Chapter 41

Shepherding Movement — Ft. Lauderdale Five

Perhaps more devastating specifically to the JPM than The Family (Children of God or COG), Jim Jones, or any number of other strange teachings and groups, was the Shepherding Movement, because it directly affected our church life. 

The Fort Lauderdale Five—Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Derek Prince, Don Basham, and Ern Baxter—were all respected teachers in the early years of the JPM. They formed an umbrella type of ministry that seemed to them to be a necessity, given the chaotic and confused nature of the JPM. These five leaders began to accumulate churches and ministries under their authority and over which they became overseers, “shepherds.” Certain accountability could then be built into the process. It seemed almost a natural kind of progression, a helpful ministry, one borne out of caring, and I think it was just that at first. 

One of their publications coming out of Fort Lauderdale was New Wine, a magazine with articles that really spoke to young charismatics across the country. In addition to the magazine was a steady stream of cassette tapes and books that communicated new and exciting teachings about the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the last days. We in Marin became faithful readers and listeners of this material, and it became very influential to our Christian thinking.

Across the country, Jesus People leaders, with their ministries and churches, “submitted” themselves to one of the five shepherds and would then become “under-shepherds.” I considered doing the same myself for all of the Open Door churches, because the work was often beyond me and left me wondering what to do next. Here was where my characteristic independent streak rescued me from submitting to one of the five. There was something that bothered me and caused  me to rebel against the Shepherding Movement, and my stance was misunderstood by many of those who served with me in leadership. 

The Attractions 

Many struggling pastors and leaders considered it desirable, even a Godsend, to be accountable to Bob Mumford or one of the other shepherds. And for local JPM leaders, here was a chance for no-bodies like we were to be aligned with big-named and respected Christian spearheads. The identification with men like Bob Mumford was a big attraction. I, too, traveled long distances to hear him and be in his presence. It was a bit like idol or celebrity worship, thus it would be from pride that someone in Podunk could say they were submitted to Bob, or Charles, or Ern, or Derek, or Don. 

Additionally, it was thought, though not explicitly stated, that this arrangement of coming under the authority of the Five was what God was doing in the Last Days. The Last Days, a frequent subject of sermons and teachings, was on our minds. For many of the Jesus People who came out of the Catholic Church, it was comforting to think they still had a bishop or an archbishop, if not an actual pope. 

The Detractions 

My view was that local leadership was a more Biblical model of church structure, despite the troubles it involved. Additionally, it did not seem quite right to be part of a very large organization whose leaders demanded that certain policies be carried out, one of which involved money. The tithe was mandatory, and to determine the amount that should be given, they required submission of financial statements for examination. It was the measure of control they wielded to which I primarily objected. It might have seemed proper to many, but not to me. 

The Battle—Go or Stay 

The matter of being in or out was finally made clear in 1975. One of our pastors, a former seminary student who had taken over the remains of several Christian houses, a bookstore, and our church in San Francisco, announced he was now submitted to Bob Mumford, was leaving our fellowship of churches, and was retaining the Christian bookstore. The battle lines were drawn. 

In response, I asked for a meeting with the Church of the Open Door in San Francisco, now under Bob Mumford. One evening, we met at one of the Christian houses in the City. I invited Bob Hymers to come up from Los Angeles and also Bob Burns, who had earlier been the pastor of the church in San Francisco. It so happened that David Hoyt was in Marin on a visit, and the four of us intended to make our case before the departing church. 

The meeting was packed wall to wall. One by one, the four of us made a presentation of what we knew and thought about the Shepherding Movement. I specifically spoke about our labor in developing the Taraval Street bookstore and the other means by which the ministry had been built over the years. Dr. Hymers, Bob Burns, and David Hoyt also made impassioned pleas for the people to reconsider and remain in fellowship with the other churches in our little network. 

There was little response from the listeners, most of whom I knew quite well and a number of whom I had baptized. They sat politely silent and voiced very few questions or remarks. A few days later I received a letter informing me that the San Francisco church had unanimously voted to be under the shepherding of Mumford. One thing was granted to us, the return of the Christian bookstore that Bob Burns and I had worked so hard to establish, using thousands of dollars from the San Rafael church and bookstore to build it. 

At that point I wrote a pamphlet about the movement and pointed out that the “Five” liked to “wine and dine” pastors and others, in order to get them to submit. This little booklet was printed by many groups over the next several years and was particularly used in Great Britain, where the Shepherding Movement was starting to make inroads. 

From Solution to Problem 

The Shepherding Movement was the source of a great deal of grief for me and continues to impact me in subtle ways to this day. It fractured alliances and friendships and seemed to me to have been one reason the JPM ended, in our region at minimum, but to some extent throughout the entire nation. 

The Shepherding Movement eventually imploded somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s. In my view, and from what I heard from some of those who had seen the devastation, the problem looked like the following: A leader of a church full of Jesus People, who has no real experience as a pastor, finds the job to be overwhelming. Out of desperation, this new pastor submits to one of the Fort Lauderdale Five. Changes come down the pipeline, which are not easily implemented. The congregation is divided up with “under-shepherds” appointed over small groupings of them. Now hours and hours of listening to tapes, mostly from Bob Mumford, and more controls and new revelations are placed upon the congregation. The arrangement is not sustainable on several levels, and the whole thing breaks down. 

The mighty Five were falling; pride had set in, and it had become a power game. Surely, the churches and ministries that needed guidance continued to need guidance, and thus more and more control from the top down. What appeared to be a solution became a problem. 

Acknowledging the errors 

One Saturday when I was exiting San Quentin prison after a baseball game, I ran into Bob Mumford at the East Gate. We recognized each other and stood still for a moment, both wondering what to say. It was the first time we had seen one another for a couple of decades; now we were face to face. 

Bob reached his hand through the iron gate and grabbed mine. We spoke for a few minutes, and before I left, he handed me his card and invited me to his office. Within a week I called and made an appointment. We had a wonderful time of reconciliation. Bob was very open about the errors of the Shepherding Movement and did ask for forgiveness, which I was heartened to extend. 

Looking back, I do not blame anyone; what the Five did I likely would have attempted myself had I the opportunity. Concerning the pastor who had submitted himself to Bob and left our small association of churches, I might have done the same if I had been in his shoes. The Five were godly men and perfectly positioned to mentor and guide. They must have been appalled at what they saw happening to the Jesus People, especially when the dark sides became apparent. 

A lesson learned. 

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