Keith Green. Do you know who he was? Most likely you have heard some of his songs. If you became a Christian in the 1980’s like me, you definitely heard his music at some point (there weren’t many Christian music choices to listen to at the time!)
Some of my favorite Keith Green songs are “Make My Life A Prayer To You” and “Run to The End of the Highway”.
But did you know Keith Green led an authoritarian discipleship movement? Music was Keith’s gift, but pastoring was not.
Despite the intimidating effect of the Shepherding hierarchical structure on lower level members, confrontations between shepherds and sheep do occur. In February, 1981, 15 former members of Last Days Ministries of Lindale, Texas, sent an open letter to their pastor, 29-year-old Keith Green, expressing distress over the “hurt, bitterness, often utter devastation through condemnation and unnecessary fears” they said had been suffered by members as a result of some of Green’s policies. They felt that Green had become a pastor too soon after being “saved,” and reminded him that “good intentions can, in the process of time, almost be cancelled by violating wise Biblical commands and principles.” Specifically, Green was accused of:
– Causing members to live in “constant dread and fear,” mostly over the prospect of punishment or expulsion. Those who expressed a wish to leave were accused of being in rebellion against God, and predictions of dire consequences, such as miscarriage, and even cancer, were made.
– Encouraging some members “to disregard our parents’ wishes…and even to sever our relationship with them at times
– Enforcing 12-14 hour work days with frequent 48 hour “burns” (work without stopping.)
– Requiring that new members of the community “sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Green was accused of sometimes living “in a totally different standard than the others in the ministry…for example…owning property while others must sell all of theirs…”
– Exercising undue control of members’ lives: “Because of the structure of the ministry it is necessary to give up our will to you to make important decisions for us that we ourselves should have been allowed to make…”
– Interfering in the relationship between husband and wife “to the point that your word was law….” Green was reminded that “the fruit of the ministry should not be marital strife, separation, and even divorce.”
– Confusing his “sheep” by vacillating between various shepherding bodies, so that no one knew what his source of authority was. They felt “like people on a small sailboat in a storm and you are the main sail, being blown about here and there with the latest, heaviest disciplinary doctrine.”
How did Keith respond to such allegations? He repented. He acknowledged the things he was accused of were true. And he made policy changes.
Green wrote in reply that “all the things you shared about me lording it over the sheep are very true,” and he promised to discontinue the following practices that had been criticized:
– New members would now retain complete control of their own property.
– Workers would be financially compensated.
– There would be no restrictions on letters, phone calls and relationships except for continuation of a one-year “no dating” policy for community members.
– No one would be asked to “clear” personal decisions with Green.
– No one would be disparaged or accused of “rebellion” for leaving.
Green also expressed his intention to add more personnel so that the work week could be cut to a more normal length. And finally, he promised to be more open to suggestions and willing to make changes in the future. Tragically for Green, the future proved to be very short. The young pastor was killed in the crash of his private plane in July of 1982. (source)