of what the kingdom of God is like.

      Jesus doesn’t merely take the best qualities of Moses and do them better. He is a leader of a different sort because the kingdom he leads is radically different from any sort of power structure we find in this world, including the nation of Israel. I hear hints of that in your message, but it’s not loud and clear.

    • After having some years of distance from UBF now, I notice another problem in this discussion, namely the fact that you try so much to read the Bible with the question “How can I be a good leader for other people?” and not with the question “How can I be a good disciple of Jesus?”, “What is the kingdom of God?”, “What can I do to make the kingdom of God come?”, “Which problems hinder me to have fellowship with God?” etc. When I read Mt 23 it is obvious to me that Jesus did not want people who think in categories of “leadership”, he wanted people who think in categories of “brotherhood”. So I think you’re simply asking and over-emphasizing the wrong question. And personally I believe the best leadership happens by being an example for others, not by manipulating others, and by serving others (and this is the only point that Jesus emphasizes). The quote from Spurgeon above is spot on here. So I would say, stop asking that question, concentrate on other things. Then good and authentic leadership will come almost naturally as a by-product. I also believe the unrepentance of UBF leaders can be explained to some extent by their asking too much “How can we good leaders?” instead of “How can we be good sheep?”. I don’t think this over-emphasis on “leadership” has done any good.

    • Or maybe even you ask the question “What can I do to make the kingdom of God come?” but you have in mind, the kingdom of God comes when we raise up many disciples. But I believe the kingdom of God comes when we simply live as children of God reflecting his love in our family, in our neighbourhood, at the work place etc. Then there is already the kingdom of God happening. And others will see and notice this, and come and ask and get in touch with us automatically.

  9. Ben, even though I’m not a millennial technically, I would echo their likely response: When I hear the word “leadership” I just zone out. When I hear “the greatest leader of all time” type stuff my mind turns off automatically. I just cannot process that, maybe it’s just me.

    The Chris Brown sermon I sent you is the most awesome articulation of Jesus’ leadership I’ve heard. That kind of leadership sermon is amazing– Jesus’ leadership entirely upside down from everything we think we know about “leadership”. For Christians, leading must be done in the context of Jesus’ kingdom and Jesus’ Lordship. And we must answer a fundamental question: “Who are we leading to where and to what?”

    To lead is to “guide on a way especially by going in advance; to direct on a course or in a direction; to serve as a channel for”.

    And for the love of Pete and God and Mary herself, we must avoid lording over our authority and creating power imbalances (you know the stuff ubf is made of).

  10. Thanks, Joe, Brian. I love your comments and critique! which I agree with. I myself felt that I “forced Jesus” into the sermon to conclude my sermon.

    Brian, I watched Chris Brown’s sermon yesterday and I am enamored and awed by it. My thought was that I needed to somehow get his point across in my “extemporaneous” preaching. Jesus turned everything upside down including and especially leadership and greatness. No one can do so by their own effort and resolve, because of our own overweening pride, ego and hubris. Unless the gospel of his love, grace and kingdom overwhelms our hearts, nothing would ever really change.

    • Precisely Ben!

      “Unless the gospel of his love, grace and kingdom overwhelms our hearts, nothing would ever really change.”

      And until we let our “1st half of life” gospel die, that is the gospel of obedience, loyalty and morality, we won’t find the new wine Jesus spoke of.

      Obedience, loyalty and morality are important but must eventually give way to love, grace and kingdom if we are to ever experience real change.

      Until that happens, we can change anything and everything but nothing will change.

    • Brian, I am looking forward to reading James Danaher’s next book: The Second Truth. Did you read Rohr’s Falling Upward about the two halves of life?

    • Hey Ben, no I haven’t read Falling Upward. I am highly interested in this kind of philosophy however. Yes, Danaher’s next book in the works seems to be of great interest and looks to be another voice of clarification in all these thoughts.

  11. As I woke up this morning, this was what I thought of.

    The fact is that we humans are obsessed with honorific titles, like being THE leader, senior pastor, honored elder, top gun, head honcho, CEO, CFO, COO, missionary, shepherd, chapter director, continental director, national director, etc.

    So I wanted to speak extemporaneously on “you don’t need a title to be a leader.” Obvious examples: Gandhi, Mandela, Buddha, Joseph in Potiphar’s house and in prison, and Jesus.

  12. Joe, Brian, This is my edit based on your comments:

    Jesus, the leader (even if he did not regard himself as such; he was simply being himself). Jesus experienced all of the above attributes and he lived it perfectly as the perfect man without much ado. He was being himself. He was revealing who God is exactly and precisely (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3).

    Ultimately, the greatness of Jesus is that though he possessed the ultimate authority, power and honor, he gave it all up, so that we might know the depth of his love for us (Rom 8:32). Indeed, the greatest man is one who–out of love–gives up his live so that others may live. May God bless you to know the heart of Christ and be a man and woman in the image of Jesus.

    Please do not hesitate making any further comments.

  13. Thanks, Chris, your comment is insightful and VERY helpful. I realize that even though I critique UBF, I still regard myself as an insider (even if other UBFers do not regard me as such and wish to subtly exclude or marginalize me!). Definitely, observations from outsiders, such as yourself, is VERY helpful and necessary. So, thanks so much!

    Yes, it is not about being a leader, but about being a Christian!

    It is not about how to be a good leader, but about how to be a good sheep to Christ!

    • “It is not about how to be a good leader, but about how to be a good sheep to Christ!”

      Now THAT deserves a big, hearty Amen! Ben, I think you just coined the new ubf mission statement for the next 50 years.

    • I always believe that a good sheep to God always leads others because it is God who leads such a person…they are filled with the Holy Spirit not numbers and agenda and human recognition..I second Amen here!!

  14. Chris, a UBF-related reason I like the title and theme of leadership is because in 50 years UBF has no messages with such a title.

    Also, as I read and prepared for this sermon, I realize that UBF has not done these two things well historically:

    1) delegate authority to subordinates (the top leader still demands to have the final say and uses junior leaders as extensions of themselves), and

    2) judge without favoritism and partiality. I am sorry to say that based on several big and small events the judgment and decisions invariably favor the leader and the senior. This comes across as unfair and unjust.

    By delegating poorly and by judging without displaying justice and fairness, we misrepresent the God of perfect justice and righteousness to others in the church, to our children and even to the world.

    • That’s right, Ben, but regarding 1), even if authority would be delegated properly to subordinates, that would still create a hierarchy of authority and chain of command, which is simply wrong. We shall not create such hierarchies, and we shall never even think in terms of “subordinates” when we think of other Christians. Regarding 2), I fully agree. James 3 says that the wisdom that comes from heaven is impartial.

      Actually young believers have the best and powerful teachers already: The Bible (Gods word), and God himself who speaks to the believer in different ways as the Father, Son (the good shepherd) and through the Holy Spirit. If we really believe that these are strong teachers and shepherds who speak to all believers, not only to certain leaders, and that they are powerful and can change the hearts and minds of people, we should start asking ourselves why we over-emphasize the role of human teachers and leaders so much. Their only role can be to lead people closer to God and then they must gradually back out and stop interfering. John the baptist must have had this in mind when he said “He must become greater; I must become less.” We must also understand that the Holy Spirit usually speaks very gently and subtly (“God in the gentle breeze”) and it is easy to drown Him out as human leader (or “visible servant of God” as they are called in UBF). The visible easily overtrumps the invisible.

      The Bible is all about servantship, not about leadership. I found many Christians believe that the word “servantship” is only a clever trick or twist to dominate over others and exert leadership anyway. My Korean UBF shepherd even once told this explicitly to me, “we rule over others by serving them”. But no, it’s not a trick, it’s not a clever distortion of words, Jesus really meant it. We should serve others, without any hidden agenda of ultimately making them dependent, controlling them, enlarging our own organization, getting credit from anybody or getting anything back.

  15. Joe Schafer

    Ben, did the message go well? I’m impressed by your willingness to subject yourself to open critique. This shows a kind of leadership through vulnerability that is certainly Christlike.

    I agree with much of the above discussion about not trying to be a leader, but just being a follower of Christ. When that happens, God does raise up leaders for his church. I have met many young people who are natural born leaders in ubf over the years. One by one, they were marginalized and driven out. One could easily write a book: The Ironic Story of University Bible Fellowship: How Not to Raise Christian Leaders.

  16. I’m not trying to stir the pot for the sake of it, but my opinion is that leadership is indeed a biblical concept. In this particular forum, I don’t believe that it is being accurately represented. Certainly God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, i.e., the Triune God serves as our primary leader, teacher, shepherd, etc. But the fact cannot be denied that he delegates leadership to overseers/deacons, elders and bishops within his church, which is the body of Christ. There is ample NT writing on this subject. I agree that UBF has not necessarily laid down good guidelines concerning biblical leadership. It probably goes without saying that this is one of the primary aspects of UBF that needs immediate and thorough remediation. But this fact does not allow us to stray from the biblical concept that leaders are raised up in the church for various purposes.

    For instance Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow Christ (1 Cor 11:1)”. Furthermore, there is arguably a gift of leadership within the church; literally “one who exhorts” (Rom 12:8). And there is indeed hierarchy among the specific giftings through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:28). And look at what 1 Thess 5:12 says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,…”. The writer of Hebrews tells us to “remember the leaders who spoke the word of God to you” (Heb 13:7) and also to “obey them and submit to them” (Heb 13:17).

    I have many reservations and worries about calling anyone my leader. I have seen so many bad examples of it and have been wounded countless times by way of errant leadership practices. But this doesn’t mean that I can either ignore or create some idea of leadership which suits my desires.

    John MacArthur is someone who comes across, at least to me, as a heavy-handed type of leader. However, he puts forth a depiction of leadership that is hard to argue against. It’s the type of leader that I would wish to serve and hope to someday become like:

    “Under the plan God has ordained for the church, leadership is a position of humble, loving service. Church leadership is ministry, not management. Those whom God designates as leaders are called not to be governing monarchs, but humble slaves; not slick celebrities, but laboring servants. Those who would lead God’s people must above all exemplify sacrifice, devotion, submission, and lowliness. Jesus Himself gave us the pattern when He stooped to wash His disciples’ feet, a task that was customarily done by the lowest of slaves (John 13). If the Lord of the universe would do that, no church leader has a right to think of himself as a bigwig.”

    • DAVID WEED….WELL SAID…I agree on your post….yes Ubf has problem with leadership because the leaders are not taught to love families, people not just students, and the whole body of Christ

    • David, thanks for commenting. It would be strange if UBFers would not oppose here ;)

      I agree with much of what you wrote, particularly at the end, but want to respond to some of your objections at the beginning of your comment.

      “But the fact cannot be denied that he delegates leadership to overseers/deacons, elders and bishops within his church, which is the body of Christ.”

      This sounds as if there was a whole hierarchy of leadership offices in the Bible. But if you look more closely, you only have two kinds of offices.

      First the overseers, elders and bishops. The word “bishop” is only an English derivation of the Greek ?p?s??p?? which means “overseer”. So that list can be condensed to simply “overseers and elders”. But overseers and elders, though they are different words with different associations, also refer to the same office; they are used interchangeably in the Bible. Just like the word “pastor” which means “shepherd” and is also used synonymously with “elder”. All these terms refer to one kind of office. Please read the book “Biblical eldership” by Alexander Strauch which makes this very clear. The office of elders is certainly Biblical, and I agree with you that it has an aspect of leadership inherent. However, as you see in 1 Peter 5:3 the elder should not “lord over those entrusted to them, but be examples to the flock”. This is what I said earlier, they lead primarily by giving a good example, not by demanding obedience and claiming authority. Please also note that Peter in 1 Peter 5:1 calls himself a “fellow elder”. So you see, even he did not consider himself to be hierarchically “higher” than the elders, constituting a different office of “top elder,” “bishop,” “cardinal” or “pope”. No, even the rock on which the church was built upon he was just a “fellow elder”.
      Second, you mention the deacons as if they were another kind of leaders. That’s not true. Simply speaking, the deacons were servants who cared about the logistic and infrastructure of the church. For instance they cared for material support of the poorer members. Acts 6 makes the difference between the deacons who were elected specifically to care for the poor and the elders who should concentrate on teaching very clear.
      You may want to read this article about deacons vs. elders.
      So, yes, there are elders/shepherds in the Bible, I do not deny that this office exists, and I do not deny that this office certainly contains an element of leadership, but they are certainly not leaders in the sense of the corporate or political world. Luke 26 explains this very nicely: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”

      So it’s a very different and contrarian kind of leadership than in the world. However, in groups like UBF and other Christian groups I more often than not found that leadership was not contrarian to that of “the kings of the Gentiles,” but often even worse, e.g. without any accountability. The reform movement in 2001 showed that Samuel Lee believed he was not accountable to anybody in the church. He also called himself “general director.” I cannot see in which ways that was contrarian to the ways of the world; instead he copied their ways, but behaved even worse.

      The other point in your statement that worries me is that you say “that he (God) delegates leadership to overseers/deacons,” since this really sounds as if the Holy Spirit has given up his role as a leader and the human leader replaces the direct voice of the Holy Spirit and the direct obedience towards God and God’s word. It also does not make it clear where the boundaries of this “delegated authority” are. Should a leader tell you where to work? How much to pray? How often to attend meetings? Whom to marry? Starting to talk about “God’s delegated authority” is a very slippery slope that can easily lead to authority abuse.

      “And there is indeed hierarchy among the specific giftings through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:28)”

      If you really believe these gifts constitute a hierarchy, then leadership (guidance) would be the second-to-lowest, with only speaking in tongues being lower. Anyway, hierarchies among gifts are not the same as hierarchies among gift-bearers.

      “And look at what 1 Thess 5:12 says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you””

      You probably wanted to point out the “over you” in this verse. I believe this is a translation that can be easily misunderstood. The word used here is Strong number #4291 which can also mean to be a protector/guardian/aid or someone who cares for another person. Clearly, this is the task of the elders. But they are not “over” others in the sense as if they were their superiors. The context shows this also very clearly: They labor “among you” (not above you) and the “admonish you” (not command you). Such phrases can never annul what Jesus said about leadership (see above, and see also the whole chapter Mt 23) or what Peter wrote about leadership in 1 Peter 5. You can’t simply ignore Jesus’ clear teachings only because you found the words “over you” in your English Bible.

      “The writer of Hebrews tells us to “remember the leaders who spoke the word of God to you” (Heb 13:7) and also to “obey them and submit to them” (Heb 13:17).”

      It is revealing that this single verse is quoted so often as an argument for authoritarian leadership, as if it could easily overtrump everything that Jesus said in the whole chapter Mt 23 and all the rest of the NT. My chapter leader also used to end every discussion with this verse. “The Bible says you need to obey your leaders. I am your leader. So why do we need to discuss any longer?” To understand this verse properly, please read this or this or this. In short, this verse does not contradict what I wrote about leadership.

  17. Thanks, Dave. Great balance and perspective regarding leadership.

    I think that many in UBF have experienced horrific hubristic unChrist-like leadership that they might tend to diminish or eliminate or be highly skeptical of leadership.

    But tbt I think that all of us would willingly and wholeheartedly love to be subject to the leadership of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But no human alive ever exemplifies that perfectly. Yet, by the Spirit and by the grace of God we should follow Christ, and to the degree that we do, God would use our leadership (with or without official titles) to advance his kingdom.

    I love the MacArthur quote, though as you said he does come across of standoffish.

  18. Dr. Ben, one thing I’ve wondered about is if whether or not God originally intended to use people as spiritual leaders. And by spiritual leader I mean one, or a group, who is an extension of God himself. People often point to 1 Samuel 8:7 where God tells Samuel that the people of Israel have ultimately rejected Him as king. Hence the installment of human kings as a form of redemptive punishment. But is this really an argument against human leadership within the church? That is, is God meant to be our sole spiritual leader?
    Genesis 1:28 seems to argue that we are to be stewards or caretakers of the world. Was that command or blessing intended to extend to spiritual leadership as well?

    In any case, the current situation that we find ourselves in is this: whether we realize it or not, we are highly impressionable beings which often pattern our lives after the impressions we receive from various members of society, who are both good and bad. This being the case, even if we do not wish it to be so, we all serve as leaders in some capacity; we all have a modicum of influence for better or worse. Moreover, from a practical standpoint, we will invariably be presented with making significant decisions within a church environment which will impact many lives. I don’t know what I’m asking here; these are more like thoughts on leadership from a natural as well as biblical viewpoint. Any rebuttals or critiques?

    • DavidW,

      We don’t find the term “spiritual leaders” in the bible text, apart from one or two mentions in the New Living Translation and the Message. So without a biblical refernce, we need to define this term.

      A leader is most basically defined as “a person who leads: as in guide, conductor, or military general (a person who directs a military force or unit) or as a person who has commanding authority or influence.”

      Clearly for Christains within the Christian church, we should readily see that God is our leader, in the form of the Holy Spirit, Father and Son. We have but one Lord and one Priest.

      But taken in the sense of leader=guide, we then find some references in Scripture. Both Isaiah and Jesus lambasted “blind guides”. And we find a mention of “countless guides in Christ” in 1 Corinthians 4:15. So there is some sense that Christians may act as guides to one another at various times. Bonhoeffer speaks to such guides when he talks about confessing our sins to each other. Acts 8:31 is one example of a believer guiding another believer briefly and then disappearing. So we can include some “guiding” in our Christian communities. But never is it a Christian teaching to have “commanding authority” over others. That authority, for Christians, is reserverd for God. Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit is our “guide into all truth”. and the Holy Scriptures are the “light for our path”.

      If we add the word “spiritual” to “leader”, we get something non-Christ-like in my opinion. Spiritual leaders are typically some sort of magical or mystical influencers who command authority over people. This should ring a bell for all ubf people because this sounds just like the ubf concept of “shepherd” and “shepherdess”. The position or teaching of needing a “spiritual leader” is not coming from Christ or the bible, but from some other source.

      When we then add a hierarchy to the “spiritual leadership”, we drift even farther from the kind of community Jesus and the first christians envisioned and lived out. All this hierarchy stuff has been observed to have been adopted wrongly from Greek and Roman constructs, which are very different from the Hebrew fabric from which Jesus spoke. Jesus often differed from the Hebrew thought fabric, but he did use it as a reference point.

      So I think we Christians should see beyond Hellenistic “reason” and Roman “authority”. I think we need to regain constructs such as “debate”, “dialogue”, “stories” and “proclamations” (I’m curious if these are Hebrew in nature?)

    • “even if we do not wish it to be so, we all serve as leaders in some capacity”

      I fully agree with you here, David. But why does this type of leadership not suffice? Why do you think there must be, in addition to that inevitable kind of leadership also authority based leadership demanding obedience to that authority? And why must this be top-down authority? Mt 18:15ff suggest rather a bottom-up authority. If somebody does not listen to the elders, then tell it to the church. So the church has higher authority than the elders.

      Also, if there is human authority, then this certainly has limits. For instance, I as a father have authority over my kids. But not over the kids of my friend. And the authority also must decrease and ends when the kids have grown up. But in groups like UBF, there is no limit to authority. We gave several examples of things that Samuel Lee commanded which showed that very clearly.

    • Brian, I agree that hierarchy presents some inherent difficulties. But there is the concept of subordination within the trinity. Perhaps God intends for us to develop communities with a kind of “godly” hierarchy?

      Also, for sure debate and dialogue are indispensable constructs within the Jewish community. Elder members will often sit down with younger members to debate and dialogue about the Torah or Tanakh. They don’t just mindlessly answer bible questionnaires, but they have a lively back and forth discussion about the text. And of course story telling is part of the fabric of Jewish life; it was how the gospel accounts were originally disseminated. I saw a documentary about this; it was filmed in Skokie (north of Chicago) which as a large Jewish community. I’d love to get in on their discussions but technically I think I’m “goyim” to them :( We should just start our own Christian traditions in this vein :)

    • “But there is the concept of subordination within the trinity. Perhaps God intends for us to develop communities with a kind of “godly” hierarchy?”

      Yes, you could argue that there is subordination within the trinity. But there is also perfect love within the trinity, and there is no sin in the trinity.

      Sure, Jesus was obedient to God. But on the other hand, he did everything volunatrily. The father did not command the son and did not demand obedience. The son did everything out of love not only to the father, but also to us, and also understanding the love of the father to us. If was all driven by love, not by simple submissive obedience.

      The main point is that Jesus gave up the hierarchy between heaven and earth and came down to us to become our brother. Do you really think the adequate answer to that act of tearing down hiearchies and walls is to establish another hiearchy among us again? Didn’t Jesus make his mindset of giving up hiearchies more than clear when he washed the feets of his disciples?

      “Also, for sure debate and dialogue are indispensable constructs within the Jewish community. Elder members will often sit down with younger members to debate and dialogue about the Torah or Tanakh. They don’t just mindlessly answer bible questionnaires, but they have a lively back and forth discussion about the text.”

      My family had joined a group of Messianic Jews for some years and we really enjoyed that and learned a lot. It was so refreshing and helpful after coming out of UBF. Again, you should ask yourself whether hierarchies facilitate or hinder such open discussion. I think the answer is clear.

  19. Thanks, Chris for your explanation of Heb 13:17 – “this single verse (Heb 13:17) is quoted so often as an argument for authoritarian leadership…” – See more at:

    It is sadly unfortunate that many Christian leaders would not care to hear this, and not just in UBF.

    My suggestion to you is for you to write a short, sweet and simple explanation of “obey your leaders” as a main featured article.

    I have tried on some occasions to explain Heb 13:17 to some leaders, that the word “obey” (1984 NIV) or “have confidence” (2011 NIV) has the meaning of persuasion, which is “missing” in the English translation. But I often get a sort of confused look or disbelief (as though I am trying to be funny, or as though I am trying to “tear down” or criticize some leader), and then usually followed by a rather rapid change of subject.

    Even if no significant “leader” will read it, I still think that it is nonetheless good if you will be willing to write a main featured article to publish, since you have done far more reading and research into this matter than most if not all of us.

  20. I am truly enjoying your critiques, comments, ruminations and reflections! Who ever says that Christian life is boring!

    If you are up to it, please feel free to critique these questions related to my sermon on Sun (or anything else), which I might use later today with a small group:

    1) Do you agree that “you don’t need a title to be a leader”? Why or why not?

    2) How well do you deal with pressure and stress (Dt 1:12; Num 11:14; Ex 18:18)?

    3) What is your understanding of delegation (Dt 1:13-15)? From your leader (cf. Mt 20:25; Mk 10:42; Lk 22:25)? To your subordinates? Explain the difference between “gopher delegation” and “stewardship delegation.”

    4) Have you experienced justice from your leader(s) (Dt 1:16-17; 16:20; 32:4; Ps 9:8; Isa 42:1; Mt 12:18)? Reflect on this quote by Martin Luther King Jr: “It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.”

    5) Reflect on Charles Spurgeon’s quote regarding the best man (“leader”) in the church: “Do not desire to be the principal man in the church. Be lowly. Be humble. The best man in the church is the one who is willing to be a doormat for all to wipe their boots on, the brother who does not mind what happens to him at all, so long as God is glorified.” How might this relate to Jesus as our Leader (Jn 13:14)?

  21. Joe, in response to your question about how the sermon went on Sun (which I delayed answering), I was personally not too happy about it, because I was probably trying to say too many things, and cram too many things in half an hour in a haphazard fashion:

    I know that I should control and restrict myself and refrain from saying many things that I want to say, and only say a few things meaningfully that people might take to heart. But knowing what I should do and actually doing it is often the gap between idealism and reality.

    Also, I didn’t quite exegete the text nor follow the text until perhaps a token effort toward the end. So, overall I was not happy about my laissez faire extemporaneous preaching.

  22. Chris, Brian, big bear and Dr. Ben, I’m mulling over the info and things you’ve said in your comments. So far, it has been very instructive and thus I’m truly thankful for this dialogue. It’s been a long day so I’ll reply some time tomorrow. God bless.

  23. To Chris, I would like to say thank you for providing those web pages on Hebrews 13:17. It was very helpful to me in terms of more precisely understanding what the original author was saying. I have reservations about using the NIV at times because it is a thought for thought translation rather than a word for word one, like the KJV, NASB or ESV. Some important things indeed get lost in translation and perhaps this is one of those cases.

    In everything I was saying about that particular verse as well as the verse from Thessalonians, my intent was not to use them to say, “See! The Bible says that you must absolutely submit to the leaders of the church, no matter what.” When the Bible says to rule over, such as in Genesis 1:28, my idea has always been that regarding whatever and whomever man is put over by God to rule, he is not to be a totalitarian, but rather a careful and mindful steward; he must serve as if he knows that he must absolutely give an accounting before God if something goes awry. As you pointed out, this idea of serving or stewarding is more accurately reflected in word for word translations of the Bible. I am in no way, shape or form an advocate of “lording over” leadership.

    Though all of this may be the case, I think we have to be careful to refrain from throwing the baby out with the bath water, or in other words, we should to care to not part ways with the essentials in trying to purge the deleterious nonessentials. I say this in regard to church or spiritual leadership. I fully agree that Jesus Christ is the head of HIS church. If you know how I move and operate within the church, you will know that I am a big proponent of helping young students and members in general to be biblically literate. One of the biggest mistakes any spiritual caretaker can make is to not do everything he or she can to help the one being taken care of understand the Bible for themselves. They should also understand how to pray to the Father, through the Son, and also have an idea of what it means to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit or to “keep in step with Him”. This being said, I do not believe that a given member of the congregation can claim that he or she may only subordinate themselves to the Triune God and no earthly, human figure. The Bible text simply does not bear this out. The narrative concerning the Jerusalem Council in Acts chapter fifteen is a prime example of church leadership working out a critical issue with wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit. God could have chosen to gather the church (although it would have presented a logistical nightmare or impossibility) and speak to them like he did to Moses on Mount Sinai, but he instead chose a plurality of leaders to accomplish his good and pleasing will for the church.

    Hebrews 1:2 says that in these last days, God has chosen to speak to us through his Son. Many people think this means that we only need to listen to Jesus and no one else; again no other human leader. But this is simply not true, from both a biblical and experiential point of view. Paul says that we should, “Speak to each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Eph 5:19) God has given the gifts of prophecy and tongues as well as teaching in order to disseminate his truth within the church. Also, we are heralds of the gospel to not only each other, but the world also. I believe that one prime way in which God speaks to us is through the body of Christ, which are the very people or members of the congregation. This comports with Hebrews 1:2; very rarely does Christ come down from heaven to speak to us directly. He uses his body, here on this earth, primarily to do this.

    You said elsewhere that the Holy Spirit generally speaks to us in a gentle voice which can often be drowned out by human leaders. I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is reserved to speaking to us in this way. 1 Kings 19:12 is often used as a proof text for this saying and nowhere else does the Bible say that God speaks like this. From experience we know that God speaks to us in a multiplicity of ways; through his word, through spirit-led people, through impressions, etc.

    You brought up a very good point about the limitations of leaders. You said, “It also does not make it clear where the boundaries of this ‘delegated authority’ are. Should a leader tell you where to work? How much to pray? How often to attend meetings? Whom to marry? Starting to talk about ‘God’s delegated authority’ is a very slippery slope that can easily lead to authority abuse.” I believe that a leader who tries to manage all of these things is simply a control freak. I’m not sure where the boundary lies and the Bible doesn’t make that clear. But church often presents messy situations like this. I think that this is one very good argument for helping all of the congregants to grow in both biblical knowledge and practical wisdom so that they can all be as best aligned with God’s will as possible. I would also submit that saying, “I only submit to the Holy Spirit” also presents a dangerous line of thinking. Who can correct or guide such a person who is unwilling to listen to others. After all, church leaders are instituted in part to lay down rehabilitative church discipline (1 Cor 5:11-13). And was Paul off his rocker when he said, “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor 4:21) Chris, I would also suggest looking up the word “admonish”. Though admonishment from a church elder is meant to be done out of love, it is rarely ever pleasant when doled out. Paul confronting Peter is a good example of this.

    Chris, in all of this, I’m not saying that I have the answers concerning what church leadership entails. If I attended your previous chapter in Germany I probably would have nothing to do with the church or Christianity today. But I think that we need to continue to have dialogues about this from a biblical point of view because it’s so vital for us to understand this. Those in the church tend to demonize those outside of its walls, especially those who leave. But I’m almost certain the one of the number one reasons why people leave the church is because of unbiblical views of leadership or spiritual guidance.

    • David, thanks for sharing your thoughts about these issues. I’d wished more UBFers would do this and I don’t really understand why someone disliked your comment.

      I agree with much of what you said, but I want to respond to a few of your statements that I think need commenting.

      “I do not believe that a given member of the congregation can claim that he or she may only subordinate themselves to the Triune God and no earthly, human figure.”

      Again, this somehow implies that there is a certain earthly, human figure who is considered your personal shepherd and kind of mediator to God which I think is not Biblical. The Fallacy of “Personal Pastors” explains very well what’s wrong with that idea. Of course, I do not believe that as a member of a congretation you should do what you want and not listen to others. Quite to the contrary. What I believe has been very well phrased by Martin Luther in his writing “The Freedom of a Christian Man”: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” It sounds like a dichotomy, but this is the gist of Christian freedom. We as Christians are not bound to a single shepherd, but in a way we are obliged and commited to each other, the whole congregation and even the people outside. As I already pointed out, Mt 18:15ff shows that the whole congregation has the final say and is the final authority a member should submit to, not his or her “personal shepherd”. I don’t understand why people never take passages like Mt 18:15 or Mt 23 seriously. It’s like they are saying: “Ok, Jesus spoke about being brothers and not establishing hierarchies. But Jesus was a dreamer, and we are real world people so whe don’t care and establish our hierarchies anyway.”

      It is interesting that you quote Eph 5:15 “Speak to each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Do you notice something? The verse says “speak to each other.” This means mutual encouragement and admonition, not the one way shepherd->sheep, teacher->student type of speaking with each other that we see in UBF and other groups.

      “I believe that one prime way in which God speaks to us is through the body of Christ, which are the very people or members of the congregation. This comports with Hebrews 1:2; very rarely does Christ come down from heaven to speak to us directly. He uses his body, here on this earth, primarily to do this.”

      Again, it’s interesting and correct that you say “the body” and “members” and not “the leaders”. I agree with that. However, I think we must distinguish between the different things that God speaks to us. There are some things that God would speak via people, but there are many if not most things that God speaks to us directly into our conscience, particularly if they are things that concern us privately. Only God knows our real heart. The other people are often used as “catalysts” though, that’s right.

      “I would also submit that saying, “I only submit to the Holy Spirit” also presents a dangerous line of thinking. Who can correct or guide such a person who is unwilling to listen to others.”

      I am not saying that people don’t need to listen to others. I’m always pointing to Mt 18:15ff which gives the proper answer to your question. In a healthy congreation, if the elders or the whole church urges someone to repent, then this means the person is commiting a really serious and obvious sin. If the person then says “I only submit to the Holy Spirit” then this only shows that he is lying or doesn’t know the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit always pushes people to repent if they really sin.

      What you describe is exactly the situation that we have in UBF. Samuel Lee for instance claimed he had no human shepherd and didn’t need to submit to anyone. He didn’t listen when half of the UBFers protested and urged him to reform the ministry. What we need is mutual subordination in the church, not a unidirectonal hierarchy where there is subordination in one direction, and not even listening to people in the other direction. I already gave the example how Sarah Barry simply deleted all emails coming from reformers instead of reading them. She also didn’t answer the letter sent by me and other ex members. The Biblical behavior is to submit to each other. Samuel Lee and his followers should have listened to the reformers. If there had been mutual submission as required by Jesus (and also Paul, see Eph 5:21) instead of hierarchical one-way submission only, then UBF wouldn’t have gotten into all of these problems. The cause for the whole mess is the wrong and dangerous theology of “spiritual order”/”personal shepherding”.

    • Great discussion here, Chris and DavidW! I concur with Chris, why would someone not like DavidW’s comment? Perhaps it is just a failure of the like/dislike buttons, where someone doesn’t like part of what was written. Maybe we do need a “Conflicted” button as JohnY suggested.

    • I think it’s ok to press “dislike” if people explain why they dislike the comment.

    • I don’t know, maybe it’s a silent listener from Chris’ former chapter in Germany? Please forgive me if I’ve offended anyone through any errant statements or generalizations that I’ve put forth.

  24. DavidW:

    “Brian, I agree that hierarchy presents some inherent difficulties. But there is the concept of subordination within the trinity. Perhaps God intends for us to develop communities with a kind of “godly” hierarchy? – See more at:

    If the answer is “yes”, then count me out.

  25. Brian, I think that anyone who has experienced “bad leadership”–including in the church–will simply cringe from hearing the word “hierarchy.”

    Leaders who practice authoritarian leadership really think it is their God given right to exercise their God given authority over you. It is a blind spot of not a few church leaders, for which they are nonetheless fully responsible.

    But I think that if one has experienced humble gentle gracious godly Christ-like leadership, we might be less averse to the word hierarchy.

    All of us long for the leadership/headship of Christ, which unfortunately few leaders exemplify. As a result, hierarchy has become such a horrible cringe-worthy word.

    • Ben, my point is that those who have experienced humble gentle gracious godly Christ-like leadership, will *not* form a hierarchy. And not forming a hierarchy would be act of obedience to Christ.

      The word “hierarchy” is a cringe-worthy word and my contention is that it is not possible to build a “graceful” heirarchy.

      What is a hierarchy? The word means “a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority.”

      That is NEVER what Christ meant. I don’t see any verse in all ~33,000 bible verses that teach Christ-followers to build any kind of hierachy. If someone points out something, I’ll modify my opinion for sure. But as I see it, all attempts to build such a hierarchal system will become harmful in the spiritual sense. Note: I am not dismissing the need for hierarchies outside the Church. I claim that hierarchy has no place in the Church.

      So when the bible speaks of submitting to one another, and respecting one another, or even imitating one another, I agree with Bonhoeffer’s Community and Confession articles that speak of mutual relationships for accountability and edification, and not about forming any kind of hierarchy.

    • So in ubf terms, what I am saying is this:

      ubf Koreans demanded me to submit to their 12 point slogans. I did that. And I did that with a double-portion of honor and loyalty and respect for over 20 years. Now I demand ubf Koreans to submit to my 2 demands: admit abuse, release the bonds of shepherding.

      (Note: my statement here makes no sense to outsiders and I am crazy for saying such a thing, but if you will bear with my insanity for a moment and process what I say, I think something good may happen. Maybe.)

    • Joe Schafer

      Ephesians 5:21 says: ” Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

      In what ways have UBF leaders submitted to their members? I can’t think of any.

    • Pamper, patronize, flatter, cajole, invite for a meal, small talk, talk sweetly, love bomb, act hurt, etc?

    • They finally let them play contemporary praise music in worship services. That counts for something doesn’t it? (obviously, I kid)

    • Seriously, who is the thumbs down? My previous comment was in jest; on an individual level I have experienced some mutual submission. But from a congregational point of view, trying to get the elders to understand the popular sentiment is like pulling teeth. Maybe YDC is an example, but even that was highly subject to the whims of the elders. If you have a reason to object to what Joe said, then please at least anonymously comment on it.

    • “They finally let them play contemporary praise music in worship services.”

      Interestingly, contemporary praise music was never a problem in the German UBF. It was used a lot in our services and conferences, already in the 1990s. We always used a contemporary song book in addition to the official UBF hymn book, and praise music performed by the younger shepherds and 2nd gens was used as “warm-up act” for our services.

      It was a bit strange though, that we either used contemporary praise music or revival hymns from the times of Wesley or Moody which are alien to our German culture. Our German hymns (chorals) are much older, from the time of Martin Luther, e.g. the famous hymns by Paul Gerhard. Many of them are really meaningful and deep. But in UBF we never used them. German tradition was almost completely ignored. I’m not saying that a student church should only use the traditional Germn church hymns. But completely ignoring them also felt very strange.

      Still, I actually enjoyed the music in UBF, the musicality and free singing of the Koreans (most Germans never learned singing and are shy to sing in public). On the other hand, it was also a way to blind me by making me have good emotions and feelings. There is a German saying that “where people are singing, you can settle down; evil people have no songs.” Somehow, that singing and music and dancing was a way to pull the wool over my eyes, and then of course the content of the songs was all well and Biblical. We even had songs from contemporary German song writers like Alexander Strauch, containing verses like “we are learning that we can argue/disagree with each other and still love each other”. I always thought “UBF cannot be so bad if they are singing such statements”. But in reality, life in UBF was different. Discussion and disagreement with leadership was not desired and allowed. Song texts were just song texts, they were not really taken seriously.

    • “Ben, my point is that those who have experienced humble gentle gracious godly Christ-like leadership, will not form a hierarchy. And not forming a hierarchy would be act of obedience to Christ.”

      Just wanted to repeat Brian’s response because I couldn’t have said it better.

  26. Chris, you said: “What we need is mutual subordination in the church, not a unidirectonal hierarchy where there is subordination in one direction, and not even listening to people in the other direction.” and “If there had been mutual submission as required by Jesus (and also Paul, see Eph 5:21) instead of hierarchical one-way submission only, then UBF wouldn’t have gotten into all of these problems.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with these statements. If we could understand this in UBF then things would drastically change. There are two big issues at hand. I don’t think that the shepherd-sheep construct exists because people are trying to hoard power (in some cases maybe, but probably not most). The first issue is that people (I mean shepherds in the UBF sense) trust what has been passed down to them because it is seemingly spiritual wisdom from “God’s servants”. I do respect many of the elders in UBF, but I do not believe that everything that is passed down from them is biblical or wise, the shepherd-sheep paradigm being one of them. Secondly, this one-way relational construct makes people feel safe. It’s so much easier to listen to one person and believe that they have all of the answers to your problems. People often don’t want to think critically because it takes hard work and is at times scary or raises all sorts of possibilities that are difficult to grapple with. Or another issue is that people tend to think that critical, logical thinking should not apply to their spiritual lives, that this would somehow be quenching the Spirit or drowning out the voice of “God’s servants”. They think that spiritual life should be mystical and grounded in a never-ending set of counter-intuitive principles. Sure, Christianity presents paradoxes but this does not mean that we should abandon sound thinking. At any rate this is a detriment to the Christian because as you pointed out in quote from Luther, subordinating oneself in this manner actually prevents one from experiencing true Christian freedom and what it means to be led by God’s Spirit.

    Contrary to how my language sounds to you, I am actually not an advocate of shepherd-sheep relationships. For some years now, I’ve made considerable strides to move away from this idea and practice. For instance, if I happen to have the privilege of investing in someone, I will always tell them to seek out other sources of counsel as well. A pastor named Robert Lewis did a series on biblical manhood (The Quest for Authentic Manhood). He said that it is vital that a man have at least five different types of mentors in order to address questions and needs in the various spheres of his life. He said that even a one hour meeting once every few months could give you a vital piece of information that you need to move forward in a certain area. I imagine that he would be strongly against the shepherd-sheep paradigm because right away he would perceive that both shepherd and sheep will suffer from damning blind spots that neither would be aware of. Also it is obvious that a power imbalance will occur in such a relationship.

    Much more to say about the mutual aspects of encouragement and admonishment. Such as, how and if junior members should correct senior members. I have some personal stories (which have had surprisingly positive outcomes) to share on this matter. I need to mull over it a bit more though. I’ll reply in due time. God bless.

    • David, I’m really glad to see you understand and acknowledge these crucial issues.

      I also concur with your explanation why people easily submit to the top-down chain of commands. As you say, people don’t want to think critically because it’s hard work, often inconvenient and potentially challenging to habits and beliefs you are holding dear. It involves getting informed, intense studying and examination of Bible passages and the things that are happening in this world. (The UBF Bible study is really not intense. Even though some believe UBFers study the Bible more than all other people, in reality they don’t even bother to learn Hebrew and Greek or read commentaries and other auxiliary material except the lecture of Samuel Lee. The “struggle” in UBF Bible study is not a struggle to really understand the Bible, but a struggle to obey and accept the predetermined UBF interpretation of the Bible.)

      I would add that it’s also often difficult to make decisions and being responsible. It’s so much easier to just follow and obey a decision that someone else made for you (the famous “orientation” by the “servant of God”). You just need to believe that this orientation is the will of God, and you’re free from all qualms. But in reality, it’s you who must take the responsibility for your life and e.g. a marriage decision anyway. If the marriage fails, the leaders won’t accept the blame or questions why it suddenly stopped being the will of God. Then they will put all blame on you. They only take credit if the marriage went well.

      UBFers often claim that their life style is the counter concept to an “easygoing life style.” In a way, that’s true. But in another way, just obeying and following the “orientation” by you leader without thinking is also an “easygoing life style” and some seem to choose this life style exactly for this reason, because it’s so easy and they don’t need to think anymore. From then on, the only struggle is to really accept and obey. UBF believes that’s the Christian way to live, and that’s the meaning of “deny yourself”, but I don’t think so.

      You’re also right about the bogus antagonism that UBF creates between “sanity and reason” on the one side and “faith and obedience” on the other side. This sometimes goes so far that you start to believe that something must be very spiritual just because it’s completely insane und unreasonable. You wrote “people tend to think that…”, but I would say nobody tends to think like that. It’s the UBF indoctrination process that makes people start thinking that way. I blame the UBF leaders a lot for this problem, not only the ordinary members. On the other hand, the wish to live an easygoing life style of submission without thinking much and without having sole responsibility, that’s more the fault of the ordinary members. I personally was very guilty of that. Steve Martin calls it the “sin of the sheep” in his article on authoritarianism in the church.

      You mentioned the idea of having “mentors” and I think we all agree that this is a much better concept than the “personal shepherd” or “discipler” (as called in some other groups). However, we must take care that this is not just a play with words. I remember that the UBF Germany director once, after UBF had been in the media once again, recommended using the terms “bible teacher/student” instead of “shepherd/sheep” when talking in public. But this didn’t really change anything. And internally, people still talked about “their sheep” and used the title “shepherd”. Also, in view of Mt 23:8 the term “teacher” is just as problematic (if used for building hiearchies or claiming authority). I found several UBFers who believe that UBF could be rescued by using mentors instead of shepherds. But I still find this problematic when I read Mt 23. It has a reason why Jesus spoke of being “brothers” only, not “mentors”. I tend ot believe that most problematic groups originated from “mentoring” relationships where people started to respect, adore and fear the “mentor” more and more until he developed into a full-fledged cult leader.

      So, we need more than renaming shepherds to mentors. Having “at least five different types of mentors” could be one solution. And “different type” should really mean different, not just different people from the same group or church, with very similar world views. The point is that mentors can never give counselling in all areas of life. The mentoring of a Ph.D. supervisor for instance is usually limited to the subject you’re studying and not spiritual things. Likewise, a monk could be a good mentor, but he can probably not give good advice on marriage and family life. In reality, your parents are often very good advisors. But UBF deliberately cuts and limits the relationship with your parents, because they want the monopoly on counseling. If that would not be the case, if young people in UBF could spend as much time or more with their parents and friends then in fact being mentored by an older Korean Christian could be an enrichment in their life. But only, as you say, if he does not pull over and claim to be the complete source of wisdom and sole authority for the young believer, his “personal shepherd”. I said many times that being together with Koreans and their culture was not the bad thing in UBF, I still see it as positive and could learn a lot. The problems started when these people claimed to be mediators between God and me and demanded “absolute obedience” (keep in mind that obedience to God was always equated with obedience to the “visible servant of God”).

      You also mentioned that mentoring must not happen on a mandatory weekly basis and I fully agree with that. This is also one of the big problems. There are times where you need the mentor more, and there are times where you don’t need him so much. Meetings should always be voluntarily, freely and informal. In UBF, they acted up like it was the end of the world if you only one time wanted to skip the weekly 1:1 session with your shepherd. That’s crazy. And that’s one of the many things why UBF is labelled a cult.

      The other point that has been mentioned often enough is that a good mentor will make himself superfluous in the course of time, instead of making you dependent and an eternal debtor to him.

      It’s great to see that we largely agree on these matters. I really wished more UBFers would start talking and discussing like you do. That would be a major breakthrough.

  27. Here might be a plug for “hierarchy” from a Catholic perspective: For the record I am pro-unity and for ecumenism with Catholics (even if I do not know how to go about it).

    • Ben, I’m not a fan of the proof-text logic that blog article presents. He makes several points that I would agree with, but only because I’ve heard the points explained in a more robust manner. Reducing Catholic teachings to a proof-text is not helpful in my mind.

      I do give a hearty thumbs up to one of his statements: “Nowhere in scripture is there a demonstration of Protestant-styled clergy with Protestant-styled (self-grabbed) offices being taken.”

    • So here is the BK scale of church hierarchy goodness. And yes, many people in that “big bad evil world” out there have already figured out ways to have the best kind of leadership model.

      best – no heirarchy (self-directed team/faciliative leadership)
      good – partial papacy hierachy (non-perpetual/flattened/etc)
      better – full papacy hierarchy with Pope Francis
      bad – full papacy hierarchy with most popes
      horrible – Protestant-style self-made/40,000 kinds of heirarchy
      evil – shepherding-style lording over rank of authority

    • So this gives me another way to express the ubf version of shepherding ideology: Everyone gets a personal pope, and those popes are ranked by status (years in ubf) and authority (ability to conform others to the ubf heritage) until you get to the general director pope.

    • Joe Schafer

      But quite a few are not listening to or obeying the current GD. Especially those who are older than him.

    • Good point Joe. Since Slee’s death in 2002, the ubf hierarchy has been crumbling, and now it is difficult to see what the structure looks like, other than a pile of rubble.

  28. Joe, Brian, IMHO I think that a major reason for a “crumbling hierarchy” in UBF is because we have somehow failed to verbally acknowledge and explicitly and repeatedly teach, profess and proclaim that Christ is the sole and true head of the church, and then everyone else act accordingly from “top to bottom,” or even from “bottom to top.”

    Then all we are left with are power structures, politicking, picking favorites, and basically each person who regards themselves as “somebody in UBF” being their own pope, as Martin Luther once sort of quipped.