ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Don E. Vinzant has served as the pulpit minister of the Grandbury Church
of Christ in Grandbury, Texas, since 1982. Before that, he preached for
the Northside Church of Christ in Austin, Texas, 1976-1982, and for the
Village (now Quail Springs) Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, 1973-1976.
He was on the original Sao Paulo Mission Team, 1961-1973. He served as the
dean of the Sao Paulo Institute of Biblical Studies, 1970-1973.
He contributed chapters to Steps to the Mission Field, a mission
textbook. He translated works of Rubem Alves, Brazil's leading Protestant
theologian/philosopher. In addition, he has published numerous articles
in various religious journals.
Don received his B.A. degree from Abilene Christian University in 1958,
his M.A. degree from Abilene Christian University in 1962, and his D. Min.
degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1984
ROOTS OF THE MODERN DISCIPLING
Disciples need to be called Christians again. It happened first in Antioch
(Acts 11:26) and it needs to happen today. The words "disciple, "
"discipling," and "discipleship" have been so abused
that they no longer communicate what they used to. The terms may some day
be rescued and used again in the biblical sense. For now, however, other
terms used in the New Testament for Christian growth will serve much better.
Where did the modern authoritarian discipling system come from? Who dreamed
up this pyramid scheme of a young evangelist controlling the lives of converts
so that they grind out huge work quotas and big number baptisms? What are
the roots of this system?
This particular form of authoritarianism largely ran its course in other
religious groups and has been abandoned. There is a large body of literature
full of warnings and criticism of this authoritarianism as it has been tried
by others. The fact that it has been tried by others is rather embarrassing
to those who thought that someone in the churches of Christ invented this
approach. The reality, however, is that churches of Christ are among the
last ones to be damaged by the discipling movement.
A Search for Roots
As the following diagram suggests, there are five important roots of the
modern discipling movement as it now appears among churches of Christ. Each
of these roots will be considered in this chapter. Chapter Nine presents
criticism of the discipling movement as it appeared in other religious groups.
Statements from many religious leaders explain why they rejected the discipling
The first root of the modern discipling movement may be found in the Roman
Catholic Spiritual Directors of the fifth century and later throughout Roman
Catholic history. The Spiritual Director system operated in monasteries
and convents for many centuries. Those being trained were told to reveal
their most secret thoughts to their Spiritual Director and submit themselves
totally to their Spiritual director's decisions as to what is good and evil.
This is essentially what is now called a "discipling relationship."
The idea of confessing sins to a discipler obviously comes from the Catholic
tradition and their doctrine of auricular confession. Because of abuses,
the Roman Catholic Church built in a safeguard in their Spiritual Director
arrangement. They found that personal domination and manipulation can easily
run out of control when one person is both the confessor and the Spiritual
Director. They began to require, therefore, that the confessor and the Spiritual
Director could not be the same person. In this regard, the modern discipling
movement is about where the Roman Catholic Church was almost 1,500 years
ago. They have not yet learned the danger of having one
person serve both as the confessor and the Spiritual Director for another
In the Roman Catholic Church today there is much less emphasis on each person
having a Spiritual Director and more emphasis on each person having spiritual
direction. Based on his work with the Association for Psychological Type,
Flavil Yeakley reports that the Roman Catholic Church was the first religious
group to make widespread use of Jungian typology, the Myers-Briggs Type
Indicator, and other approaches to personality differences as a way of counseling
individuals about the spiritual direction their lives should take. They
now clearly recognize the value of diversity and do not try to make members
over after the image of the group norm.
A second root of the discipling movement is to be found in Pietism/Wesleyanism.
Early in the Reformation, such men as Spener, Franke, and Zinzendorf wanted
to breathe new life into ice cold state churches. John Wesley was impressed
by Spener's use of small groups (collegia pietatis) for this purpose.
This influenced him to establish Methodist societies within Anglican churches.
These small groups soon came to see themselves as a church within a church.
They believed that they had achieved a higher level of spirituality than
that experienced by other Christians.
Eventually they broke with the Anglican fellowship and became a separate
This is similar to what happened when Crossroads-trained campus ministers
went into churches of Christ throughout the nation and started using the
discipling approach. The "Soul Talk" group became a church within
a church. Those involved in using this approach saw themselves as being
superior to the "lukewarm" or "dead" members who were
not involved in the discipling ministry. They thought of themselves as being
the "faithful remnant." They sought perfection through rule-keeping
and thus demonstrated pietistic tendencies toward legalism. Such a spirit
leads to divisiveness. It produces end-runs around good elders. It tempts
toward elitism and a kind of self-importance. Study Pietism and you will
find an important source of much that characterizes the discipling movement.2
A third root of the authoritarian approach to discipling can be found in
the writings and influence of Watchman Nee. He is the favorite theologian
of many modern charismatics. Nee is a somewhat heroic figure because he
suffered a long imprisonment by the Chinese Communists. In his early career,
he went through a brief association with the Plymouth Brethren and came
under the influence of Pietism. In later years, he advocated very forcefully
a strong role for those with "delegated authority." As Russell
T. Hitt reported,
Watchman Nee, a prolific writer and leader of the indigenous Chinese
church movement known as the Little Flock, makes a strong plea for the need
for Christians to obey delegated authority in the church. "The church
is a place not only for fellowship of brothers and sisters," says Nee,
"but also for the manifestation of authority. "3
Nee's writings on spiritual authority and on the normal church life reflect
the kind of Asian authoritarianism that prevailed before World War II. According
to Bob Buess, Nee required blanket obedience regardless of morals or righteousness
simply for the sake of obedience .4
Nee taught that each person must have a "covering" in the Lord.
He used that term for a person who has delegated authority, who must be
obeyed unconditionally, and who must be imitated. He also taught that Christians
must confess their sins to the person who is their "covering."
Jerram Barrs explained that the doctrine of "covering" means that
ideas, decisions, and lifestyle must be covered by someone higher in the
chain of command; thus the "covering" gives instructions on many
secular matters and not just on matters of faith.5 This, of course, is what
the discipling churches such as the Boston Church of Christ call a "discipler."
Nee had another doctrine that has been picked up by the Boston Church of
Christ. He taught that there should be only one congregation in each city.
Juan Carlos Ortiz later advocated the same thing. When Nee's "Little
Flock" moved into a city, they proclaimed themselves as the only church
(and the only local congregation) approved by God in that city. Study the
writings of Watchman Nee and you will find that the discipling movement
did not begin with the Boston Church of Christ or the Crossroads Church
of Christ. It did not begin with Kip McKean or Chuck Lucas. It did not begin
in churches of Christ at all.
A fourth root of the discipling movement is found in certain parachurch
organizations. The term "parachurch" is applied to evangelical
organizations with no church affiliation or sponsorship. Two parachurch
organizations helped shape the discipling movement.
In 1934, Dawson Trotman founded a parachurch organization known as the "Navigators."
Trotman, a strong leader and a true evangelistic entrepreneur, is remembered
as having a somewhat authoritarian and dogmatic style. He ran a tight ship
and was often confrontational and abrupt with those who worked under him.
He would assign workers to any geographic location as it occurred to him.
He often had Navigator "houses" where a number of Navigators would
share living quarters--with no hint, however, of any moral improprieties.
The kind of one-on-one follow-up after conversion that Trotman taught was
very similar to the discipling approach practiced by the Boston Church of
Christ and other discipling churches.6
Since Trotman's death, his successor, Lorne Sanny, has adopted a modified
leadership style. A journal published by the Navigators recently warned
against the abuse of discipling relationships. The article warned about
authoritarian intervention into the private life of the one being discipled.
The article suggested that such a practice can foster over-dependency in
the recipient and furnish unhealthy ego-gratification for the discipler.7
Another parachurch organization that influenced the discipling movement
is a group known as "Campus Crusade." Bill and Vonette Bright
are its leaders. They are as cheerful and sunny as their last name suggests.
Bill has been in campus work for almost four decades. Campus Crusade has
led the way among evangelical fundamentalists in several areas.
Historian Richard Quebedeaux observed that Bright is an authoritarian leader
with a chain of command placing himself clearly at the top as leader of
Campus Crusade. Further, he says, there is a lack of any effective self-criticism
within the organization. Concerning Bright, Quebedaux adds,". . . it
has been very difficult for him to divorce himself from the pietistic tendencies
toward legalism and super-spirituality, despite his words to the contrary.
"8 It should be noted that this criticism comes in a work about Bright
and Campus Crusade that is highly favorable. Similar criticisms have been
made concerning the leaders of the discipling movement among churches of
THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT
The last root of the discipling movement as it has appeared among churches
of Christ is seen in the charismatic movement. This movement developed outside
traditional denominational structures. Similar doctrines had been taught
earlier in Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God, the
Church of God, and the Pentecostal Holiness Church. In the late 1950s, however,
a Neo-Pentecostal charismatic movement began. There was no structure to
this growing movement. To this loose and amorphous group came five men offering
leadership with a capital "L." They were known as the Shepherds
of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These five leaders were Don Basham, Ern Baxter,
Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, and Charles Simpson. These men formed the "Holy
Spirit Teaching Mission," later renamed "Christian Growth Ministries."
They began producing tapes, books, and a monthly magazine called New
A 1975 article in Christianity Today discussed problems that followed
in the wake of the new charismatic shepherding movement.
A dispute is taking place over issues of authority and discipleship.
Powerful figures in the movement have built up a chain of command linking
many local groups around the country to themselves. . . . Discipleship involves
submission to the shepherd as he points the way-and points out flaws in
behavior. . . . Some travel to Ft. Lauderdale to receive training directly
from Mumford and his colleagues. . . . Those being
discipled must consult with their shepherd about many personal decisions.
In some cases, shepherds forbid marriages, reject school and vocational
plans, demand confession of secret sins. . . .9
The five Shepherds of Fort Lauderdale taught and practiced a style of leadership
that they called "shepherding. " They used this term to describe
attempts to control the private lives of their members. In 1972, shortly
after they added the authoritarian tone to their teaching, Juan Carlos Ortiz
came from Argentina to Fort Lauderdale. His presentations in Fort Lauderdale
had wide reception--including some from the churches of Christ. Ortiz taught
the same thing as Watchman Nee about one congregation to a city. He also
taught authoritarianism to the point that he said disciples should be told
which individuals they should take home with them for meals.10
Russell Hitt's article on the top religious news events of 1975 went beyond
the discussion of Watchman Nee that was mentioned earlier. That article
also discussed problems with the shepherding movement.
The charismatic movement's oneness in the Spirit has been badly strained
by a disagreement on the nature and methods of discipleship training between
Bob Mumford of Christian Growth Ministries, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and
a variety of charismatic VIPs....Mumford is charged with constructing an
overly rigid, denomination-like hierarchy of "shepherds" whose
spiritual authority over their charges is called a threat to . . . the interdenominational
character of the charismatic movement itself. Mumford denies wanting to
form a new denomination, but his opponents so far haven't had ears to hear.11
Bob Buess attributes many of these problems in the shepherding movement
to the influence of Juan Carlos Ortiz. In his book Discipleship Pro and
Con, he wrote,
Juan Carlos Ortiz came from Argentina to America and is now traveling in
various parts of the world spreading his version of discipleship. . . .
The shepherd is treated like an earthly father would be treated. . . . In
neo-discipleship groups there is absolute submission to the shepherd. Everyone
is submitted in a regimented (army type) authoritarian chain of command.
Someone is between you and God at all times.12
In an earlier work, Buess had warned, "Some pastors and elders set
themselves up as little 'Hitlers' over the flock. . . . Some even go so
far as to demand submission to themselves rather than to the Lord. . . .
You cannot make a decision for yourself."13
Pat Robertson wrote an Open Letter to Bob Mumford on June 27, 1975, in which
he complained about abuses associated with the discipleship-shepherd-submission
teaching. He mentioned indivIduals who submit to shepherds instead of becoming
responsible church members. He mentioned those who have little to say about
Jesus but much about their relationship and submission to their shepherd.
He told of a secretary at the Christian Broadcasting Network who had been
turned into an emotional cripple by this movement. He said that she scarcely
could type a letter without a long distance call to her shepherd. Robertson
went on to tell about wealthy Christians being forced by their shepherds
to reveal confidential details of their financial and family life. He told
of one individual who was warned that he would miss out on the Kingdom of
God and be ruined spiritually, physically, and financially if he did not
submit to the shepherd's authority. Finally,
Robertson quoted a key figure in the shepherding movement who said that
if God spoke to him and he knew that it was God speaking, but his shepherd
told him to do the opposite, he would obey his shepherd.14
The Shepherds of Fort Lauderdale met in Oklahoma City in March of 1976 and
issued the following "Statement of Concern and Regret."
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. We realize
that our teachings, though we believe them to be essentially sound, have
in various places been misapplied or handled in an immature way; and that
this has caused problems for our brothers in the ministry. We deeply regret
this and ask for forgiveness. Insofar as it lies in our power, we will do
our best to correct these situations and to restore any broken relationships.
(The statement is signed by Don Basham, Em Baxter, Bob Mumford, John Poole,
Derek Prince, and Charles Simpson.)15
Over the years since this statement, the men who were the Fort Lauderdale
Shepherds have attempted to distance themselves from the negative image
the shepherding movement acquired. Charles Simpson might be the one who
is still most involved with covenanted leadership relationships. Even Simpson,
however, has made strong efforts to clarify his former situation as a leader
and advocate of shepherding. In a recent book he said,
When the biblical qualifications for making disciples are ignored, bad things
can happen. The Jim Joneses of history, the introverted cultic groups, the
groups that produce serious perversions of the faith are not the re-
sults of true spiritual authority but of perverted authority. The
qualifications for making disciples and the proper kind of accountability
in the ongoing leadership of God's people are necessary to healthy discipleship.
In 1985, I published a public apology through New Wine magazine because
I felt that my teachings had been misused on some occasions. I felt I had
not sufficiently guarded the truths of authority and that abuses had occurred.
Disciple-making without accountability and a corporate mentality should
be considered intolerable in the church for biblical and historical reasons
Then Simpson added this important warning,
The discipling relationship is not static. Hopefully, both the leader
and the disciple are growing and maturing. Any possessiveness by the leader
stifles this process. As I have said, it is easy for the leader to become
possessive of a disciple. He may even use the phrase, "My disciple."
The terminology may have a biblical basis, but it is loaded with poor connotations.
A disciple belongs to the Lord. A leader only serves as a steward to help
a disciple grow and mature in the Lord. 17
The discipleship/shepherding movement has surfaced in other forms,
as well. In a Christianity Today article, Edward E. Plowman said,
One of the most colorful and effective Jesus-movement groups was the
Christian World Liberation Front (CWLF). It was founded by Jack Sparks and
a handful of fellow Campus Crusade for Christ staffers as a Crusade front
in Berkeley in 1969. . . . Two months ago CWLF suffered a serious rupture.
. . . Sparks was also allied with other former Campus Crusade staffers who
head shepherd-disciple type ministries with a heavy emphasis on authority.
A clash occurred among Sparks' house group in August on questions of authority....
The former Crusade staffers with whom
Sparks is now "mutually committed" in an "apostolic band"
. . . see themselves as apostles or missionaries called to set up and oversee
small church groups patterned after biblical discipleship. ... A chain of
command already exists between the groups and the apostle-missionaries.
This has already led to the same kind of criticism as that leveled against
Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, and others in the charismatic-oriented Christian
Growth Ministries of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.18
Strangely, the heirs of the parachurch organization known as "Campus
Crusade" and the charismatic shepherding movement out of Fort Lauderdale,
Florida, are thus seen to be using the same system of authoritarianism and,
consequently, receiving the same kind of criticisms. The CWLF has since
gone through other name changes and has finally affiliated with the Syrian
The charismatic shepherding movement moved into Roman Catholic circles just
about the time of Vatican II, when Pope John XXIII was attempting to bring
Roman Catholicism more into line with modern times. One of the first places
where this happened was at Duquesne University in January of 1967. Some
of the Catholic charismatics from Duquesne met Don Basham and Derek Prince
during the peak of the shepherding enthusiasm. Roman Catholics soon began
applying shepherding principles at some "intentional communities,"
"Christian covenant communities"--a kind of Christian commune.
Those involved in this Roman Catholic application of shepherding principles
published a magazine called New Covenant. This magazine contained
articles from the Fort Lauderdale Shepherds' magazine, New Wine.
By 1978, five ecumenical communities had entered into covenant relationship
with each other as an outgrowth of this Roman Catholic-charismatic-shep
herding movement. These five communities were "Work of Christ"
in East Lansing, Michigan; "Word of God" in Ann Arbor, Michigan;
"People of Praise," in South Bend, Indiana; "Servants of
the Light" in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and "Lamb of God" in
Timonium, Maryland. James Hitchcock studied the Roman Catholic charismatic
movement and found the same kind of authoritarian abuses discussed earlier
in the shepherding movement--abuses very similar to those now found in the
Boston Church of Christ. 19 Bruce Barron also studied the excesses of these
covenant communities. What he described sounds similar to the excesses reported
by those who have escaped from the Boston network of churches.20
Margaret Paloma wrote about the situation among Roman Catholic charismatics
in her book ,The Charismatic Movement. She explained,
Discipleship refers to the practice of making oneself personally responsible
and accountable to another believer for all "life decisions."
Such decisions may range from figuring a daily time schedule or financial
budget to appropriate use of possessions. . . . The practice of discipleship
has been advanced by a number of charismatic leaders (including Mumford
1973; Ortiz 1975). It is practiced in varying degrees in some churches as
well as in many intentional communities. . . . Supporters and critics of
the practice can be found among Protestant as well as Catholic charismatics.21
Every characteristic of discipling churches that sets them apart from other
churches of Christ can be traced, directly or indirectly, to one or more
of these influences discussed above. Others who have tried this approach,
however, have rejected it. In a recent conversation with a leader of Maranatha
Ministries, I was told, "What you are experiencing in the Church
of Christ is what the charismatic movement vomited up." Maranatha
Ministries is a campus movement built along the lines of the
shepherding movement. They are militant in evangelism, charismatic, and
authoritarian in the personal lives of their members. Their growth may exceed
that of any similar movement--even that of the Crossroads/Boston churches.
It may be more than an interesting coincidence that the headquarters of
Maranatha Ministries is in Gainesville, Florida, not far from the Crossroads
Church of Christ where the discipling movement was first introduced to churches
Influence on Churches of Christ
It would go beyond the purpose of this chapter and the information of this
writer to trace out the full history of how the various elements of the
discipling approach came into the Crossroads/Boston movement. That history
can best be recorded when someone from the inner circle of founders wants
to tell the story. The general outline of this story, however, is already
obvious. It started with a desire to see the gospel make a greater impact
on the university campus. In the late 196Os, a campus ministry organization
among churches of Christ--a group known as "Campus Evangelism"--tried
to learn and adapt some of the techniques Bill Bright developed in Campus
Crusade. Jim Bevis, one of the Campus Evangelism leaders, went to California
to train with Campus Crusade. Chuck Lucas was actively involved in the activities
of Campus Evangelism at that time. It appears that some of the techniques
he later introduced at Crossroads came directly from Campus Crusade. The
chain, therefore, went from Campus
Crusade to Campus Evangelism to Crossroads to Boston.
In the late 196Os and early 197Os, it seemed that what was working in campus
ministry was an authoritarian approach. The scene on secular university
campuses was one of anarchy, rebellion, lawlessness, and rejection of all
authority. What seemed to be the answer was to face the times with frontal
attacks using crusades, blitzes, and militancy. This kind of environment
led Campus Evangelism and its successor, Campus Advance, to adopt an aggressive
"total commitment" stance. Some who were quite close to the Gainesville
work could find no real fault with the approach Chuck Lucas used until well
into the 1970s. At that time, the Crossroads congregation was making many
converts on the University of Florida campus and looking for better ways
to keep these new converts faithful. It was at that very time that the Fort
Lauderdale Shepherds, Juan Carlos Ortiz, and Watchman Nee seem to have influenced
the Crossroads work. It was at that same time that some connected earlier
with Campus Crusade (Jack Sparks, Peter Gillquist, Jon Braun, etc.) were
breaking away into their own brand of authoritarian shepherding. Some or
all of these influences were probably having an impact on the Gainesville
work. As time passes, however, someone formerly within this movement may
tell all of this story with far more detail than can now be provided by
an outside observer.
What about discipleship? If that term is used to mean being a disciple of
the Lord Jesus Christ and recognizing that He has all authority, then the
term is proper as one of many terms that describe the Christian life. If
that term is used to mean the kind of authoritarian discipleship/shepherding
movement that ran its course in various denominations in the 196Os and 197Os,
then Carl Wilson's advice is appropriate. In 1976, this Pentecostal author
warned that certain leaders claim
authority that puts them between Christ and the people. He said that these
leaders take control of the personal lives of their members by giving all
sorts of orders with no biblical support at all. He concluded, "If
the people of the churches concede to the clergy the right to make decisions
of life and doctrine apart from the clear teaching of scripture, it will
inflict the deathblow to disciple building in the churches, even as it did
in the early church."21
Churches of Christ need to learn from what other religious groups have already
experienced. They tried the discipling approach and rejected it. Churches
of Christ should also reject this approach. It's time we called disciples
NOTES FOR CHAPTER 8
1. Charles Hugo Doyle, Guidance in Spiritual Direction (Westminster,
Mary. land: The Newman Press, 1959).
2. Dale W. Brown, Understanding Pietism (Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978). See also: F. Ernest Stoeffler, "Pietism,"
in The Encyclopedia of Religion Volume II (New York: MacMillian,
1987), pp. 32326.
3. Russell T. Hitt, "Top Religious Stories Mark '75 as Pivotal Year,"
Eternity, January, 1976, p. 9.
4. Bob Buess, The Pendulum Swings (Van, Texas; Sweeter Than Honey,
1974) pp. 11-13.
5. Jerrarm Barrs, Shepherds and Sheep: A Biblical View of Leading and
Following (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1983), pp. 39
6. Betty Lee Skinner, Daws (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress,
1986). See also: Robert D. Foster, The Navigator (Colorado Springs,
Colorado: Navpress, 1983).
7. Gordon MacDonald, "Disciple Abuse," Discipleship Journal,
November 1, 1985, pp. 24-28.
8. Richard Quebedeaux, I Found It (New York: Harper & Row, 1977),
p. 176 ff.
9. Edward E. Plowman, "The Deepening Rift in the Charismatic Movement,"
Christianity Today, October 10, 1975, pp. 65-66.
10. Juan Carlos Ortiz with Jamie Buckingman, Call to Discipleship
(Plainfield, New Jersey: Logos International, 1975).
11. Hitt, pp. 8-9.
12. Bob Buess, Discipleship Pro and Con (Van, Texas: Sweeter Than
Honey, 1974), pp. 18, 48, 143.
13. Buess, 1974, pp. 11-13.
14. Killian McDowell, editor, Presence, Power, and Praise: Documents
on the Charismatic Renewal, Volume 2 (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical
Press, 1980), pp. 123-126.
15. ibid. For personal reasons, John Poole removed himself from the
Ft. Lauderdale Shepherds, leaving their number at five. Poole generally
is not even cited with the others.
16. Charles Simpson, The Challenge to Care (Ann Arbor, Michigan:
Servant Publications, me Books, 1986), p. 101.
17. Simpson, p. 115.
18. Edward E. Plowman, "whatever Happened to the Jesus Movement?' Christianity
Today, October 24, 1975, pp. 46-48.
19. James Hitchcock, The New Enthusiasts and What They Are Doing to the
Catholic Church (Chicago, lllinois: Thomas Moore Press, 1982), p. 127.
20. Bruce Barron, If You Really Want to Follow Jesus (Kentmore, New
York: Partners Press, 1981).
21. Margaret Paloma, The Charismatic Movement (Boston: Twanyne Publishers,
1982), pp. 235-236.
22. Carl Wilson, With Christ in the School of Disciple Building (Grand
Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976), pp. 23-24.
END OF CHAPTER 8