About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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A Backwards Look At
Discipleship and Shepherding

As I look back to the 1970's in the Charismatic Movement, I like others remember the controversy over the shepherding movement.  There has been many articles and books written on the subject over the years,  so here goes just one more.

I come from the perspective of being a part of the Shepherding Movement in the early days.  We actually brought it into Canada.  I was under a man who was under Bob Mumford.  Things changed a little and we were moved to the Charles Simpson stream. As I look back on those days, when meeting someone new, we'd ask, "who are you under"?  I guess it is a little like asking, "what denomination are you in"? 

In 1977 my wife and I moved to Virginia after my shepherd suggested that we follow him back to the U.S.  I will say at this point that this was a suggestion, not a command.  I did not have to go, but I did anyway.  You might say that he did not have to give me the command because my mentality was "to be a good disciple and follow my shepherd"    There might be a point to that.  Four years later we returned to Canada after making that decision totally on our own.  My shepherd at that point (a different one) most likely preferred us to stay in Virginia, but we returned to Canada anyway. 

Within a year or so that particular church fell apart  and I was glad that I was not there for that.  We did return to Canada however to a shepherding church.  We heard all the stories of abuses and we felt that they did not apply to us.  I think for the most part we were right on that count.

My first point for those who criticize the movements is that the abuses were blown out of proportion.  We all heard stories of people not being able to buy a couch without getting permission from their shepherd.  I was in three different Shepherding Churches and had contact with many others and I knew of no such thing happening. 

I did see some other minor types of abuses.  For example, I was literally cornered in a room by my shepherd and his shepherd.  They were putting the pressure on me to make a covenant with my shepherd.  I did not believe in making covenants, and I did not think our leaders were teachi ng that as well.  I went to their shepherd and explained the situation and soon got he matter resolved.  I don't mean to suggest that I had an adversarial relationship with these men.  I didn't.  They were my friends.

So why was I a part of these people?  The number one reason why I was in this movement was for the relationships.   These people became my friends.  We had lots of good times.  It was a place where I could minister.  I myself was a shepherd for a short while of a few families.  I in no way forced anyone to do anything.  The family atmosphere is what kept me in the movement.  This kind of atmosphere was not all that prevalent in the lose net Charismatic Movement at large.

This brings me to the point of why this all started.  From my vantage point certain leaders in the Charismatic Movement saw a need to bring people together, to bring order to the new movement.   They saw the need for commitment in relationships.  They saw the need to walk together in unity. These were all valid concerns.  Thus shepherding evolved.

Before shepherding came about, there was discipleship.  We were told that we all need to disciple others.  That is not really unbiblical, unless you are making disciples after yourself.  I imagine some were doing just that.  This would be abuse.  We bring others to the Lord so they can be disciples of Jesus. 

Discipling progressed into Shepherding.  This is where I disagreed with the movement and stated it on many occasions.  We were told that in the same way we all needed to disciple others, in like fashion we all needed to shepherd others.  Shepherding was a step beyond discipling.  It was personally caring for a certain few that were under your care.   We often said that a pastor of five hundred people could not properly care for them.  He could only care for twelve or so effectively.  So the lead pastor would have his twelve, each of these twelve would have twelve, and so it goes down the line.  It sounded good.  Everyone got cared for in a personal way that meant something. 

The part that I did not see as scriptural was that all of us could be shepherds.  A shepherd, or pastor, or overseer was a specific ministry in the church, one of the gifts of Christ that Paul mentions in Eph. 4:11.  There were other ministries as well.  It is only logical that the whole body is not filled with shepherds.  Our physical body is not made up of hands. 

As a result, in my thinking, there were many shepherds caring for people who should not have been shepherds.  They were not called to be shepherds. They had a different calling.  Thus the body was out of wack. 

This was my number one scriptural concern about the movement that I was a part of , but I could handle it and I stayed with it until it died on its own in the late 80's. 

The Shepherding Movement from my understanding does not really exist today like it once did. Some of the churches are still alive with less emphasis on shepherding.  Some have merged with other Charismatic Churches.  Many have just fallen apart. Some churches have seen the need for shepherds from a more Scriptural viewpoint and have progressed on to apostles and prophets, two of the other Eph. 4:11 gifts of Christ. 

I look back with some fond memories, but at the same time I am glad that I am no longer under the pressure.  There was some subtle pressure to do certain things.  There are still non shepherding churches today where you can find such pressure.  Submission to authority is still something that needs to be looked at in various streams in Charismatic circles.  

Submission and authority are words that followed shepherding.  First came discipleship, then came shepherding, then came submission and authority.  Yet, even our leaders struggled with these things among themselves in the latter half of the 1980's when they split up.  When shepherds split, the flock will soon follow and split as well. 

There are most likely many disillusioned, or even hurt people as a result of this split, but in the long run, our dependence is on the Lord, not on anyone who may be over us in the Lord.     


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