Authority and Common Sense

rOne unspoken rule I have noticed in traditional UBF chapters is there is this idea that life decisions and choices must be approved by a pastor or shepherd before being undertaken. When directly asked this a shepherd will reply “You are free. Everything is permissible.” But then under his breath he adds “But not beneficial unless I say so.” I have not reacted well to this idea, because it seems insane to me. Recently I heard of a young man who broke his chapter leader’s directive and later when the young man protested this idea that things must be approved, he was told it was not a rule, but rather it was “common sense”.

One lesson of teaching in inner city St. Louis was this: students do not accept your authority by virtue of your position as a teacher. This was very hard for me. My mentor teacher remarked:

“You have a very old school style of teaching. You expect students to do what you say because you are a teacher and you expect them to listen to you. That may have been true 10 years ago but now a days this will not work. With these students you must gain their respect.”

My policy was to not treat them any different and continue to hold my standards high. I might relax on grading, but never on content. This was not accepted by my boss who said I should be playing games with them and “dumbing down the content”. One day a student told me a teacher had asked him about my teaching style. The student remarked “He teaches us like a regular class. If you don’t want to work he does not force you. He expects you to do your work.” My students over the course of the year came to respect me. I have been puzzled as to why, but their exit surveys revealed it was my honesty and consistency. Many teachers tried to fit in with the students to make their lives easier. This seemed not to work. They realized these teachers were “faking” to fit in. Students were used to family members lying and not holding promises but my constancy made them like me. It was not at all what I expected. They hated other teachers making content artificially easy.

This confirms an important truth, relevant to campus ministry in the 21st century that students will not respect until respect is given. This may seem obvious to you, but think of how it sounds when someone is told they have to run a decision though a leader. This is something that is likely only to be done to someone whom that person respects, and if you do something like lie, or tell someone they are going to do something without consulting him- this respect will not be given. It seems very offensive to me that someone could have a say in another man’s marriage when he has known him for a month.

Finally, I want to field an objection. Some people might feel like it is “common sense” to run life choices through their shepherd or chapter director because we do that with our parents. This sounds reasonable, and ignoring the question if we should or should not do that with our parents- we need to ask if that happens today. I know with my parents I barely talk, and I know in America many homes are broken due to divorce. The idea that a college student might run their life choices through their parents is outrageous to many people in my generation. Additionally the advent of the internet has shown many young people of my generation that their parents are many times wrong, and incredibly flawed. It has taught people not to take everything at face value. I can remember my mother telling me Dungeons and Dragons caused mental health issues. I went on Wikipedia and promptly informed her because she was wrong. Effective discipleship to Millennials cannot expect this any longer. If people believe this is biblical (and that is certainly very debatable), or even if they think it ought to be done- they need to realize this type of behavior cannot be assumed. It must be earned by respect.



  1. Forests, thanks for your article. What you express–clearing your ADULT life choices and decisions through your shepherd or missionary or chapter director (as “common sense”)–is not going to be a palatable, acceptable or respectful option (for the “sheep” or “junior”) going forward, and thus ABSOLUTELY needs to be seriously addressed on an ONGOING EQUITABLE basis, since such a practice has been ongoing in UBF for half a century (to this day) without much question, objection or opposition—until the internet exploded over the past decade as more and more people (usually exUBFers) began to share their painful experiences and stories of authoritarian abuse for DECADES in not a few UBF chapters throughout the world.

    In my opinion, until this is addressed and corrected UBF will continue to have discordant disconnect, poor conflict resolution, an undertow of mistrust and suboptimal friendships, relationships and intimacy with their own members, especially with subordinates.

    • forestsfailyou

      I can recall my mother being very upset with the amount of freedom college students had. She said they should not be allowed to party and do whatever they wanted to do. She was of the mind that college students should be controlled because they did not yet have “real responsibilities”. To be clear This idea is not unique to ubf.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful article, forests. I am glad we’ve reached a point where at least some people can freely share what’s on their minds!

    Here is my first thought. The common sense you speak of is only common in the West. In the West it is commonly understood that respect is given when earned. Any missionary to the West needs to understand this absolutely.

    However, in the East, common sense is very different. In the East it is commonly understood that respect is due based on position. If you are a child, you give respect to your parents because they are your parents.

    I read the bible speaking of respect in a kind of mixture of East and West, and for an entirely different reason.

    Respect is to be won and is related somehow to pleasing God (such as in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12) which is similar to the Western concept of earning respect, but different and better. Such respect has an element of the East too, in that we are motivated partly due to the Lordship of Jesus.

    Earning respect puts the onus on the other person, which can often be unfair and lead to manipulation. Demanding respect due to position also puts the onus on the other person, which can often lead to superficial and abusive relationships.

    Winning respect puts the onus on me however. As a Christ follower, I am to learn how to win or gain the respect of others, not demand others to earn my respect.

  3. MJ Peace

    Quote from “Freedom Writers”:

    Teacher: But to get respect you have to give it.
    Student: Bullshit.
    Teacher: What?
    Student: Why should I give you my respect to you? Because you’re a teacher? I don’t know you. How do I know you’re not a liar standing up there. How do I know you’re not a bad person standing up there? I’m not just gonna give you my respect because you’re called a teacher.
    Student 2: White people wanting their respect like it’s for free.

    I agree with this, and it reminded me of the message at ISBC that stressed the SHOW part in “show and tell”. Everyone wants to do the tell part, but no one wants to do the unconditional love part. People want to boss me around, but they don’t want to be there for me when I screw up, or take partial blame for my mistakes. It’s interesting how the teacher says, “If you want respect you have to give it.” But she doesn’t use that principle for herself. She expects her students to give her respect, but doesn’t understand that she has to give them respect too. (Later she does, however.)

    I think this is why when Jesus called the disciples, he called them to be with him. In this way his disciples could know him and JC could earn their respect.

    Here’s another related quote I like, “For healing, proximity is required. Preaching alone does not fully demonstrate the kingdom- it must be accompanied by immersion in people’s lives, by touching them like Jesus did”- Paco Amador.

    • MJ Peace

      the “immersion in peoples’ lives” doesn’t mean making life choices for them , like whom they should marry. It means love without strings attached and empathy as to why someone would do something different from the way you would do it.

    • I want to add that the leaders demanded more than respect, they demanded obedience and accountability, even absolute obedience. There were many situations where you could observe this. For instance, participation in UBF activities was always mandatory. If you missed your 1:1 BS with your shepherd or a Sunday service only once, a hell would break loose. Another example: Every Sunday we had a staff meeting where every member in a row had to give account of how many 1:1s they made the last week and how many they plan to have next week. The sogams we shared every week were in principle also meant to hold us accountable.

      However, just with respect, this accountability was a one-way street. Leaders never allowed to be held accountable for their actions themselves. Before 2003 or so, there was not even financial accountability (one of the complaints of the reform movement). All money went up to the national and international headquarters, every chapter needed to give account about the collected offerings and number of 1:1s and Sunday service attendants, but the headquarters never gave account on how much money the received, how it was used exactly, and how the membership numbers exactly developed. They just claimed to be shepherds and authorities who had to be obeyed, just because they seemed to read and follow the Bible so diligently and prayed so much in public and they were the ones who fished and converted you. They believed this gave them the right to do just anything, now people owed them and had not rights to complain or hold them accountable.

      Also, I want to stress that these problems even appeared when you had no sheep at all. There were several missionaries in our chapter who never found any sheep, for various reasons, e.g. they were too introvert and shy or depressive, never really learned speaking our language, were too busy with earning their living and feeding the family. Still, they were required to attend all these meetings, and feel very bad and guilty because they always had to promise to find a sheep, but it never happened, or they soon “ran away”. These Korean members, often naive and with little self-esteem, but very kind and good-hearted, were also abused by the system. As Brian once said, they “married” the UBF campus mission system, but it was a very unlucky marriage. Every now and then they had to pretend they were so happy anyway, because of Jesus, but in reality I saw clearly how sad they became over time, and how lethargic, dulled and indifferent they became over time. In staff meetings they just sat there and spoke only the bare minimum that was required of them. All the vision and enthusiasm and passion had been sucked out of them over the years.

  4. MJ Peace

    I think there still needs to be more transparency in the money issues, but that’s my own opinion.

  5. Thanks forests for the nice connection to teaching. When I got my first teaching degree, we had a speech given by one of the children of Henry Bloch (Entreprenuer who started H&R Block mind you) who gave up a life of privelege, getting business jobs because of his name, and became a teacher in inner city schools in Kansas City, where he grew up.

    He emphasized that this generation will NOT respect you until they see that you respect them.

    One way to show respect for people IS to hold high standards. I have had a number of students who were “typical underachievers” really turn around in my classes and work hard, even thanking me for a C (I’m tough). But I think they also saw that respect from authority is not just a bonus or favor. I really think it’s good to believe people are capable of a lot and challenge them to that level (see Stand and Deliver, a great movie).

    The reason why we face so much of this bad attitude in students in America is because they have been surrounded by corrupt people who try to act like respectful authority figures. When people smell that in our church, they will run, I promise you.

    So yeah, I agree with your points. Authority is real and can help people, but it must be accountable and must earn the respect of those in the organization, as well.