The Shepherding Movement

Some fifty years ago the Shepherding Movement was started as a network of congregations.  It was led by five very significant leaders in the charismatic movement.  Charles Simpson, Bob  Mumford, Ern Baxter, Don Basham,  and Derek Prince.  These five were very mature and experienced leaders.  Derek Prince was the first to leave this movement.  I was able to be with him when he was still a part of it (1981) and after he left (1982).  When I came to our congregation in the Washington, D.C. area I hosted a discussion time in my basement recreation room (February 1978).  I shared my goal to strengthen the shepherding of the flock.  One woman cried out, “You mean we are becoming part of the shepherding movement?”  With total innocence, I then said I wanted to foster discipleship.  I did not know that this would have the same reference for this woman and that the Shepherding Movement was also known as the Discipleship Movement.  I said that I was a Presbyterian (I still was in the denomination) and a Messianic Jew, and I had no idea of this movement and what she was talking about.

Later, I looked into the movement and found some good things.  However, there were also very disturbing things.  Leaders usurped the leading of the Holy Spirit and required that all submit their personal decisions to leaders for acceptance or veto.  All but one of the top five, known as the Ft. Lauderdale Five, repented.  The one who did not repent professed that he never taught this error.

However, the Shepherding Movement was addressing a real problem.  They just went overboard in the way they addressed it.  They were reacting to anarchy and damage in the charismatic moment of the 60s and 70s.  Prophecy given to people on who to marry and terribly bad decisions ruining lives with the claim that the “Spirit told me” were frequent. There is mature and immature hearing the Spirit. The congregation Patty, my future wife, and I attended in our Wheaton College Days went into heresy and Gnosticism.  We left in May 1969 never to return.  This congregation was not accountable beyond itself for an appeal with regard to moral and doctrinal error.  It is interesting that Derek Prince and Ern Baxter spoke in this congregation before it went off.  I also know that Ern Baxter was appealed to when he was ministering in a Chicago pastorate about the issues but had no power to do anything about it.  I often wonder if the Shepherding leaders had this church in mind when they formed their association.   

The question that arose was how to bring order and balance to the chaos and lack of accountability in the charismatic movement outside the denominations.  My reaction to the error and chaos was to become a rationalist and to reject the charismatic gifts, prophecy, and the supernatural.  Then when I returned to embrace the Spirit in a charismatic way, I began to work out my views on these issues more explicitly.  They were largely solidified when I wrote my discipleship doctrine guide, Growing to Maturity.  This was developed more in my book Relational Leadership and in the book Dynamics of Spiritual Deception.  Here are the principles that have guided me for the last 41 years.

1.  Congregations are in better order when they are linked in associations, denominations, and apostolic streams.  Those congregations and leaders in these associations pledge to accountability on basic doctrinal and moral foundations.  The overseeing board or team of such associations is a court of appeal for error and such leaders can also investigate reports of abuse, sin and error.

2.  It is important to put guard rails on the prophetic.  Mature leaders confirm congregational prophecy.   Also, they assure that prophecy is always in accord with the Word of God.

3.  Individuals and families are indeed free to follow the leading of the Spirit for their life’s directions.  They are ultimately accountable to God for such decisions.  Every private in God’s army has access to the top general, Yeshua.

4. However, in addition to #3 above, it is important to teach people to seek confirmation from friends and wise leaders before making life directional decisions.  Going through this process of seeking confirmation and agreement can prevent rash decisions and directions that do not end well.  When there is confirmation there is the strength and power of faith agreement. “Plans fail for lack of council but with many advisors they succeed.” (Prov. 15:22)  We have seen that this mitigates against bad decisions.

5. In addition to #4, when there is not confirmation, there should be seeking the Lord and praying again.  If the person cannot shake the conviction of God’s leading them in the non- confirmed direction, it is very important that friends and leaders give affirmation and support for the person to follow their conscience.  In a family it is ideal that the husband and wife agree, if at all possible.  This is also a check.

IF the leaders of the Shepherding Movement had been balanced in their principles, then it would have been great gain for all.  The Shepherding Movement’s demise set the Body back and anarchy ensued again.  However, we see more and more getting this right.