The Shepherding Movement and UBF (Part 2)

d6In my last article, I shared how Allen Clare introduced the Shepherding Movement of the 1970s and connected it to John Bevere’s 2001 book “Under Cover.”  The foundational teaching in both the Shepherding Movement and Bevere’s book “Under Cover,” is the idea of delegated authority. As I introduce some main points presented in chapter three of Clare’s essay, I would ask you to ponder whether this style of ministry is common in UBF, and try to give your perspective in the comments section.

For reference, again, the Allen Clare review is available here:

Allen Clare review of Bevere’s book and the Shepherding Movement (pdf)

(Please see my previous article for the first two sections.)

III. Delegated Authority

Shepherding Movement teaching, along with Bevere’s presentation in his book “Under Cover”, is deeply connected to the concept of delegated authority. Romans 13 is used to establish their doctrine of delegated authority.

In the first chapter of Bevere’s book he recounts a time in his life when he was a youth pastor. Long story short, Bevere’s ministry was doing well, but without warning or conversation the lead pastor decided to stop the youth ministry’s practices. Bevere was upset about this and had a hard time coping with the lead pastor’s seemingly unwise decision. The lead pastor deflected John Bevere’s question about the decision by repeating 4 times, “John, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me the direction of this church…” (pp 14-15)

Bevere then continues to share his thoughts, and then shares about a conversation he had with the Holy Spirit. This is the conversation:

The Holy Spirit  says, “John whose ministry are you building? Mine or yours?”

John blurts out, “Yours, Lord!”

The Holy Spirit responds, “No, you’re not! You’re building your own.”

John says, “Lord, we can’t get most unsaved students to our church but we can get them to parties…” (use of parties was the strategy the lead pastor was discontinuing).

After he says the Lord allowed him to vent, Bevere claims the Holy Spirit told him the following:

“John, when I brought you to this church to serve this man, I made you an extension of the ministry I entrusted to him. I called you to be his arms and legs; I put only one man in charge of a ministry… John, when you stand before Me in judgment for the time period that I have had you serve this pastor, you will not first give an account of how many youth you led to salvation in Orlando, Florida. You will first be judged on how faithful you were to the pastor I’ve put you under.”

What are we to make of these conversations Bevere supposedly had with the Holy Spirit? I have a couple of issues to point out. First, it should be a red flag when the foundations for a new doctrine come from a conversation someone had with the Holy Spirit. Second, since when are we called to serve the pastor at a church and be his arms and legs? Can anyone say, “idolatry?” Third, the New Testament clearly teaches a multiplicity of elders is the apostolic model for the New Testament church.

Bevere uses this conversation to move into his understanding of Romans 13:1-2: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist bring judgment on themselves.”

Then Bevere comments: “Some may say, ‘I submit to God, but not to man, unless I agree with him.’ This is where our upbringing and incorrect church thinking can hinder us. We cannot separate out submission to God’s inherent authority from our submission to His delegated authority [i.e. civil, church, family leaders] … When we oppose God’s delegated authority, we oppose God Himself!”

In this Bevere is teaching the infamous Shepherding Movement doctrine of delegated authority, as Derek Prince (one of the four founders of the Shepherding Movement) says: “…the New Testament requires submission to the following specific relationships… all Christians to secular governments on all levels… all Christians to those who rule over them in church… we do not obey those in authority because they are right; we obey them because they are in authority, and all authority ultimately stems from God himself (See Rom 13:1-5).”

Key Question

Does Romans 13 really teach Bevere’s view of delegated authority?

My claim: The passage is very clearly referring to state officials, and civil government and cannot be used to refer to God’s delegated authorities in the church.

Proof: Look at the context and how Paul describes the authorities that are his subject.

  • Romans 13:4, “For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.”

Observe that “bearing the sword” for punishment is not a role for authorities in the church.

  • Rom 13:4-5: “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.”

Observe that executing wrath upon wrongdoers is not a function of the New Testament church.

  • Rom 13:6-7: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time governing…”

Observe that paying taxes is not a function of the New Testament church.

Conclusion: The governing authorities in Romans 13 are not church leaders because none of the named services carried out by these authorities are functions of the New Testament church. Bevere is wrong to apply Romans 13 in the way he does.

What is your perspecive on this delegated authority teaching?

What do you think about the Shepherding Movement’s and John Bevere’s teaching on delegated authority? Do you see any resemblance to UBF’s authority structure? Have you ever heard Romans 13 used in UBF in the way that Bevere and others use it?  What do you think about this?


  1. The Shepherding Movement is an important topic to discuss, so thanks for this two-part series Chip. This was already discussed back in 2004, but I’m glad to see that ubf is more closely tied to the Shepherding Movement when people search in Google now that we have more articles talkinga about such things.

    We can now more clearly see the ties here.

    ubf teaching #6 “Spiritual order” relates to both “delegated authority” and “covering theology”, which likely explains the multiple ways “spiritual order” is taught in various chapters of ubf.

    And when teaching #5 “A spirit of giving” is combined with #6 “Spiritual order”, we get a huge mess of unbiblical teachings that form unnecessary bonds around the lives of both young bible students and longtime leaders. (btw, teaching #5 “A spirit of giving” is why I cannot accept the “100/0” principle we recently discussed.)

    Having spent 24 years in ubf, I can confirm that ubf bible teachers (including myself) have often used Romans 13 to justify their “spiritual order” teachings.

    Perhaps to the Confucian mind such loyalty and obedience to leaders makes for a natural teaching from Romans 13. But bible students in ubf simply must start noticing this stuff and pointing it out. I was glad to hear some reports of this starting to happen last year– bible students in ubf have started correcting their Korean bible teachers.

  2. Thanks Chip. As you well explained, Rom 13:1-2 is not about submission to church authorities. After 33 years, I have not heard UBF use this text to support it’s implicit imperative of “Keep spiritual order. Just obey.” This is my email response to a friend about how UBF has “justified” their top-down authority structure:

    The “keep spiritual order, just obey” teaching, I believe comes from the way we in UBF have studied, taught, implied and applied certain passages: Abraham’s servant obeying Abraham, Noah cursed his disrespectful son Ham, Miriam stricken with leprosy when she questioned/challenged Moses’ authority, David not striking Saul because he was the Lord’s anointed, young men are to humble themselves (1 Pet 5), obey your leaders (Heb 13), which in the new NIV says have confidence and submit to your leaders, etc.

    btw, I believe you know that I am not and have not in any way suggested or encouraged disobedience to church leaders or disrespecting them. I am just answering your question as to why UBF has promoted such an unhealthy unbiblical unquestioning obedience to leaders for 50 years, who then expect that anything short of unquestioning obedience to them is unacceptable and regarded as rebellion, childish, immature, disobedient, etc.

    • “After 33 years, I have not heard UBF use this text to support it’s implicit imperative of “Keep spiritual order. Just obey.”

      I heard this many times in Toledo ubf. We argued about that verse many times in our leader bible studies Saturday mornings. The official, published lectures from ubf generally talk about Romans 13 in terms of government (correctly so).

      But as we can see in this 2011 Columbus ubf lecture on Romans 13, the ubf mindset blurs the lines here and hence we get the typical dual nature of ubf teachings (cleaned up for public use, implied for private verbal use).

      The title of their lecture conveys the main thought: “First, submit to the authorities (1-7).”

      Notice “governing” has been dropped quietly from the title, but most ubf sheep have been trained to listen only for the titles, because they are immediately asked after every lecture “What did you learn?” A ubf sheep quickly learns to answer instantly with one of the title phrases. So in this way the Romans 13 passage is tied to just “authorities” in the sheep’s mind, but publicly taught as “governing authorities”.

      The subtle straying from “governing authority” to other kinds of authority is seen also in this lecture:

      “Usually we are not happy to pay taxes, but eager to get bountiful tax returns. But as Christians we must be willing to pay taxes. We must pay all kinds of bills. As students, we must study hard and strive to get all A’s. At our working places, we must respect our bosses and be exemplary employees. Children must respect their parents and parents must educate their children with love and hope. We Christians should all be exemplary citizens in order to give glory to God. When we live as law-abiding, exemplary citizens, we can also enjoy the privilege to serve God freely.”

      Notice that this ubf messenger takes the liberty to insert teaching about paying bills (creditor authority) and also parental authority. This is a clue to ubf sheep who understand that a ubf shepherd is supposed to be offering to ubf absolutely. It is a loud clue to ubf sheep that their shepherd is supposed to be a parent to them. Notice the addition of a professor’s authority and a boss’ authority at work. All these clue in the ubf sheep to the loud, implicit, subtle, manipluative ubf teaching to submit to your shepherd’s authority.

      I do not see creditor/debtor authority in Romans 13. I do not see parent/child authority in Romans 13. I do not see boss/employee authority in Romans 13. I do not see professor/student authority in Romans 13. So why does this ubf lecturer (and many lecturers in ubf also) add those things in?

    • Notice the blatant manipluation of thought here by this ubf lecturer.

      The Scripture he is speaking about has a sense that we *must* be good citizens in regard to governments. But the ubf lecture says we *should* all be exemplary citizens, and attaches *must* to other kinds of authority not mentioned here.

      The Scripture he is speaking about mentions 4 things to do in regard to governments (Romans 13:7) taxes, revenue, respect, honor. But the ubf lecture springboards in to paying bills (incorrect understanding of “revenue”), children obeying parents, etc.

  3. Thanks for the article.
    – What do you think about the Shepherding Movement’s and John Bevere’s teaching on delegated authority? I think that Bevere’s teaching is wrong, absolutely.
    – Do you see any resemblance to UBF’s authority structure? UBF’s authority structure is just the same as it is described in the book and as it is in all the charismatic churches. All have to submit and obey to the guru, the servant of God.
    – Have you ever heard Romans 13 used in UBF in the way that Bevere and others use it? Yes, I have heard it many times.
    – What do you think about this? I want to say that when I left UBF the director gave me the Bevere’s book so that I would repent and come back and submit to “the delegated authority”. The director said that Bevere is a great christian teacher and preacher. I looked through the book and my reaction was something like ‘WTH is this?’. So you may see that there are many things similar to the Bevere’s teaching in UBF for they even use his book to prove they have the authority. I think that it is very unhealthy and cultish. What or who makes ubf a cult? Those in the ‘authority’.

  4. Just ordered Bevere’s book on Amazon…like to read it..from what I see it has many things similar to UBF which make such ministries UBF the leaders are abusive and you are to obey them and they will degrade you to do so..ask you to repent but they themselves don’t want to see that they are wrong…such teachings promote pride and unaccountability…no leader is in the place of God we are all in need of repentance

  5. This might be a reviewer’s reasonable critique of Bevere’s book:

    “It contains many helpful truths on respect, honor and obedience to authority…”

    “However, the fatal flaw of the book continues the pervasive view in the body of Christ of the improper power flow of authority from God to the leader and then to the people. It is paternalism all over again, failing to distinguish jurisdictions and the differing nature of authority as well as leaving out the proper bottom-up lawful appeals process in each governmental institution, with virtually all discernment left at the leadership and hierarchy level of governmental control.”


  6. btw in ubf I saw they always call pharisees and others ‘religious leaders’ but they call apostles and ubf directors ‘spiritual leaders’. When I prepared messages the director always told me not to call Jesus ‘a priest’ but ‘a shepherd’ and not to call pharisees and the priests ‘spiritual leaders’ but only ‘religious leaders’.

    The ubf directors never compare themselves to the ‘religious leaders’ (they say that nowadays the Orthodox and the Catholic priests are like the religous leaders) and they always call themselves ‘spiritual leaders’ as those spiritually right and ‘good shepherds’ whom none can ever critique. In ubf you might critique ‘the religious leaders’ but never ‘the spiritual leaders’ who are like Jesus and the prophets and the apostles.

    • Good point, Vitaly. In a similar vein, the UBF leaders call themselves “servants of God”, but they don’t use the term for other Christian leaders or “ordinary” members.

    • UBF leaders are called “Servants of God” but they should be called “Servants of UBF or of the late Dr Samuel Lee” They are critical of all churches. It took me 2 years to get healed of this as I visited many churches after being ask to leave Ubf after serving the ministry for 29 years. This critical thought makes you stay in Ubf becauses you are taught to look down on the “other Christians and churches.” How screwed up I became but my Pastor bore with me and now I see the error of the teachings. Ubf bible study is good but it is the unwritten theology that gets you. My chapter director referred to us as prophets.

  7. Joe Schafer

    This timely article appeared yesterday. A woman thinks about why she joined the Shepherding Movement and, more generally, about why we idealize human spiritual leaders and strive to be like them instead of becoming the unique human beings that God created us to be.

    • Thanks Joe, yes timely article.

      These two paragraphs expound on some key topics:

      “Leaders aren’t immune to the imitation bug. During a conversation with several staff members from a large local church, I noticed each one of them spoke with the same gee-whiz speech pattern and aw-shucks mannerisms of their head pastor. One of them joked about it, noting that like the Borg characters in Star Trek, resistance to the clone trend in their church culture was futile.”

      Once I joked to my friend who left ubf that ubf Koreans seem like the Klingons on Star Trek. He said, No they’re not! Clearly they are like the Borg. ubf missionaries not only *allow* imitation, they *teach* imitation as the most important means of passing on the ubf heritage. This “imitate me” proof-text teaching is done verbally and silently by behavoir modification. This is *so* easy to see now that I am farther and father away from ubf people. It is SO hard to sit and listen to someone imitating RW’s voice….

      “Admiring the words and lifestyle of a teacher, preacher or leader is one thing, but if we allow the words or an idealized image of a local or national Christian celeb to form both boundary and substance of our own faith experience, we will drift from the person God has called us to become. He doesn’t need a fleet of Nancy Leigh DeMoss wannabes to do his will. He just wants you.”

      Yes, yes, and a thousand Amins!

    • Oh and just a word of advice to ubf sheep: The Borg say “resistence is futile”. But Jesus says “resistence is mine.”

  8. Thanks, Joe, for the timely CT article. These statements below perhaps reflects pretty accurately what many in UBF have clearly experienced and done for the sake of their own spiritual well being:

    “Despite all of this (spiritually abusive shepherding) and because of God’s faithfulness, I did grow spiritually – to the point where my husband and I realized that preserving our faith and family meant leaving the dysfunctional congregation and reclaiming our identities, parts of which had been put on hold during the years we belonged to the church.”

    “I had to unlearn my mistrust of all those who weren’t in our former theological camp, and learn to trust the Holy Spirit to teach me. I left the church sadly deficient in understanding how to hear God’s voice, or value my own.”

    I pray that our leaders may someday realize the stark veracity of the above statements, instead of continuing to caricature and demonize and explain away “you ingrates” for leaving UBF, and bragging to the world what you have done, and then bashing your former church.

  9. I am an ingrate :o

  10. Another quote from the article that helps give some insight into “why” people join such cults:

    “I was ready to adopt without question what these leaders offered me because I believed they were living faithful, mature, committed lives. So I read what they read. I went to the conferences and classes they recommended. I learned to disdain the “weaker believers” who didn’t swim in the same cultish stream we did. My former church leaders created a culture that celebrated a perpetual state of middle-school followerhood among members.”


    “I did grow spiritually – to the point where my husband and I realized that preserving our faith and family meant leaving the dysfunctional congregation and reclaiming our identities…”

    PRECISELY! As I have said repeatedly the past 3 years– We left not because we were spiritually *weak* but beacuse we became spiritually *strong*! We are now strong enough to throw off the ubf entanglements.

    • And now that we’ve thrown off the ubf entanglements, we are discovering all the wounds and scars that need healing.