To give a little history as to how some of the heavy-handed authoritative traits came into play among pastors you have to trace back to the charismatic movement. Out of the charismatic movement there was the evolving of a concept called “shepherding.”
The Latter Rain movement actually had its earliest beginnings in the late 1800’s and was born out of the Methodist and Holiness camp-meeting environment. It would continue to generate momentum and experience growth during the post-World War II years and be much encouraged by the Charismatic movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Marked by extreme excess and abuse of the gifts of the Spirit, this activity led to the production of “prophets” who had little use for personal holiness and consecration. After a while it appeared that they only had a desire for their own personal kingdoms to grow.
As time went by these intruders became susceptible to moral and ethical failures. The subsequent fallout from their failures caused many who followed them to be led astray by their repulsive actions. In an effort to recover from these shenanigans a group of leaders came together and formed what was called “The Shepherding Movement.” Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham were the primary founders of this loosely formed organization who determined that its sole purpose would be to form a system of personal accountability. Later a fifth leader, Ern Baxter would be added to make up what was referred to as the “Fort Lauderdale Five.”
They decided that their work would be modeled after the pattern of Paul mentoring his sons in the faith, Timothy and Titus. They would work toward building a system of accountability that would form deeper relationships among pastors, ministry development at all levels, and ethical standards with emphasis on moral and financial dealings.
The whole system worked with the idea that anyone who came into the church needed a“shepherd.” After witnessing the moral collapse of several prominent men, this seemed to be a good and necessary thing. Who could object to the need for spiritual leadership and accountability? It became very heavy on authority and control in a manner that even simple decisions of daily living had to be monitored and approved by the pastor/leader of local congregations.
As an example, the leader would have to make the final decisions on car purchases, home mortgages, and job opportunities. In some cases, the “shepherd” would designate who young men and young women would marry to the degree that the marriages were arranged and carried through. The “shepherd” would have almost complete control over the personal finances. The parishioners would bring their paychecks to him and he would cash them and take his cut which was oftentimes more than 10% and give them the remainder. So as you can see the role of the pastor changed into an extreme form of authoritative control.
Some of the characteristics of the Shepherding system are as follow:
• Discipleship only takes place when one is committed to the group, cell ministry, and its leader.
• The only hope of salvation is extreme devotion to the shepherd of the group. This indicates the leader has more power to save than does Jesus Christ.
• Jesus Christ does not work directly in the life of the follower but rather He works through a system of delegated authority that flows down from the shepherd. You are to submit to this man as you would submit to God.
• Our relationship with God is not primary but rather it works in tandem with the power of a shepherd who has total control over the present, material world we live in.
• Our obedience to the shepherd and his direction is to be unquestioning even if it is discovered to be faulty. The idea being that God is more concerned with submission to authority than the nature of the orders being given.
• The shepherd is an extension of God and we are to allow him to have the final say in every decision that we make in life.
• Our submission to the shepherd causes us to come under the “umbrella” of his authority so that our response to his control opens to us a “door” of God’s approval.
While all of these components may have a portion of truth in them, they have the ability to seriously hinder the sanctifying work of the Word and the Spirit in the believer’s life. Over the course of time, a leader who operates in this manner is throwing wide open the door for corruption to gain entrance into his soul (If you haven’t read the Perils of Power by Richard Exely, it is a very good book on this matter although somewhat dated). Very few leaders have the consecration of a Cross-driven life to maintain this kind of leadership for a long period of time. In fact one writer noted that there is a dark side to every leader that has to be constantly brought into the presence of the Lord for careful scrutiny by the Spirit. The dark side of a personality has been affected with examples, emotions, expectations, and experiences that come during a lifetime of service for the Lord. Some of them are spot on and others are faulty.
The entrance of the “shepherding” leadership model entered our ranks through two other influences. While many men were vigilant against the excesses of the Latter Rain and would not be taken in by the ideas and concepts of the Shepherding Movement, our guard was dropped a bit with the influence of the works of Watchman Nee.
The books The Spiritual Man and Spiritual Authority had an appeal because of their seemingly very simple directives that led to a “deeper spiritual life.” Because of the rampant promotion of revival, renewal and outpouring, the door was opened for the influence of these writings. The Spiritual Man had a greater appeal for a deepening spiritual life that promoted prayer and a sensitivity to the work of the Holy Ghost among both leadership and laity. While there are some solid Scriptural principles in The Spiritual Man, Nee had a tendency to lean toward a heavy sense of mysticism and subjectivity when it came to understanding Scripture.
The second book, Spiritual Authority, made inroads to those who were in positions of spiritual leadership. It promoted the concept of unquestioning obedience even if the advice was suspect or even faulty in doctrine. In some cases the emphasis of the book even insinuated that if the pastor was absolutely wrong in his leadership, the people were still supposed to follow him. Nee believed that God would not hold the people responsible but rather the leader would be held responsible.
I am certain that deep within the heart of every authentic godly pastor there is a great desire for holiness, harvest, prayer, and the Word. Sometimes the passion for these elements of the Kingdom of God overcomes the ability to honestly discern what may be bad for the apostolic church. If zeal is not tempered and directed by knowledge it can lead to the downfall of many. Through the influence of personal consecration in prayer, devotion to Scripture, and well-placed elders a minister can find a sense of spiritual safety. But that sense of safety is very carefully preserved by having a sense of discernment. At some point, discernment always forces us to make choices that will separate fellowship from those who abuse their authority.
The second influence besides Watchman Nee also approached very subtly. It was through a role that Bill Gothard would play. Through his books and his seminars, Gothard managed to influence those who were willing to give credence to his material. Bill Gothard appealed to the apostolic movement because of his very structured and conservative views on lifestyle. In fact, his teachings promote personal purity, morality, and a devotion to the Bible as the greatest guide to life. Those who follow Gothard manage to live by his checklists and formulas and through behavior modification seem to promote righteousness.
Throughout his writings concerning life principles that are set about in series of “conflicts,” there are continuous inferences concerning absolute submission to authority and the problems of rebellion. While some of his principles in both of these matters carry some weight, they can get out of control very quickly. Gothard popularized the idea concerning the “umbrella” of authority. He believed that a pastor had ultimate authority that was never to be questioned. Those who were under his “care” would find protection if they submitted blindly to his teachings. To the spiritually discerning, it should be very easy to understand how dangerous that this position of ministry can be to even the man whose motives have been completely purified by God through sanctification and suffering. A pastor/elder who has no one to whom he answers to will at some point make a terrible decision that will affect many of those that he is trying to lead.
I will never forget a friend of mine, who had a busy itinerant ministry all across the United States in the mid-90’s, recommending a book to me. He had managed to gain an entrance to preach in some of the more prominent leaders churches’ during that period of time. In one place, he was told that if he wanted to replicate what he saw in that church as far as growth, numbers, leadership, and direction that he should read a book called Atlas Shrugged. When he called me late one night and recommended that book to me, I had never heard of it. But all of us young guys wanted “success” and so over the next few days (this was before the internet and all the gadgets we have now) I scoured various bookstores and finally found a copy at the library. The book was written by Ayn Rand who I soon discovered was a proponent of the survival of the fittest mentality with the concept of crushing any opposition that attempted to oppose the progress that was being promoted. It was shocking to me to discover that this humanistic and secular kind of fodder was being used to build a spiritual kingdom.
Lastly, I remember another time that a pastor who was a bit older than I was told me that if I would follow the principles by Watchman Nee in Spiritual Authority that I would build a “big” church. I soon determined I wasn’t so much interested in building a “big” church as I was a godly, faithful, and righteous church and to do that I would have to pray and teach/preach the Bible and by being a sower, God would let the growth take care of itself.