This is one of a series of articles regarding the El Camino UBF chapter, Shepherd’s Church, in Gardena, California.
The current members who make up Shepherd’s Church are a close-knit community of mostly young college students. They are very zealous for teaching the Bible on college campuses, and place a great importance on having a high number of Bible studies conducted during the week, as well as bringing in new Sheep to become members themselves. There are roughly around 40 full-time members at this church who are considered to be Shepherds–however, this number has been slowly declining over the past year.
The racial composition of Shepherd’s Church is very diverse. All of the main racial groups within the United States are found at this church–Caucasian, African American, Asian, and Latino. The reason for this racial diversity is due to the fact that this is a church that actively evangelizes for new recruits. Therefore, they will accept anyone who is willing to join. Even though this church is racially diverse, and most members are tolerant of these differences, there is a form of subtle racism practiced here. In simple terms, Caucasian (White) students are the most favored recruit for a Shepherd to have. Since these “mainstream” students are the most “typical” Americans according to UBF standards, these students are actively targeted for recruitment efforts. Typically these students will be “love-bombed” and given special privileges that others students would never have.
The members of this church are generally “very intelligent”–most have a Bachelor’s degree (or are working towards one), and several of the older members have graduate degrees. These Shepherds have been trained to take long, extensive notes during their weekly Bible studies, as well as having to write long testimonies on the weekly message. Due to constantly having to stare at a computer screen to write or read Bible notes, many Shepherds have developed poor eyesight and require glasses. Due to their excessive time commitment of serving on campus mission, many Shepherds do not take care of their health. They often skip meals or cut back on sleep. One female Shepherdess only slept 45 minutes a night!
Very few of the Shepherds exercise, as it takes time away from campus mission, and “having muscles” is looked down upon. Over time, most of the members will develop what is called the “Shepherd Walk” and “Shepherd Speech”. The Shepherd Walk is a movement that members will learn over time by observing older members. It consists of Shepherds taking long strides as they walk, their arms dangling very low at their sides and their head and back completely erect. It is not a natural body movement and it stands out to outsiders. “Shepherd Speech” is a distinct way of speaking that is only found at UBF. It consists of Shepherds speaking in highly dramatic and poetic language that emphasizes certain words or expressions. This form of speech is learned from “message training” in preparation for UBF conferences.
The majority of the Shepherds have had some prior background in the Christian faith, but many have claimed that they were weak in the faith before joining Shepherd’s Church. A good portion of the members are also former Roman Catholics. Other characteristics that are shared by the members are obedience, conformity, humbleness, and being ‘sacrificial’ (willing to give things up to serve God’s mission). Even though the Shepherds share many of the same character traits, they do have some differences. Some of them are more “loving and kind”, while others are quite harsh and judgmental. The Shepherds see themselves as the few “true” Christians in a world that is dying, lost, and compromised. They see themselves very much like the “Special Forces of Christianity”. In simple terms, they do many more “spiritual activities” that others Christians would never even think of doing. Many of the Shepherds see themselves as an elitist group constantly involved in spiritual warfare, with the goal of bringing salvation to lost college students. The Shepherds sees it as their holy duty to “struggle” with their Sheep in order to bring them to saving faith. Because of this mindset, Shepherds have a tendency to look down on new Sheep and to confront and challenge them when necessary. The most common punishment is called the “rebuke”, when a Shepherd will verbally criticize their Sheep for failing in some way, usually for very minor matters that are not considered sins according to the Bible. Shepherds will vary in how often and how harshly they will exercise the rebuke. Some will be gentle about it, while others will spare no mercy and go on a full assault. [Some will even nag you to death like how Delilah nagged Samson to death in order to get his secret (Judges 16)]. Either way, if you are being corrected, you will know it, and it will most likely make you feel uncomfortable.
Finally, the vast majority of the Shepherds are very “poor”. As most are college students, they already live off of limited incomes. However, their lack of financial stability continues after graduation, as they must spend large amounts of time involved in campus ministry and church activities. This limits their ability to work and improve their financial standing. Also, due to the fact that Shepherds are not allowed to leave the ministry, many of them can only find work within the geographical boundaries near the church, thus hindering them from improving their career prospects.