The Shepherding Movement – Reformed, Revamped, Reee-diculous!

 Jeremiah 5:26 (The prophet speaking for God):…” for wicked men are found among My people…they set a trap, they catch men.” Then, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land. The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority.” (vv. 30-31)

Jeremiah 6:13-14:   For from the least of them to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely. And they have healed the brokenness of my people superficially saying, “Peace. peace,” but there is no peace.

(special thanks to The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen)

If you thought the Shepherding Movement (sometimes called the “Discipleship Movement”) suffered a humiliating demise back in the early 1980s, guess what . . . its B-A-C-K!!!  Actually, it never really disappeared – it just went underground for a few decades.  Why focus on a movement that gained a horrible reputation because of its controlling and abusive behavior?  You may be startled by what we have discovered.

What happened in the Shepherding Movement is one of the most disturbing chapters in recent church history, and its effects are still being felt today.  For those of you who don’t know anything about this movement, let’s take a look back at a bygone era.

At the height of the cultural revolution of the 1960s, some hippies converted to Christianity.  A major movement now known as the “Jesus People” or “Jesus Movement” swept through the United States from coast to coast.  Not surprisingly, teenagers who sought “freedom” soon discovered that being free wasn’t the panacea they thought it would be.    

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.

These five “anointed” men began to teach on authority, submission, and discipleship.  The doctrine that reshaped the charismatic community was that every individual must be submitted to another person and that all major life decisions should be submitted to a “shepherd or pastor”.  It became a system in which elders or “shepherds” acted as spiritual leaders responsible for the entire church.  Individual church members were assigned to specific elders and were “submitted” to them.  Over time, a religious system developed in which a blind obedience to “man” was promoted. 

Another doctrine that these leaders emphasized was “Covenant” relationships or “Spiritual Family”.  When one entered into a discipleship relationship, it was permanent, as was one’s association with a group of believers.  Members were in a “Covenant” with one another.  If someone left the relationship or the fellowship group, they were breaking a covenant.  These kinds of religious systems often place more emphasis on one’s “spiritual family” than one’s natural family.  If a misguided shepherd is in charge of such a system, cult-like behavior is the logical result.       

The end result of shepherding is that it puts the submissive person in a position of having two masters – Jesus Christ and a personal shepherd.  Over time the shepherd gains more power and control over the one being shepherded, and Jesus Christ is terribly overshadowed.  In other words, shepherding becomes nothing more than an idolatrous religious system.  Unfortunately, all kinds of abuse resulted from the shepherding movement.  Extensive documentation exists describing the abuses that took place.  In hindsight, what started out as a method of accountability morphed into a system of enslaved people.

As time went by, the fruit of these doctrines became obvious to charismatic leaders outside the movement.  Some of these leaders confronted the “Five” in what has been called the “Shootout at the Curtis Hotel.”  The Fort Lauderdale Five eventually parted company, and Derek Prince and Bob Mumford distanced themselves from the teaching.  Derek Prince, who withdrew in 1983, explained publicly that “we were guilty of the Galatian error:  having begun in the Spirit, we quickly regenerated into the flesh.”  Bob Mumford issued a “Formal Repentance Statement to the Body of Christ” in 1990 and was quoted as saying:  “Discipleship was wrong.  I repent. I ask forgiveness.”

However, the Shepherding Movement continues today under the leadership of Charles Simpson, who prefers to call it the “Covenant Movement.”  His ministry is based in Mobile, Alabama. 

Unbeknownst to many Christians, shepherding has been “reformed” and “revamped” and may be coming to a church near you.  Your church may even be putting it into practice – you just haven’t been able to recognize it.  We are alarmed at this growing movement within Christian orthodoxy, and we can hardly wait to share with your our startling findings in some upcoming posts.

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