Thoughts on Updated Versions of The Shepherding Movement

SOURCE: This comes from a Twitter thread of February 8, 2020.

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THREAD: Thoughts on Updated Versions of “The Shepherding Movement.” This Christianity Today article by @kateshellnutt on upheavals in top-most leadership levels of the Acts 29 network brings to the foreground issues about authoritarianism in churches and ministries. /1

I did an informal content analysis on Christian books published 1990-2010 about spiritual abuse/cults, to look for patterns. The three theological paradigm problems mentioned most often were: authoritarian leaders, Word of Faith, and prosperity gospel. /2

Authoritarianism is nothing new, but this faulty ancient theology and its harmful practices periodically get a makeover. The Shepherding Movement was most comprehensive version on the market during my early decades as a Christian. See S. David Moore’s book, The Shepherding Movement: Controversy and Charismatic Ecclesiology. /3

[Click on image for a full-screen view.]

In their net effect, Shepherding Movement theologies old and new put church leaders in roles of mediator between God and parishioners–a place reserved for Jesus Christ alone. These leaders do not act as “under-shepherds,” but overlords–a practice Jesus specifically prohibited./4

The key faith-and-practice problem for everyday disciples is these theologies promote leaders to an undue status and require unconditional submission to their dictates. In essence, that removes from disciples their privilege and responsibility to discern + decide for themselves. /5

When that responsibility is removed from disciples for weighing the options and making their own wisdom decisions, it shifts control to leaders. Since discernment is a hallmark of maturity, and leaders now hold that role for everyone, it keeps disciples in spiritual infancy. /6

Overlording systems require parishioners to cede control over their decisions to leaders. This corrupts the biblical nature of sanctification, turning wisdom choices that had options into moral mandates dictated by leaders. Is that what disciples want? Is it what they need? /7

No. But the insidious systems of Shepherding entrap many anyway. Why is that? In my opinion, followers of Jesus have a new nature that seeks to please God. Leaders who lust for power co-opt that good and godly desire by using a checklist system that they say will please the Lord. /8

Authoritarianism, hierarchicalism, and legalism are natural lock-step allies–but don’t be lulled into thinking that is the only way overlording leadership can infiltrate churches and ministries. Decentralized systems and hypergrace license theology can platform Christian celeb dictators. /9

What are some other practices and products that indicate an updated Shepherding Movement theology is in play? I’ll list a few I see as prominent, and offer some links to analysis and critiques. What other theologies, celebrities, and ministries would you add to this list? /10

Membership covenants–legal documents that bind parishioners to obey people and processes that may not be pro-liberty in Christ. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that protect institutions (and therefore their leaders) and bind victims to silence. (Both are addressed in this post on legal tools that are abusive tactics.) /11

The “Umbrella of Protection” from Bill Gothard/Institute in Basic Life Principles. A church version shows Christ at the top, pastors underneath Him, then husband, wife, and children at the bottom. The question is whether Christ really is head or not. /12

So — maybe you have tactics and techniques to add. Bottom line for me is that leaders who rely on this toxic theological system harm the flock they were charged by Christ as Chief Shepherd to protect. Check the histories of where this theology reigned, and observe the harm. /13

Or, if you are research-oriented or into graphics, maybe consider creating Venn diagram with the core tenets and tactics of Shepherding Movement theology in the overlap zone. Then plot circles for networks like Acts 29, 9 Marks, New Apostolic Reformation. How much common ground? /14

Crucial concept for counteracting authoritarianism is that moral mandates (biblical commands–obey/disobey) are not the same as wisdom decisions (optional choices–wise/foolish). Shepherding changes options for discernment into commands for obedience. /15

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Updated Versions of The Shepherding Movement

  1. Pingback: Twitter Thread Transfers – An Introduction and Index | futuristguy

  2. Pingback: NARCISSISM NOTES #4–Basics About Narcissism, Chapter 2: “Understanding Narcissism.” | futuristguy

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