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The Shepherding Movement (sometimes called the "Discipleship Movement") was an influential and controversial movement within some British and American charismatic churches, emerging 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 2 Timothy.
It began when four well-known Charismatic teachers, Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham, responded to what they saw as a moral failure in a charismatic ministry in South Florida. Witnessing this failure, the four men felt mutually vulnerable without greater accountability structures in their lives. They also felt the charismatic movement was becoming individualistic and subjective. These realizations, led them to mutually submit their lives and ministries to one another. Ern Baxter was later added to the core leadership of the group, and they became known as the "Fort Lauderdale Five."
"A less known sixth associate was John Poole. Together these individuals 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."
Their relationships, and the doctrines which they began to emphasize in support and definition of these relationships, gained wide approval, as they addressed a strongly felt three-fold need of many in the burgeoning charismatic movement: greater accountability, stronger character development, and deeper relationships. Other Charismatic ministers and some Pentecostal began to submit to the authority of the Ft. Lauderdale Five. The vertical, descending, "chain-of-command" the five ministers were successful in establishing —
- "was 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."
At the zenith of the pseudo-movement, "They had a national network of followers who formed pyramids of sheep and shepherds. Down through the pyramid went the orders, it was alleged, while up the same pyramid went the tithes." The relationships that were formed became known theologically as "covenant relationships." A network of cell groups were formed. Members had to be submitted to a "shepherd", who in turn was submitted to the Five or their subordinates. "...large numbers of charismatic pastors began to be shepherded by the CGM leaders, a development that went uncharted but not unnoticed. It was uncharted because these relationships were personal and not institutional, so there were never any published lists of pastors and congregations being shepherded by CGM leaders...." At its height, an estimated 100,000 adherents across the US were involved in the networks.
Some of the early leaders of the movement came out of Campus Crusade for Christ, but Crusade itself did not embrace it. Other movements influenced by the Shepherding doctrine were the Shiloh houses scattered across the USA (some of them transitioned into Calvary Chapels when they abandoned the shepherding movement ideas), International Churches of Christ, Maranatha Campus Ministries, and Great Commission International (today known as Great Commission Ministries/Great Commission Association of Churches). The movement emphasized the importance of a network of accountability within church members, with many individuals acting as personal pastors to others. In many cases, shepherding relationships existed outside the bounds of individual churches, leading to the unusual situation of a church member being accountable not to others in his/her church, but someone outside the church.
Criticism and controversy
The movement gained a reputation for controlling and abusive behaviour, with a great deal of emphasis placed upon the importance of obedience to one's own shepherd. In many cases, disobeying one's shepherd was tantamount to disobeying God. A few of these criticisms were exaggerated, but many lives were damaged. One such testimony can be found in the book Damaged Disciples by Ron and Vicki Burks. Noted Baptist evangelist Bailey Smith, for example, in his work "Real Evangelism" mentions having collected a very large number of testimonies of people he had encountered who were damaged by Shepherding teachings.
- "The heat of the controversy can be captured by reading an open letter, dated June 27, 1975, from Pat Robertson to Bob Mumford. Robertson said that in a recent visit to Louisville, Kentucky, he found cultish language like"submission" rather than churches, "shepherds" not pastors, and "relationships" but not Jesus. Robertson traveled to ORU and found a twenty-year-old "shepherd" who drew tithes from fellow students as part of their submission. Robertson, drawing from Juan Carlos Ortiz's Call to Discipleship, charged the leaders with placing personal revelations (rhema) on par with Scripture. He quoted a devotee as saying, "If God Almighty spoke to me, and I knew for a certainty that it was God speaking, and if my shepherd told me to do the opposite, I would obey my shepherd."
The movement was denounced by charismatic leaders such as Pat Robertson and Demos Shakarian, and a 1975 meeting (known as "the shoot-out at the Curtis Hotel") to resolve the dispute achieved little.
- "Pat Robertson banned the CGM leaders and erased all tapes that included them. Robertson used CBN to pronounce the shepherding teaching 'witchcraft' and said the only difference between the discipleship group and Jonestown was 'Kool-Aid.' Kathryn Kuhlman refused to appear together with Bob Mumford at the 1975 Conference on the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. Demos Shakarian the founder and director of FGBMFI declared the CGM leaders persona non grata. The number of voices swelled as criticism came from Dennis Bennett, Ken Sumrall, Thomas F. Zimmerman (General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God), and David duPlessis."
The Fort Lauderdale Five eventually parted company. Derek Prince and Bob Mumford both publicly distanced themselves from the teachings. Derek Prince withdrew in 1983, stating his belief that "we were guilty of the Galatian error: having begun in the Spirit, we quickly degenerated into the flesh." Bob Mumford issued a "Formal Repentance Statement to the Body of Christ" in November 1989 and was quoted as saying, "I repent. I ask forgiveness." In the same article, Mumford also acknowledged abuses that had occurred because of his teaching on submission: "...Mumford decided that he needed to publicly 'repent' of his responsibility in setting up a system where so many people were hurt by misuses of authority. 'Some families were split up and lives turned upside down,' says Mumford. 'Some of these families are still not back together.'" This emphasis resulted in “perverse and unbiblical obedience” to leaders, said Mumford.
- "In his statement, Mumford admitted that he had not heeded earlier warnings about doctrinal error from Hayford and two others. "While it was not my intent to be willful," he said, "I ignored their input to my own hurt and the injury of others." ...He admitted that there had been an "unhealthy submission resulting in perverse and unbiblical obedience to human leaders." He took personal responsibility for these abuses, saying that many of them happened under his sphere of leadership."
The degree to which the Shepherding Movement still exists today is unclear. While both Charles Simpson and Bob Mumford have made public statements disavowing the movement, or at least distancing themselves from it, Simpson's biography on the website of Charles Simpson Ministries highlights his co-founding of New Wine Magazine and specifically mentions Baxter, Mumford, and Prince as "notable Bible teachers" associated with the magazine. The website also lists Derek Prince Ministries and Lifechangers by Bob Mumford as "ministry allies."
David Moore's 2004 book  on the Shepherding Movement takes an impartial, scholarly look at the movement, which includes interviews with all living primary and many secondary individuals.
- Steven Lambert, ThD, DMin, Charismatic Captivation, Authoritarian Abuse & Psychological Enslavement in Neo-Pentecostal Churches; p. 26; Real Truth Publications; Chapter Available Online
- H.D. Hunter, "Shepherding Movement," DICTIONARY OF PENTECOSTAL AND CHARISMATIC MOVEMENTS, p. 784, Zondervan
- Steven Lambert, Charismatic Captivation, p. 27; Chapter Available Online
- H.D. Hunter, loc. cit.
- P.D. Hocken, "Charismatic Movement," DICTIONARY OF PENTECOSTAL AND CHARISMATIC MOVEMENTS, p. 137, Zondervan
- Randy Frame (1990). "Maranatha Disbands as a Federation of Churches". Christianity Today. "As leaders of the shepherding movement have re-evaluated some of their beliefs and practices, so have some of the groups those leaders influenced. One such organization is the Gainesville, Florida-based Maranatha Christian Churches, an umbrella organization of about 70 churches located primarily on or near college campuses in the U.S. and abroad. ... According to Lee Grady, managing editor of the Maranatha publication The Forerunner from 1981 until the organization disbanded, all the major personalities associated with the shepherding movement at one time or another addressed Maranatha gathering. Grady said the concept of shepherding-that believers were under the authority of a spiritual shepherd-was widely accepted within Maranatha as a natural aspect of the Christian faith. "Maranatha was a revival movement," said Grady. "Any revival movement will usually be characterized by excesses.""
- "What You Think, Editor's Note". The Montgomery County Sentinel. 1986. "GCI is part of a nationwide shepherding movement, according to the Cult Awareness Council, a citizens watch-dog group."
- H.D. Hunter, loc. cit.
- H.D. Hunter, loc. cit.
- "Derek Prince, Charismatic Author And Bible Teacher, Dies in Jerusalem". Charisma Magazine.
- "Mumford Repents of Discipleship Errors," Charisma & Christian Life, pp. 15,16, February, 1990, Strang Communications, Inc
- Lawrence A. Pile. "The Other Side of Discipleship". Retrieved 2009-01-10.
- Bob Mumford (January/February 1990). Mumford's Formal Repentance Statement to the Body of Christ. Ministries Today. p. 52.
- Ronald M. Enroth (July 1993). Abusive Churches Will Always Exist. Zondervan.
- Steven Lambert, Charismatic Captivation, p. 38
- "Mumford Repents of Discipleship Errors," op. cit.
- David More (2004). The Shepherding Movement. Continuum International Publishing.
- Moore, S.D., "Shepherding Movement" in Stanley M. Burgess & Edouard van der Maas (eds), The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, revised edition, (Zondervan, 2003)
- Lambert, ThD, Steven, "Charismatic Captivation: Authoritarian Abuse & Psychological Enslavement In Neo-Pentecostal Churches", Second Edition, (Real Truth Publications, 2003); Chapter Two, pp. 21-41; "The Discipleship/Shepherding Movement" available online