Do (not) Read Ubfriends

222If I had a nickel for every time someone told me not to read this site or talk to BrianK or Ben Toh, I’d probably be a dollar richer. Unfortunately, for the naysayers, my personality is the type that if I am told not to do something, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. (My mom has figured out that trick and now she uses reverse psychology. She tells me not to do things i.e. don’t get married, don’t have kids and I can never tell if she is genuine or not telling me to do those things because she knows the moment she tells me to do them I disobey. My mom has realized the best thing is simply not to tell me what to do, but pray. Our relationship is complicated:))

Anyways, hearing all these warnings makes me wonder: why do they say those things? Why do they not want me to dialogue with certain people or read certain articles? And thus I decided that I am going to write an article to discuss: a.) the reasons why people tell me not to visit this forum and b.) the reasons why I go to this forum.

You should not read ubfriends

1.) Basically it’s the argument of, “it’s a waste of time.” Many have told me, “if there are issues they should be discussed face to face, not over the internet.” But this implies that the role of ubfriends is to solve the issues of UBF. If that’s what you think the purpose of this site is, I have news for you: that’s not what the role of this site is. The only one who can solve the issues is God himself. Moreover, we could have a whole discussion on what a “waste of time is,” but that’s for a different article.

2.) “BrianK and Ben Toh are a bad influence.” I have heard this many a time and I am sure that they have too. But I learn a lot from them and they are people who make me think. We have different views, but my goal in life is not to surround myself with clones of myself and only talk to those who make me feel comfortable. There’s no challenge or growth in that. One author I read took a management course at Oxford and in one lecture they were told, “Talk to people you really respect- even if they disagree with you. These people will help you make better decisions because they will present you with possibilities you might not agree with, but which might be right.” I lived in a country that is 99% non-Christian. Did it cause me to lose my faith? (If you believe that faith can be lost, another topic for a different article.) Nope. Do I want to be sheltered from contradictory worldviews? Nope.

3.) “Don’t be a cynic.” People who have told me not to frequent ubfriends come from both sides of the spectrum. One side is from those who don’t want me to comment on this site because they know I comment about them and the other side with those who care for my spiritual and emotional health. Honestly, it’s easy to be a cynic, but I don’t want to be a cynic and I cannot be a cynic. JC is alive and moving to this day. God can use a donkey to speak his words; he even uses you and me to accomplish his will. It’s a miracle. As BK said, there are glimpses of the gospel everywhere.

Reasons I read ubfriends, comment and submit articles

1.) Respect- I respect the ideas of those who dialogue on this site. Those who share here are critical thinkers. I am not one to go with the flow or be silent when I disagree. I used to be like that, but through the support of friends and family I have been able to find my voice. I am glad there are people who share the value of critical thinking.

2.) Growth- I still remember when Dr. Ben first showed me this site. The article he showed me was about Spiritual Abuse and it voiced many of the things I felt were wrong, but could never say aloud. This is a place for people to talk about the elephants in the room and find others who have gone through the same things and can help others along the way.

3.) Interactive/Dynamic Communication- When I submit an article I get feedback on what others think. It sharpens my arguments and helps me consider angles I wouldn’t have considered before. It’s all about collaboration; this is a 21st century skill and community is indispensable to the Christian life.

4.) Question everything- I love questions. I love when people answer my questions. I have one old-school professor right now who only gives one-way lectures. He doesn’t even give us time to ask questions at the end. During his lectures I have my hand up and he sees me, but he keeps going on and on. It drives me crazy. To solve this issue I decided to just do homework during his lectures and to take his classes online instead of face-to-face. I need to interact with information. Some people find this annoying, especially when I ask the same question over and over again, but that’s the way I process information.

So my question for you is: Why do you read ubfriends? Do you agree with the reasons to read or not to read? Do you think it is wrong to air out personal issues in public? Has anyone told you to not read ubfriends or talk to BK/ Ben Toh?


  1. LOVE this article MJ! Out of 513 articles and 15,612 comments, this has be be my all-time favorite! I know some (or many) won’t understand what has happened to me or accept what I do and say. But my conscience is clean and my soul is at complete rest in the amazing, effervescent, all-surpassing, joyful, exuberant gospel of our Lord.

    • I just realized, as crazy as it sounds and despite my freedom in Christ, your comment made me feel competitive to the point that I wanted to write an article that’s your “all-time favorite.” haha It seems like the ugly branches can be cut off but sin’s root is still hanging in there.

  2. “Has anyone told you to not…talk to Ben Toh?” Thankfully, no.

  3. forestsfailyou

    I have just been told to have good discernment. But I have both seen it written by people, and heard with my ears- by multiple people. That BK does the work, or is actually Satan. Hold your laughter. It gets better. I have heard that Ben Toh is just bitter because he didn’t have a say in the picking of the new general director. Oh course, that second one was sorta an inside thing told to someone that was not expected ever to repeat it.

    • Yeah, it’s initially amusing and rather life enriching to me that I’ve been credited or given credit for all sorts of surprising and interesting inner heart motivations that I was not consciously aware of. I’m so thankful that so many people are lovingly looking out for me with deep prayerful concern, and with much thought and care for my spiritual well being. Praise and thank God for such a community of faith and love.

    • Forests, that is a good question to ask “Am I doing the work of Satan?” I’m preparing an article to examine what work Satan does. We should be aware of the nature of Satan’s work, and to be able to correctly identify is some work is satanic/evil/bad.

  4. Joe Schafer

    “BrianK and Ben Toh are a bad influence.”

    What about me? I feel left out.

  5. well-thought out, well-organized, great energy, thanks for the article. I’d like to hear about if faith can be lost one day.

    • It depends on whether you are Calvinist (you can’t) or Arminian (you can)!

    • The Calvinist/Arminian debate is a classic example of what went wrong with Christianity the past 500 years. John Calvin was born in 1509. He and others sparking a multi-century shift in the church, which I believe has ended in the 2000’s. Those 500 years were a cocoon of a many attempts to find “the ideal worldview”, causing over 40,000 divisions in the body of Christ.

      Denominationalism, though not dead, is now being left behind by the multitudes of church-goers. The Spirit is leading many now to embrace a third-option, or trinitarian based thinking.

      So rather than get stuck on the one loaded question, can I lose my faith? It is far healthier to consider the manifold gospel messages. The Calvin/Arminian dichotomy is worth considering as long as we don’t get trapped in it. The debate reduces the gospel to only one element: a legal transaction (and our role in that transaction).

      The gospel is SO much more grand than that!

  6. MJ, you asked some questions:

    Why do you read ubfriends?
    > I helped Joe start this website back in 2010, back when Joe, Ben and I were still ubf loyalists. Back then, I read ubfriends because I felt abandoned in Detroit. We had been “sent out” in 2004 and had little contact or interaction with other people. A blog was intriguing to me and opened up my mind to all kinds of views on Christianity and life in general.

    > At some point, after my resignation from ubf in 2011, I had a hard time reading this website. I just couldn’t hear those three godforsaken letters anymore. But in time this blog became more than a blog. This became my community. The technology merely serves as a connecting point. The friendships I’ve made with numerous people here has been fantastic. Reading this blog has lead to several connections outside the blog, including in person meetings in Chicago. So I read to stay connected with friends.

    Do you agree with the reasons to read or not to read?

    The reason people gave you, MJ, to not read this are what Stephen Hassan calls “spiritual pornography”. Christian churches do not try to limit information people have (which is now utterly impossible due to technology). I have met at least five or six Christian pastors for coffee-shop meetings or at church for discussion. They all mentioned how they received criticism and feedback. They welcomed such things. They all were intentional about being open, honest and transparent. They all prayed that people would not follow them, but be moved through them to follow our one Lord.

    Do you think it is wrong to air out personal issues in public?

    > Yes. It is wrong. We should not be discussing personal issues or making personal attacks publicly. Ben, Joe and I have only filtered one or two articles/comments and the reason was because the wording was too personal.

    > If someone is a public figure however, they have already made the choice to be more public than most people. SL and SB are public figures. Still we should not air personal details about them. But it is not only ok to discuss their teachings publicly, it is necessary. And when severe wrongdoings have been covered up and hurt people deeply, we need to bring the light of public scrutiny upon such people.

    Has anyone told you to not read ubfriends or talk to BK/ Ben Toh?

    > Back in 2010, I was told by a ubf Korean leader to not talk to Joe :) This man told me: “Joe S. thinks he is so smart. If he knows how to do ministry better, then he should go somewhere else to do ministry. He should leave us alone.”

    > Also, doesn’t this question reveal the heart of the matter regarding ubf teachings? The big problem I’ve found after leaving is that the ubf heritage stole my true self. So yes, ubf shepherds and missionaries told me for decades to not talk to BrianK. Don’t talk to Brian. Don’t be Brian. Instead, be “Shepherd Brian”.

    • Oh yea, and my favorite comment about not talking to someone was when I was told “Ben Toh corrupted you and caused you to leave ubf.” Ha!

    • Joe Schafer

      This man told me: “Joe S. thinks he is so smart. If he knows how to do ministry better, then he should go somewhere else to do ministry. He should leave us alone.” – See more at:

      Yes, Brian, it was very interesting for me to hear you tell me that story a couple of years ago. Because just a few weeks earlier, that man had called me on the telephone and told me this: “In private, I have never said anything bad about Joe Schafer. When people criticize you and question your motives, I always stand up for you.” He blatantly lied to me.

      That is just one of the many incidents where I observed UBF senior staff spinning the truth and sometimes blatantly lying to manipulate people and advance their agenda.

      Another great example of this occurred in the months leading up to the last Well conference two years ago. The Well committee asked me to speak at the conference and I agreed. When my name appeared on the conference schedule, some senior ubf leaders from the United States and Canada tried (unsuccessfully) to get me dis-invited. When that attempt failed, at one of them quickly scheduled a leader’s retreat at his own chapter to prevent his own members from going to the Well, and then he lied about when and why he had done it. That man is also still on the ubf senior staff.

      These are just two small examples of many times I saw senior UBF leaders displaying a lack of honesty and personal integrity.

      Over the last two decades of my professional life, I have served on many committees, advisory groups, review panels, and decisionmaking bodies. In these secular (university, government, business and nonprofit) settings, virtually everyone whom I worked with, whether they were Christian or not, acted in ways that were trustworthy, honorable, straightforward, honest, transparent, kind and gracious. When problems arose, these men and women looked squarely at the problems and tried to address them. When disagreements or conflicts arose, people didn’t pretend that the conflicts didn’t exist; they faced the conflicts and communicated with one another in ways that were kind, respectful and mature.

      But that was not the case in UBF. In UBF settings, I saw leaders acting in ways that were two-faced, dishonest, manipulative, secretive, and hyperpolitical. Problems were ignored, minimized and swept under the rug. Conflicts were addressed through gossip, rumor, slander and backstabbing. Commitments and promises were routinely broken. And the older they were, the more immature they behaved. As time went on, they became more and more embarrassing and problematic.

    • This is extremely disconcerting to read. What might be even worse is that such reprehensible and shameful instances/episodes are NEVER able to be addressed honestly or adequately.

    • I agree that first manipulation must stop. It reveals insecurity, love of power and control, and living before people. It must be replaced with genuine love, humbleness and respect for others. Then we cannot be threatened by people or what they say. God have mercy and convict our hearts.

    • Perhaps I’m simplistic and naive, but the solution would have to involve forgiveness, and the willingness of “both sides” (unfortunately there are two sides) to commit to an ongoing equitable dialogue (rather than say, “We already tried our best but THEY were bitter, angry and not open.”) This will be messy, tedious, painful, uncomfortable and humbling, which may be why it’s not really happening or being pursued on a consistent basis.

    • Mark Mederich

      the immature may avoid progress (Gentiles have always lorded over others…but the mature learn how to encourage/don’t need to lord it; fraternal organizations have always hazed…but the mature learn how to cultivate/don’t need to haze; religion has too often lorded & hazed…but the mature learn how to empower & inspire…hallelujah!

  7. And Joe, that brings up another contradiction related to MJ’s article: there are ubf leaders who say “Don’t read ubfriends!” on the one hand, but on the other hand want control of this website.

    In the same timeframe as those comments about you Joe, I was surprised to find myself marked as the presenter about ubfriends at Staff Conference. No one prepared me for this or told me in advance. I found out that day and threw together a powerpoint quickly.

    Why was I trotted out as the ubfriends presenter, as if I owned the website? Why was Joe not brought in? It is because certain leaders at ubf know the potential of this website and want control of it. At the time it must have been thought that if BrianK controls the website, then ubf leaders control the website since up until then I had been their willing pawn, doing whatever they asked me to do (I say this to my shame).

    Well that turned out to be my last ubf presentation.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, I couldn’t have done that presentation, because at the same time Tuf and I were giving talks on “educating the next generation.” In that instance, the fact that you were asked to do it on the spur of the moment was, as far as I remember, due to unprofessionalism and poor planning by the session organizers.

    • Hmmm.. but my name was printed as the presenter inside the program. I had not seen it until someone asked me how my presentation was going during one of the meals. My name being in the program means someone planned it at least somewhat in advance and didn’t tell me.

    • Joe Schafer


      As I recall, that was a time when things were very disorganized. JJ was still the General Director, and he had surrounded himself with people whom he felt comfortable working with (all Korean missionaries). Communication was poor or nonexistent. Americans were out of the loop.

  8. I am reading a book I am reviewing called Preaching By Ear. This comment is tangentially related to the above comments regarding a breakdown in communication between leadership and others.

    A significant point of the book is that a good communicator (preacher) is willing to be himself (his true self without pretense), willing to be exposed for who he truly is, willing to deal with unpredictable difficulties in the spur of the moment, which will reveal one’s true self.

    The difficulties encountered and the resultant disgruntlement in countless cases is that when a conflict arises, some leaders have been unwilling to be forthright and transparent, probably because they assume (incorrectly) that they should always be in the right.

    Sorry for this rather obtuse and tangential comment. My point (I think) is that if we become better men, we will become better communicators, better preachers, better leaders, better friends, even when there are difficult and seemingly irresolvable conflicts.

  9. namuehling

    I think I started to read UBFriends so that I could feel that I was not nutty or antagonistic towards God due to my attitudes towards some practices that I felt were counter-productive. I liked the vulnerability of those writing. I could see the same struggles and questions that I wrestled with, but were not wrestled with publicly in ministry.

    When I grew as a high school teacher, I noticed that making myself vulnerable with students was uncomfortable at times, yet it improved our relationship and made for a much better classroom culture.

    It is this vulnerability that I found refreshing when I read this blog. I think it is also the reason many are uncomfortable with it. I hope they may find the freedom that comes from vulnerability!

  10. A friend just emailed me this: “When Growth is Pursued at the Expense of Relationships – Too often a leader’s drive for a bigger church can result in violated, neglected, or shallow relationships with others. Even though we are supposed to be following Jesus, who never established a program, but rather grew His Kingdom through loving servitude toward those closest to Him, we can easily become so obsessed with church growth that we use people to achieve our own goals.”

    • Ben, I think the problem is a bit more complicated in UBF than in megachurches to which this statement probably better applies. In a megachurch you have so many members and relationships that they become shallow. But UBF is a tiny group. It emphasizes lifelong 1:1 relationships. It’s difficult to say whether these relationships are shallow or deep. They are both at the same time. Only UBFers will understand what I mean.

      Actually relationships are not neglected in UBF, they are in fact the nuts and bolts of UBF. While megachurches are pursuing growth at the expense of relationships, UBF is pursuing growth by building and (ab)using strong 1:1 relationships. That’s part of the UBF heritage. My Korean shepherds always emphasized how important relationships are. However, he understood it in a completely different way than you normally have in mind, not as a mutual and friendship like, but as a dependency like relationship.

      There are in fact two parallel relationship-building processes going on in UBF. One is building a personal relationship with God. This is actually a good thing in UBF that many people learned only there. But that relationship gets tainted and distorted because in parallel, the shepherds are trying to build the personal relationship with the sheep, in which the sheep is bound strongly to the shepherd, in a very unhealthy way where ideally, absolute obedience and eternal thankfulness towards the shepherd is expected from the sheep. This is of course a bad thing. But the even worse thing is that the two relationships between the sheep and God and between the sheep and the shepherd now become coupled. If your relationship with the shepherd is bad, your relationship with God is bad as well, since in the view of UBFers the shepherd is the “visible representative” and “servant of God”. You can also put it that way: While in the beginning your relationship with God is a direct one, over time the shepherd kind of becomes a mediator in your relationship with God. Not your conscience is telling you any more whether your relationship with God is ok, but the shepherd tells you.

      The problem is not the neglect of relationships, but the unhealthiness and abuse of too tight relationships and the intermingling of spiritual with human relationships.

      This is what Brian means when he asks UBF to “release the bonds”. I totally agree with him here; the only way of healing for UBF is by 1. admitting abuse, 2. releasing the bonds.

    • Very insightful comment, Chris. The relational dynamic that you’re explaining is a term in the psychological field called codependence. This article explains the concept from a secular and spiritual point of view as well as its converse, interdependence:

      Codependency comes in many forms, but they are all similar in nature. They all revolve around what a person can get from someone else by giving him or her something in return. For example, a parent may expect to control an adult child because of the parent’s financial support of the child. Another common scenario is when a friend will not confront another friend about his drug use for fear of losing a relationship with him. At the core the relationship is a focus on using one another rather than giving unconditional love and honest acceptance. This stems from our selfish human nature. Codependent people are like a parasite and a host: they each use the other to get something for themselves. Such relationships are not helpful, because neither party is willing to be truthful, and both parties are selfishly clinging to whatever it is they are getting (money, sex, friendship, admiration, power).

      One result of a codependent relationship pattern is that God takes second place to people. Codependents rely on each other for emotional needs and even some physical needs rather than take care of themselves. They also lack faith and trust in God to care for their needs and, as a result, manipulate others to get what they want. Codependent people typically are attracted to one another and will keep each other stuck in a dysfunctional blind spot by telling each other what they want to hear. This way, they both can feel okay, despite the chaos their choices are creating. Obviously, people who avoid telling the truth in love have trouble recognizing their own sinful habits or need for repentance.

      …everyone needs healthy boundaries to maintain convictions and avoid being manipulated. However, codependent people don’t feel like a whole person and tend to copy others or attach themselves to people to gain a sense of identity. This results in an inability to make their own choices, because they want to preserve their dependent relationships. They also overstep others’ boundaries and try to control others rather than focus on

    • Right, this could be considered a special kind of codependency patttern. These patterns can take very different forms.

      I don’t think the original idea of codependency applies, because it starts with an addiction of one party. But UBF leaders or members were not addicted when they started. The broader pattern however, where instead of addiction you consider other weaknesses like immaturity and low self-esteem, fits very well.

      The article is a bit inaccurate. For instance, it says about “parasite and a host: they each use the other to get something for themselves.” This is actually not true, since parasitism is defined as a non-mutual symbiotic relationship – the host does not get anything in return, quite to the contrary, the parasites only exploit and weaken their host. So the “parasite and host” picture is not very appropriate and it would be the question who is the parasite and who the host.

    • forestsfailyou

      I think Spinoza said that people are like hedgehogs. Hedgehogs in the winter snuggle together to stay warm but when they get too close they poke each other with their spines. So they get farther away, but then they get cold so they get close again. The hedgehog is never happy.

      This is the same with personal relationships. Our sins pricks others and we separate. But we need each other so we get closer.

  11. Thanks, Chris, I agree with you. I have referred to codependency as “unhealthy dependency” as I have witnessed some unhealthy, even sickly “shepherd/sheep” and “leader/member” dependent relationships, where both sides need the other as a sort of crutch to validate themselves and to feel good about themselves.

    The shepherd needs the sheep to need them in order to feel validated and good about themselves being a good shepherd. The sheep needs the shepherd to commend and approve of them so that they feel good about their own standing with God.

    Even just a few days ago I saw an email from a friend who has been in ubf for over 20 years exhibiting such unhealthy dependencies.

    I am not denying that there are healthy, godly, loving relationships between shepherd and sheep and between leaders and their members. Unfortunately, the ones that are more vocal are those who have been wounded and abused by experiencing unhealthy shepherd/sheep relationships.

    In my opinion, it behooves us as a church to seriously address the potential for spiritual abuse and the painful reality of sickly unhealthy dependencies and codependencies in any shepherd/sheep dynamic.

  12. Thanks, Dave, for the link. This says clearly what I’ve observed about unhealthy dependent relationships: “One result of a codependent relationship pattern is that God takes second place to people. Codependents rely on each other… everyone needs healthy boundaries to maintain convictions and avoid being manipulated. However, codependent people don’t feel like a whole person and tend to copy others or attach themselves to people to gain a sense of identity. This results in an inability to make their own choices, because they want to preserve their dependent relationships. They also overstep others’ boundaries and try to control others rather than focus on themselves.”