There is a difference between a truly Christlike church and a Shepherding church. If you are still confused about what makes a Shepherding church, let's go over the signs. If you see these in your church or the ministry that you are associated with, then you are involved in a Shepherding church and you should run for your very life! These signs are similar to the signs of a spiritually abusive church. They will be similar – all Shepherding churches are spiritually abusive, but not all spiritually abusive churches are Shepherding churches.
A few of these signs will surface in just about any church, so if you recognize one or two, don't worry. The best ministers are still human, and even Peter and Paul made mistakes and hurt people. But if you recognize a majority, then it's time to re-evaluate where that church stands in your life.
Signs of a Shepherding Church
1. It is common for there to be no accountability of leadership to the church body or to an ecclesiastical authority in some form of denominational body. This does not mean that all non-denominational, independent churches are Shepherding churches. It just seems that most Charismatic churches that are Shepherding churches are not accountable to any organization. And, as we will see later in this book, some major denominations are now practicing Shepherding techniques.
2. The congregation, however, is totally accountable to the leadership of the church.
3. Extreme emphasis is placed on the authority of the pastors and the elders. Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Bible take a back seat to the authority of the leadership of the church.
4. Elders, deacons, associate pastors, cell group leaders, etc., are picked by the senior pastor, not by the congregation.
5. Emphasis on the full five-fold ministry, with an undue amount of attention given to the apostle and the prophet.
6. Leaders are untouchable. They remain aloof from the congregation. Attempts to get to know them or to question them are met with “Don't touch God's anointed!”
7. The prophetic gifts are used to manipulate the congregation. Doom will be prophesied over someone who does not fully submit to the authority of leadership.
8. Loyalty to the pastor and the church is stressed, at the expense of loyalty to the congregation member's family and to God.
9. Oaths and vows are enforced on the congregation. Some of these include oaths of loyalty to the pastor, a promise to submit to the direction of church leaders, and vows of chastity by single people.
10. Congregation members are told that the primary way to receive God's blessings and to be protected from the power of Satan is to submit to the authority of the pastor and other leaders.
11. There is great emphasis on proper behavior and “sin management.” The verse “avoid the appearance of evil” will be used repeatedly.
12. Cell groups are “accountability groups,”instead of Bible study or prayer groups. Cell groups are a great idea, but when they are used to control the congregation's behavior, instead of studying the Bible on a more intimate level, there is something wrong.
13. Undue emphasis is placed on the public image of the church and ministry.
14. Undue emphasis is placed on what is appropriate behavior by the congregation.
15. Leadership seems to spend more time telling the congregation what to do than in teaching the congregation how to be a witness for Jesus to a dying world.
16. Directions for proper behavior seem to be rather prying and intimate. The congregation is told that they must do these things to receive God's blessings, live a Christlike life and be good disciples of Jesus. These directions are not offered as suggestions, but as commands. These direction include, but are not limited to, being told what to wear, what to read, what movies or television shows to watch, what to eat and drink, who to date, who to marry, how to have sex with one's spouse, how many children to have, how to raise one's children, who one's friend will be, where one should live, what job one should have, how many hours per day to pray and read the Bible, and how much money to give to the church.
17. Teachings are guilt and works based, instead of grace and salvation based.
18. Church members do not have the right to vote on church decisions. Decisions are made by church leaders on behalf of the congregation. In many cases, church members have no idea how the church money is spent, even though it came out of their pockets. This will be called the New Testament model of the church.
19. Small children in Sunday school or nurseries are subjected to corporal punishment to “drive the rebellion from them,” and are told that they need to repent for something as trivial as pulling the toys out of the toybox without permission. This happens at ages as young as two years old, an age that most theologians recognize as being too young to understand the concepts of rebellion and repentance.
20. Rejection or questioning of the authority, doctrines or teachings of the church is dealt with through “discipline,” which may include public humiliation of the congregation member or being kicked out of the church. At the least, the congregation member who does the questioning is called rebellious, and quite possibly accused of witchcraft.
21. Leadership encourages (sometimes demands) that congregation members become their “armor bearers,” basing this concept on one little guy who appears once in the Bible – Jonathan's armor bearer in 1 Samuel 14. While Jonathan's armor bearer as also his friend and advisor, Shepherding church armor bearers are assigned menial tasks such as cleaning the pastors' toilets and carrying their jackets and Bibles. They are sometimes totally ignored by leadership, not being spoken to for years.
22. Members who leave the church without the formal consent and blessing of leadership are shunned, or publicly slandered.
23. Former church members display a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They report not wanting to go to church ever again, have difficulty reading their Bibles, and say that any thought of doing either causes them to be nauseated. They may also have stories of having been stalked or threatened by church leaders after they left.
These are terrible things! They are more in keeping with a cult than any Christlike church. I feel such shame and horror at having to list them as signs of any church, yet they exist and are growing and consuming people like the Blob in a trailer park.