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The Shepherding Movement (sometimes called the "Discipleship Movement") was an influential and controversial movement within American charismatic churches begun in the 1970s and early 1980s. The doctrine of the movement emphasized the "one another" passages of the New Testament, and the mentoring relationship prescribed by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 of the Holy Bible.
It began when four well-known Charismatic teachers, Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, Don Basham, responded to a moral failure in a charismatic ministry in South Florida. Witnessing this failure, the four men felt mutually vulnerable without greater accountability structures in their lives. They also felt the charismatic movement was becoming individualistic and subjective. These realizations, led them to mutually submit their lives and ministries to one another. Ern Baxter was later added to the core leadership of the group, and they became known as the "Fort Lauderdale Five."
Their relationships, and the doctrines which they began to emphasize in support and definition of these relationships gained wide approval, as they addressed a strongly felt need of many in the burgeoning charismatic movement - greater accountability, character development and deeper relationships. Other charismatic ministers began to submit to the authority of the Five. The relationships that were formed became known theologically as "covenant relationships". A network of cell groups were formed. Members had to be submitted to a "shepherd", who in turn was submitted to the Five or their representatives. At its height, an estimated 100,000 adherents across the US were involved in the networks.
Some of the early leaders of the movement came out of Campus Crusade for Christ, but Crusade itself did not embrace it. Other movements influenced by the Shepherding doctrine were the International Churches of Christ, Maranatha Campus Ministries, and Great Commission International (today known as Great Commission Ministries/Great Commission Association of Churches) . The movement emphasized the importance of a network of accountability within church members, with many individuals acting as personal pastors to others. In many cases, shepherding relationships existed outside the bounds of individual churches, leading to the unusual situation of a church member being accountable not to others in his/her church, but someone outside the church.
Criticism and controversy
The movement gained a reputation for controlling and abusive behaviour, with a great deal of emphasis placed upon the importance of obedience to one's own shepherd. In many cases, disobeying one's shepherd was tantamount to disobeying God. A few of these criticisms were exaggerated, but many lives were damaged. One such testimony can be found in the book Damaged Disciples by Ron and Vicki Burks. Noted Baptist evangelist Bailey Smith, for example, in his work "Real Evangelism" mentions having collected a very large number of testimonies of people he had encountered who were damaged by Shepherding teachings.
The movement was denounced by many charismatic leaders such as Pat Robertson and Demos Shakarian, and a 1975 meeting (known as "the shoot-out at the Curtis Hotel") to resolve the dispute achieved little. The Fort Lauderdale Five eventually parted company. Derek Prince and Bob Mumford both publicly distanced themselves from the teachings. Bob Mumford went so far as to issue a "Formal Repentance Statement to the Body of Christ" and was quoted in 1990 as saying, "Discipleship was wrong. I repent. I ask forgiveness."