What happened in Toledo UBF?
It will indeed take many years for the ministry there to recover from the events of 2011. But why? Do people understand the magnitude of what happened? Did the ministry in Toledo ever recover form the reform events of 1989 or 2001?
I feel compelled to share what happened in Toledo UBF in 2011 from our viewoint– the viewpoint of those of us who left. This is the third time Toledo UBF ministry has fallen apart. Can we endure any further divisions?
In my discussions with people outside of Toledo UBF the past two years, I get the impression that most people don’t understand the scale or significance of what happened. Here is what I observed.
A Glorious Building
I begin my observation in 2009 when a massive building project kicked off in Toledo UBF. This is after the heart-wrenching departures of senior leaders in 2001 and 2006. Three years later, nothing significant had been done to address the leaving of JH/KH, AN/SN and TP/MP. They just disappeared, even though they were a huge part of Toledo UBF history as well as American UBF history.
So a building project was kicked off. It was claimed often that this project had united all Toledo UBF coworkers and the wonderful aroma of Christ was gloriously present among us. I was in Detroit in 2009, but I was contacted and contributed to this approximately $700K to $800K project.
But first the old building had to be torn down.
When I saw the pictures of the old center building being torn down, it was shocking. I admit it– I cried. My wife and I were married in that building. My sweat, blood and tears helped build that building. It was the vision of the late James Kim. It was built by student labor. Every Saturday (and many other days during the week) for over 3 years, we students labored to build that building. I’m not so sentimental about buildings. And I’m aware that there were structural issues with the building. But why was there no recognition of James Kim’s vision and labor? Or was there some recognition I’m not aware of?
A United Toledo UBF?
I attended the new center dedication ceremony in 2010. I saw the great building. But I wondered if it was true that Toledo UBF was so united, glorious and wonderful? It certainly appeared so outwardly. John Jun gave a lecture from Haggai and declared to us: “Fill this house!”
Magnitude of the departure
In approximately a 9 month period spanning 2011 and 2012, the following families left Toledo UBF.
TF/EF (5 people) 30 years of service
NM/SM (4 people) 30 years of service
BK/MK (6 people) 47 (had been sent to Detroit in 2003)
JR/PR (6 people) 25 years of service
CE/FE (5 people) 30 years of service
KB (1 person) 10 years of service
JW/RW (6 people) 55 years of service
MG/CG (5 people) 55 years of service
7 families, 38 people, 282 years of commitment from American leaders (ok there is one Korean missionary in the mix). In addition 2 other Korean families left about the same time to pioneer other places. These families were leading everything from children’s ministry to Sunday service to offering administration. These were Sunday messengers, Treasurers and Fellowship Leaders. They had done everything they could to “make it work”. Several of them had been there when Toledo UBF was first pioneered.
Former Toledo UBF Members – Their stories
These words have already been shared in 2011. Two years ago. The leaders with whom these words were shared didn’t feel the need to share these words with others. They saw no reason to do anything except write a few thank you letters in return. No one seemed to care enough to do anything except be sorrowful and try to get back to doing UBF ministry.
I cared. I still do. I love each and every one of these people deeply. I love each and every person in Toledo UBF deeply. It pains me even more deeply to see the flesh of the Body of Christ torn asunder by the abuse of power and authority and by the apathetic attitude of the very people who call themselves shepherds.
I also care deeply about the “giants” who also left. The last leaders to leave Toledo UBF were the “ancestors”–the Gambers and the Wilsons.
My resignation as director of Detroit UBF came after over 4 months of intense discussions. I tried everything I could to bring attention to the problems these friends were expressing. I sent over 500 emails. My wife and I met SB in person for over 6 hours. I drove to Toledo. I later drove to Chicago.
I couldn’t believe I was witnessing the same pseudo-religious, political manipulations I had witnessed during the departures of 13 prior leader families who had left Toledo UBF from 1990 to 2007. In fact, I was stunned to see that I was watching the 1990 events all over again.
During my last UBF worship service in Toledo UBF, I left early. Before I left, I said to the person sitting next to me who had experienced much anguish over these events: “I won’t let this go”. To this day, two years later, I’ve kept that promise. So without further ado, here is our story. Please listen. Please do not pour salt on our wounds. Please see our concerns.
A 14 Page Letter
“See previous 14 page letter and Emily’s letter. We did it, it wasted my time.”
–submitted by TF
Letter to the Committee
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Recently it was asked in the Committee meeting what issues I have that have led to my decisions and current separation from Toledo ministry. I would like to share those reasons clearly with you. I share them in the spirit of love and hope.
My primary concern with Toledo UBF is the ministry of God’s word. Since November, I have had a large burden on my heart about the word of God that was being preached in the Sunday worship service. On many occasions, I felt that the gospel was not being made clear and that God’s grace was often overshadowed by our works. Frequently the emphasis is on our response, what we do. It is often expressed using words like “must” “need” “absolute.” The problem is that these words are condemning unless the focus remains on the love and grace of Jesus. Because as we all know, our works must flow out of love, not even out of obedience. It is a careful balance that must be maintained every day.
For example when we studied John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” the emphasis was on the command “do not” instead of God’s invitation to trust in him instead of worrying. The idea that we can “not” worry by our own effort, by our faith, by our strength, by obedience to God’s command, takes away our very need for a Savior. God knows our hearts are troubled so He invites us to trust in him. Similarly, when we studied John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” the focus was on the word “must” not the word “love.”
As Paul writes, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). Even if we could never worry or constantly even treat everyone well by our own behavior, Paul makes it clear, it is worthless without Christ’s love being at the center. The focus on what we should be able to do by faith, out of obedience, becomes a source of condemnation if it is not intimately tied to Christ’s love. These may seem like small semantic problems but they are not small when the result is an unclear gospel and feelings of burden and condemnation.
I believe that the balance of faith and works and love in our ministry is in trouble and I think that the root of that problem is in the ministry of God’s word. For several years, we have gone from messenger to messenger as Pastor Paul has travelled. While this in itself is not a problem, the inconsistency and the lack of time people have to meditate the passage, but more importantly the amount of freedom that messengers have in allowing the Holy Spirit speak to them and deliver the message that God gives them. Instead, an oppressive control seems to restrict the work of the Holy Spirit in our messages. My burden about this and its effect on Toledo ministry became so large that Tuf and I addressed our concerns with Pastor Paul a few months ago. However, this issue has not been adequately addressed or changed yet.
This is also true to our bible studies. A few Saturdays ago, I realized how unacceptable it is to continually reuse the same question sheets year and year, often giving and receiving the same answers. I often here “senior” leaders saying things like, “I have studied this so many times. I did not really receive anything new.” But as we know, 2 Timothy 3:16 reads: “All Scripture is God-breathed” and as Peter writes: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The word of God is alive and it works in us to grow and change us. But when we restrict the Spirit in the word of God, we lose that living aspect. Instead, we sit bored in bible study, surfing the internet and writing down the “answers” to the questions. Bible study should be a lively and refreshing Spirit-filled discussion.
I see the issue of the ministry of God’s word as both a cause of our current situation and a result of our current situation. My recommendation is that reviving the ministry of God’s word becomes a priority. New, fresh, open, discussion based question sheets need to be written. Messages need to be fresh and truly inspired by the Holy Spirit. Also, I believe that it would be most useful for a few people to work on this together and the messages given by a few consistent people in addition to Pastor Paul because it is too serious and too difficult a task for people to undertake randomly.
Which leads directly into my second major issue, the viability of a lay ministry the size of Toledo. I am not sure how anyone could pastor a ministry the size of Toledo while also working full-time. The work to meditate God’s word, to minister to students, families, men, women, high school students, children. To lead the ministry forward so as to remain alive and vibrant and an influence on campus. These are things that people could be devoted to full-time.
I feel like a major problem at the moment is that we have to much to do and as a result, we do not do things well. Instead of being able to move forward, we are spinning our wheels in place. We are “maintaining.” Many people have spoken of the need for true mentors in our ministry. Younger leaders struggle with how to live this life—kids, work, ministry—with joy in our hearts. I know this is true for me in the absence of TP and MP. But I think that what we also need to see is that this is more than giving advice to one another. While I appreciate Mark Gamber’s desire to meet and work with young families, I think we should also ask, based on what? Just experience? While that is valuable, it is not enough. We need to grow in our understand of how to grow personally and how to raise up others. We need to open our hearts and minds and become new wineskins. There are so many books, organizations, workshops, outside ministries that could inform what we do. Why are we not using these things as a resource? And in fact, often seem to have a suspicion and wariness towards them?
I think the conversation of how we can more effectively serve students and each other is a very important conversation to be had in our ministry. And a continual conversation, as we never reach the end of our growth, and just when we think we have it figured out, it all changes.
My final concern is our attitude towards student ministry. Not long ago, I was thinking and praying about the kind of church I would like Tabor to find in Ohio University. My desire is for a vibrant, active, meaningful ministry that students really want to be a part of. Then I realized that this is what we are supposed to be but in many ways we are not. I am not suggesting that we have nothing to offer students because we do. But I am suggesting that what we want often takes precedence over what would be best for students.
A recent example of this has been with our praise bands, easily one of the best aspects of our ministry at the moment, maybe the best. Students are engaged. They are clearly filled with a spirit of praise for God, a spirit they hope to help others find. They are full of ideas and passion and creativity but for some reason we are reluctant to let them actually be leaders and use those things. For example, the tight restrictions on the amount of new songs that they do and the requirements on old songs that older members want to hear is just strange. The praise band should be allowed a lot more freedom than this. And people who don’t like the new songs need to open their hearts to what students like and to what students are listening to. I’m not sure what exactly it is that we are afraid will happen if the student leaders actually lead praise band and are able to make choices for themselves. I am not suggesting that there is not some oversight, but let’s just see what they do. Let’s let the Spirit lead and work instead of keeping such a tight leash on the possible work of God that can be done through and in them.
Our Friday night is an excellent example of how things can be changed to be more engaging and interesting and student-friendly. I thank God for those who have been involved in restructuring and reviving that meeting. The same thing should be done with our Sunday worship service. Right now it is long, dry and boring. It needs to be revived.
In the educational conference I attended last week, an expert on designing and innovating for the future led us through a creative problem strategizing session. It was excellent. But interestingly, the very first step to designing an innovation solution to a problem began with empathy. We need to understand our audience, who we hope to appeal with, and empathize with them. We need to consider them. And we need to do this with students. We need to listen to them, get to know them, and ask THEM what they want, what they like. Again, I feel like this is also often approached with a sense of fear and wariness. This pride that our ministry is superior to other ministries and the distrust of outside ideas is no different than the pride of the Pharisees. It is what Jesus explicitly preached against time after time.
The bottom line became that I do not feel like I can serve God’s mission here. I am not comfortable bringing students into our ministry at the moment. I need to be able to bring students to a place that I have no question that the word of God that will be preached and its practices are biblical and sound. And since I know a lot of students who are ready to be ministered to, I feel like I need to take this problem very seriously.
I want to finish by saying that I do believe that Toledo ministry will be restored. I believe that God’s word and Spirit are here and will be revived. I believe that God is working and will continue His work to the end. I thank God for Mother Barry’s visit and for her message, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14). God will do this. We are invited to be a part of it but it is not contingent on our works. However, whether God is calling me and my family to be a part of this revival in Toledo ministry, we are not sure about yet. We are waiting patiently (trying!) in the confusing in-between and have great peace that this is exactly where God wants us to be at this moment. We have been attending Cedar Creek and North Point services and may explore other churches. If nothing else, I am learning a lot about what other ministries are doing and it has been a valuable source of information. Tuf and I are praying deeply for God’s direction and will do whatever God wants us to do. If it is to stay and serve with you, I will gladly join you. But for now, I needed some space in order to receive God’s word and really be able to hear God’s direction.
I pray that these words may be helpful and encouraging. I offer them in a spirit of love and open coworking. Feel free to forward this email to anyone who may want to read them.
With great love and hope,
“We left Toledo UBF in August 2011 for several reasons. Fran and I both agreed that this was not a ministry to raise a family. Despite the efforts put forth by families we love and care about, our children were not learning and growing. There was no real support for children’s ministry by the church as a whole. Primary emphasis was on college students. So much so that families and children were over looked. The phrase family centered still upsets me. I personally gave up attending Friday meetings regularly a long while before we left because my wife and kids needed my attention more than the church.
We also left because we knew in our hearts that God was calling us elsewhere. We no longer had the college student mission as a family with three young children. God gave us three precious kids for special reason. They became our focus.
We both were torn up emotionally from seeing all of our closest friends leave. With exception of a couple families, our nearest friends were hurt, betrayed, and not cared for. It broke our hearts. It started with our fellowship falling apart after one brother was mistreated by ubf leaders in Korea and Toledo. All the sudden our entire fellowship left. One family stayed for a short while but they too were hurting. Then, Fran and I accepted role of fellowship leader. This should have never even happened. In hind sight we should have said no and been taken in and loved by the ministry. Instead we were looked at as a exemplary family of faithfulness. We were broken. Fast forward to 2011 and more of our friends were hurt and left. It was too painful to stay.
Finally, Sunday worship became very dull and burdensome. Particularly i was not receiving from the messages for the most part. If I could circle back to the lack of family support. During a Friday meeting in august 2011, after several families and friends left Fran asked a sr. Leader if we could pray for our family and children’s ministry with all the pain and suffering. This so called leader said “no, tonight is student night, let’s not burden them with that.” This floored us and might have been the last straw. Contrary to popular belief we did not leave due to burdens of this life, but burdens from a ministry that hurt so many people that we loved and cared about, with no attempt for reconciliation. We could not grow there nor did we want our kids to continue to be involved where so much hurt and pain persisted. We pray for those we know there and pray God can bring about whatever His plan is for UBF.
–submitted by the Ellis family
“I left because rules were stressed over grace and obedience over love. UBF’s way of doing things were attributed to God’s way of doing things and obedience to leaders in UBF was considered obedience to God. This was evident in the messages. It was evident in the environment, where charts with stars and the traditions of UBF were more prominent than anything related to love or grace. It was evident in social interactions which became increasingly contentious even among leaders. The result was that while I spent all of my time to help children in CBF meet Jesus, and to show the high school students I taught professionally the love of Christ, I was made to feel guilty because I was not feeding sheep, even though I was doing what I felt called to do. In addition, my involvement in UBF took away time I needed to show my wife and children the love of Jesus, a tension I was never happy with. When I brought up any of these issues, no one listened. T and E were much more vocal than I was. They, in love, let ph know that the ministry was in danger and pleaded with him to institute changes. His response was that he did not care if everyone left, he could start over with one family. Then I knew that UBF traditions were more important than people to UBF leaders. I began to see the hollowness and deception inherent in UBF theology. And finally I began to see that leaders in UBF did not mind committing grievous sins in order to protect a man-made organization and its silly traditions. This was the end. I was completely embarrassed that I was ever a member. I needed to love my family. I needed to experience grace and freedom in Christ rather than condemnation. I needed time to rethink everything I had been taught. Most of all, I needed to learn to develop a personal relationship with Jesus and to find His path for me, rather than having a path imposed on me by an institution that I found to be arrogant, inflexible, obtuse, and insensitive. I could no longer follow Jesus in such a context. I love many UBF people, but hope the institution as I experienced it dies so that it can no longer present a perverted Gospel, justify the neglect of children and give Christianity a bad name.”
–submitted by the Muehling family
“I believe it was shortly after attending the European conference in the spring of 2011 that we began to question whether or not we were in the right place. In our eyes, the state of the ministry was becoming somewhat dark. At the time, we likened it to a cloudy fish tank where the fish in the bowl were blindly swimming around. To us, the cloudiness was some sort of spiritual darkness. In that environment, no one could really see the state of one another or help each other. And no outside Christian community (UBF or otherwise) could see inside either.
To us, the main problem was that Sunday messages did not sit with us well. At first, it was just that God’s word wasn’t able to speak for itself and messengers seemed to be emphasizing an idea or a point that they just wanted to make. Eventually, we heard unbiblical, heretical statements from the pulpit. Most importantly, the gospel wasn’t being presented clearly and human effort and works were being emphasized instead. Ultimately, the things that we heard on Sunday planted a sense of mistrust and we came to the point where we couldn’t worship God freely.
In July of 2011, we presented this issue as well as two other unresolved issues to the pastor and our fellowship: (1) The ministry was disjointed with no co-working between the pastor and the ministry as a whole. Key relationships of “senior” leaders were damaged and broken so that the ministry couldn’t function fully. And they weren’t being resolved. We felt limited in what could be done for God’s work and we felt that our full involvement was condoning unresolved issues and broken relationships to continue. (2) Two other families had recently left because they were legitimately mistreated and there was an absolutely silent response to it. Sure, people hurt people. But these families had been part of the ministry for a long time, were truly hurt, and nothing was done. To us, losing a part of the body and not apologizing or doing anything about it immediately was wrong. We didn’t hear any public prayers or see any acts of love go out to those who left and this broke our hearts.
While presenting these, we privately prayed for the spiritual health of the UBF community, including our pastor. But we also began attending two worship services — Saturday evenings at a local church and Sunday mornings at UBF. We did this for about four months and we prayed. We participated in helping the Leadership Council be established. But the items we had brought up were not addressed.
In November 2011, we received the final tug from God for us to go in another direction. Of course, we still have friends in UBF. We’ve heard of changes and of things being different. But we haven’t considered going back because God has led our family in a new direction. Our family still has the same calling. We’re just in a different community where we are safe, we can worship God, and we can be involved in great and beautiful things for God.”
–submitted by the Roth family
The Long Story:
Simply put, I left UBF because God led me out. I prayed and agonized for months, open to whatever God wanted, until the Holy Spirit moved me, made me know it was time to go. I even attended two worship services during my final year in Toledo UBF, the UBF service and a service at another church. I was in UBF for eight years, and the longer I stayed, the worse the problems became and the more aware of them I became.
There were several problems with Toledo UBF.
First, I was always made to feel like I was never good enough. Despite helping to lead HBF, running tech for Sunday services, meeting with college students, and doing several other things, none of that was good enough because I wasn’t teaching the Bible one-to-one. I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t disciplined enough, spiritually or physically. I didn’t attend early morning prayer meetings, and SH told me I needed to go at least one morning a week, as she said, “to show people.” (I told her I had no need or desire to prove my faith to anyone.) I was already a self-conscious person, but I became even more so during my time in Toledo UBF. I felt judged. I was almost always on edge, ready for the next critique. While it’s true I will never be deserving of God’s grace, the Holy Spirit finally broke through to my heart shortly before I left and reminded me what I had learned when Christ saved me: God loves me as I am. Christ died for me long before I even knew him. I am loved enough to die for. To feel crushed almost all the time is not what God wants for me.
Second, I became offended by “shepherding” as practiced by Toledo UBF. I value my relationship with the Holy Spirit. His guidance has been of monumental importance in my life. But UBF puts the “shepherd” in the place of the Holy Spirit. You’re expected to talk to your shepherds before making any decisions, rely on them, take direction from them. Instead of encouraging relationships with the Holy Spirit, people were expected to be puppets manipulated by their “shepherds” and “leaders.” And the Holy Spirit was seldom talked about, seldom preached about, if I remember correctly. In addition to this idea of “shepherding” was this idea that “leaders” knew what was best for others in the ministry. For example, at one time, I was up for a promotion at work, which would have moved me to a store a little over an hour away from Toledo. I had been praying very specific prayers about this job, even about the opportunity to interview for it, and God had been answering very specifically, and he was opening doors. It was really an amazing experience. I had also already decided to commute if I got the job. I was pretty quiet about it while I was interviewing because I felt I would be judged by my Bible teachers for making what would seem to them a stupid decision. When I did tell someone in the ministry, it was JP. I asked him to pray for me. He told me no. He said he couldn’t pray for me because then I would leave sisters house. He had no idea what God had already done, how he had already opened the door. JP didn’t bother to inquire about anything, just simply refused to pray for me because of one “negative consequence” he was certain would occur. I didn’t even tell my Bible teachers when I got the job. They found out weeks later and, as predicted, they thought I had made a poor decision.
Third, Toledo UBF operated on the understanding that there was only one way to do things, that every Christian had to be the same. Everyone had to be a Bible teacher. Everyone had to do the same kind of daily devotion (and the time of day you did it either increased or decreased its worth somehow). There was little-to-no real appreciation of individuals’ gifts, unless they were gifts already deemed beneficial and worthy, like musical gifts. Instead of allowing God to work through the uniqueness of his creations, Toledo UBF had this mold that it worked very hard to force people into.
Fourth, there was a mentality among many – maybe not all – that UBF was THE ministry. There was this sense, this idea, that no other ministry could do what UBF was doing. JP said to me, when I told him I was considering leaving, that I would never find another ministry that delivered the word of God the way UBF did. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I hoped that was true, which leads me to my next point.
Fifth, messages were tragic. GL delivered a message at a spring conference in 2011 (I think that’s the right year), in which he declared that we needed to pray for God to glorify us. I couldn’t believe it when I heard him say it. Then PH got up to deliver prayer topics and announcements and tried to justify it! What?! PH’s messages also appeared to be directed at rebuking certain people sometimes. Additionally, we studied the same passages repeatedly, and there were really only a handful of “lessons” that were constantly recycled and inserted into these passages. Messages conformed passages into the points the “leaders” wanted to make, as opposed to letting the Holy Spirit work freely through God’s word. (I will say that not everyone’s messages were like this, but most of the messages were or appeared to me to be so.)
Sixth, I was sick of people being judgmental and manipulative. SH became my Bible teacher later in my time at Toledo UBF. She explicitly taught me that women needed to be more spiritual because often or most of the time when people left the ministry it was because of the wife. She used MP as an example. SH also worked behind the scenes, manipulating people.
You know, on my final Sunday at Toledo UBF I really tried to pay attention to the message. I knew I was leaving, my decision was made, but I was listening, half-hoping for some sign that PH had changed, even a little. I was looking for some reason for the Holy Spirit to call me to stay. I was sadly disappointed. I forget now what the message was, but in it PH spoke of people leaving and problems within the ministry. He spoke of his own part and said he accepted responsibility, but it was obvious he didn’t mean it. It was obvious he had no sense that he had done anything wrong at all. It was heartbreaking. When I approached JW afterward to tell him I was leaving, he just looked at me with such sadness and said, PH doesn’t get it. And then we hugged each other and cried. Then I left.
–submitted by KB
“After living the UBF heritage, defending the UBF heritage and examining the UBF heritage for the past 26 years (since 1987), I have concluded that anyone who adheres to this ideological system will eventually build a cult. I left UBF because I wholeheartedly rejected the UBF 12 point heritage system. I find this system to be so severely flawed and full of contradictions that any sensible human being ought to reject the UBF heritage because full implementation of the heritage can only lead to severe misuse of authority, improper ennoblement of power and abuses of many kinds. Every Christian ought to reject the UBF 12 point heritage system as heresy that undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ by enslaving people to ideologies and behaviors that become extreme entanglements and hindrances to personal freedom and human well-being. I left UBF ministry because the UBF 12 point heritage has caused massive division among Christian brothers and sisters of many nations for over 50 years, tearing at the very sinews of the Body of Christ. I left in order to save my wife from such entrapment and to spare my children from ever knowing such burdens. And finally, I left in order to preserve my sanity, to restore broken relationships with numerous relatives and friends, and so that I could begin my long road of recovery as I follow Jesus Christ my Lord through the promptings and leading of the Holy Spirit who speaks through the Holy Scriptures. All praise, glory, honor, power and authority belong solely to our Lord Jesus Christ in whom is found all supremacy, necessity and sufficiency for a full, hopeful, joyful and amazing life.”
–submitted by Brian Karcher