There is a world of difference between shepherding and Shepherding. The first, shepherding with a small "s" is merely the concept of a loving teacher or pastor or even congregation member helping a new Christian to understand the faith. It's what we're all supposed to do.
The second, Shepherding with a capital "S" is a formal set of beliefs and teachings that are hurting a lot of Christians and driving them from the church with running, open wounds on their hearts. It's this second one, Shepherding, that I want to address, because it's spiritual abuse at its worst.
Shepherding began around 1974 as a good idea.
The original concept of Shepherding was created by five south Florida pastors – Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, Ern Baxter and Don Basham – as a way to deal with what they saw as dissolution in the Charismatic movement. It stated that the pastor of a church provided an umbrella of protection for the congregation, shielding them from the evil outside. To enjoy this protection, the congregation had to submit to the pastor's authority. The idea was to develop strong disciples for Christ.
That sounds Biblical enough. But the movement went bad about as quickly as kudzu overrunning a barn in Tennessee; virtually overnight. It seems the faster it grew in popularity, the worse it became. Eventually, Shepherding gave the pastor total and ultimate authority over all his congregation, including what they ate, what they wore, where they worked, who they married, and how many children a couple could have. The pastor also had the authority to tell congregation members where to go to school, what to study, what to read, what movies to watch, who their friends would be, and how to worship God. People who didn't like what the pastor, the elders, or the cell group leaders told them to do were called rebellious and subject to extreme discipline. Shepherding quickly devolved from an idea to help disciple a congregation into sheer tyranny. All of this was done in the name of accountability and discipleship.
Mumford apologized and publicly repented for the movement in 1990, and it kinda died out, maintaining a loose life through smaller, more obscure churches and ministries.
But about the year 2000, it resurfaced again, in the guise of the Mentoring/ Accountability/ Discipleship programs.
Same fleas, different dog. Call it what you will, Discipleship, Mentoring, Accountability, Discipline, Covering; it is still Shepherding.
It's funny, but if the program has a small letter in its name (i.e., accountability), it seems to be pretty good. If it hosts a capital letter (i.e., Accountability), it's another form of Shepherding. Just a thought; something to look out for.
Shepherding is based on pride, manipulation and arrogance. I've lost track of the number of Charismatic Christians I've heard recently say things like "I mentor twelve people!" or "I have twenty submitted to me." Sounds like a multi-level marketing downline, not a church! Unfortunately, this kind of attitude is no longer limited to just the Charismatic churches (Word of Faith, Pentecostal, Assembly of God Church of God, non-denominational). It is now infecting the Evangelicals as well (Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Nazarene).The Sacramentals (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox) seem to be avoiding it ... so far.
The concept of discipleship, accountability and mentoring are noble in themselves. What Christian doesn't want to be a good disciple of Christ? In the old days, being a good disciple was learned in Sunday School, through time spent in prayer, by studying the Bible, and living the Sermon on the Mount with one's neighbors.
Accountability is also a good concept, especially for those of us who are flawed and have habitual sins in our lives. But it should be lateral, as in friendship. A good friend will not let another friend remain mired in alcoholism or pornography.
And mentoring is just an outgrowth of the teacher-student relationship, as in the violin teacher who sees a gift in his pupil, and gives her more time than just her thirty minutes a week. He encourages her to try new songs, enter competitions and stretch herself on her fiddle.
It is when these noble concepts cross a line and become Shepherding that the problems arise. A sure sign that they have crossed the line is when phrases are flung like snowballs ... phrases such as “You need someone in your chain of command,” and “You need to be accountable to someone,” and “You need to be submitted to someone,” and “You need a covering.” This is when good ideas go bad.
The current trend in Discipleship began as a good idea; a way to raise up mature Christians who could raise up more mature Christians. But it has an innate problem. It is based on the idea that Paul was Timothy's spiritual father. He may have been, but where else in the Bible do we find that we are supposed to have any other spiritual father other than God Himself? The concept of having to have a spiritual father who is human, and be a spiritual child to another human being is not Biblical. If it happens, it happens, but it should be an organic thing, not organized like a bridge club in a small Georgia town.
Accountability began as a way to keep the pastor from running off with the church secretary and the funds (which is in itself negative, because that's assuming the pastor is going to fail and sin) and quickly became a way of controlling people for our own purposes, which are usually selfish. According to the Mentoring / Discipleship doctrine, Christians must be discipled by one Master in an authoritarian relationship to be a true disciple of Christ. This is supposedly set up after the system that Jesus had over the twelve apostles. This subordinate relationship with another Christian is necessary to bear "fruit," which is specifically defined as the replication of more disciples. So, the Discipleship / Mentoring concept establishes a hierarchical chain of members by placing men in the position of Master and Disciple. In business, they used to call this a Pyramid Scheme. In the pre-Civil War South, it was called slavery.
It's interesting that the ones who bark the loudest and say "You must have accountability, you must have a mentor, you must have a chain of command" are also thinking "And I'm the one to do it." If someone says to you that "You must have a chain of command," tell them something like "Okay, I'll submit to my Dad and let him mentor me" and see how angry that other person suddenly becomes!
Someone who is actually called to mentor others, by God Himself, is quiet about it. They don't go looking for someone to correct. People come to them and ask advice. The ancient Chinese proverb comes to mind here – “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” The onus is on the student, not the teacher. In true mentoring, it is the student who is the focus and the source of initiating mentorship, not the teacher.
Then there is the Covering movement. We Charismatics (and I suspect now that quite a few Evangelicals, too) have been taught that all Christians must have a spiritual covering. That's a polite way of saying that we have to have a boss telling us what to do. So many Christians run around like chickens with their heads cut off, in a total panic, begging “Who is my covering?” Paul is pretty plain about the covering issue, in the only passage in the New Testament where a “covering” is mentioned (at least in the translation that I read). He writes in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “But there is one thing I want you to know: A man is responsible to Christ.” Period. Jesus is my covering. Jesus is your covering. Why do we need people to cover us when we have Jesus? What human being can dare say that they can do a better job of protecting and leading and teaching and guiding us than Jesus Christ? What arrogance can make such a boast?
We Christians do not need to put up with Shepherding, Mentoring, Discipleship or Covering. Sure we need shepherds, but shepherds are protectors, not dictators. Sure we need mentors, but mentors are teachers, not tyrants. Sure we need to be discipled, but disciplers are friends, not overlords. Sure we need a covering, but His name is Jesus, not Bob or Percy or Janice or Felonia.
Shepherding pastors and ministers posture and position themselves. They surround themselves with yes men and women to protect themselves. They blast and shoot down any challenge and defend themselves using three scriptures, because, as the Bible says, let every word be established by three witnesses. Some even go so far as to have their “armor bearers” carry guns and rough up any detractor in town.
They develop an aloof attitude and say something that a lot of us have heard ... “Don't touch the anointed!”
Jesus never said “don't touch me.” He said “who touched me?” Paul never said “don't question me.” He said “I will answer your question.” Peter didn't say “don't touch God's anointed.” He listened when Paul challenged him in public. Moses was called the meekest man on Earth. Meek people are touchable. David led his men and lived with them in a cave when we was being hunted by Saul. Our Biblical examples were all touchable. They were all leaders. They were eager to answer questions. They were people who lived with people. They were shepherds who smelled like sheep.
Shepherding is no longer confined to the Charismatic churches. Evangelical churches, mostly Baptist and Methodist, are now following this trend. A recent Wall Street Journal article cites several cases of the growing phenomenon of “disciplining” congregation members.
The pastors who do this say that they are simply doing what the New Testament says to do, in order to correct sin.
For instance, a Baptist church in Michigan had an elderly congregation member arrested and removed during a church service. Her crime? Questioning the pastor's authority and insisting that he follow the church charter and have a deacon board.
A 4,000 member church in Dallas, Texas, requires that all members sign an oath stating that they will submit to the correction and guidance of church elders.
A 6,000 member church in Nashville expelled 74 members for gossip. And a Baptist church in Virginia voted out a member for talking about the pastor's plans to build a bigger house.
The Wall Street Journal article estimates that between 16,000 and 20,000 American churches are now practicing some form of “discipline.”
That tells me that Shepherding is a virus and it is now out of control. It is quite permissible for a pastor to have a disruptive person removed from a service. And it is quite permissible for a pastor to ask someone who is blatantly sinning to leave the church. But this goes beyond that. This is public humiliation. Being shunned and publicly humiliated won't lead to repentance, but will probably drive the person deeper into anger. I'm not saying that the people who were so harshly dealt with were sinning, but let's assume for the sake of argument that they were. Shunning is not mentioned in the Bible as an effective way to deal with sin. The Bible clearly states that the Holy Spirit and God's goodness lead to repentance.
Yep. Shepherding is gaining a foothold in the Evangelical churches. How it got there is beyond me! But it needs to leave.