The Pain of Leaving UBF

p(Admin note: I, Bento, did not ask permission from Joe to post this. I’m making an assumption that he would be OK with me doing so since he posted it on Facebook here. I’m posting it because what he wrote touched my heart deeply. It was real, honest, raw and gut-wrenching (and the way everyone in UBF should write a testimony). I viscerally and palpably felt his pain of moving on from UBF.)

There are plenty of places where we can worship freely. There are many churches in our town, and of course they would be thrilled to have new members (especially if you are willing to work hard and support them financially). But it’s hard to find a church that is truly home. It’s a huge adjustment to go from being a pastor of your own church where you ran things for 20 years to being just a new person who has walked in the door with no special status or title or responsibilities. That is a huge shock.

And some of the things we found problematic about ubf (for example, the ways that they approach Scripture, shallow understandings of the gospel, problematic methods of evangelism and discipleship, overbearing pastoral leadership) we also found in varying degrees in other evangelical churches. We have become extra-sensitive to these things (some would say extra critical) because of our experiences with ubf; we can see and smell certain problems from a mile away. And after getting burned by ubf leaders its just hard to learn to trust people again.

But this process has also been incredibly healthy and purifying. And it has really widened our understanding of what the true church is and where real Christians are to be found. We have found Jesus alive and at work in churches that we used to think were too formal, too ritualistic, too liberal, full of Sunday Christians / cultural Christians and so on. We have been challenged at every level to overcome our own pride, self importance, closed mindedness, prejudice and lack of love to see Jesus Christ living in every part of his diverse Body.

A huge shock. What most resonated with me is this: “It’s a huge adjustment to go from being a pastor of your own church where you ran things for 20 years to being just a new person who has walked in the door with no special status or title or responsibilities. That is a huge shock.”

One reason I couldn’t leave UBF. Even though I had seriously considered leaving, this sentiment so well expressed by Joe was one significant reason why it was just too painful for me to leave. For over a quarter of a century I had been a top leader in UBF: Chicago Board of Elders, fellowship leader of the largest fellowship at the Chicago UBF HQ, lay UBF staff, UIC leader, overseer of YDC (now the Well), and many throughout the UBF world knew me, or heard of my name, or heard of “how exemplary” I am, and how I am one of Samuel Lee’s most fruitful disciples. So to go from this to being a virtual nobody in a new church was just plain tough. I highly commend and respect Joe and countless others who have moved on from UBF after 10 to 20 to 30 years of devoted and dedicated service. Joe and many others did what I personally could not do. Of course, there were also many other reasons why I also felt very strongly compelled to stay in UBF “forever,” which I will not delve into here.

Horrible things some leaders say of those who leave UBF. I wish some of our older leaders would realize just how painful it is for anyone to leave UBF after investing decades of the prime of their lives to UBF. The things I have personally heard from some leaders commenting on people who leave UBF is downright sick and appalling. Yet, I can’t be too hard on them, because sadly and with much brokenness of heart, I said exact similar horrible things myself for over 20 years whenever someone left UBF.

Many who leave UBF did so after giving tens of thousands of $$ to UBF. I hope that the UBF hierarchy would share corporate sorrow over those who leave UBF, instead of speaking ill and speaking disparagingly and speaking nonsense of anyone who leaves. We speak of “shepherd heart” as though it is UBF’s second nature. I hope that all UBF leaders would have a “shepherd heart” for those like Joe and countless others. (I’m not saying that they need or want our sorrow and sympathy.) Yes, they may have moved on from UBF. But this was after years and decades of fully giving themselves and countless thousands and tens and hundreds of thousands in tithes to UBF, which surely contribute to our 13 million plus USD in savings and investments just in central UBF, not counting the hundreds of thousands if not millions more in local UBF chapters throughout the world. Please, please, please have a “shepherd heart” for those who have left UBF.

I personally share and feel the pain of almost everyone who has left UBF. I can feel their pain in their articles and comments whether it is on Facebook or UBFriends, as well as in emails and phone calls and face to face conversations.

A deeply rooted egocentricity. What causes a church to thrive is a culture of love. Speaking ill of those who leave UBF promotes anything but a culture of love. Not having a “shepherd heart” for those who move on from UBF exposes a deep ego driven selfishness whose primary concern is to show off to the world just how great UBF is (and how terrible are those who leave UBF). Even 2nd gens and children born in such an ego driven culture of five decades have been leaving for other churches.

Love one another, love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemy surely includes loving those who have left and moved on from UBF.

Will you share your pain of leaving UBF? To those still in UBF do you feel the pain of our brothers and sisters who have moved on from UBF? Or are you just upset that they left or that their public (and private) comments are upsetting and uncomfortable to you?

19 comments

  1. Joe Schafer

    Thank you Ben. I have no problem with you posting it.

    Yes, there is pain in leaving. But I regard it as a pain associated with purification and healing. There is a sorrow and mourning for what was lost, but that sorrow is mixed with hope and joy.

    You are absolutely correct that I do not want sympathy from ubf leaders. They shouldn’t pity me, because I am in a much healthier place, and I am encountering God in ways that I never could when I was among them. I am restoring relationships with my family that were essentially cut because of ubf, and I am establishing relationships with people in the community that I used to ignore because I had no use for them (they weren’t potential sheep). I feel as though I am becoming human again.

    But I often feel sorry for them. Especially for those who feel that they could never leave ubf because they would lose everything they ever worked for and their whole lives would amount to nothing. Or those who feel trapped because ubf has been their lifelong employer and if they left their job prospects are nil. Or those who could never leave because they have cut ties with their families and ubf has become their safety net, and if they left they would be totally alone and lost in the world. I do feel sorry for them. The ubf ship is listing. If it sinks, some will choose to go down with the ship. That makes me sad.

    • Thanks Joe. I don’t think I could have stayed in UBF if I was going to continue “playing the game” and “towing the party line.” I have and will continue to speak up both in public forums and in emails and in private or public face to face meetings, knowing that I am going to be accused of all sorts of things, the latest “cute one” being that “Dr. Ben started a UBF hate website!” So sorry, Joe, that some people seemed determined to give me credit that I clearly do not deserve…

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      “I feel as though I am becoming human again.” Thanks, Joe. This sentence perfectly sums up my current feelings for the very same reasons. I have been experiencing the very pains and conflicts that you, David and Brian have mentioned here. But ultimately I am glad for it, even though there are still many questions left to be answered and discovered, such as finding a new church.

      The fear of experiencing these pains can be paralyzing and also painful. At one point, they were used as threats for me to fall back in line with UBF. I wouldn’t be considered a “leader” and would be disqualified from being a director candidate (for not attending the 2013 International Conference). I was in UBF for 15 years, since I was 17, right out of high school. I was at times afraid of leaving everything I had built up in my adult life.

      Being as busy as I was in UBF, my wife would sometimes tell me to stop doing a particular activity, saying, “Can’t someone else do it?” This bothered me so much because of course the answer is, “Yes.” I’m not offering anything unique in the world. There is someone else who can do everything that I do every day. But if I give up what I do because someone else can do it, then what will I do?

      But it also became too painful to stay in UBF; and much of my time in UBF was painful. It was painful to see a so-called church systematically abuse people in the name of shepherding, praise those who did so, and then vilify and ignore those who either left or spoke against the issues. It was painful to see the whole congregation be asked to pray for such and such UBF chapter to have a big conference with many attendees while knowing that that very chapter has hurt people and ignored it. To see this done, with business as usual continuing, was painful and anger inducing. And then it happened to me too.

      After leaving, I experienced the very things mentioned here. I realized how isolated my life had become. The feelings of deception, of embarrassment in becoming a self-absorbed fool for so long, of disappointment and betrayal, were all painful. But in the end I’m glad to have left and stood by my convictions with the support of my wife because despite the pains, it sure feels great to feel like I’m becoming human again. It has been simultaneously painful and difficult, and still exciting and wonderful.

    • Joe Schafer

      “To see this done, with business as usual continuing, was painful and anger inducing. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/02/21/the-pain-of-leaving-ubf/#comment-16648

      Thank you Charles. Yes, it was anger inducing for me and for my wife. I believe that the anger we felt was righteous anger. God gets angry at abuse and injustice. But if we express that anger (even if we try to temper it) many will take it as prima facie evidence that we are unspiritual and wrong, and it becomes just another excuse for ignoring us and silencing us. It’s frustrating when, even now, people will say “I empathize with your pain” and then in the same sentence criticize you for expressing it.

  2. Joe Schafer

    Another thing that was hard to give up. When I was in UBF, I was often chosen to speak at conferences. Getting up on stage and giving a message before hundreds or thousands of people was a heady experience. That will probably never happen again.

    But here’s the thing: Those environments were artificially created, and much of that audience was a captive audience. People came because their commitment to ubf essentially required them to be there. They would have come to the conference even if the main speaker was Shepherd Elmer Fudd or Shepherd Donald Duck. Many in the audience weren’t actually looking at me; they were looking past me to see the glorious ubf project. Most of them weren’t listening to me; they were sifting through my words to hear the voice of SL and the glorious ideas that captured their hearts in decades past. If I didn’t have a ready-made audience of ubf listeners, would hundreds or thousands of people have showed up and even paid money to register for a conference to hear me preach? No way. Because, in the wider context of American Christianity, my messages weren’t very good; the things that I had to say weren’t especially profound. When ubf people would say “Thank you for your beautiful message,” it meant very little, because they said that all the time, and whatever beauty that they heard in my message was so mixed up with their love of ubf ideology and their hopes for ubf that it had very little to do with whatever small contributions were uniquely mine.

    That was hard to give up, but it was very healthy for me to give it up.

    • Maybe I am highly fortunate here since I never got chosen to speak at major conferences (except once in 1989). Why? Sure, I’m not a gifted speaker. My spoken English is with a colloquial Malaysian British accent that often does not pronounce consonants distinctly and clearly. But the main reason is because I wasn’t a “WHITE BOY!” :-)

    • Joe Schafer

      Yeah Ben you weren’t a white boy. But for a while there, you were super famous and the envy of the world because your fellowship was full of HNWs who were even rarer and more prized than us white boys. What was your secret? Many thanks for sending me one of those HNWs.

    • That was one of the saddest and happiest days of my life! Oh, what fond and sweet memories God has granted us.

    • Mark Mederich

      perhaps that speaker effect happens with many religious/civic organizations (for example I work as a social worker so I attend an occasional inservice-work induced or seminar-vendor offered; I’ve been a social worker quite awhile so I’m more interested in “free”/convenient/food included:), since I mainly need continuing ed credits for periodic license renewal-speaker quality becomes only a bonus unless it’s a cutting edge helpful topic;

      on the other hand if perhaps we become a relevant/useful voice in religious or civic topics we may end up with an audience

  3. Joe Schafer

    Two more groups that I feel sorry for.

    Missionaries who, because of ubf ideology, pushed their children so hard to follow in their footsteps, pressing upon them a “spiritual identity” that was not truly theirs. Many children of ubf missionaries felt they had no choice but to get far, far away from their parents otherwise they couldn’t breathe. Not long ago, I asked a Chicago elder: “How many of the elder missionaries have children who are estranged from them because of ubf?” His response: “All of them.” Unfortunately this hardcore training of 2nd gens continues. http://ubf.org/world-mission-news/north-america/new-jersey-ubf-25th-celebration

    Children of missionaries who feel boxed into a church that doesn’t inspire them, that they are embarrassed by and must continually (in their minds) make excuses and apologize for, because they find the teaching at best tolerable but often boring, repetitive, childish, and sometimes offensive. Yet they cannot openly discuss this with their parents, because it will create too much conflict. And they cannot bear to leave either, because it would be too costly. It would put further strain on their families, distance them from their circle of friends. And it would block the pathways to marriage that ubf provides. They hold out hope that they can maneuver within the system to find and marry someone they like (in some cases they can). So they continue to stay and play the game, even though they wish they didn’t have to.

    No, Ben, the leaders of ubf needn’t feel sorry for me. As Jesus said: “Do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children…”

  4. Who do I feel sorry for? The gay and lesbian children of ubf people. Some of them have contacted me.

    • Joe Schafer

      yes, the stories I’ve heard of how they are treated are very sad

  5. Someone mentioned doctored photos recently, so I dug up the link:

    ubf newsletter and fake photos

    One of my pains of leaving ubf was to see ubf from the outside and to notice how fake the whole ministry really is. ubf trained me to be a good actor, pretending to be holy when I knew nothing about holiness.

  6. “Will you share your pain of leaving UBF?”

    Ben, when you told me that people were beginning to say that I have become negative toward UBF because of you and Ubfriends, I began drafting an article that would dispel that notion. But as I was writing, about both the good and bad, I realized that UBF has already taken up enough of my time. I don’t want to give the organization more attention than it has already demanded. Additionally, if people want to believe that I can’t think for myself and make educated observations about what I deem are very unhealthy ideologies and practices, then I feel sorry for them. They are basically projecting on to me what they have lived through their entire time in UBF, which is, they have been thoroughly convinced that they need to leave the hard thinking up to someone else, God’s chosen servant perhaps. So it’s only natural that they would think that someone senior to me, like you, is able to influence the way that I think and behave. That, to me, is a very tragic form of deception to be caught in. I may finish and publish that article, but right now, I feel as though dwelling on those things will take me to an unhealthy place. But eventually, I know that I will have to delve into this and somehow come to grips with it. Currently, I am enjoying my time away from the ministry, but we’ll see what happens. This recent blog post from someone who knows all too well about PTCS deeply resonates with me:

    Christian culture doesn’t have a category for grief and anger over wrongs done in God’s name. They see it all as cynicism.

    Anger is messy and frightening to Christian culture. It puts you in close touch with your raw humanity and doubt. This makes an essential step of the grieving process, anger, a threat to those who don’t know how to hold grief and sadness alongside possibility and mystery. They feel Jesus’s tantrum in the temple was okay, but all other anger stemming from abuses by those in religious authority will be swiftly shamed.link

  7. Great thoughts everyone. Ben, you asked “Will you share your pain of leaving UBF?”

    I got tired of doing that so I wrote three books to tell my authentic narrative. That gave me a lot of freedom and relief to pursue other things and yet still be a voice for healing:

    Goodness Found: The Butterfly Narratives

    (Warning: This book contains many trauma triggers for ex-ubf people, especially former ubf leaders like myself. Read at your own risk. In time, though, this book may prove to be the most helpful to ubf people.)

  8. Joe Schafer

    Based on what I gave seen, people who leave ubf (especially those who were in for a long time) go through a process of grieving that is not unlike experiencing the death of a loved one. But that process takes time. It affects people in different ways. And it is complicated by the fact that some of us (especially the old timers) were trained to be soldiers who act but don’t feel. We became very proficient at suppressing pain, question, and doubt. So it may take time before the emotional impact hits. My mother died in 2004. There was an initial shock, but the actual emotional grieving came later and not all at once.

    The FB comment that Ben posted here was not coming from my need to share my pain. I wanted to open up and say something meaningful to a very nice, likeable and sincere young lady who grew up in ubf and is still there.

  9. I would say that all elder missionary families have children who have left ubf, but not all have children who have become estranged because of ubf.

    Are you saying that second gens have to either run far away or become mindless idiots who are staying just to marry? I would say that they fall into a larger category of millennialists who are disillusioned with organized religion and seek authenticity in their lives and relationships. They may be disillusioned by ubf but nothing else is that attractive either. But the bonds they’ve formed in ubf is genuine and it says something about the integrity of the members to want to marry someone from a group that you’re not that excited about.

    • Joe Schafer

      No, mindless idiots is not at all what I had in mind. It is precisely because that they are talented, thoughtful and sincere people that they feel stifled (like they can’t breathe) and want out.

      But thank you for the clarification. I should have said “estranged from ubf.”

      Yes, bad experiences with a single church can turn people off to Christianity and they might not want to even look for another church. That is unfortunate, because there are good churches out there.

      Integrity is an interesting word. I know some people from ubf who have integrity, and some who don’t. Is there more integrity to be found in ubf as a group than in other churches? Not clear at all.

  10. I think this is the first time there are more comments on Facebook (74) than on UBFriends (18): https://www.facebook.com/ben.toh.9/posts/10153139652119490?comment_id=10153144189369490&notif_t=feed_comment

    Charles, I think you’re not on Facebook, but your last comment would fit right in: “…much of my time in UBF was painful. It was painful to see a so-called church systematically abuse people in the name of shepherding, praise those who did so, and then vilify and ignore those who either left or spoke against the issues. It was painful to see the whole congregation be asked to pray for such and such UBF chapter to have a big conference with many attendees while knowing that that very chapter has hurt people and ignored it. To see this done, with business as usual continuing, was painful and anger inducing. And then it happened to me too.

    After leaving, I experienced the very things mentioned here. I realized how isolated my life had become. The feelings of deception, of embarrassment in becoming a self-absorbed fool for so long, of disappointment and betrayal, were all painful. But in the end I’m glad to have left and stood by my convictions with the support of my wife because despite the pains, it sure feels great to feel like I’m becoming human again. It has been simultaneously painful and difficult, and still exciting and wonderful.”
    – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/02/21/the-pain-of-leaving-ubf/#sthash.6xYMj7U8.dpuf