Helping Families Understand and Cope with Cults

 

Shepherding/Discipleship
by Linda Osborne Blood

 
Part One: Theology and Practice of Absolute Obedience

Cults are usually seen as alien influences invading our culture with attitudes foreign to its basic principles of personal autonomy, tolerance, and the integrity of the family.  Recently, however, concern has been expressed by many people about a movement that appears to be spreading through the grassroots of American Christianity.  Known by various titles, such as Covenant/Discipleship, Total Commitment, New Covenant, and Discipleship/Submission, elements of the phenomenon are commonly grouped under the heading “Shepherding/Discipleship.” 

Its superficial reflection of the “shepherding” concept embraced by many fundamentalist denominations makes the Shepherding/Discipleship movement particularly controversial, since it is sometimes difficult to tell its practitioners from those of certain other evangelical churches.  As a result of the large number of complaints received by cult-awareness organizations, however, there has emerged a distinct pattern of cultic exploitation of members by many groups that fall squarely under the Shepherding/Discipleship heading.  Testimony of former members has confirmed the basic structure and teachings of the movement, and catalogued its abuses.

 Shepherding/Discipleship teaching emphasizes the necessity of each “sheep,” or Christian disciple, submitting to a “shepherd,” or church elder charged by God with responsibility for the spiritual development of the sheep.  The shepherd is in turn submitted to another spiritual elder, and so on up the chain of submissions to the “apostles” at the apex of the characteristic pyramidal structure that links both individuals and groups within the movement.                                       

The depth of submission to both the elder and the particular church or group of which one is a member is considered the basis of one’s “covering,” or assurance of salvation.  The belief, allegedly fostered by the elders, that the disciple will lose his covering and be damned if he leaves or is cast out often creates a climate of fear among the sheep and a dependence on the shepherds that apparently verges on the slavish.  As one former sheep put it, “Any unyielding was classified as rebellion, accusation, and disloyalty.  People were super-intimidated.”  Another chastised his shepherd for alarming departing members with dire predictions of sin, cancer and miscarriage.  “People leave the community feeling devastated,” he wrote, “laden with heavy guilt and experiencing hellish condemnation.” 

Former members have reported that people in their groups were told when and whom to marry, whom to shun, how to dress, and which movies to avoid.  They were required to submit details of all aspects of their lives, from their financial positions to their sexual activities, to scrutiny by the elders in order that the latter might better “know” their sheep.  In addition to regular tithing, usually set at 10% of income, sheep were expected to contribute directly to the well-being of the shepherds by providing such services as cooking and house cleaning.  Despite being subjected to verbal abuse for their “faults,” the sheep strove to emulate these elders and often rose to glorify them in church, for over all sheep hung the terrible prospect of excommunication should they fail to honor the lifetime covenant they had made with their shepherds.

Origins and Spread

This pattern of complaints is repeated, with variations, by former members of a large number of seemingly diverse and unrelated groups, no two of which share the same name or exactly the same doctrine.  Close investigation, however, reveals the underlying network of interlocking “submissions” leading to the major wellsprings of the movement, as well as the fundamentals of its philosophy.  Both will be discussed in detail [later in this article].  Suffice it to say for now that Shepherding/Discipleship is considered to be an offshoot of the charismatic movement, specifically of the Pentecostal “latter rain” doctrine, given impetus in the 1940s by evangelists like William Branham, which emphasizes prophecy, “speaking in tongues,” and healing. 

Obedience

The foundation of the Shepherding/Discipleship doctrine is obedience, based on the premise that Jesus commanded the acceptance of salvation and required that his disciples obey him unquestioningly. According to [Juan Carlos] Ortiz [a founder of the practice] this set the pattern for all future conversions. Within the movement, only the top elders, or “apostles,” are submitted directly to Christ; all others, shepherds and sheep alike, are submitted to elders of their own.  Declared one former sheep,  “If your shepherd tells you to do something, and you know that it is wrong, we [sic] were told to go ahead and do it….God would honor your obedience to this man.”  If one man at the top…puts out an order, then his sheep…clear down the line will obey…the statement is made, ‘You’ve got to be like a dumb sheep and follow blindly.’” 

Shepherds’ “flocks” usually consist of twelve sheep.  Proselytizing proceeds on a one-to-one basis, resulting in an arithmetical conversion pattern as the new disciples set out to convert others in the same manner.  However, many groups discourage or forbid new members from “witnessing” to others until they are deemed “ready.”  Many former members have strongly objected to this practice, since they believe that no one has the right to forbid them to lead others to Christ. 

This emphasis on command and obedience has, not surprisingly, given rise to an array of characteristic methods for gaining and maintaining control of the sheep by their shepherds.  These methods include “intense confession,” or total self-disclosure; instilling of extreme fear of Satan and demons; and restriction of access to information by forbidding newspapers, motion pictures, and the like.  Members are often encouraged to move into the same building or neighborhood, thus adding to their isolation and sense of exclusivity.

Tithing 

An important element in both the building of shepherding congregations and the maintaining of control is the extensive financial commitment required of the sheep.  Tithing is mandatory and under pressure from the elders it sometimes becomes exorbitant.  (One man claimed he was refused his request to have the amount of his tithe reduced in order that he might adequately feed his family.)  In addition, sheep usually invest a great deal of time providing services for their shepherds, and frequently buy them presents.  Some shepherds have been accused of living in luxury at the expense of their sheep.  Some former sheep argue that such exploitation is encouraged by the double requirement that the latter submit their financial statements to their elders and rely on them for guidance in all decisions. 

The result of these practices has been a torrent of anguished testimony by both former sheep and shepherds.  There is an especially poignant quality to their stories, for in most cases these people report that they were subjected to torment not by exotic messianic strangers but by friends, relatives, children, spouses.  They feel they were betrayed by those whom they had most reason to trust, in the name of their own familiar religion. 

The cultic strain of Shepherding/Discipleship appears to have a particularly devastating effect on families, not only by alienating members from the family, but also by turning them against each other within the family unit itself.  Couples are expected to open the intimate details of their marriages to elders for “counsel” and criticism.  One couple commented, “It we hadn’t gotten out, we would now be separated.  A couple of friends from the same group…are now divorced.”  Another spoke of being forced to submit to “…confrontation and scrutiny…which was illegal, untimely, and unqualified….they tried to fabricate a problem in our relationship.”  Many report being barred from secretive group meetings by family members on the grounds that they were not part of the greater Shepherding “family.”  “Secrecy and a lack of loyalty to the family created a very unhappy time for all of us,” declared one mother, whose daughter had been influenced to leave home and live with other submitted members.  Another’s experience was even more dramatic; her daughter, who had reportedly undergone an “exorcism” and who had become obsessively fearful of demons, physically attacked her in an effort to “beat the demons out of me.”

Healing

Although an emphasis on faith healing, sometimes called “positive confession,” is not characteristic of all Shepherding groups, it is quite common and is sometimes taken to dangerous extremes.  …an Illinois couple…sought to bring suit against Faith Assembly, a Shepherding church whose leader, Hobart Freeman, forbids the members to seek medical assistance….[M]ore that fifty deaths within the group have been attributed to this prohibition.

Recruitment

The recruitment phase of involvement in Shepherding is characterized by the same effusive “love-bombing” typical of many cultic groups.  “The group butters up recruits by making them feel that they will be important….they shower you with affection.  They want to hear complaints and have people ask them for favors,” one source reported.  However, once the recruit has become submitted, the tone frequently changes to one of criticism, irritability, and even verbal abuse.  One shepherd reportedly threw a Bible across the room and broke a table with his fist to express displeasure with the progress of his sheep.  A former member described “…the screaming, crying sarcasm we received from the couple we had to submit to.” and he colorfully related how an elder had “got in my face with bulging eyeballs and a red hateful face and then stomped off” in rebuff to his offer of fellowship.  While such hostility is hardly the norm, gentleness and genuine concern for the well-being of their sheep are qualities seldom attributed to shepherds by those formerly under their covering.

Infiltration

Some Shepherding/Discipleship groups have gained notoriety by infiltrating unrelated congregations and either siphoning off members or, according to some informants, taking over the congregation itself.  One former sheep told how her group required some of its members to attend both mainline and Shepherding services.  This gave the sheep, she said, the illusion that they freely chose their church affiliation, but they were also encouraged to recruit members of the unsuspecting host congregation for the Shepherding group, which they apparently did with some success.  Similarly, Shepherding elders have nominally joined churches, then proceeded to challenge the pastors’ authority from within.  Some observers theorize that the ultimate aim of the movement’s leaders is to replace the mainline churches with their own “Kingdom Government: of Shepherding congregations.  Understandably, there is considerable opposition to this alleged plan from some of the target churches.

As the Shepherding/Discipleship movement grows—conservative estimates of membership in the United States alone start at 250,000, and the movement may involve a million persons worldwide—concern is being expressed not only by former members, families, and those who monitor cultic trends, but by many mainline clergy as well.  Although these ministries acknowledge that the theological issues are complex and not easy to resolve, they are openly dismayed by the suffering and abuses they have witnessed in the new wave of Shepherding groups.  As one of them put it, “The leaders of many of these groups consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and otherwise, by focusing on themes of submission and obedience to those in authority.”

 Part II: Personal Accounts of Excesses

What guidelines, as stated in their own literature, must be followed by members of Shepherding/Discipleship groups?  What results do these principles have in practice? Maranatha Campus Ministries International publishes a Statement of Covenant, Section V of which deals with “Commitment to God-given Authority.  Among its precepts are the following: “I recognize the authority of the elders as God has set them up in the Body.  I am willing to submit my life unto them for exhortation, rebuke, correction, instruction in doctrine, and guidance.” 

According to former member Bob Tedford of Kansas, this Covenant summarizes the rules by which members are expected to abide, even though not all members are shown the actual document, and some were told not to use it when recruiting others.  (Tedford didn’t see a copy until several months after he had actually joined.)

Vulnerable Period

Tedford became acquainted with Maranatha during a discouraging period of unemployment.  “Born-again” since early teens, he had been reading the Bible and wished to dedicate his life to Christian goals.  While listening to a sidewalk preacher, he was handed a ticket for a “change you life” seminar, where he met a proselytizer whom he described as a fast-talking Bible “expert.”  Neither the ads for the seminar nor Tedford’s new found friend mentioned at the time that the sponsoring organization was Maranatha.

 According to Tedford, the group soon had him convinced that he had been a “counterfeit Christian.”  As they explained it, there were three levels of Christianity: outer, inner, and holy of holies, the last of which was their exclusive province.  They were, they asserted, striving to become true “first century” Christians; other churches were merely “charlatans.”  Tedford had been a member of several charismatic Christian organizations but had been frustrated with their “laxness,” and at first found Maranatha’s high level of commitment attractive.  He says that he felt a split between his mind and the “holy spirit,” feared that he had been a failure, and that this was his “last chance.”

 While a student at Kansas State University, Tedford was assigned a “shepherd,” but was told to use the term “spiritual guide” because “shepherd” was frowned upon by mainline denominations.  He describes the level of regimentation within his group, which was made up mostly of young men, as almost military.  The elders had to be consulted about all decisions.  First the sheep was to pray over the question and “get the word from the Lord,” then check that answer with his “spiritual guide,” who would in turn pray over it to see if he “bore witness.”  If the guide got a “check in the spirit,” the sheep was supposed to “re-pray” the question.

Political Ambitions

One of the most disturbing parts of Tedford’s testimony concerns the political ambitions of the group, which taught that the “true Christians” would “take dominion” over the earth.  He frequently attended leadership training seminars at Kansas State University.  These were very closed and secretive and consisted of much shouting, chanting, praying, and singing of militarist “taking over” songs.  He reports that at one meeting Bob Weiner, head of Maranatha, talked about the dawning of a “new age” and said that the destiny of the United States was at stake.  Tedford said that members were expected to infiltrate and take over leadership positions in the student government and journalism department at the university.

Alienation

Tedford found that deceit was condoned by the group so long as it was done for someone’s “own good.”  He was told that he should not associate with his own girlfriend, but that it would be right for him to befriend another girl for the sole purpose of converting her.  He reports that he “told off” a lot of his friends and neighbors and exhorted them to come to Maranatha meetings.  His roommates moved out and his family became alarmed.  By this time Tedford himself was beginning to feel confusion and doubt.  He began to take a look at his involvement from other perspectives, seeking information and advice from people outside the group.  When he stopped cooperating and began to openly question Maranatha’s policies he got “a lot of flak,” including warnings about possession by Satan and demons, but he persevered and was eventually able to leave the group.  When he told a former fellow member that he was “glad to be free of Maranatha bondage,” he was informed that he had in fact become “demon possessed.”

Tedford summarized his experience in a letter to the Hutchison News in June of 1983: “I committed my life to the cult Maranatha at Kansas State University in August of 1981 and after losing $500 to $800, my autonomy and free will, I finally snapped out of their hold on February 21, 1983.  The first year was dynamic, but the last few months in coming out were pure hell!  They lied to me, used me, flattered, manipulated my life, played games with my mind and it was done all in the name of Christ!”

“Only True Christians”

Bill Powers had a similar experience at the State University of Indiana at Terre Haute.  It was there that he became a member of Crossroads [pre-curser of the International Church of Christ], a large shepherding movement based in Mobile, Alabama.  While the structure of the group was similar to that of Maranatha as reported by Bob Tedford, Powers says that he was not told about “sheep,” “elders,” or “shepherds” at all. At the start of the freshman year, he met a friendly fellow student who invited him to a Bible study group. Powers soon had himself a “prayer partner,” to whom he was directly responsible and who was in turn answerable to the campus Crossroads minister. 

Warned that God would not deign to notice the “lukewarm,” Powers soon found himself on quite a demanding schedule.  He usually got about four hours’ sleep, rising early to memorize assigned Bible verses and record his progress in the notebook he was required to keep.  He was exhorted to skimp on study when necessary to do “God’s work,” such as recruiting new members or running errands for the elders.  TV, radio, newspapers, and movies were considered a “waste of time,” and members were allowed only two double dates per month—with no “touching.”

Powers says that at his level the Crossroads members showed little interest in the wider hierarchical structure, but placed heavy emphasis on local authority.  As with Tedford’s Maranatha chapter, the “elders” were mostly men in their twenties.  Powers was told that their authority rested on their superior knowledge of the Bible.

This group also insisted that they were the only true Christians.  Powers had been raised a Catholic, and found a strong anti-Catholic sentiment in the group.  (This is not uncommon with Shepherding/Discipleship congregations; several have printed virulent anti-Catholic tracts.)  His mother, Peggy, reports that he was told that he had four chances to convert his family before having to break off relations with them.  On visits home, he was given a list of churches it was permissible to attend; he could only attend the Catholic Church with his family for “special events.”

When Power’s family realized he had become involved with a cultic group, they proceeded carefully on the advice of experienced friends and were able to persuade him to speak to a counselor and some ex-members over the Thanksgiving break.  Powers now says that while he feel the experience was valuable in helping him to understand how such groups operate; he is glad that he left before he lost his family and friends.

Sheep Plead for Consideration

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.” 

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. 

Part III: “Great Discord Among Brethren” 

On April 5, 1983, the Kingsman (Kansas) Journal reported that a local United Methodist minister, Claude Fillingim, had resigned his post and was moving with his family to Campbell, California, to receive training in a ministry of discipleship from the Covenant Church, connected to “New Wine Ministries.”

In the Journal account, Rev. Fillingim described discipleship as “…a relationship between pastor and parishioner that does not exist in most conventional churches.  In this setup pastoral leaders have the right to make direct suggestions to members which, unless they are totally unreasonable, are expected to be promptly obeyed.”  He predicted, for unspecified reasons, “a time of severe testing for the church in America,” and suggested that the discipleship form of community offers “a support system…that will enable Christians to cope.”

 In the first two [parts] of this [article] we have explored just what sort of “support system” many people encounter as they become involved with shepherding/discipleship: authoritarian, guilt-fostering, and exclusive of other Christians and of much of the rest of society.  We have read of the concern and dismay expressed by clergy, former members and their families, and observers of cultic organizations regarding some of the movement’s policies and practices.  Yet shepherding/discipleship continues to grow and to attract new members.  Who are its leaders, and how can we account for their successes? 

According to the San Francisco Examiner (February 19, 1984), the president of Christian Covenant Fellowship and Covenant Outreach Ministries of California is shepherding “bishop” Dennis Peacocke, pastor of the Antioch Fellowship Church in south San Francisco.  Peacocke, described as a former Marxist political science student at the University of California at Berkeley, converted to Christianity in the late 60s.  Regarding the shepherding movement’s rationale, he told the Examiner: “We do not believe the kingdom of God is a democracy…and you can take it or lump it.  That cuts across the grain of every democratic fiber in us as Americans.” 

Peacocke summarizes the role of a shepherding pastor as follows: “If you were in my church…I would want to know a background on your family life, how you relate to women, how your wife relates to you, do you have standards of accountability with your children, where are your finances, do you pay your taxes, …where is your sex life, are you Biblical in the way you approach your sexuality?”  Tom Lozano, submitted to one of the elders of Peacocke’s congregation, concurs: “I’m going to follow this man and take on his ways….I want something that is going to change my finances, my marriage, my sex life, the way I work, the way I keep my house, the way I fix my yard.”    

Peacocke acknowledges as his shepherd Bob Mumford, a former Pentecostal Bible teacher who spent most of the 60s as a traveling revivalist preacher.  Mumford was reportedly converted to the shepherding concept by Juan Carlos Ortiz, a former Assembly of God pastor from Argentina and author of the book Call to Discipleship, which advocated a pyramidal structure with power descending from the apostles at the top through the elders, prophets, and shepherds to the sheep at the bottom.  In 1972, Mumford, a graduate of the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia, formed the New Covenant Discipleship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with four of his associates from the Holy Spirit Teaching Mission: Charles Simpson, a graduate of Southern Baptist Seminary; Don Basham, Disciples of Christ Seminary; Derek Prince, whose education included Eton and Cambridge colleges; and Ern Baxter, a former Canadian pastor.  In 1979 this organization, now called Christian Growth Ministries, moved its headquarters to the Gulf Coast Covenant Church on the outskirts of Mobile, Alabama.  There it publishes New Wine magazine, with a reported circulation of between 75,000 and 100,000, and produces a quarter million shepherding tapes annually, for worldwide distribution. 

The San Francisco Examiner states that it has obtained a tape recording from the early 70s of Mumford giving advice to his pastors in Texas on how to obtain followers: “Steal them out of your own congregation.  Meet them on the side and begin to disciple them.  Then you put them back in there, and they start making disciples.  Very quietly.  Actually surreptitiously—sneaky.” 

Mumford’s new organization soon began attracting attention from other evangelical and Pentecostal/charismatic leaders.  In a letter to Mumford dated June 27, 1975, Christian Broadcasting Network President Pat Robertson expressed his concern about the teachings of “discipleship-shepherding,” which he describes as “an unnatural and unscriptural domination of one man by another.”  Robertson also complained about pressure that had been put on CBN to place submitted individuals on its staff, including one secretary he described as a “hopeless cripple who could scarcely type a letter without a long distance telephone call to her “shepherd,” and another who told a viewer who had called requesting support and prayer that she could receive neither unless she was ‘submitted’ to someone.” 

Robertson also reported that a member of his board of directors had expressed “extreme alarm” upon observing that his Christian friends “were being forced not only to divulge the most confidential details of their financial and family life, but were being urged to turn their resources either into the pockets of the head ‘shepherds’ in Fort Lauderdale or into those of Charles Simpson in Mobile.”  He proposed that a “council of wise brethren” be convened to discuss these and other concerns.  Mumford agreed, and the council took place in Minneapolis in August of 1975.  According to Christianity Today (April 4, 1980), “some doctrinal excesses” were apparently “confessed” by Mumford’s group before the assembled representatives of mainstream charismatic organizations.  This, however, has failed to settle the controversy, and the shepherding doctrine continues to receive criticism from the charismatic press, notably a multi-part article in the Pentecostal newsletter Daystar Herald, and commentary by respected scholars, such as Ronald Enroth, Harold Bussell, and others in Christianity Today. 

On July 26, 1981, a statement sponsored by 16 Churches of Christ appeared in the Times-Advocate of Escondido, California.  This coalition denounced the “cultic practice” of another shepherding organization, Crossroads, whose philosophy was being practiced by some of the Churches of Christ in the area.  Crossroads’ parent organization, Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida, is pastored by Chuck Lucas, who reportedly bases his version of the shepherding doctrine on the book The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman.  While acknowledging that no two Crossroads churches were exactly alike in their application of the movement’s teachings, the Churches of Christ statement listed certain terms that “rather clearly describe the mainstream practices of the typical Crossroads Operation.”  These included “Total Commitment,” which means the expectation of full participation on the part of the member; and “Soul Talk,” and indoctrinal Bible study group at which prospective members are confronted with their “sins” in order to break them down and get them to make such a commitment.  the statement identified “…this and other standard methods of loading a person with guilt…[as] regularly the most serious objection made by those who have been able to free themselves from an Operation.”

Other practices described (or decried) as “potentially destructive to spiritual welfare” included the assigning of a senior member to a junior as a “prayer partner” to whom the novice is expected to “bare his soul;” the “challenging” of conduct considered unacceptable by senior members; and the “shunning” (withdrawal of warmth and friendship) and “pruning” (expulsion) of members who do not measure up to the leaders’ standards.  The statement also voiced a concern frequently heard in connection with shepherding movements: parasitism.  “Of the many Crossroads Operations of which we have information, practically all move into church facilities which were already in operation….Their aim is to bring radical changes in …the normal operations of the congregations.”  The statement goes on to describe infiltration tactics that may result in a takeover or at least in the creation of disunity and strife within the host church: “This Crossroads philosophy has brought great discord among brethren from coast to coast.”  This echoed the observation of the San Francisco Examiner article that the shepherding movement is “bitterly controversial among conservative Christians.” 

Further, once a shepherding congregation is established, it is not unusual for the membership to relocate en masse in order to follow their shepherd.  The Examiner reported that more than 150 members of Dennis Peacocke’s Antioch Fellowship congregation planned to follow him to new headquarters in central Marin County.  Similarly, elders submitted to Charles Simpson of Christian Growth Ministries had joined him in his move to Mobile, Alabama, when he became pastor of Gulf Coast Covenant Church—bringing their flocks along with them. 

While Christian Growth Ministries, Crossroads, and Maranatha are among the most prominent of the shepherding organizations, there are many others.  Most of these are self-contained; that is, they retain the internal sheep-shepherd structure, but may or may not include the pyramidal hierarchy that culminates in a nationwide or international organization.  Among these groups are “Gathering of Believers,” led by Larry Tomczak; Carl Stevens’ “The Bible Speaks,” Hobart Freeman’s “Faith Assembly;” “Last Days Ministries,” founded by the late Keith Green; “University Bible Fellowship;” and “Champaign-Urbana Ministries.” 

Basically, however, shepherding/discipleship is a philosophy, a way of interpreting the relationship of a pastor to his flock, of the elders of a church to new and unseasoned members, of husbands to wives, of children to parents, and ultimately, of the individual to his God and to his own concept of autonomy and intellectual integrity.  So long as it continues to promote the authoritarian control of one human being by another, it will indeed “cut against the grain” of our culture’s tradition of respect for personal independence and for each person’s right to conduct his life according to his own reasoned judgment.

Note from CISNEO:  Since the publication of Ms. Blood’s articles in 1984 there have been changes in the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement.  Some leaders (most notably Bob Mumford) publicly renounced the practice (Ministries Today, January/February 1990).  However, because the method of control was (and still is) prevalent in some groups (not all of them charismatic in nature), it is still useful to understand the structure and behavior that characterize the practice.

 

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