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  • Writer's pictureEric Navas

An open letter to “Harvest South Bay Church Gardena” El Camino UBF

Updated: May 22, 2019

(The following was an email sent by me back in September 12, 2016 in hopes to open a discussion regarding the problems that are prevalent in the church.)

Hello Fellow Shepherds,I want to begin by saying that I have known many of you personally over many years and that I love and deeply respect many of you. Some of the best Christians and servants of God that I have ever known belong here at Shepherd’s Church. For all of your zeal, service and dedication to God, many of you should be commended.However, I no longer attend Shepherd’s Church. In fact, I have joined a large and growing group of ex-Shepherd’s who have left the church over the years. Unlike what you may might think, we did not run away because we were demon possessed or because we rejected God’s will upon our life. Actually, many of us love God very much and still continue to serve Him faithfully. The real reason that we left was because we suffered years of psychological and spiritual abuse from our shepherds and church leadership. We eventually had no choice but to leave. Since I have left the church, I have had a large burden fall off my shoulders and I have been able to experience true freedom in Jesus Christ, and my life has actually become more blessed!I have written below and extensive list of compelling reasons why the system at Shepherd’s Church and UBF is not biblically sound.If you do not want to receive any more emails from me, please let me know. Ultimately, I want to respect any decision that you come to make. If you want help, please contact me.

Here it goes:

Legalism and Adherence to Church Traditions: It is true that Shepherd’s Church has many traditions that it holds to very strongly. All churches have their own ways of doing things, but here it goes into the extremes. If you are a member of this church, you are expected to be at every Sunday worship service no matter what, you must write weekly testimonies, attend conferences and other events, provide a financial offering, go fishing, teach multiple bible studies, and anything else that the church decides you must do. There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things in and if themselves. However, the church holds onto their “man-made traditions” as if they were God’s word itself. Isn’t this what Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees over? And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your own tradition? (Matthew 15:3).It is true that if you break any of the rules or traditions at Shepherd’s Church, then in the eyes of the leadership, you have broken God’s rules. How is this practice biblical? If Shepherd’s Church truly claims that the Bible is their sole authority over everything, then why do they uphold these church traditions as if they were created by God himself? In fact, upholding absolutely to these church traditions and performing many religious activities does not make a person more spiritual. It only turns them into Pharisees who feel the need to judge and rebuke someone anytime they fail to uphold these rules. As Christians, we are governed under grace, and not by works of the law. Jesus Christ set us free from the burden of strict legal traditions. If we live under strict rules and regulations all the time, then we are not free, but rather still cursed, and therefore, not saved!

Hierarchies and an extensive caste system: Here at Shepherd’s Church, there is an established ranking system, in which members are classified based on their “spiritual condition”. At the top is Missionary John, who is like the king. Under him are all of the fellowship leaders, elders, and senior shepherds. Below that are the junior shepherds, and at the very bottom, all of the sheep. The people who are higher up within this ranking system are considered to be more “spiritual” than those beneath them. Is this a biblical model? Did Jesus create a system like this? Did he treat his disciples differently because of their “spiritual rank”. Absolutely not. The UBF system is almost identical to any military system. The leaders have identified ranks and they give orders that must be carried out. If a lower enlisted member, were to challenge that authority, then they would be severely disciplined. Let me ask you this: could you disagree with a higher ranking member at the church? Not at all. Disagreeing with them is considered the same as disagreeing with God. If you are just a lowly sheep with no rank, you essentially have no value in the eyes of the leadership. How do you achieve rank at Shepherd’s Church? Loyalty to the group, attending all required activities, teaching a lot of sheep, etc. In essence, this has turned into a system where numbers are very important and they are recorded in weekly log books at the end of worship service. If you have ever taught a bible study, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

Secret Finances: Where does all of the money go from the weekly offering? Have any of you ever seen a financial report? This is something that all churches provide automatically for any of their members or for the public to see. What would happen if you asked to see where the money goes at Shepherd’s Church? You would probably be rebuked or told to just trust the leadership. This is not acceptable. Any legitimate church would not tell this to their members. Also, is Shepherd’s Church registered with the IRS? As a nonprofit organization (this includes churches) that collect money, they must be officially registered and approved. Is that the case with Shepherd’s Church? Maybe or maybe not. Ask Missionary John and see what he has to say. Make him show you the documents. If he is going to be collecting money from college students on limited incomes, then he should have something to show for it.

Constant Rebuking and Spiritual Bullying: It is commonly known that the practice of rebuking is very common and widespread at Shepherd’s Church and UBF at large. It seems that almost anything can be grounds for a rebuke, including things that are not considered sins. For example, if you do not return your shepherd’s phone call, then that calls for a rebuke. If you do not write a testimony or do not write a deep enough testimony, then that is also grounds for a rebuke. Is rebuking authorized in the bible? Yes it is, but only under certain conditions. Matters regarding very serious sins or the spreading of false doctrine are what rebuking was intended for. It was not intended for small and insignificant matters that are of not significance to God. Here at Shepherd’s Church, it is a cultural custom to rebuke your sheep or someone else’s sheep. They consider it as a way of “keeping the spiritual order”. This is actually not what it does. The main reason for all of the rebuking going on is to keep people in a constant state of fear so that they will not be singled out by the church leaders or criticized in secret meetings that few people at the church are even aware of. Don’t believe me? Well I know very well that Missionary John regularly has meetings with different groups at the church, where he singles out certain individuals for intense “training” or public humiliation. The whole goal of this is to get people to conform and not question anything going on in the church.

Favoritism: Have you noticed that some sheep are treated better than others? It is true that if you are the sheep of a prominent Shepherd (like John Boos), then you will receive special treatment and be given special positions within the church, such as being the presider at Sunday worship service. Also, why was it that one very young disciple was recently allowed to go to the UBF Korea trip instead of other shepherds who have been in the ministry far longer? The answer is simple. He is the sheep of Missionary John Baik, and he of course was moved to the front of the line! Also, how come Missionary John’s children do not have to abide by the same rules as everyone else? Two of them hardly ever come to worship service or testimony sharing. One of his daughters is even involved in another ministry outside UBF! This is absolutely not fair. Why are all of the members of the church placed under such strict rules when it comes to attending worship service, when his own children are not?

A horrible online reputation: It is no secret that UBF has a terrible online reputation. Just run a quick Google search and you will find thousands of blogs from ex-UBF members who were abused by the UBF system. In fact, the UBF church has been seen as a cult for well over fifty years by the mainstream Christian community. UBF was even expelled from the National Association of Evangelicals due to years of claimed abuses by former members. Do you really want to be associated with a church system that does this to other people? How would Jesus Christ view this? 

Loyalty to the group equals loyalty to God: There is no joking here. It is true that at Shepherd’s Church, the more loyal that someone is to the ministry, then they are considered more loyal to God. There are closed door meetings here at the church where Missionary John will regularly criticize other members without their knowledge. They are referred to as “being weak” or “not being one with us”. What good does this do? All this does it put people into groups (the spiritual vs. the unspiritual) and serves as a way to bring down a person’s reputation. How can a God-fearing church do these kinds of things to their own members? How could Missionary John himself make a determination on who is spiritual and who is not? The criteria that he uses is based upon how committed someone is to carrying out the goals and activities of the ministry. He also rarely ever gets to know new sheep personally, but rather he relies upon information from their shepherd or other leaders to make a determination. It is also no secret that if someone disagrees with a church teaching or practice, then they will automatically be labelled as “rebellious” and shunned by other members of the church. 

Excessive Control Over Sheep’s Lives: The entire goal of Shepherd’s Church is to control every aspect of its members lives. This does not happen right away, but it occurs little bits at a time. After several years, many shepherds find that they are slaves to the ministry and must do anything that is asked of them. Why does the ministry do this? The reason that this is done is because they want to create as many house churches as possible so that they can spread UBF ideology across the United States and the world. This is why they want you to separate from your family and your past life. The ministry will always identify an area in your life that you must give up. They will make it seem as if God himself is ordering you to do this, when it is really the shepherd who is telling you. UBF wants you to eliminate all areas of your life that will conflict with their ideals and goals. They also do this with your marriage as well. Do you want to know the secret behind marriage by faith? Missionary John and his church leadership deliberately match people up who are complete opposite from one another. This is not because  their differing characteristics will “balance each other out” as they claim, but rather it is to prevent the couple from having any kind of a real relationship with each other. If the couple has no connection with each other, then they will be forced to focus more time on “campus mission”. Marriage by faith has never been about the happiness of the couple, but rather, continuing the goals of the UBF ministry. In the UBF system, the more disciples that you “establish”, then the more honor you are given in the ministry. That is why shepherds are so adamant about controlling their sheep with an iron fist. They are doing this to promote their own image in the church and to gain positive recognition from the body. If you are a shepherd and you think it is your job to control every aspect of your sheep’s life, then read this bible verse from the apostle Peter himself: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5: 2-3). There you go. As shepherds, we have no right to excessively control and monitor the lives of another person. 

Submission to man over submission to God: Have you noticed that the teaching at the church highly promotes submission to God’s servants no matter what? Yes, God does use his servants to carry out his will, but that is not the only way in which he works. What about guidance from the Holy Spirit? How many people at Shepherd’s Church can truly claim that the Holy Spirit actually guided their life decisions and actions? Probably very few. In fact, almost everyone’s career, college major, marriage, living areas, and just about everything else is under the strict control of one’s shepherd. How is it that a shepherd can truly represent God? We all make mistakes and fall into sin. Even the disciples made mistakes (even after Jesus had long died). Ultimately, we must submit to God, and to nothing else. Submission to man, an ideology, or a particular ministry should never override God. We can meet God through studying His Word, praying, and fellowship with other believers.After reading this, you may think that I am trying to bring down the ministry here at Shepherd’s Church. That is not at all what I am trying to do. Rather, I am trying to raise awareness of these issues that having been going on here at the church and UBF for decades. My hope is that this could eventually lead to positive reform. I know many of you are good people of God, and I trust that you will do the right thing. We must hold our leaders accountable and demand positive change for the better. Missionary John, I challenge you directly to be the forefront of this change. I have faith in you and I know that you do love God and want to do His will. Please take control of these abuses and institute a truth-based, biblical value system here at the church. Reform your strict adherence to your traditions and end the practice of heavy shepherding. Do this for your salvation, and for theirs. I appeal to you as a fellow servant of God, and a brother in Christ. May God help you, and may God save Shepherd’s Church!Aftermath: Instead of having an open discussion John Baik gave an order to the current members to cut off all communicate from all ex-members particularly if they are colored.

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