It was the summer of 1981 and my dad had just landed a position as the program director at a radio station in El Campo, Texas. He and Mom had gone down to find a place to live and check out schools while my brother and I stayed with our grandparents.
I remember the phone call vividly. It was one of those moments that is somehow frozen in time and you remember little details. I was standing in the hallway by my grandmother’s desk. On the other end of the phone were both of my parents, giving me the news that they had indeed found us a house to rent. What followed changed everything.
They told me they had also found a church that had a private school, which my brother and I would be attending. They explained that if you attend the church, your kids have to attend the school, and the only children who were allowed to attend to the school were those who belonged to the church.
I questioned this immediately because it sounded very controlling to me, like people we did not know were making decisions for us. All my arguments and my deep sense of dread were dismissed. My parents had been seduced by the false “shepherds” and the decision was already made.
The “church” met in a home and there were approximately 20 people who attended. The home setting was comfortable and disarming. (Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for the gathering of like-minded believers in homes. It’s the model we currently follow. I am simply painting a picture here). I don’t remember much about the meetings except that the music was stale and hollow. I remember nothing about the actual teachings.
What I do remember was how I felt around these people and how they controlled every aspect of our lives. Unlike most of the other families, we were on a paycheck-to-paycheck budget. Mandatory school uniforms were difficult for us to purchase, but we did. Women from the church took Mom shopping to “coach” her on what groceries to buy, insisting on items that were way beyond our modest budget. A ladies’ weight loss group was started, and Mom and I participated not because we wanted to, but because we were told to.
Not long before we started attending New Covenant Church, another family had recently been “ex-communicated.” We were told that this family was wicked and that we were to have nothing to do with any of them. Even the children were instructed, if we saw any of this family on the street, to cross to another side and walk past them, not even looking at them.
Later, after we left, we met and befriended this “wicked” family. Of course, everything we had been told about them was lies. To this day, we are still friends with them and cherish our time getting to know their family.
There were other painful and humiliating situations that arose out of our involvement with this small flock led by its false shepherds. What I saw happening to my family during that time broke my heart and infuriated me, even at the young age I was. I saw the control being crafted through shame, guilt and manipulation – and it made me sick. Thankfully, it did not last long, and after several months, we walked away from that situation a little older and a lot wiser.
The men and women who lead “shepherding” churches are consumed and influenced by a spirit that is not of the Lord. They pretend to be loving and caring, but they are the polar opposite. There is only one true Shepherd, and He does not seek to control the lives of His sheep with demonic tools of shame, guilt and manipulation. His rod and staff bring comfort through gentle but strong correction and guidance. His sheep know Him and know His voice, obeying Him because they have seen His love demonstrated for them and they trust Him. The vile spirit operating through false shepherds twists the Word of God into gnarly staffs that hook on the emotions of weak sheep and beat them into submission. This is not the way of the true Shepherd. The true Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep and fights off the wolves that would seek to destroy them. False shepherds are wolves themselves, preying on the innocence and woundedness of the sheep, promising to love them and take care of them and meet all their needs when in reality they are ravenously gnawing away at the spiritual lives of the sheep leaving nothing but chewed bones and rotting flesh in their wake.
And for the record, the most severe damage is not always done by the church “leaders,” but by other members of the “flock” who carry out the dirty work of the leadership. These are the men and women who pretend to befriend you and whisper in your ear sweet nothings that keep your balance off and lull your sense of truth into a trance so you are more susceptible to the continuous stream of lies about who you are and who God is.
I have not kept in touch with most of the people we met in New Covenant Church. With the exception of one particular man (this man did eventually come seeking forgiveness for his role in the spiritual abuse he had a hand in), I have no idea whether any of them ever repented of their ways or were set free from the deep deception they had embraced and were inflicting on others. I sincerely hope they did. What I do know is that my family broke free from those shackles and moved on.
The “shepherding movement” may be a thing of the past in terms of trends and fads that come and go throughout church history. But the prevalent spirits behind this vile movement are still alive and well. I say this because I recently spoke with a young woman who had just come out of a church that still dictates (among other things) what people wear and how they look (even including what colors to wear), using the same control and manipulation tactics as my family faced so many years ago. I have also seen it in those who present themselves as “fathers” to “sons and daughters,” in an effort to create their own little kingdom where they rule and reign – a kingdom where spiritual, mental, emotional, physical and even sexual abuse are as normal as breathing. And no, I am not only referring to the Catholic church.
Let it be known here and now that if you fancy yourself a “shepherd” in any capacity (whether in an official titled position or in “lay” ministry), you had better make damned sure you are hearing the voice of the true Shepherd and are speaking HIS truth (His whole truth and nothing but His truth) to those entrusted to your care. Oh, and also make sure it is HE who has entrusted these precious ones to your care, and not YOU who have sought them out to prey on them for your own selfish gain. Be ready and willing to lay down your life for them, and not sacrifice them on the altar of your “ministry.” Trust me, that stench is something you do NOT want reaching the nostrils of the Lord.
The Word of God is very clear about how He will personally handle these false “shepherds.” I am not going to quote chapter and verse here. Look it up. Seek out for yourself what the truth is. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and He promised to be found by those who seek Him with all their hearts. Let me just say that the end for these men and women is not pretty – at all.
They overcame him (the dragon) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.
This is my testimony. And I’m just getting started.