What were the theological problems of the Shepherding Movement?

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The Shepherding Movement (sometimes called the “Discipleship Movement”) was an influential and controversial movement within some British, Australian and American charismatic churches. It emerged in the 1970s and early 1980s. The doctrine of the movement emphasized the “one another” passages of the New Testament, and the mentoring relationship described in the Second Epistle to Timothy.

It began when four well-known Charismatic teachers, Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham, along with Ern Baxter and John Poole, “formed the organization that would be ‘the center of one of the most violent controversies (i.e., the Discipleship/Shepherding controversy) in Protestant charismatic history,’ Christian Growth Ministries (CGM), headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.”[1][2]

In 1970, Basham, Prince, Mumford, Baxter and Simpson began teaching a doctrine of ‘spiritual covering’ that required individual Christians to be submitted and accountable to a leader.[3] Their doctrine of a vertical, descending, chain of command established:

“a pyramid-shaped, multi-tiered organizational structure, which had at the top echelon of the pyramid (it just so happened) none other than the Fab Five themselves, who claimed (conveniently) to be in “submission” to each other, which arrangement, they purported, acted as a fail-safe “checks and balance” system to totally preclude them from falling prey to the corruptive properties of absolute power to which, historically, so many others (albeit, less spiritual than they, of course) succumbed.”[4]

The Shepherding Movement is a controversial method of church leadership that grew out of theCharismatic movement in the 1970s. It is also called the “Discipleship Movement” and is related to heavy shepherding. The Shepherding Movement, which began as “Christian Growth Ministries” in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, reached its peak in the 1980s, but its impact has since lessened. The Shepherding Movement has received well-deserved criticism for its cult-like manipulation and intimidation tactics and its emphasis on the non-biblical idea of a “spiritual covering.”

The basic idea of the Shepherding Movement is one of submission to authority. The Shepherding Movement called for five leaders at the top of a global leadership pyramid. These men were responsible for one another’s spiritual health and keeping each other on track by “covenant relationships” and mutual accountability. Beneath each of those five “shepherds” were five other people, responsible for one another but submitted to the authority of their shepherd. And so on, down the line. Each of these groups of five was called a “submission,” and their devotion to their shepherds was absolute. No major decisions were made without first consulting with one’s shepherd—marriage and career choices included.

The catalyst that started the Shepherding Movement was a moral failure in a charismatic ministry in South Florida.  In response to this failure, four well-known Charismatic leaders – Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham – came together as the crisis response team.  These men, realizing they were equally vulnerable to moral failure apart from accountability, agreed to submit themselves to each another.  This mutual submission became a supernatural experience for them, and they bound their ministries together.  Eventually, Ern Baxter joined the core group, and “The Fort Lauderdale Five”, as they became known, was established.

Many of the original leaders of the Shepherding Movement or Discipleship Movement have admitted that the movement was a mistake and have disassociated themselves with it. But how much damage was done? The church must be wary of those who would take advantage of them. As Paul warned the Ephesians, “Savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29–31).

36 Comments

  • Troy Day
    Reply January 9, 2019

    Troy Day

    Anyone remember what was the final fall out? Link

    • Terry Wiles
      Reply January 9, 2019

      Terry Wiles

      The public confession by the founders after multitudes of lives had been destroyed.

    • Troy Day
      Reply January 9, 2019

      Troy Day

      the original founders OR the Ft. L 5 OR the Kansas 4 (which is actually not a thing) of whom Peter Vandever spoke?

    • Terry Wiles
      Reply January 9, 2019

      Terry Wiles

      I believe the original founders. Not sure. Looking for copy.

  • Clarence Bro Cope
    Reply January 9, 2019

    Clarence Bro Cope

    Their downfall was in their authority teachings. They lorded authority over the sheep. God destroyed them because their placing of the pastors over the sheep to rule over them in His stead before His return was a purely idolatrous and blasphemous tragedy.

  • Troy Day
    Reply January 10, 2019

    Troy Day

    Terry Wiles the original 5 were listed in the article with Derek Prince and all Peter Vandever has spoken of off spring with the Kansas 4 prophetic movement and may be Vineyard involvement

    I am more concerned with the fact that the shepherding COVERING terminology like mantle, prophetic / apostolic cover etc. was exactly what NAR took from the shepherding and run with it Angel Ruiz may have more info on that particular connection

  • Steve Losee
    Reply January 10, 2019

    Steve Losee

    It began out of concern for believers who were being kicked out of their churches, or were starting home fellowships, or were considering groups like the Full Gospel Businessmen or Women’s Aglow their “churches”. The situation was chaotic. The cure, unfortunately, proved worse than the disease. “Leaders” who were really novices were telling people who to marry, which house or acr to buy, etc., to an occultic level of control. Derek Prince was the first to remove himself from that, and Bob Mumford’s repentance was the most public. Eventually they all renounced it, but the damage had been done. To this day, “heavy shepherding” is still practiced by controlling leaders. If you’re in a “church” like that, FLEE!

  • Paul L. King
    Reply January 10, 2019

    Paul L. King

    I was somewhat involved in the shepherding movement loosely for a few years, and was part of a shepherding community for about 1 year. My experience was that it was not as good as some people made it out to be and not a bad as some made it out to be. There were clear definite problems that took me out of it, but those problems were not necessary across the board. My initial involvement was in Pennsylvania, which in my experience did not have serious problems, then later in Colorado which was still not oppressive, and a year in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, after which I left the movement. I did not find the PA and Colorado sheperding movements authoritarian or oppressive, but the DFW group was more so. In fact, the shepherds who were over me there contradicted the counsel of my shepherd (and long time mentor even before and after the shepherding movement) in PA. Originally, it was meant to bring some order and structure and discipline to a wild charismatic movement. It became too structured and legalistic and authoritarian, meaning well, but misapplication of Scripture. All of original Ft. Lauderdale 5 repented, and went on to have good continuing ministries, but must more low profile. The main former shepherding leader who has had a higher profile and is now well accepted is Joseph Garlington in Pittsburgh, under whom my mentor had been shepherded. The main problems I encountered with the Dallas group were disregard of the needs of women, counsel given that contradicted my former mentor/Shepherd’s counsel, and what I considered some ethical compromises.

  • David Levandusky
    Reply January 10, 2019

    David Levandusky

    I think the above two shared it quite well. Being on the outside of it, Controlling ones life and family was what some of us were hearing about

  • Troy Day
    Reply January 10, 2019

    Troy Day

    Paul L. King is it true that the Kansas 4 aka Kansas City Prophets and he Vineyard emerged from heavy shepherding? http://www.pentecostaltheology.com/a-fresh-and-eye-witness-look-at-the-kansas-city/ Terry Wiles is this similar to res16 AG document done for them too? http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/topics/sptlissues_prophets_prophecies.cfm

  • Jim Price
    Reply January 10, 2019

    Jim Price

    I am not familiar with the shepherding movement but see a need for close loving shepherding. At the same time it shouldn’t be carried too far. First, sheep are not people and people must deal with things a hundred times more difficult. Also human ” sheep” must be taught to think for themselves and to learn to listen to the Holy Spirits teaching.

    • Clarence Bro Cope
      Reply January 10, 2019

      Clarence Bro Cope

      That is correct. That leads to less and less oversight by the pastors. Pastors are supposed to be working themselves out of a job.

      Eph 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
      12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
      13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
      14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
      15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

      When a believer is full grown, he is in the image of Christ. One who is in the image of Jesus, like Him in every way, has no need for pastoral oversight.

      Under the shepherding movement, all decisions had to be submitted to the pastoral shepherds for approval. You were not allowed to do any thing without prior approval.

      I myself heard a pastor say this “God has placed the pastors over the church to rule the church in His stead until He returns”. It was SEARED into my memory. The Holy Ghost shouted in my ear “HE IS NOT OF ME. I WILL REMOVE HIM.”

      To make a long story short, that pastor was driven out of the ministry, his co-pastors realized the greatness of their error, and then they dissolved the church. That which the HG said to me came to pass.

  • Paul L. King
    Reply January 10, 2019

    Paul L. King

    Mike Bickle, I think I recall, was in the late 1970s-early 1980s involved with the British discipleship movement led by Bryn Jones, but it dissolved too. I am not sure who all is considered part of the Kansas 4.

  • Troy Day
    Reply January 11, 2019

    Troy Day

    Yes indeed Bickle has been discussed here with Peter Vandever as related to the big Kansas 4 While I am familiar with Prince and his discipleship / demonology Bob has been always somewhat away from my focus – in a northern / canadian way kind of. But few years ago #IHOP-KC has moved to a post-trib eschatology then then endorsed endorsed #TedCruz pre election and IMO went full kingdom-now NAR Also is Brian Zahnd related to this whole IHOP move? http://www.pentecostaltheology.com/ihop-kc-has-moved-to-a-post-trib-eschatology/

  • Link Hudson
    Reply January 11, 2019

    Link Hudson

    I mostly know about the movement from people I met later who had been involved in it involved in it.

    When I was in college, between church and campus groups I went to different college meetings in addition to my church’s meetings. A Charismatic church in town had a meeting I went to. The pastor was a gifted teacher who had gone to Asbury at the same time as Mark Rutland. He had been in the shepherding movement with Don Basham. I seem to recall his saying elders exercising a great deal of control over your life could be terrifying.

    In the Vineyard movement, they use terms like ‘covering’ which always irked me because it does not mean anything like what it means in the passage that mentions it.

    I corresponded with a man who was in one of those churches in the 80s who said their elders would forbid couples to marry, even one cancelling all engagements in the church. If they found out a couple had sexual attraction for each other they would cancel the engagement. It sounded like the opposite of I Corinthians 7. It also sounded like they were intruding into the authority granted to parents and families. If the people planning to get into an adulterous remarriage or were thinking of marrying an unbeliever, or someone living a double life I can understand their getting involved.

    I met an English teacher from what was called the Boston Church of Christ, then International Churches of Christ” a cessationist group into heavy control. He still believed in that group but left so he could find a wife without their interference and then go back.

    Two of my wife’s cousins were in that movement in some level if responsibility in Indonesia. A nephew in my cousins care died and after the fallout from that they both ended up leaving.

    I knew several of them at UGA. It was weird because many if them seemed like cookie cutter copies with the same midwestern accent.

    I recognized someone as from that movement on the streets of Seoul Korea after I had just met him and he wanted to invite me to his ‘really great church’ jyst after I met him. My expat friend was amazed that I guessed wjat kind it was. I told him I could tell from the mustered enthusiasm. I had seen it before.

    In 1990 or so when I went to UGA,I heard one of the Charismatic churches in town had folded. I hear they were telling one member to marry other members. They had matched up a black with a white which must have been considered newsworthy by whoever told me. The pastor of a college grpup gad gone there, to a church in the shepherding movement. Later I told him about an evangelist who wanted to send Christian students as English teachers. The college group pastor did not want to do anything with that evangelist who had been a part of that sheperding movement and he said he’d never repented or apologized.

  • Troy Day
    Reply January 11, 2019

    Troy Day

    Vineyard IHOP or shepherding ? Link there’s no way you went to a shepherding church too along with many others 🙂

    • Link Hudson
      Reply January 11, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day never said I did. Except I did go to a Boston Church of Christ– or whatever they called it– Bible study. A guy I met invited me to a Bible study in his dorm and I went not knowing what it was. I think I went to two of their meetings. I had tried to minister to someone who had gotten burned out by them and went to see what they did.

      I later had a boss in Indonesia. I had met him a couple of times. He tooj me in his office and accused me of all kinds of character flaws, broad stuff with no evidence. We did not even know each other. Apparently he had an unpleasant conversation with at least one other employee. Possibly the rest who called into his office. I found out their movement has’ breaking sessions’ where disciplers accuse disiplees and this meeting used a similar tactic. But tyat is a cessationist group the Charismatic group indirectly influence. Maybe they took it to a further extreme.

      If Vineyard is ‘shepherdinf’ I have been to that. It seemed like they might have picked up some of the lingo, maybe some of the underlying philosophy, without the practices.

      Did you ever visit any churches vesides your home church? I am thinking of a one off visit to an open brethren church.

    • Troy Day
      Reply January 11, 2019

      Troy Day

      Boston Church of Christ is shepherding too ?

    • Link Hudson
      Reply January 11, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day was very heavy shepherding, by even relatively new convert ‘disciplers’.

  • Terry Wiles
    Reply January 11, 2019

    Terry Wiles

    They sell pancakes don’t they?

    • Troy Day
      Reply January 11, 2019

      Troy Day

      yes – but only for the left behind after rapture

  • Troy Day
    Reply January 11, 2019

    Troy Day

    Link Hudson what would you mean by very heavy shepherding I have found this to mean anything to anyone not too happy with church Means one thing for Pentecostals, another for baptists – are you referring to 10%, or who to marry or what house to buy or what?

    • Link Hudson
      Reply January 11, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day with the BCC, I hear they would get someone to confess their sins to them. People feared those being disclosed. A discipler schedules the disciplee’s time. Breaking sessions like I described. And they seemed to think they were the only ones saved. So many of them thought their church was the only way of salvation. So if they left they thpught they were leaving Jesus.

    • Troy Day
      Reply January 11, 2019

      Troy Day

      aint that what a catholic priest does anyway?

    • Link Hudson
      Reply January 11, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day They are supposed to keep the confessions they hear secret. I never heard of one of them saying, “If you miss a mass, I can just tell some people what you did.” I don’t know if the BCC movement had people doing that or not.

      A lot of the ‘disciplers’ on college campuses were in their early 20’s, exercising a great deal of control over the lives of other young people from what I heard.

      They also had a lot of pressure to invite people to Bible studies and win converts. I got the sense that they almost thought that was necessary to be saved. In Indonesia, my wife some of them would hang out around the Christian bookstore and try to invite someone who went to a Reformed church. That was easier than converting the Muslims.

    • Troy Day
      Reply January 12, 2019

      Troy Day

      How did you gather this just from visiting 1 time?

    • Link Hudson
      Reply January 12, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day I knew people involved in their meetings. I think I went to three of their meetings to check it out and to try to see if I could get one of them out of it. One guy I knew from a campus ministry had been involved in it and got deprogrammed. I also read a bit about it. I interacted with some of them online after the manager of my department was in his role. My wife had a couple of cousins in the movement in Indonesia, and they had tried to recruit her before we met. She went to some meetings she was invited to, but did not go for it..The mainline so-called ‘Church of Christ’ movement was small, probably 70 congregations. Same with the ‘Chrisian Churches’ movement. So not many people had heard of those either.

    • Troy Day
      Reply January 12, 2019

      Troy Day

      well that is not direct information that could be trusted then

    • Link Hudson
      Reply January 13, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day two or three witnesses. It was a reasonably large movement. I don’t know how widespread some of the practies like the time-scheduling would be. But disciplers could be quite young and new to the movement.

  • Troy Day
    Reply January 13, 2019

    Troy Day

    Link Hudson as in many serious inquires in this group I am getting the feeling you dont know much about the Shepherding movement first hand The rest is just hearsay I dont really have much use for Which shepherding church did you visit exactly? – How long did you observe it to form your view on the movement as a whole? – I also hear that northern and Canadian shepherding was much different than the South – Ft. Lauderdale dealt much different in the prophetic and deliverance ministry for example. This model was later followed in Kansas but to little use. Then the British discipleship and yes if you call that shepherding too, was a completely different story

    • Link Hudson
      Reply January 14, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day I never claimed to be in the movement. I have known some people in it and people in what used the ce called the Boston movement which was a nonCharismatic movement which was probably influenced by it or similar thinking.

  • Paul L. King
    Reply January 14, 2019

    Paul L. King

    There really are many shepherding movements, and probably most of them are not directly influenced by the Ft. Lauderdale movement. I know of many independent charismatic and Pentecostal churches through my 48 years in the movement that have strong pastoral authoritarianism. Many such churches (including at least 2 associations of Word of Faith churches) have a top down approach in which the pastor owns the church, the building, appoints his own board, runs the church, and often says (if not stated outright, nonetheless in effect), “Touch not the anointed one.” They often claim the mantle of Moses or Elijah, and have no accountability to anyone. Another non-charismatic authoritarian approach is what is called “nouthetic counseling” (from the Greek word noutheteo, meaning admonish), founded by Presbyterian theologian/counselor Jay Adams, which is very directive and confrontative in counseling.

  • Steve Losee
    Reply January 14, 2019

    Steve Losee

    short answer: control. ALSO: The Bible doesn’t teach that.

  • Troy Day
    Reply January 15, 2019

    Troy Day

    the BIBLE doesnt teach what?

  • Lyn Wilson
    Reply January 16, 2019

    Lyn Wilson

    One big, big problem is that many genuinely devout people just aren’t fit to lead anyone. You see it in every walk of life. Some are simply power hungry and exercise authority of the sake of exercising authority.

    The NT calls these people “Nicolaitans”, which means “those who conquer the flock”. Jesus said he hated that.

    The most recent example of this was an idiotic book by John Bevere called “Undercover”, in which he said pastors had the right to overrule any decision a church member made unless the bible said explicitly otherwise. He even said that single women, no matter what their ages, were under the authority of their fathers.

    This series was presented in my SS class and I was openly very critical of it. For one thing, no one could think of a single decision, major or minor, that a pastor should make for a layman.

    Would you let a pastor tell you who to marry, what to choose for a career, where to live, or what school to attend? No. Those would be major decisions.

    Would you let a pastor tell you what kind of car to buy? No. That would be mid-level decision.

    Would you let a pastor decide what you should eat for dinner tonight? No. That would be a minor decision. We all came to the conclusion that the series was beyond useless and potentially very damaging.

  • Troy Day
    Reply January 16, 2019

    Troy Day

    many genuinely devout people just aren’t fit to lead anyone 🙂 Maybe they did not get mandatory education? Lyn Wilson

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