To be or not to be…a shepherd

dI recently heard a story of a man from a UBF chapter far far away from me. The topic of him becoming a “Shepherd” had been raised numerous times to him and felt as though he was being pressured. He asked me about the topic. I was in an interesting position, as I suddenly felt I could push the man from UBF forever or try to convince him to stay. This is what I told him.

1) God has a plan, but it’s unwise to focus on it excessively.

I always find it odd when Christians place such a high taboo on fortune telling and magic, but always talk about “God’s will”. If you are always trying to discover “God’s will” for your life you are trying to divine the future. Jesus rebuked the Jews of his day various times for demanding and searching for signs. Trying to decide what God’s will is is akin to asking what you are doing tomorrow. You might have some idea but you really don’t know, and by the time you do know tomorrow is still a day away. Dwelling on God’s will is dangerous and not practical. It best it is of no consequence and at worst its fortune telling. Therefore I suggested to the man not try to concern himself with if it is God’s plan or not.

2) God’s calling is external and internal.

UBF usually presents the “Shepherd” identity as a special calling you have by virtue of UBF showing up. I once met with an admissions officer of Covenant Theological Seminary. The man asked me “Do you feel called to seminary?” I admitted that I was unsure. His next question was puzzling: “How much do you have in student loans?” I told him I had none, but was unsure why that was related to if I was called or not. As well as I can remember he said “God’s calling is both external and internal. You must have a strong desire to minister, and your conditions must allow you to. Some people come here with seventy-five thousand dollars in student loans and are newly married and want to get a masters in divinity. I always say to those people ‘Do you think that God is making your path straight for this?’” I told him as a doctor he would be in the right place to help minister to many people, but what matters is if he wants to. He must have an internal call, manifested as a desire. I suggested he pray about it, and I told him that what he wanted to do was more important than what others wanted him to do.

3) Know what you are getting into before getting into it.

One thing I emphasized was that there was absolutely nothing wrong with being a campus minister and being a UBF shepherd if you go into it knowing what that entails. I said that many people had become “shepherds” without knowing what that meant. They believed they were doing “God’s work” but really it meant marrying by faith and adhering to a lot of over bearing authority, strange cultural norms, random titles, ect. I referred him to the 6 stages of UBF training slides that UBF produced some time ago. I told him that his “calling” would entail what appeared in these slides. UBF training model

4) There is a season for every activity under the sun

I mentioned that even if he decided to do campus mission that there is a season for campus mission and there is a mission that isn’t for campus mission. Every believer is called to “evangelize” – which simply means to live and speak in such a way that people are pointed to and find out about the good news of Jesus. Not every believer will have the gift of evangelism. Those who are gifted are able to connect with unbelievers in powerful ways and are able to equip other believers who do not have the gift of evangelism to be more effective in their attempts to share their faith (Ephesians 4:11, 12). People with the gift of apostleship will likely have evangelism in the spectrum of gifts, but they are wired to start new works, break new ground, and get movements moving. Teachers may or may not have the gift of evangelism, but are able to open and teach the Word of God in clear, practical, and powerful ways… in the end giftedness simply describes the way the Spirit has empowered us to fulfill the great commission, to be disciples who order our lives in love for God and others, who make disciples (helping unbelievers become believers and helping believers to walk more fully and authentically in the power of the gospel. This is the call on every believer, though we all have different gifts that will give us strengths to carry out that call. Evangelism is not tied to an area. There is no promised land of evangelism. Campus mission is only one place. I told him that many in UBF do campus mission for a while and God calls them away.

5) Being a true Shepherd does not constrict the gospel to a script

The shepherd’s goal is to evangelize and lead others to Christ. If he plans to do this by constricting and limiting his or her efforts to a single, scripted version of Christianity while focusing his or her efforts into a tiny socioeconomic group of students from wealthy families- I feel that the shepherd has sold out his dream of evangelism for a lie. I told the man that I could never get over how I heard people repeatedly pray for raising disciples on affluent college campuses while my students were gunned down, murdered people, and drew weapons on me. I told him that simply donating 1% of your tithe once a year isn’t what the scriptures meant when they said “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I encouraged the man, that regardless of his acceptance of the title and call for campus ministry he should help the poor and disadvantaged.

I told that if he accepted the title with all this in mind, then there would be no problem with him accepting the title.

What do you think? I know many might disagree with some of the things I said here, others might agree. What would have you have told the man?


  1. Thanks, Forests, My spontaneous thought is that it took you just a few years in UBF to figure out and articulate clearly what it took me a few decades to barely begin doing! I have to just say, “Good job!”

    • He had some help :)

    • Forests, I forgot to say that this morning I was just about to consider writing a post with the title: “Being a One to One Bible Teacher” when I saw your post with almost similar points that I wanted to state.

    • Ben that is a nuance that’s been lingering in the back of my mind… What is the difference between “shepherd” and “one to one bible teacher”?

      In our part of ubf, a shepherd was a higher-class than bible teacher. In other words, if someone didn’t display enough loyalty and obedience to earn the shepherd title, they were prayed for becoming a “one to one bible teacher”.

      Anyone else notice this? Or was it just in our chapter?

    • From my subjective sentiment, there is an unspoken spiritual hierarchy that is always implicitly present and implicitly communicated, but perhaps not necessarily the distinction between shepherd and one to one Bible teacher.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Forests! I am super glad that these kinds of conversations are going on. My hope is that the discussions will continue to increase greatly. This is the kind of communication that needs to go on for a ministry to have any chance of being healthy. I’m glad that such discussion can now happen instantly, globally and simultaneously, and most of importantly– without any supervision from ubf leaders.

    Overall, I would simply say “bravo” to your words to your friend. Especially I am glad that you refer to him as “the man”, meaning, you are treating him like the adult he is. So often adults at ubf are treated as “little ones” and children who can’t think for themselves. You’ve provided a bit of fresh air just by doing that.

    Here are my principles I generally follow when someone contacts me about ubf:

    1. I listen to their story. Often people reach out to me because there was no one who took their concerns seriously at their ubf chapter or because they didn’t feel safe asking their questions.

    2. I share my story, if relevant. I point them to my blogs and books if they want to know more about me. I make it clear that I am me, and they are they. My choices were made in my context, and they shouldn’t just follow me.

    3. I encourage them to make their own decisions. A ubf sheep is conditioned to not make their own decisions. So I remind them of all the times in Scripture where it is mentioned about our conscience. We need to have our own conscience and to pay attention to how we feel.

    4. The bottom line is that I poke into their understanding of the gospel. I ask questions about the gospel, share what I’ve learned about the gospel and point them to numerous non-ubf resources about the Christian gospel.

    Side note: I chose the 3 arrow picture for your article, Forests, because for so many years I was trapped by the false dichotomy of “be a shepherd” or not. The “not” was painted as a very bleak picture, so I stumbled blindly, numbly onward. The decision to be a shepherd or not doesn’t have only two choices. There are many choices and as you say, we must understand the scope and consequences of those choices.

    • forestsfailyou

      I am pleased you liked it Brian. I was concerned I was going to have to explain a lot of “You didn’t mentioned x,y,z…”. As for the “to be or not to be…” I chose it because of the nature of Hamlet’s words:

      “To be, or not to be, that is the question—
      Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
      The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
      Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
      And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—

      For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
      The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
      The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
      The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
      That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
      When he himself might his Quietus make
      With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardels bear,
      To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
      But that the dread of something after death,
      The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
      No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
      And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
      Than fly to others that we know not of.
      Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all…”

      Hamlet is making a choice between suicide and life. That is nearly the extent of the option given by UBF leaders. Unless you are a Shepherd you are not following Jesus and without Jesus you are dead. It is never quite stated that way, but their actions with the man indicated as such. It hasn’t been presented to me in such a way, but I have been prepared to deal with the situation for a time now. So my advice to him was that it is not so much a choice of life and death, but as you said- one of many paths, and someday that path might take you elsewhere. We should know where we are going, we should be told up front what it means to be a ubf “shepherd”, and with that in mind we should know what is gospel and what is a narrow view of the gospel that is preplanned by people who have no authority to control such.

    • forestsfailyou

      I should maybe be a little clearer, my chapter has not been pushy around my acceptance of the title. I made it clear what I wanted and they have been respectful. When I say “ubf leaders”. I mean “some UBF leaders”. The ones from this man’s chapter fall into that category, mine does not.

  3. Thanks for writing this forest. I see things similarly. Maybe even more radically, I totally stopped believing in the idea that God has a fixed ready-made plan for everybody. Do good fathers have fixed plans for their children? Do I have a fixed plan for my son? Sure, I have certain ideal conception how he should live, what he should study etc. But would I stop blessing and loving him if he develops differently? Certainly not. Would I not allow him going loop ways, or pursuing different goals in different phases of his life? Certainly not. I believe the same is true for God. He gave us a free will and many possible paths to go and ways to live a meaningful life. We are free to choose any of them. I found that it really limits people if they believe that there is only one path to follow, that they must find and that their life would be a failure if they don’t follow that one predetermined path or calling. I also found that the word “calling” in the Bible has a much more universal meaning with which the word was loaded in UBF, namely the universal “heavenly calling”, not some concrete service or activity like being a campus Bible teacher. There is no such “calling” in the Bible. Instead, the Bible talks about various “gifts”. We should try to find our gifts and use them. Being a Bible teacher is actually a gift, and not everybody has that gift (1 Cor 12:29). So the basic concept of UBF, the expectation taht everybody they invite has automatically the calling and gift to be a Bible teacher is fundamentally flawed. No wonder that in my ten years of UBF, we never studied 1 Cor 12.

  4. “Hamlet is making a choice between suicide and life. That is nearly the extent of the option given by UBF leaders. Unless you are a Shepherd you are not following Jesus and without Jesus you are dead.” – See more at:

    Wow! Now that’s escalating things quite a bit… I’m not sure I would use that articulation (maybe I have in the past?).

    Given the Robin Williams event however, and the numerous suicides related to ubf, we really should discuss this more deeply. Indeed, many in ubf have taken a vow unto death to be a “holy soldier”. That leads to life/death type thinking that becomes harmful.

    The salvation of the world really really does not depend on whether ubf shepherds exist or not. Yes ubf shepherds have at times intervened at just the right moment in young person’s life. But they really need to drop the self aggrandizing act. They are not so important.