Moral and ethical scandals both inside and outside the church have mad accountability the holy grail of the 21st century. Citizens are calling for greater accountability from their elected officials. Stockholders are demanding more ethical responsibility from fund managers and CEOs. Congregations are seeking to rein in morally and doctrinally errant clergy.
This quest for accountability has always existed in the charismatic/Pentecostal community--whose leaders have often fought valiantly to seek a balance between maverick-like independence and heavy-handed authoritarianism.
The most recent trend to combine accountability and biblical leadership has taken shape in what many are calling the "New Apostolic Reformation." A church-growth expert and the "presiding apostle" of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA), C. Peter Wagner believes one of the major moves of God in our times is the restoration of present-day apostles and prophets.
Wagner's thoughts have emerged from his observation of a new phenomenon: pastors and leaders are joining together in networks around apostolic leaders, often associated with flagship churches. These "neo-denominations" are a fact of life in today's church and they have enormous influence. According to Wagner, one of their key features is the accountability produced from the relationships that are formed, and he and other leaders see these developing networks as a way to address the current ethical crisis.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
One of the most controversial and also most influential movements within the charismatic renewal in the 1970s and early 1980s was born out of a similar quest for accountability.
There were many wonderful aspects to the Charismatic movement, however, as with any renewal, it had its share of problems. Believers often went from one charismatic conference or prayer group to another seeking a new experience or a new teaching--many of these were not in any church or accountable to anyone.
They read magazines, listened to tapes by the hundreds and eagerly awaited each new book on the Spirit's renewing work. Unfortunately, many were left unchanged.
As the renewal mushroomed it was marked by a rugged individualism in some of its leaders. A number of itinerant teachers and leaders, who were regular speakers at various conferences and meetings, were not accountable to any organization or network. Lone rangers abounded, and moral failures were all too frequent.
Disillusioned by what they were seeing--problems much the same as today--four popular Bible teachers, Don Basham, Bob Mumford, Derek Prince and Charles Simpson, decided to band together for mutual submission and accountability. From this association in October 1970 emerged the Shepherding movement, sometimes called the Discipleship movement.
With New Wine magazine as a powerful mouthpiece, the four charismatic teachers, joined in 1974 by Canadian Ern Baxter, began teaching on the importance of the local church, submission and spiritual authority, and the need for accountability. This accountability was accomplished as each believer was "covered" in a committed relationship with a personal pastor or "shepherd."
Significantly, they taught that God was restoring biblical church government, delegating His authority through the fivefold ministry offices, including apostles and prophets. What was also unique was the Shepherding movement's call that every spiritual leader needed to be under authority before exercising their own spiritual authority.
The challenge and call tapped into a leadership vacuum as hundreds of leaders, many young and untrained, responded to their teachings by submitting to one of the five or a designate. Though Mumford and the other four men originally had no intention of starting local church networks, they felt responsible to lead what their teachings had created, and, so, the Shepherding movement was born.
Each one of the five leaders pastored a group of pastors, forming networks of churches under their oversight. These networks of churches never became a formal denomination since the goal was always to make the association relationally based.
Keeping the movement organic and relational proved difficult as growth forced more organization. Many felt the Shepherding movement had become functionally and practically a small charismatic denomination, despite their claims otherwise.
In 1975, several high-profile charismatic leaders accused the five of trying to take over the charismatic renewal and dominate the lives of their followers, charges the five always denied. Rumors abounded as many unsubstantiated allegations were made against the movement and its leaders.
The heated controversy divided the renewal for more than a decade, and the dispute was never satisfactorily resolved. Even among the five leaders there were conflicts, and Derek Prince quietly withdrew from the group in 1984. Two years later the other four broke formal ties and ceased publication of New Wine, ending the Shepherding movement as an expression of the five men's shared commitment.
The Shepherding movement admittedly missed many of its ideals, and its extremes are well-known. In 1989, Bob Mumford offered a public apology to those hurt by the movement's teachings and practices.
Charles Simpson, who leads a major segment of those who continue in the legacy of the movement, has said that human carnality won out all too often. While many were hurt as some leaders improperly exercised spiritual authority, mostly ignored are those who benefited from the movement and those who continue in its varied expressions today.
The Covenant movement, led by Simpson, maintains a commitment to many of the Shepherding movement's founding principles of accountability, covenant relationship, spiritual fatherhood and spiritual family--principles they believe have matured and moderated over time.
What has also been missed in the rancor surrounding the Shepherding movement's excesses is an acknowledgement that they were legitimately challenging the extreme independence and spiritual superficiality in segments of the charismatic renewal. They were seeking to discern their times and formulate God-ordained answers for spiritual "lawlessness."
Both Mumford and Simpson believed they were catching and riding a wave of authentic spiritual renewal. Simpson commented that "the bigger the wave the more debris it can carry in." So, as flawed as their application might have been at times, they were convinced it was medicine charismatics needed.
Thirty years later the same ethical shallowness they were trying to confront remains. As reports of sexual and financial impropriety continue, calls for accountability echo earlier times. This is good news. For a season, the discipleship controversy made terms such as "shepherding," "submission" and "covering" dirty words to some. Finally, enough time has passed that they are being used again.
The terminology and vision of apostolic networks is strikingly similar to the Shepherding movement. The same claims are made about their relational character and the accountability that results. What can emerging apostolic networks learn from the Shepherding story? Is there any wisdom to be gained from their experience that gives perspective on the fresh conversation regarding accountability?
I recently spoke to Bob Mumford and Charles Simpson to see what they had to say. Both men, older now and tempered by time and trial, are humbled by the realization that they are the only two living members of the original five Shepherding leaders.
Mumford and Simpson, having felt the pain of criticism, were cautious in their assessments but very willing to share insights that might serve a new generation of leaders.
1. Seeing a spiritual truth is never enough. According to Charles Simpson, "believing you see something is one thing, but building something with it is another matter." He thinks he and the other four leaders had a "naive enthusiasm" and did not fully understand what would happen once they started teaching on submission and accountability.
"If you teach something, people will come to you for it," he recalls. The momentum their teachings created caused the movement to grow beyond their ability to manage. They simply had not planned on the response they provoked. As a consequence, many leaders were vested with great authority, and put in place too soon without the proper training and testing needed.
What's the point? Growth and success can sometimes be misleading, and it is easy to promise more than can be delivered. In the midst of all the excitement about new truth, people often made commitments they could not fulfill. It is very costly and demanding to apply what we believe to real life.
2. Relationships must be authentic. Both Mumford and Simpson point out how easy it is to say that something is "relational" and yet how hard it is to make those relationships truly authentic. Many apostolic networks make the claim they are based on relationships and thereby they are accountable to one another. But how substantial are these relationships?
Mumford and Simpson suggest that many joined their movement, submitted to the concept of submission, but had little relational connection other than occasional interaction. Some came into the Shepherding movement just to gain legitimization by being associated with its leaders.
For these people there was no genuine relationship. Mumford contends that "relationships must be more than functional and superficial if there is to be any kind of real accountability." Relationships require time and investment, and there are no shortcuts to maturity.
3. Structures alone will not produce accountability. The Shepherding movement had personal pastors, cell groups, church councils, regional presbyteries, pastors' networks, and an apostolic council all with the aim of producing mature disciples of Jesus, but these structures alone could not produce the desired results.
In retrospect, Mumford says that spiritual "covering" worked where there were transparent relationships in which individuals wanted to be held accountable. Accountability was something that fundamentally could not be enforced or coerced--it was voluntary and an outflow of personal integrity.
This is not to say there isn't value to ecclesial, adjudicating structures or councils, but accountability starts with our relationship with God, the One to whom we will one day give an account. There is no substitute.
4. Titles can be misleading. Mumford believes the notion of him being an apostle/pastor thrust him into a role he was not able to fulfill. The title was "heady" but inaccurate. Mumford was a teacher not an apostle, but it took years for him to really see it.
Simpson and Mumford believe there is a need to make sure leaders are manifesting the works of an apostle before being labeled one and that they are also evaluated by biblical standards. They caution against pride that easily follows being given title and privilege. Simpson once said: "If you are treated like a king, before long you start thinking you are one." Humility and servanthood come before title or position.
5. Remember the human condition. No matter one's theological position on the degree of man's depravity, it must be admitted that we are deeply flawed by Adam's fall. Simpson has lamented the "carnality that power and resources brought out in some of us."
Mumford wishes he had better listened to critics even when they acted uncharitably. In 1993, he apologized to one of his most strident accusers for "being blind and stubborn" during the years of controversy. Self-righteousness and self-justification may too easily be excused and garbed in religious terms. Current leaders need to honestly admit their fallibility and potential for missing the mark. This is why accountability is so essential.
These battle-tested words of wisdom can serve us today. I don't believe the cynical dictum that says the only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history. Both Mumford and Simpson have learned from their past and so can we.
A CONCLUDING CAUTION
We need present-day apostles, and the New Apostolic Reformation is a genuine expression of God's renewing work in His church.
However, as Simpson and Mumford note, there is great danger in "triumphalism"--seeing one's movement as the "cutting edge" of what God is doing today. This mind-set, especially if coupled with success, tends to devalue those who don't see it their way, or worse, to write off critics as old-fashioned defenders of "tradition," unwilling to embrace God's new move--the more mean-spirited and unfair the criticisms, the easier to dismiss.
These attitudes inhibit constructive dialogue and shut off any real outside accountability. Both Mumford and Simpson believe triumphalism was one reason the Shepherding movement missed the mark.
Accountability must be more than a circle of like-minded friends. We are accountable to God, to Scripture and to the Christian story over the centuries; we are accountable to those in this "century of the Holy Spirit" that stretches back to Azusa Street. And we are accountable to the broader Christian community of our day. Taken together, accountability will be more than a buzzword; it will be a lifestyle serving the whole church, including the New Apostolic Reformation. *
S. David Moore, D.Min., is the author of The Shepherding Movement: Controversy and Charismatic Ecclesiology.
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