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CBN.com For a number of years in the mid 1970s through the early 1980s, I walked in and practiced an expression of doctrine known as "shepherding." The people I was involved with during that period, particularly the leadership (of whom I was one at a second tier level), I believed to be men of God. I still believe that; however, we got off track. As a result in 1983, my wife Nedra and I felt we could no longer practice the doctrinal emphasis pertaining to shepherding, as we no longer had the faith, grace, or vision to continue to submit to this expression. As a result, we phased out of all responsibility and leadership and gave ourselves to the Word of God, prayer, and counsel with other leadership in the Body of Christ.
The immediate result of this was to re-establish our direct relationship with our Heavenly Father, through the only intermediary necessary, the Lord Jesus Christ, by the personage, power, and agency of the Holy Spirit. This required repentance of the sin we believed we had practiced toward God and people. It was only then that we really saw the depth of iniquity we had participated in. Other than my original conversion to Jesus Christ, this was possibly the most profound experience of my Christian life. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness took on a whole new meaning.
The next step in our restoration required repentance toward and asking forgiveness of those we had sinned against; whether in person, by phone, or letter. This was an arduous bittersweet, but necessary task. It took years.
This publication is another step in that process of obedience to our Lord, as we have been unable to reach all those whose lives were affected. Through relationships with people in different parts of this country, and even in other nations, it has become clear to a number of us that many lives are unfortunately still captive to the "spirit of bondage" that is characteristic of these aberrational doctrines. It is not my intention to exacerbate old controversies, but rather my purpose is to lay the axe to the root of the issues so that the remaining prisoners might be set free.
As you read, may the Lord watch over His Word to perform it in your life. After all, it is the responsibility of a true shepherd to...
"Strengthen the weak,
Heal the sick,
Bind up the Broken,
Bring back those driven away, and
Seek out the lost."
Shepherdship is an oppressive system in which a person who often perceives himself as an immature Christian submits himself to the leading of an "elder." The elders (shepherds) are appointed in much the same way as in other hierarchies, with one submitting to the next higher in a chain of command. Total discipline is imposed on those who submit themselves to an elder. Tithes and offerings are given to the elder, and his leadership is total, even extending over the person's family life. Failure to obey the shepherd can lead to disapproval, verbal condemnation and ultimately being put out of the fellowship.
There are positive aspects of this system: the Word is taught; the system is built around the Gospel; many people are ministered to by the elders. But the most significant aspect of the shepherding system is that one person submits his will completely to another individual, the shepherd or elder.
The Lord alone is our Shepherd, and no other shepherd or leader can be our Lord. The Bible indicates that we are to submit ourselves to one another, but this does not require that one person dominate another's will. We may go to our pastor or another respected leader to consult with him about important decisions in our lives, but even after hearing that leader's counsel we must still make our own decisions. It is an evasion of responsibility when we allow others to make important decisions for us and then, if the consequences are bad, claim that "my shepherd made me do it". With good reasons we seek the advice of mature Christians, but we ourselves are to be responsible and give account of our actions to God.
There is a vast difference between seeking wise counsel form mature Christians and being told what to do by a shepherd or group of shepherds. We should allow no person to dictate to us how to live our lives, even if we respect that person's judgement. Regrettably many persons who have submitted themselves to shepherds have allowed themselves to be told whom to marry, whether to divorce or stay married, where to work, whether to visit relatives, and so on. Submission of this sort can become total obedience to a person.
We may need to be reminded that, like Jesus, our total obedience is given to God alone. And Jesus alone is our only mediator, the one bridge between God and us. Though the Church is enriched by the work of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, no other human being is necessary to bring us into contact with God and his guidance. Jesus stated that His sheep--both mature Christians and those less mature--hear His voice.
Our desire to live a godly life does not necessarily mean we must submit ourselves to the bondage of a hierarchical system or an elder of that system. True shepherds strive, like Jesus, to serve, not to dominate. The majority of individuals are capable of discerning whether their pastor or elder is genuinely working to serve others or to be served by others. In addition, there are many mature Christians who are able to provide guidance without insisting that their advice be accepted as law.
VIOLATIONS OF SCRIPTURE
If you were involved directly or indirectly in the shepherding movement (or any cult for that matter) it is the Lord's desire that all illegal spiritual and emotional strongholds be broken in your life. The following speaks to some of those practices that were clear violations of scripture and usurped the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
By way of qualification, I realize these statements are generalizations, not absolutes. But as generalizations, they represent the SPIRIT of what was done more than the words, the message, or, for that matter, even the overt intent. I acknowledge some good came from what we did, but I honestly believe the harm outweighed the good in the lives of most of the people I have encountered. As a direct result of their involvement many people have continued to suffer one form of spiritual malady or another, ranging from spiritual atrophy to absolute backsliding.
I believe we must "make confession with our mouths unto salvation", before God and man, and in the name and blood of Jesus specifically in prayer break any bondage that may keep us captive. Inherent in these confessions and prayers, I ask forgiveness of anyone reading this who may have been affected by my personal conduct and misleadership. Where it personally applies would you agree with me?
First: I personally renounce the basic teachings of shepherding as we practiced it.
Second: I break any spoken vows or confessions I made that "went beyond the Word of the Lord to do anything less or more" than God Himself required. Confessions can continue in effect in the spiritual realm, resulting in curses in our lives, until they re broken.
Third: I release any individual(s) I made a covenant or commitment to.
Fourth: I genuinely forgive anyone, for anything and everything that I may have had a part in. I know malice was never intended toward me or anyone else. I want to condemn no one.
Fifth: I pray for the leaders, shepherds, elders, pastors, or any other leader. That any spiritually illegal tie or spirit of bondage may be broken and that no bitterness toward them may remain.
Sixth: I pray for the leaders or anyone else who may still be self deceived and that they might see the error of the shepherding system.
Seventh: I do affirm and pray for the unity of and in the Church, so that Christ, not any appointed leaders, might have the preeminence in all things. However, in saying that I also recognize that God does institute authority in His church to watch over our souls to build up, not tear down.
I do affirm that Biblical disciples as Jesus called and trained them is a legitimate command of the Scriptures as we are sent forth to "Disciple all nations." The hallmark of these true disciples is "love for one another."
Finally: "Lord, as an adult who made adult choices and decisions, release me and heal me of the "victim" mentality. I take full responsibility for my own life and once again I choose to give myself to you. Forgive me for any thought that blamed you for my condition; you never fail and you have never left me. I also ask that you heal me of self-condemnation and the accusations of the enemy that my life is a failure. I renounce that as a lie and do believe that you can redeem everything making it work together for good and that the ultimate purpose and plan for which you initially called me will be fulfilled.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide me into all truth according to Jesus' Word and that "I will know the Truth (Jesus) and the Truth (Jesus) will set me free. And if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed!"
Thank you Lord Amen! And Amen!"
Now Worship Him!
If you haven't already, you should prayerfully seek out a Christ-centered church fellowship that clearly teaches the Bible and study passages (especially the Gospel of John) that speak of Christ's lordship and the need for Christians to minister to one another.
Toxic Faith (Understanding Overcoming Religious Addiction) Stephen Arterburn Jack Felton
The Master Plan of Evangelism Robert Coleman
Damaged Disciples Ron & Vicki Burks
Churches that Abuse Ronald M. Enroth
Recovering form Churches that Abuse Ronald Enroth
Discipleship, The Jesus View Bill Ligon
Spiritual the Jesus Leadership J. Oswald Sanders
*Above sections adapted from The Christian Counselors Handbook, The Christian Broadcasting Network, Virginia Beach, Va. 23463.
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