Why the Shepherding Movement Failed

Have you heard of the Shepherding Movement? It was a phenomena that occurred in America mainly in the 1970’s.The Shepherding Movement, which had roots in the 1960’s cultural revolution, grew quickly and seemed to disappear just as quickly.

The movement was fraught with problems. Some of those problems, displayed in several pseudo-Christian organizations that grew out of the movement, have been discussed openly for many years. Most notable in this discussion is Ron Enroth’s book, Churches That Abuse.

The face of the failed Shepherding Movement was Bob Mumford, who became a sort of poster-boy of the movement. In 1989, Mr. Mumford offered a public apology to those hurt by the movement’s teachings and practices.

In his formal statement of repentance Mumford said:

Accountability, personal training under the guidance of another, and effective pastoral care are needed biblical concepts. True spiritual maturity will require that they be preserved. These biblical realities must also carry the limits indicated by the New Testament. However, to my personal pain and chagrin, these particular emphases very easily lent themselves to an unhealthy submission resulting in perverse and unbiblical obedience to human leaders. Many of these abuses occurred within the sphere of my own responsibility.

The movement began to disintegrate in 1986 when its magazine, New Wine, folded due to steady loss of revenue. In the latter years of the 1980s Baxter, Basham, and Mumford officially “released” their disciples from their previous pyramidal authority structure-Prince had already severed his formal ties with the others in 1983.

Yet even with Mumford’s public statement of apology-and in spite of Buckingham’s obituary of the “discipleship era”-the abuse of discipleship and spiritual authority continues unabated by other men (and women) in other churches and movements. (source)

University Bible Fellowship is one of those organizations who continue the abuse of discipleship and spiritual authority through aberrant teachings.

Here are some excerpts from another blog that describe two main reasons why the original Shepherding Movement failed in the United States. The descriptions below also describe why UBF continues to be labeled as a cult by eight organizations. As of 2012, UBF has not addressed these issues adequately and continues to teach covering theology.

“Most of the Christian church doesn’t believe in covering theology. It appeared on the scene in North America about 40 years ago through something called the shepherding movement.  That movement was completely discredited and some of the leaders have publicly repented of their involvement.”

Reason 1 – They replaced Jesus as master.

“In this context, a group of older, more experienced charismatic ministers came together to bring a corrective. The occasion of their meeting was a moral failure of a ministry in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Believing themselves to be equally vulnerable to moral failure apart from better accountability they mutually submitted themselves to one another. When this happened, they described themselves as having a supernatural experience binding their ministries together for life. Initially the group was made of Derek Prince, Don Basham, Bob Mumford, and Charles Simpson. Eventually, former Branham campaign manager Ern Baxter was added to the group, and they became known as “The Fort Lauderdale Five.”

“The five very talented men immediately began to teach on authority, submission and discipleship. Although there were a number of important doctrines, the central doctrine—the one that reshaped the church—was that every person must be submitted to another person (Shepherd/Pastor/Discipler), and that all of your major life decisions should be submitted to this person. Effectively, if unintentionally, this put the individual in the position of having two masters– Jesus and a personal shepherd. With time the personal shepherd gains more power, as Jesus gets less. And in time, this creates a system where those who have unquestioning obedience to man are promoted. All kinds of ungodly things came in through these doors. Several books have been written detailing the kinds of abuse suffered as a result. The scary thing about the whole system is that it started out with the intent of promoting accountability, and eventually enslaved people.”

Reason 2 – They made their shepherd/sheep relationships permanent

“The second dangerous doctrine had to do with “Covenant” relationships or “Spiritual Family.” If being absolutely submitted to another person was an imprisonment, then the covenant relationship was the iron padlock on the door. The idea here is that when you enter into these discipleship relationships, they are permanent, and more broadly that your association with a specific group of believers is permanent. You were in a “Covenant” and if you left the relationship or the fellowship group, you were breaking a covenant. This quickly becomes a very dangerous situation: no matter how terrible your experience becomes with a group or person, you can not leave, and if you do, you believe that you’ve broken a covenant with God, so to get right with God you’d have to go back to the abuse! You slowly become enmeshed with the other members of the group and separated from the outside world. Your “spiritual family” becomes more important than your natural family or other believers you’ve had relationship with. You slowly become more and more isolated and more and more dependent upon the group or leader. At a certain point if your leaders do not check the pattern, it becomes a full fledged cult. Normally, however this pattern is held in tension with Biblical expectations so these groups rarely become true cults, while still exhibiting cult-like features. Scary.”

Result – The fruit of absolute obedience to human authority

“After a couple of years, the fruit of these doctrines became obvious to those outside of the movement such as Jack Hayford, Pat Robertson, Demos Sharkarian and others, and they confronted the “Five” in the infamous “Shootout at the Curtis Hotel,” in 1975. The result was that the Five issued an “apology” which did not really represent repentance on their part. They rejected the excesses of some who had followed their teachings to their logical conclusions, without accepting that the doctrines they were teaching had been the direct cause.  Their persistence created a split in the charismatic movement between those who accepted the authority teaching, and those who did not.”

“This split is still evident today but under different names. No one dares be associated with the “Shepherding Movement” by name because it was so discredited.  But many still believe in the basic principles to some degree or another, and find support in classic authors such as Watchman Nee. The “Prophetic” stream of the church became the branch of the church that did not accept authority teachings, and the “Apostolic” branch became that which did. The tragedy is that the basic observations of the Five were correct (i.e. need for discipleship, accountability) but their solution of hierarchical personal submission was not. Therefore the “prophetic” stream still tends to reflect the lack of authority that the rebellious hippies brought into the church through the Jesus Movement. Chaos in the meeting is welcomed and even praised as spiritual, and generally everyone does their own thing, hears from God totally in isolation, etc. On the other hand, those with the Shepherding heritage value “order” over all else. While they speak in tongues and claim to be charismatic, often in practice, the gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy are not welcomed, because order is valued over the moving of the Spirit.  Or prophecy can only come through an established authority in the church hierarchy.”

Jesus is Lord

“In summary, the Shepherds were right right to raise the issue of authority, but they were wrong about submission to other men. Christ is Lord of all, and each should be in submission to Him by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  Because we need order and peace, we should submit to those who lead ministries over us just like we would to our bosses at work.  But this is far different from owing them allegiance in our personal or spiritual lives. And when we come to the place where following them violates our conscience, it’s time to move on.”


Set Me Free

Sing Your Freedom

Do I Stand Alone?


3 thoughts on “Why the Shepherding Movement Failed

  1. “At a certain point if your leaders do not check the pattern, it becomes a full fledged cult. Normally, however this pattern is held in tension with Biblical expectations so these groups rarely become true cults, while still exhibiting cult-like features.”

    The leaders in Toledo, India, China, Russia and a few other places in ubf-world did not “check the pattern” recently… and so those ministries imploded from 2010 to 2011, and many continue to be in denial about the reality of the exodus of long-time leaders that occurred during those years.

  2. When I was contemplating whether to move on or to remain in the place where I was, I was counseled like this:

    “You must make a life-time commitment to your ministry. Just as you don’t leave your spouse when she has problems and a better-looking one comes along, so you should not leave your church.” (paraphrase)

    I responded: “I can find no evidence of that teaching in scripture.”

    The conversation didn’t get much further.

    • Thanks for sharing, Joshua. In my observation such “counsel” is not that of a Christian pastor. The pastors I’ve encountered since leaving ubf are nearly unanimous in that they intentionally say “Don’t follow me; follow Jesus. Don’t create a weekly checklist of religious accomplishment; learn to listen to God’s voice. Be part of a community, but never neglect your responsibility to your wife and family.”

      If I received the advice you did, I would now say “Commitment to a religious organization is one thing, and changing churches is indeed not a light matter. But allegiance to Jesus everything, and my family needs to be in a place suitable and healthy for us.”

      I think there are many related Scriptures to this :)

      These days I love reading the paraphrase, The Message, especially Galatians:

      “11-13 Now, in these last sentences, I want to emphasize in the bold scrawls of my personal handwriting the immense importance of what I have written to you. These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas. They themselves don’t keep the law! And they are highly selective in the laws they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible!

      14-16 For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life! All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God—his chosen people. Peace and mercy on them!” (Galatians 6:11-16)