This blog entry has been quite some time in coming because I wanted to write it carefully and not just off the top of my head. "Shepherding" is a term that is probably most infamously connected with Dr Ern Baxter and his brothers known as the "Fort Lauderdale Five". These men were Derek Prince, Bob Mumford, Don Basham and Charles Simpson as well as of course Ern himself. Mention Ern Baxter to many critics and you will hear phrases like, "heavy shepherding". So this entry is an attempt to put the record straight from Ern Baxter's point of view - as I have had a number of emails asking me if he gave direct teaching on it, and whether he responded to the errors and excesses that he saw. While I have experienced the damage of heavy shepherding myself, I am too young to remember the impact of the excess in those days, so I have restricted my observations to a bare minimum - this is a transcript of what Ern Baxter himself said. And may I point out, that despite my experiences of heavy shepherding and loveless authoritarianism, I STILL believe in the principles of it! There is too much good to be lost by abandoning it because of the bad!
Ern addressed the error and excess that occured in the Shepherding Movement in the interviews he had with Dewey Friedel entitled "Life on Wings" - the manuscript of the entire interviews are here.
Friedel asked Ern Baxter what his rationale was for joining together as 'Shepherds':
Baxter: I’m skipping a lot of detail here but the thing in my spirit was the Charismatic Movement was so full of the charismata – my understanding of the Book of Corinthians was that they had charismata all over the place, but that they were not developed – that they were immature – which was Paul’s whole message to them. He said, “I would like to feed you meat but you are not yet able to bear it so here’s some more milk”. And we didn’t have any great agenda’s to take over the Charismatic Movement. The title given to the effort in those days was “Christian Growth Ministries”. The whole idea was that we were called the teachers and we would acknowledge all of the charismatic activity as being valid but to say that there needs to be maturation in this or we will have a vast Corinthianism where everyone is doing the charismatic thing but there are no quality, on-going maturing situations.
And contrary to much opinion among many, that somehow it was a smoke-filled backroom vehicle move of some kind, that we had somehow planned to take over all of the Charismatic, all of that is made out of watching too many romantic movies. We were men whose hearts were towards God – I know mine was and I felt for the first time in my ministry that I had found a relational situation. I had been alone, I had a big church, I had been under stress and strain and I had failed in many ways because of my loneliness and now I felt that one of the things we said to each other was that wherever we were in the world if one of us got into trouble the other at his own expense would fly to their side. And to me it was a very beautiful thing and for the first time in my life I felt protected. I felt that if I had started to go wrong in any way that there were some men who were going to say, “Look Baxter – straighten up and fly right”. And we had some beautiful years together and of course we were confronted. We were considered to be challenging a lot of things and we were. And we found out to quote one of Bob Mumford’s statements that the thing that made relationship difficult was unconfessed sin, vested interests and there was a third one – I forget what it was, but what we were trying to do was to walk openly with one another in a relationship.
Friedel asked him about the Shepherding Controversy itself:
Baxter: And I think that the things that we begin to address – and I need to say here Dewey – that all the things we addressed whether we addressed them improperly and we probably did in some instances and certainly practiced them improperly – but they still have to be addressed. If you’re going to be a Bible person, and the Bible is the highest court of appeal in all that we do – then you’re going to have to address submission. You’re going to have to address shepherding. You’re going to have to address the nature of church – all of these things you are going to have to address. Now when you address authority you also have to address authoritarianism and I think that one of the areas that we were not able to manage and handle properly was authoritarianism. And whether it was us or some of our disciples, there came authoritarianism where instead of shepherding being caring for a person, it got into a different context.
Personally – and it may be a dangerous thing for me to say but at my age I can afford it – personally, conceptually I have never altered any of my views. Now how I did the things I did and how successful I was remains for the judgement seat of Christ to determine. But I believe that there’s a place for godly authority – I think the opposite of authority is anarchy and we can’t afford that. I think there’s a place for submission – that it isn’t the total submission of all of us to each other – to say nothing of us submitting to our leaders – and of course we’ve got problems. But I think that need to address shepherding. I think our whole church policy needs to be looked at very closely so that all the things that we addressed, including discipleship – I think all of these things, if we addressed them poorly and if we failed in addressing them as many people rejoiced to think then so be it. But I’m simply saying at this point, another generation is going to have to address them because they are still biblical situations and if I look around the groups where they’re not being addressed – they are evident everywhere.
Baxter and Fridel again discussed the Principles of Shepherding or Pastoring:
Baxter: The thing that attracted me was the shepherding concept and one of my principles of discipling was that discipling should be through shepherding. I didn’t have a lot of messages on discipling – I had a lot of messages on shepherding because I saw that the discipling hand had to be in the glove of shepherding. That I couldn’t just disciple men principally – I had to disciple them relationally and I felt also that I wanted each man to come forward in his God-given personhood and this is the way I didn’t issue commands. I would seek to direct as the Lord Jesus did, He said, “Father I have given them Thy Word, I have talked to them about you”. And I always felt that, and this may sound self-serving and it’s not intended to be, but I just want to candidly say where I saw it. I felt some men in the discipleship movement were discipling but they were not shepherding. And in their discipling they were drawing more attention to themselves than they were saying to their sheep, “I want to introduce you to the Father”. And “I want to introduce you to the Son and to the Holy Spirit”.
And one point I want to make while we were the eye of the storm (sort of) that out beyond the periphery of our immediate influences there were many many who had large churches and situations that were putting into practice the things that we were teaching – and this is not the place to name them or identify them and I wouldn’t do that without their permission but I went to large churches with 3, 000 or 4, 000 members where they were practicing our principles though they had never publicly stated that they were supporting us. This was our intention – our intention was to serve in the Body of Christ and bring about maturity and we were withstanding the attempts to make us a denomination – that some of the denominational people came to us and said, “Look if only you were a denomination then we could attack you – the proper way”. There was a lot of pain but I think we made mistakes – no question about it.
Baxter: Division I don’t think comes from the flock. I think division comes from the top – its leaders that create division. And I think its important that there be leadership dialogue because leaders need to adjust one another and in America especially where there is so much individualism and independence.
You mention the man who bad-mouthed us on TV, about authoritarianism. He put out an order overnight, “Erase all the tapes of these men!”. One man! He did it unilaterally. In those days none of us did anything unilaterally. We functioned together and I believe that’s how it should be. That our decisions have to come out of some kind of plurality. I don’t ever want to make a major decision that I haven’t consulted with from 12 to 25 men who I consider to be within the care of my relationship – to get a godly consensus. And I feel that this is necessary and I feel sorry, out of personal experience, for the man who is all-alone at the top. Running everything – and he’s heading for a fall. God didn’t make us – its not good for a man to be alone and when they enter into that kind of religious autocracy they sit on their ivory towers and bark out commands – its very heady but its also heading for a disaster. And I’m strong for the one and the many.
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