How big is your binder?

bThree ring, white binders. Remember those? This week my son needed several three-ring binders for High School. Of course, as good and faithful ubfers in the past, we have plenty of those! Many years ago I had packed up all those three ring binders of bible study notes in a huge bin and stored them in our basement. I had thought of having a huge bonfire with them after resigning from ubf, but then I thought, no these are evidence! Who would ever believe I spent over 15,000 hours studying the bible if not for those binders? Well I don’t really care about such things anymore, so I emptied the binders and threw out some of those old notes this week. I even found a “Marriage Preparation” binder :) I took a brief glance through the notes and realized once again how severely shallow our “bible study” was for all those thousands of hours. The answers to the questions were just quotes of bible verses, repeats of SLee’s messages and unthoughtful remarks expressed as incomplete sentences.

My Binder is Bigger than Your Binder

I remember how awestruck we were when one ubf shepherd brought a 4 inch white binder to Sunday service! He opened it wide and took notes during the service. We were so impressed because before then the standard was a 1 inch binder for bible study notes. This style of bible study notes was not just back in the 1980’s, but in Toledo ubf we carried on the tradition into the 90’s and 2000’s. I think only in the last decade did people start bringing laptops to bible study.

Binder Judging Day

Not only were ubf shepherds required to bring their binders (white was the only acceptable color) to bible study, we had several binder judging days. We brought our best binders full of notes and they were displayed on long tables. Those (like me) with some unfinished binders were shamed.

Paper, Scissors and Glue

All this was of course before the widespread use of computers. But being a Computer Science Engineering major, I had a PC. I bought it from Sears and was one of the first ubf shepherds to use the bible electronically and to print out notes entirely from the PC. Some rebuked this as unspiritual and sinful. The proper way of preparing notes was to cut the question sheet up into strips of paper, glue or tape them onto lined paper, and use a pen to write the answers. Some even said using a pencil was unspiritual because a pencil could be erased and changed. A pen was permanent and would last longer.

Android Phone

As a shocking contrast to all this, I decided to take ONLY my Android phone to any meetings I had with ubf people after leaving the ministry (yes I had several meetings). I have access to many bible translations, many books via Kindle, and the entire wealth of the internet on my phone. And best of all: I could live blog instantly if anything went wrong at the meetings :)

Anyone else remember the binders? Any stories you would like to share about how bible study is conducted at ubf? Regardless of the binders or laptops, what kind of bible study do you have?




  1. Wonder what UBF would have thought of this guy:

  2. Instead of binders, we had notepads, preferably with the emblem of some elite university in US or Korea. We got them as presents from our shepherds or bought them as souvenirs on “mission journeys”. And yes, the preferred way of using them was to cut out the questions from the questionnaire, glue them on the notepad page and then write shallow answers and Bible quotes underneath. These notepads also contained our weekly shared sogams. Some members wrote many pages every week, but 2 pages was the absolute minimum. Our “Abraham of faith” had already accumulated several meters of such notepads when I joined. It would be really interesting to see his collection now, about 25 years later.

    Another obligatory item was the datebook. Our color for these was black, not white. In the datebooks, we wrote our appointments for 1:1, the “prayer topics” we were given by our leaders and notes during SWS and fellowship meetings.

    A UBF shepherd was always expected to have his datebook at hand. I remember how I once was bawled out heavily in front of all on a mission journey when I did not have that datebook at hand when our national director announced prayer topics.

    • Ah yes the DATEBOOK! I forgot all about that! We had no requirements around those, as long as we all wrote down all the names of “sheep” and wrote down all the prayer topics, no one cared what datebook we used. There was one shepherd though who always gave out free datebooks each January… there was quite a bit of peer pressure to use his datebook, but it was not the strict requirement like the white binders were.

  3. Of course, the tradtion of these binders and measuring spirituality with the thickness of the binders goes back to Samuel Lee. Here is a passage from Samuel Lee’s Christmas letter 2000 in which he wrote about the early years of UBF:

    “In Seoul we concentrated on studying the word of God. Each week we held a shepherds’ meeting. We listened to a Bible message, wrote Bible study reports – testimonies – and shared them. We also wrote Daily Bread freely. Each semester there was a Shepherds’ conference. At that time, there were too many shepherds for me to check all of their Daily Bread notes, so I collected their notebooks and weighed them. The shepherd whose notebook weighed the most got a prize and the one whose notebook weighed the least was punished.”

    • forestsfailyou

      Do you have a source for this? Is the letter published anywhere?

    • Yeah, Chris, I’m often amazed at how you keep track of these things after more than a decade!

    • Forests, there WOULD be an online source for this… if a certain ubf director had NOT SUED Chris to get his website removed.

      No worry though. We are working to get his content refined and republished :)

    • forest, the letter was sent to all UBF coworkers at that time, I still have my copy. There were many more questionable passages in these yearly letter. Some of the letters even contained faked photos e.g. showing a much larger audience at conferences than was really there.

      Note that UBF has many websites and even a museum devoted to the “heritage” of Samuel Lee. You would expect that his real writings would be archived and made available there. But that’s not the case. They don’t publish his newsletters and circulars, since it would reveal too clearly how warped his views were.

      I once had a website with archives of UBF letters and testimonies of abuse, but then UBF lawyers threatended me with a lawsuit of 100.000 Euro amount in dispute for copyright violation, violation of privacy, libel etc. Though I would have possibly won the lawsuit, as a private person with a job and a family I don’t have the time and nerves to go through that, and cannot afford a legal protection insurance and expensive lawyers like UBF who were obviously paying them from offering money.

    • To be clear since I used the German notation: That’s one hundred thousand Euros, not one hundred Euros.

    • In today’s conversion rates, that is about $130,000. Yea, sometimes we former ubf leaders are a TAD bitter.

    • Chris, Maybe u had told me b4 but I don’t remember. Did u have a website that had both German and English translations? I remember seeing that German/English website over a decade ago.

  4. SL told this story of weighing binders publicly many many times over the years: “At that time, there were too many shepherds for me to check all of their Daily Bread notes, so I collected their notebooks and weighed them. The shepherd whose notebook weighed the most got a prize and the one whose notebook weighed the least was punished.” – See more at:

    Not to brag or anything, but I likely have more, bigger and thicker binders than all of you combined (every week for 27 years!). :D

    By learning/trying to see things GHF (instead of GHE), optimistically and positively (rather than pessimistically and negatively), I would simply say this:

    “If not for 27 years of weekly testimony writing, I would not be the avid, passionate, enthusiastic, daily blogger that I am today.”

    I can’t speak for others, but in the words of Francis Bacon, those years of writing (which continues to this day in a different form), have sharpened and enriched my life:

    • I’m sure you are correct Ben, your binders weigh more than my binders… but the king of binders is this former ubf leader: free bible study notes. He is still creating and answering ubf-style question sheets all these years later…

  5. These binder displays, which are usually prominently displayed in ubf houses, remind me now of Matthew 23:5-7.

    • What follows in Matthew 5 is one of the “but not so with you…” passages. One of the most helpful bible study questions I found in the past 3 years has been this: “What are the ‘but not so with you’ teachings of Jesus and how can we apply them?” Maybe that’s a good topic for a ubfriends article….:)

  6. Hi, it’s been so long I forgot my password! Or else early form of memory loss… things have been hard to keep track of lately…

    anyway, I like your reflections. Binders are a big part of UBF history/culture. I myself started keeping one from elementary school. It was very difficult to write reflections so I was proud of them and wanted to keep them safe and organized.

    I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with keeping your notes organized for future reference or to keep track of progress. Writing itself is becoming a lost art form in today’s society. Not just writing, but the reflective kind seems especially foreign to many children. Recently, I read an article that notes taken on laptops in a college classroom are inferior to those taken by hand in terms of acquiring and retaining new information.

    after 20+ years of writing my reflections, I can now say I enjoy writing them and they are a great way to understand myself, God’s message, and his love for me. Keyverse testimonies have been wonderful opportunities to set new goals and see God’s hand of guidance in my life and his answers to prayer. If binders are a way to save those precious moments with God and discoveries into his word, I don’t see any reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed about binders.

    However, if they have become a means to show off or be recognized, or if you feel they hold the key to helping someone come to Christ or affecting change on a person, then it’s best to throw them away. People are inclined to look for a formula for all sorts of things, including faith in Christ. But there is no such formula especially when it comes to a person’s individual encounter with God. I once took down my Bible teacher’s words from Bible study down on paper and saved them in a binder because they were so life-changing for me. However when I repeated them to others, it gave them some new insight, but it was not as life-changing as it was for me. Since then I realized we cannot depend on past experience or our past notes to hold any water for any other person we come into contact with. Everything is personal according to the plan God has for each of us.

    • **the comment on laptops was not meant to be a snub but just an interesting sidenote. Despite all our advances in technology, it seems that we’re discovering some old fashioned ways were better for us after all not just in education but also in health.