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Where are we going? Our need for sound Christian Leaders


Articles in the LOOKOUT section of this website span a number of decades and are re-published on behalf of Adrian van Leen for research purposes. Original dates are being added to articles so as to place them in their correct historical setting(s). Adrian has endeavoured to be as fair and accurate as possible at the time of the original writing, but please note that the original article information may no longer reflect the subsequent or current actions, values, beliefs, positions, opinions, teachings or policies held by individuals, groups and/or organisations referred to in the original published article at the time of writing. As people change and move on, the same often applies to related Internet links; some links referred to in articles may have been changed or may no longer be available online.

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Where are we going?

At the end of a year all sorts of clairvoyants, pundits and would-be prophets seek their moment of fame by making predictions for the approaching New Year. Sometimes they are so vague and general they’re bound to hit a few correct guesses. Most know enough about the general population’s memory failures to claim later in the year that they had predicted certain — especially dramatic or outstanding — events after they have occurred.

The vast majority of people trust the word of these self-proclaimed prophets and don’t bother to check the evidence to see if there is any direct supportive evidence that they DID in fact predict the events long before they occurred and not simply claimed to have done so after the event. Many also know that the more brazen you are and the more dogmatically you make your claim, the more many people will be to accept the claims without question.

When would-be prophets make their predictions, many of them are simply reading the trends and adding past performances or developments to future probabilities.

To some degree we all do that.

The end of one year and/or the beginning of a New Year is often a time of reflection, anticipation, goal setting and planning. We look at where we’ve been, and where we think we’ll be going. This is often done: personally as individuals; in business, industry and government; in organisations and societies; in denominations and local congregations.

Consideration of the past often enables us to anticipate some developments and trends in the future. That is how budgeting is done in the financial area. It is how defence and law enforcement agencies plan their strategies. It is how statisticians and urban planners prepare for community developments.

As we, at CCG Ministries, look back over the past year, and indeed the past 24 years plus, we can see developing trends that, we believe will seriously impact the Christian community in the future — including 2004. These various trends include, in particular, changes in Christian leadership.

For many years we have been using the following definition of a cult in our writings, as well as in court testimony, stating that a cult is:

’A leader, or leadership, centred and dominated independent religious group that deviates from religious orthodoxy and accepted socio-cultural patterns in its beliefs and practices, and seeks the conformity and submission of members in obedience to the leadership.’

Leader, or leadership, control and domination are the major concerns and issues in cultic and extreme religious fringe groups. Again and again, it is the damage done to relationships, and personal rights and freedoms, by manipulative and controlling leaders that cause most of the hurt and trauma suffered by followers and members. This damage can be physical, is always emotional and psychological, and ultimately will also be spiritual.

For a number of past decades controlling and manipulative tendencies have developed, particularly amongst some sections of the Pentecostal Christian community. Quite a number of pastors have been guilty of demanding unquestioning submission and obedience from members — many claiming, that as the Lord’s ’anointed’ they were only answerable to God, and no one else had the right or the authority to question them, their teachings, their behaviour, their lifestyle or their manipulative demands.

Part of that trend became known, for a time, as the ’Shepherding Movement’. It was also known as the ’Discipleship Movement’ and the ’Submission Movement’. Its leaders became well-known. Their claims of power and authority were used to bring followers into total submission, and they controlled the lives of followers in almost all areas and aspects.

In September of 1975, Kathryn Kuhlman expressed her concern about this movement:

’There’s a new doctrine called “the discipleship and submission movement.” You may have never heard of it before. But it is so subtle and doing so much harm that if somebody doesn’t do something to rebuke Satan and stop this movement, it is going to absolutely destroy the great charismatic movement...Not only do they tell you to give your money to the shepherd, but to become involved in cell groups and to “reveal your deepest thoughts.” I’ll tell you one thing. I’m not going to tell anybody my inner thoughts.’

Out of concern for the growing misuse of leadership authority and the psychological and spiritual damage caused to individuals, the Assemblies of God General Presbytery in the USA adopted a committee report as an official statement in response to this ’Shepherding Movement’ in August 1976.

The report pointed out that: ’well-known Bible teachers are promoting a new concept of shepherding, discipleship, and submission to authority.’ It acknowledged that there were some good things happening, at the same time ’there have been serious abuses…Much has been…destructive and divisive.’ The report deals with the misuse of the Scriptures, revealing that there are real dangers by such teachers when ’selected passages are spiritualised or allegorised in a way that will support their teachings.’

After dealing with the misuse and misinterpretation of several specific Scripture passages, the report warns that ’there is a current tendency to downgrade democracy in the church in favour of submission to authority.’ It refers to erroneous claims about the supposed authority and power of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem and how these incorrect claims are then used to justify current claims of power and authority.

The report points out the Biblical injunctions of mutual submission and the need for leaders to be servants of all. It concludes that ’Jesus Christ must be kept central. He is the great Shepherd of the sheep. The only covenant we need is the one sealed in His blood’

Major personalities in the 1960s/1970s+ ’Shepherding Movement’ were referred to as the ’Shepherds of Fort Lauderdale’ (in Florida, USA) or the ’Fort Lauderdale Five’. They were Bob Mumford, Ern Baxter, Don Basham, Derek Prince and Charles Simpson. John Poole was also part of this movement for a time but then dropped out.

Edward Plowman wrote in Christianity Today, Oct. 10, 1975: ’A dispute is taking place over issues of authority and discipleship…Discipleship involves submission to the shepherd…about many personal decisions. In some cases, shepherds forbid marriages, reject school and vocational plans, demand confession of secret sins…’

This was Biblical mutual submission distorted and abused. Leaders went on power trips, taking Bible texts out of context to justify their claims and activities.

As controversy grew, a ’Statement of Concern and Regret’ signed by Bob Mumford, Ern Baxter, Don Basham, John Poole, Derek Prince and Charles Simpson was issued in Oklahoma City in March 1976. The Statement opened with the following apology:

’We realize that controversies and problems have arisen among Christians in various areas as a result of our teaching in relation to subjects such as submission, authority, discipling, and shepherding. We deeply regret these problems and, insofar as they are due to fault on our part, we ask forgiveness from our fellow believers whom we have offended.’

Part of the statement suggested that they weren’t fully responsible, but that others mishandled their teachings or handled them in a less mature way. Never-the-less they apologised for that also. In subsequent years they tried to distance themselves from the controversy they caused. Charles Simpson issued another apology for his teachings and the leadership abuses resulting from them in the New Wine magazine in 1985.

While the controversy and problems of leadership abuse of authority and submission was particularly prominent in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles — with many reputable leaders in these circles sounding warnings — it also grew and developed elsewhere, including within some accountability groups, mentoring and spiritual director programmes and the International Church of Christ.

Leader control, manipulative authority, extreme submission were major features which led to the International Church of Christ being labelled ’a cult’, ’an evil cult’, ’a dangerous and destructive cult’ and more.

University and other educational authorities banned them from campuses; ex-members and parents endeavoured to expose the abuses in as many ways as possible; all sorts of material has been written about them by people from various backgrounds and perspectives. Almost all (other than their own members) raised concerns over leadership abuses.

Eventually it led to apologies, statements acknowledging leader and discipler abuse of authority, acknowledgement of wrong teaching and emphases on submission and more.

In the last couple of years there have been major shake-ups in the leadership structure and relationships within the ICOC, with the main leader, Kip McKean stepping down from world leadership and going back to being a congregational leader.

The jury is still out on all the changes that have occurred and how far things have or will improve. It remains to be seen if the movement overall will become more balanced and mainstream.

From the late 1980s through the 1990s, numerous books have been written about subjects such as ’Toxic Faith’, the ’Problems of Extreme Christian Fringe Groups’ through to ’Churches that Abuse’ — all highlighting the trauma caused by abusive leadership.

The problem seems to be that very few Christian leaders, or college lecturers (at theological and Bible colleges), seem to have taken these books and warnings seriously.

In recent years, at CCG Ministries, we have been receiving more and more expressions of concern and hurt about leader/pastor control and manipulation within mainstream churches, and not just in cults or extreme Christian fringe groups.

Since the Protestant Reformation there has been an emphasis, in major parts of the Christian Church, on the Priesthood of all believers and a rejection of a special, elitist ’clergy class’. That seems to be changing — even in churches that held such a mutual ministry view as a major denominational distinctive.

The growing emphasis has been on a CEO model of leadership in congregations — with the Pastor or Senior Pastor having almost ’supreme’ power and authority. Some have demanded submission and acceptance of all their ideas, suggestions and decisions — including those made with little or no consultation with others. Their concept of leadership seems to be that they are there to lead and everyone else must follow and obey — or get out.

There has also been the development of descriptive jargon to distinguish a newer (better??) class of leaders.

Terms such as: ’anointed leadership’, ’anointed ministry (preaching, teaching etc)’ — and more recently: ’apostolic leadership’, ’apostolic ministry’ — are historically and exegetically dubious and tend to lead to a new ’clergy class’ and elitism. If you don’t agree with the latest directions or teachings from ’anointed or apostolic’ leaders — then obviously you aren’t ’anointed’ or ’apostolic’ and therefore not as acceptable as these ’better class’ of leaders. As a result of some of these trends in leadership and specialised elitist terminology many pastors have become ’guru’ figures — especially for younger members.

Part of this trend in church leadership relates to another issue — that of marginalisation.

Older Christians have been around longer and have seen fads come and go — in both the community and church. Many are also more cautious about accepting things unquestiongly. Many also tend to be more Biblically literate and can see how the Bible is being abused and misused in order to support erroneous claims of power and authority in church leadership — as a result many older people — in many church congregations — across the denominations — are being marginalised and even told that there is no place for them in the church. The young are more open to new ideas, changes and leader control.

Along with expressions of concern about leader/pastor authoritarianism and control, CCG Ministries has been receiving an increasing volume of expressions of concern from middle-aged and older Christians who feel ignored, marginalised and rejected in congregations where they have faithfully served for years, and where they still would like to be actively involved.

It raises serious questions — not just about cultic control and manipulation — but questions about the future of church leadership and growth; passion and compassion; outreach and nurture; Biblical balance and integrity — and much more.

It has been refreshing, and challenging, to read: BROTHERS WE ARE NOT PROFESSIONALS — A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (2003:Mentor), by John Piper.

John Piper studied at Wheaton College (USA), then graduated from Fuller Seminary in 1971 and completed his Doctor of Theology degree at the University of Munich (Germany) in 1974. He taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College for six years and then became Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1980. He is still there. He leads a ministry team of almost 20, has written numerous books, and formed an additional specialised ministry: Desiring God Ministries to make resources available for others — including Christian leaders. Bethlehem Baptist Church has a long history of planting other congregations, and currently is one church meeting at two locations with a total of five services each Sunday.

In his recent book John Piper expresses deep concern over the direction of church leadership in recent years and calls for a return to Biblical models and approaches. He states:

’The beginning of the twenty-first century is a good time to be a pastor, a time full of uncertainty and danger. The political and religious atmosphere of the world pushes us — if we have hears to hear — relentlessly toward the unprofessional centre of faith and ministry: the brutal, bloody, hideous, heaving, crucified God-Man Jesus Christ. We are driven more and more in these years to say with the apostle Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you accept Jesus Christ and him crucified”…Insulated Western Christianity is waking up from the dreamworld that being a Christian is normal or safe. More and more, true Christianity is becoming what it was at the beginning: foolish and dangerous.’

He warns Pastors: ’Beware of replacing real truth-based tolerance with spurious professional tolerance…[and] the pressure to fit in to the cultural expectations of professionalism…[and] the pride of station and against the expectation of parity in pay and against the borrowing of paradigms from the professional world. Oh, for radically Bible-saturated, God-centred, Christ-exalting, self-sacrificing, mission-mobilising, soul-saving, culture confronting pastors! Let the chips fall where they will: palm branches one day, persecution the next.’

He sets the course for his book with the observation: ’We Pastors are being killed by the professionalising of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake.’

Piper’s book is a challenging re-examination of the Biblical role, message, life and leadership of today’s Pastor. It calls for Biblical authenticity and integrity in ministry. He pleads for radical and courageous servanthood and Christ-likeness in Pastors. His book deals with the relevance and content of preaching — including Biblical preaching; the ’worship wars’ and joyful worship; confronting culture instead of cultural conformity; preparing people for suffering; breaching the ’so-called generation gap’ and much more.

(Some of the chapters of this book are available as a series of Internet articles

See: http://www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/leadership/leader_index.html)

If Pastors across the denominations were prepared to read books like this and re-evaluate their role as Pastors and Ministers in light of Biblical principles and sound exegesis, trendscould change and trauma removed from being a church member for many.

All church leaders — Pastors, Elders, Deacons and others - can benefit from reading and reflecting on:

Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10.35-45; Romans 12:1-21; Philippians 2: 1-11; 1 Peter 5:1-6.

(From TACL Vol 25 #1 Jan/Feb 2004)