As a shepherd of the ﬂock of God, one of my most important responsibilities is to be on the lookout for potential threats—those teachings or teachers that jeopardize the spiritual well-being of the ﬂock entrusted to me by God. The author of Hebrews writes regarding shepherds, “They are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account…” (Hebrews 13:17b, ESV).
For the past year and a half in our local congregation, I have been shepherding a family who had been involved in the TEAM and its Life Business. These folks were originally attracted to TEAM because of its perceived championing of family values, the opportunity for spiritual growth, encouragement to lead people to the Lord, helping people attain ﬁnancial freedom, etc. As successful people, both in the business world and in their spiritual lives, it seemed to them that TEAM was an organization through which they could help many people. However, the more time, energy, and resources they invested in TEAM, and the more they learned about the TEAM, the more they realized that something was wrong. Over the past year and a half, throughout the course of countless talks and adequate research, we have identiﬁed what we believe are the chief dangers that TEAM poses to Christians and their local churches.
What Is The Team and The Life Business?
The Team deﬁnes itself as: “a training company that provides leadership development services and business-speciﬁc training environments. The TEAM is also a group of independent community building business owners who choose to work together to create a culture of inspiration, training, and leadership.”1
They seek to realize their present goal of reaching 1 million people through the grass- roots promotion of their products, distributed through their LIFE business. The LIFE business, then, is “a direct selling company that provides a compensation plan to its members that allows them to earn income based on the sales of LIFE products to both customers and also products that are sold through a community of other members that you register (downline).”2
The LIFE products are presented visually, using a wheel diagram, designed to assess areas of needed growth in any potential customer or member. The wheel features the following 8 F’s: Faith, Family, Finances, Fitness, Following, Freedom, Friends, and Fun.
In order to achieve these goals, TEAM members and LIFE business owners distribute training materials for proﬁt to help meet areas of deﬁciency in the 8 F’s in a potential customer or member. For example, if someone is struggling on the home-front, they may be given a set of CDs on marriage or parenting. If they are having a hard time with ﬁnances, they may be given a book or audio resource on simple economics or money management. If they are struggling with their faith, they would be pointed to a resource, helped personally, or perhaps both. Each book or resource that is sold produces income not only for the one who sold it, but also for the who enlisted the seller in the LIFE business.
5 Dangers with the Team and the Life Business:
While it is not my purpose to exhaust the problems with the TEAM and the Life Business in this brief article, I do want to point out ﬁve areas of deep concern regarding their overall approach and methods, which could prove harmful to Christian families and their local churches.
1. The Team is Not Christ-Centered in its Approach to Life.
The 8 f’s, including faith, are all placed on a wheel with LIFE in the center. What troubles me is that faith is a simple spoke on the wheel, rather than the center of the wheel. It’s presented as simply 1 of 8, instead of the 1 that can produce a truly transformed life. Whether purposefully or not, this arrangement leads people to believe that their family problem, for example, is not a spiritual problem or that their ﬁnances are not connected to their faith. Even more dangerous, though, this arrangement may lead people to believe that their lack of faith in Christ is not their ultimate or biggest problem, just one among many problems.
Interestingly, in his epistle to the Colossians, Paul tells the believers that Christ is our life (Col. 3:4). He is not part of our life, but our very life itself. After all, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). In that same little letter, Paul warns the believers, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8, NKJV).
The phrase “not according to Christ” is a descriptor of all the potential dangers listed in vs. 8: philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, etc. Each of these could be a study of their own, but for our purposes, it sufﬁces to conclude that Paul is warning the believers about any philosophy or system for spiritual growth that is “not according to Christ,” meaning that it is not vitally dependent upon Jesus Christ. In other words, if Christ can be removed from a given philosophy for living and if the essential elements of that philosophy remain intact, then it is potentially dangerous and should be avoided. If Christ is not the necessary center, then it is man’s philosophy, not God’s. Paul’s point in Colossians 2 is that Christ must be the center, that in Him are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3, NKJV) and that in Him “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (2:9, NKJV).
That TEAM has an approach which is not Christ-centered is further substantiated by their relationship with Oliver DeMille, a graduate of Brigham Young University and an ardent Mormon, who served as an LDS missionary in Spain during his studies in the late 1980’s. At the most recent TEAM national meeting, held at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee this past summer, co-founders Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady hosted a time of prayer with this Mormon. Doing some simple research on Oliver DeMille, even from his own websites, reveal that he is a proponent of family values, political conservatism, and morality. However, as a Mormon (assuming his personal theology is in line with LDS), since he does not believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ, his teaching cannot possibly ﬂow from the true Christ, who should be at the center. But since faith is just one of many spokes on the TEAM wheel, then inviting a Mormon, who seemingly has success in all the other 7 f’s, to speak and to enjoy a time of mutual prayer is apparently acceptable to the leadership of the TEAM.
By hosting the Mormon, Oliver DeMille, the TEAM has clearly violated Scriptural principles of separation from apostasy as taught in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, 2 John 9-11, as well as the entire book of Jude. If Christ were the center of the TEAM’s approach, then training from an individual who does not believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ would not be an option.
2. The Team Tends to “Peddle” the Gospel.
As Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he was being attacked by false teachers, who were calling into question his credentials as an apostle and minister of the gospel. In his own defense, he writes, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:17, ESV). In other words, Paul says that unlike other so-called teachers, he and his associates do not peddle the Word, since they operate out of sincerity and in the sight of God Himself (see also 2 Cor. 4:1-2).
Certainly, a minister of the gospel is entitled to a fair wage – even a double-portion (see 1 Tim. 5:17-18). However, the Scriptures warn about spiritual leaders and teachers who are greedy for gain (see 1 Tim. 3:3; 3:8; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2). While many who participate in the TEAM certainly do so with the best of motives, the fact remains that many people become wealthy through the sale of their Bible-based products. That they become wealthy is not even necessarily problematic. What is problematic is that wealth is often the drawing card or the reward for initial participation in the program, while the gospel is often the prescribed means of pursuing that wealth.
In a 2011 recruiting ﬂyer for the LIFE business, the following questions are asked to potential customers: “What annual income level would like to attain in the next ﬁve years?” and “What trappings of success would you enjoy? (cars, houses, boats, travel, services).” As people, then, sign up as members and join the TEAM business, they are working to achieve these ﬁnancial success goals, while hoping to also achieve these so- called “trappings of success.” The means of their becoming ﬁnancially successful and achieving their material dreams is, at least in part, their for-proﬁt distribution of gospel- based literature.
In years past at TEAM and LIFE business meetings, incentives have been offered for those who sell the most product and enlist the most members — incentives like spending a period of time with co-founder Orrin Woodward, strolling the Atlantic Ocean on his yacht.
Certainly making a living through gospel ministry is not wrong or even questionable. However, if gospel ministry is one of many tools for pursuit of personal wealth, then it is a problem. If the goal is wealth and not people, then the goal is wrong. If the gospel is your means of gaining riches, then your treasure is probably not Christ but rather riches. As Jesus said, no man can serve two masters.
3. Team Tends to Detract from the Local Church.
The TEAM is the most successful in recruiting its members from churches where the Bible is not being taught with serious depth or where believers are longing to be discipled or mentored. Since TEAM offers mentorship through the LIFE business resources, many hungry Christians are enticed to join.
When a TEAM member becomes involved in TEAM, however, they are strongly encouraged to attend regular weekend conferences, which often conﬂict with participation in one’s local church. Further, they are strongly encouraged to be at weekly TEAM meetings, which are conducted in the evening, usually midweek. Again, this can easily create a conﬂict with the schedule of the local church, as many churches meet for prayer meeting or small groups Tuesday-Thursday. The expectation from TEAM, however, is that if one really desires to succeed in TEAM/LIFE, they will attend these meetings with faithfulness. This arrangement puts TEAM members in a position where they must choose between faithfulness to the local church or faithfulness to this organization.
The TEAM often encourages its members to counsel with their “up-link” (person who signed them up) rather than with their pastor or with an “older woman” or “older man” in the church (Titus 2). This sort of practice truncates the God-given authority of pastors within a local church and thus within the life of a believer. Beyond that, the authority structure and rules for behavior within the TEAM can cause fracturing in the local church, as those who with different “up-links” are not supposed to discuss the LIFE business together. To add further detraction from the local church, God’s ordained vehicle for carrying out the Great Commission, the leaders of the TEAM have also been known to baptize its members during conference weekends. One former TEAM member, who recognizes the importance of commitment to a local group of believers, rightly commented, “TEAM leads you to cheat on the local church.”
4. Team Tends to Place Unbiblical Expectations upon Christian Families.
One of the primary “drawing cards” for TEAM and the LIFE business is ﬁnancial freedom. As new members are going through the “dream building” stage, they are pumped full of the unbiblical expectation that if they would just be faithful to the principles of TEAM and LIFE that it would become possible for the husband to stay home during the day, spending enormous amounts of time with his wife and kids.
This sort of talk programs wives and children with the expectation that if their husband/dad would just become more successful in TEAM/LIFE, maybe he would not have to work a regular job anymore. This sort of expectation robs the Christian man of the joy and honor of a hard day’s work. Further, it creates an unbiblical posture towards work within the context of a Christian home, possibly even creating tension between husbands and wives.
5. Team Inadvertently functions through the lens of retribution theology.
The TEAM does not have a category that allows for God’s sovereign trying or testing of one of His servants, i.e. the book of Job. According to their teaching, if you follow the TEAM/LIFE guidelines for success, then no excuse remains for failure. If someone is failing in any aspect of the LIFE wheel, they must have done something wrong, i.e. they must not be obeying what they have been taught through the LIFE materials. In their thinking, obedience must always be followed by physical reward, leaving little room for God to use suffering to bring about conformity to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:17-18, 26-39; 2 Cor. 4:17).
Such thinking leaves little room for understanding God’s mysterious trying, testing, or pruning of His servants and places TEAM/LIFE in a similar position as Jesus’ disciples when they observed a man blind from his birth and questioned, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2, ESV). In other words, to the disciples, suffering is always a cause of disobedience. Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). In other words, it is possible that suffering or failure is directly attributed to some speciﬁc sin or failure to follow biblical truths and principles; however, making that assumption in a given situation is an attempt to bind (albeit unintentionally) the hand of God from afﬂicting the righteous for His own wise purposes, which may not be known to man (see the book of Job, especially Job 38-42). When those in TEAM/LIFE are directed to help suffering people by telling them to go back and consider where they have failed to follow the principles of TEAM/LIFE, these counselors are coming dangerously close to the thinking of Job’s friends, who, when they saw Job’s suffering and assumed some personal sin in his life, replied: “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” and “God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves” (Job 8:3, 11:6).
Shepherds, as you watch for souls, if any in your ﬂock or sphere of inﬂuence are involved in TEAM/LIFE, please warn them about the concerns presented in this document. If you decide to encourage them to leave TEAM/LIFE, please understand the enormity of the pressure they will face from TEAM leadership to stay within the group. Lost members equals lost ﬁnancial proﬁt. Most who are thinking about leaving will be given a recording of a manipulative talk, which lays out the top reasons that people quit a good endeavor. Shepherd these people; help them see how TEAM/LIFE: (1) is not truly Christ-centered in its approach, (2) that it tends to peddle the gospel, (3) that it tends to detract from the local church, (4) that it tends to place unbiblical expectations upon families, and (5) that it tends to operate through the lens of retribution theology.
Dave and his wife Emiley, together with a small group of believers, established Lakewood Baptist Church in fall 2009. As lead pastor, Dave focuses on expository preaching, Bible teaching, and evangelism.