Shepherding Movement

Discipleship Movement - Christian Growth Ministries

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The Discipleship Movement is a term applied to the teachings and persons coming from the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Shepherd's Church. Sometimes referred to as the Shepherding Movement, it represents a specialized group within the charismatic movement that arose in the early 1960s. It also has older roots in the Pentecostal movement that began in the United States in 1900. The principal teachers in the movement have been the leaders of the Fort Lauderdale congregation, including Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Derek Prince, Don Basham, Ern Baxter, and John Poole. The official name of their organization is Christian Growth Ministries, and its major publication is New Wine magazine.

The concept of discipling is related to the goal of encouraging and measuring growth in Christian discipleship through the behavioral change that would result from a consistent application of biblical principles to personal and corporate Christian living. According to Mumford, the shepherd is to nurture discipleship through a three - part program, including baptism by water, discipleship by a man "commissioned by God," and acknowledging the abiding presence of Christ with the shepherd (or disciple marker) and his disciples. Mumford advocates avoiding spiritual independence that would lead to religious anarchy in favor of embracing the yoke of Christ as a symbol of discipleship.

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In a typical Discipleship community, household fellowships gather in closed weekly meetings. Often the leading shepherds in a community have been directly trained by one of the above - named leaders.The members are often obliged to submit to covenantal norms, such as tithing, obedience to the authority of the community (which also may have authority in the area of male - female relationships), and the requirement of job - holding for all but married women.

The leaders of Discipleship Movement have extensively expressed their views on their roles. They are frequently concerned with the integrity of the shepherds, especially their motivation to serve God uncompromisingly, and with the need to develop disciplined Christian leadership for shepherding communities that can withstand moral oppression and economic havoc from the contemporary society. Not seeking to found a new denomination, they emphasize the realization of the kingdom of God that transcends existing ecclesiastical structures. They often picture their role in military terms, as captains of the Lord's army. They expect opposition from the contemporary society and often pray for divine strength to endure in the midst of an alien world.

A chief biblical text for the movement is the reference to pastor - teachers in Eph. 4:11, which designates for them a man "called and equipped to give oversight and care to God's people." Discipling is seen as a comprehensive word that denotes a God - given authority. Each shepherd understands that he is to give account of his stewardship to the chief shepherd. Just as Jesus regarded few of the professional religious leaders of his day as true shepherds, so the leaders of the Discipleship Movement often find unacceptable the ministry of those who are exercising ecclesiastical authority over people in their day. This criticism recalls that of Christian sectarian leaders in past history, such as Montanus, the Spiritual Franciscans, the Anabaptists, and the radical pietists.

The criteria for effective discipling also include the avoidance of selfish preoccupation with power and personal status, in line with the admonition in 1 Pet. 5:1 - 6. In addition, there is the responsibility for shepherds to equip the saints for ministry. This involves instructing and admonishing each member in public and in private.

Discipleship communities include those designed for celibate persons and for families. Covenantal norms frequently include poverty, or the renunciation of self - centered aims and self - provision, and yieldedness, or obedient reliance upon God through submission to the headship of the community leaders through whom Christ is to rule. In addition, communal sharing of lives and possessions is often emphasized, in accordance with Acts 4:32. Such communities view themselves as living on the frontiers of Christian commitment, although evangelism may be limited to shepherds, who are regarded as being spiritually mature. Common activities in discipling communities include corporate worship, prayer meetings, and the Eucharist; administration of these group activities is under the authority of an apostolate, a term that often refers to the total group of shepherds in a given community.

In 1975 response to the Discipleship Movement precipitated a controversy within the charismatic movement as a whole as several charismatic leaders, including Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, expressed public disagreement with the Fort Lauderdale group. In December of that year a representative group of pastors, teachers, and leaders met in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a theological and pastoral evaluation of the controversy. This group agreed that much of it had resulted from poor communication and misunderstanding, and that the real differences that existed were within the bounds of the variety permitted in the body of Christ. Subsequent charismatic leaders' conferences have been held, such as the Oklahoma City meeting in 1976, that have sought to achieve reconciliation among the parties to the dispute.

Some critics do not believe that the Discipleship Movement is operating according to biblical principles, pointing out that Scripture teaches all Christians should submit to one another (Eph. 5:19 - 21). Some oppose the amount of control exercised by shepherds over such matters as the choice of a mate and the decision to have children. The movement is not always regarded by these critics as a cult, since it accepts the essential beliefs of Christianity, including the Trinity, Christ's incarnation and resurrection, salvation by grace through faith, and authority of Scripture. However, it is objected that the hypersensitivity and secrecy often to be found in the movement, even to the point of disallowing discussion of its doctrines and practices with others outside the group, tend to raise questions in people's minds. Others have questioned the tendency of the movement to separate itself from the concerns of the historical church. These objections notwithstanding, the significance of the impact of the Discipleship Movement upon the charismatic movement remains.

J S O'Malley
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography
C Farah, From the Pinnacle of the Temple; R J Foster, A Celebration of Discipline; M Harper, A New Way of Living; D Hartman and D Sutherland, Guidebook to Discipleship; W A Henricksen, Disciples Are Made, Not Born; R A Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life; J S O'Malley, The Mystique of Godliness: Bishop John Seygert and the United Methodist Heritage; J C Ortiz, The Disciple; R G Tuttle, The Partakers; D Watson, Called and Committed: World - Changing Discipleship.


The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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