I was a member of the International Churches of Christ (hereby annotated ICC) for 22 years. I left in August of 2003. I truly believed that I would be part of ICC for my entire life. I went through many phases of my life in this church: college, first professional job, dating, marriage, and having children. Here are some of the highlights of my experience in the ICC.
During the winter semester of 1981,
several friends invited me to a Bible Talk on a college campus. They belonged
to a group on campus that had received much publicity in the local newspaper as
being a cult. I was leery but after a
few invitations, decided to attend their Easter service. The church service was very nice. I met many people, had some great
conversations, and was paid lots of attention.
I remained very observant throughout my visit. I liked what I saw. There were happy, friendly, and sharp people;
it wasn’t anything like I perceived. I exchanged phone numbers with a few
members and was invited to come to another church service. A few weeks later, I was asked to join a
personal bible study. I said I would
love to; one month later on
After I was baptized, I was invited to member’s houses for dinners, asked out on dates by the brothers, and felt very encouraged. The women were called sisters and the men, brothers. The church was trying to create a spiritual family atmosphere. My self worth was doing very well these days as I was accepted into their group and getting a lot of attention.
I began to notice a group within the group. It was called the ministry training program. It was for those members selected by the evangelist and would attend special leadership meetings. They talked about how members in the church were doing, how to disciple (train) members to be leaders, and would plan events for the church. Belonging to this group was the ambition and high priority for the members. I remember hearing the minister preach from the pulpit that when you sacrifice and give to the church, God will use you to become a leader of his church. It is an honor to be a leader among God’s people. It seemed to be a worthwhile goal.
The leaders assigned a prayer partner (later renamed to “discipling partners”) to every member. The leadership wanted every member to have a senior and junior partner. The senior person was supposed to be more mature spiritually, and was able to give advice. They were held responsible for the more junior partner’s spiritual growth. Likewise, you would treat your junior partner the same way your senior partner treated you. I was assigned to the girl that had studied the bible with me. I was encouraged to tell her everything. If I had a conversation with another member, it seemed strange that she would know about the conversations and then would ask me why I hadn’t talked to her. I felt like I was thrown into a box, trapped. Whenever I needed to make decisions, I was told to get advice or permission from my discipler. It was a form of control that I wasn’t used to. I wanted to practice my newfound faith, and love God but it just seemed like there were many new “rules” from the church that I had to figure out. After a few months I started sharing my faith with more people than my assigned prayer partner did. I was assigned to another person that had more leadership responsibility. I was moving up the in the chain of command, in a system where hierarchy meant a great deal.
I was part of the
I was now part of the leadership group because I had met and baptized several people. One of the sisters told me that it was obvious that God had shown whom was more worthy, and said it was me because “I had produced fruit” (which means I had successfully added members to the church). I started to believe this religious lie.
I started to view people differently. Every person I knew or met was a potential member. If they didn’t go to MY church, something must be wrong with their spiritual life. After all, I viewed myself to be God’s treasured possession chosen among thousands of people to be his outreach for the Village Church of Christ. I wanted to show God and the leaders my gratitude by being the hardest worker in his church. I was going to stay up later and pray harder than any other member. I read my bible a lot, invited everyone I met to church, and tried to have the most bibles with non-members.
I began dating one of the brothers at church. He was part of the leadership group and had desired to be in the ministry. Dating in the church was considered to be a privilege. There was a high expectation of perfection in the dating couple’s lives. I had told someone that I was struggling with jealousy and had lied about something the other day. She told the guy I was dating, my discipler, and half the church. He was advised to break up with me and I was booted out of the leadership program.
I was disappointed at the gossip and devastated at the conditional love. My self worth took a nosedive. I believed that God must be disappointed in me because I wasn’t in leadership any longer. And a leader was honoring God. I didn’t think about leaving the church. I felt like this was my fault, my sin, and I’d better deal with it so I could make it to heaven.
I recovered and moved on by focusing my attention on producing for the church. My job always came second. After all, the greatest thing a person could do for God, was serve for the church.
A co-worker, a neighbor, and my future sister in law became Christians during the next few months. I was back in a leadership position again. This time I was given my own women’s group to lead. We had about 10 women in this group. My responsibilities were; lead a group Bible Talk once a week make sure there were visitors at the Bible Talk, the visitors were asked to study the Bible, and all the members in my group were doing well spiritually. I had to report statistics to the evangelist once a week. This was a lot of expectation and responsibility while I was working a full time, professional job. At the leaders’ meetings, we were taught what, how, and when to say things to other people. We were taught how we should say things to non-members, discipling partners, weak/independent Christians. We were told that we must imitate our leader's exact words.
Around 1984, Rich Collard was
fired. A new leader moved from
I remember the day that I was chosen to be part of their group, hand-picked to be this sister’s right hand man. She was going to teach me everything she knew so I could be trained to go into the full time ministry. I was flying high with that news. The women in her leadership group started to become just like her. We all wore red, carried a large bag, changed hairstyles, and began to talk like her. Once again my self-esteem was high. I had gained respect of the women in the church I was talked about in the sermons, praised during lessons, and the sisters came to me for advice. Life was good in the church.
My family noticed differences in my lifestyle and personality. My biological sister told me that she would stay up late at nights crying because she thought I was part of a cult. I just looked at her and thought, get a grip. I had told my family that I would not be part of any activity on Sunday. Even through the week, it was hard to squeeze family time into my schedule. After all, they weren’t open to becoming members of the church, and I needed to spend my time with people who wanted to. My thoughts and time were totally consumed with discipling the other women, and studying the bible with non-members.
We had church on Sunday morning and night, Wednesday night, Thursday bible talk, Friday Devotional, discipling times and leaders meetings. I remember falling asleep one time at work, and feeling very guilty about staying up late.
I started dating a brother seriously. We talked about getting married. However, the leadership saw a problem: I was in leadership and my boyfriend was not. The leadership felt like he would pull me down spiritually and was not happy about the direction of the relationship. The men in leadership would have conversations with my boyfriend and told him to get busy with ministry things. After all, if he was going to get married, he needed to be in leadership too. I started to become self-righteous towards my boyfriend. I really believed that I was better. I had been hearing so much talk about our relationship being out of balanced from the leaders. Remember, leadership was an honor from God. I broke up with my boyfriend, feeling justified at the time, but guilty later.
In 1986, the church’s lead couple
wanted to receive more ministry training in
In the spring of 1987, I was asked
to work for the church, full-time. The
group I was asked to lead was a campus/singles/married group, a size of more
than 100 people. I felt honored. I had
achieved the ultimate goal. I made a
decent salary, even comparable to my secular job. I remember the Sunday service when the
announcement was made to the church about hiring me full-time; I was treated
like a god. Everyone congratulated me
and said things like, “Wow you made it,” or “You must be doing really great
things.” Shortly after that, I was asked
to teach a class at a
The joy having a position highly regarded among the church also came with great pressure and responsibility. If the people in your group were performing positively, it was because of your good leadership. Likewise, if someone “sinned” or had struggles, the blame was placed on the leader. We were taught to be responsible for the actions of others by what we did or said. “You should have been a better leader/friend, maybe they would have stayed out of sin,” or serve the non-Christians more, work harder, have more accountability. I would stay up late at night thinking about each conversation I had with people, pondering the words of my conversations with others, worrying if the right words were said, feeling the responsibility for every word spoken. It was a heavy burden. We were taught that the staff members were the “cream of the crop,” set apart, and distinguished among the congregation.
The staff meetings had a lot of pressure. Every meeting started out with reviewing our weekly baptism thermometers. Every time there was a baptism in your group the thermometer was shaded in. It felt like having your spelling scores displayed in elementary school. It was humiliating if you had a bad week, encouraging for the good weeks. We focused a lot of attention on growth of the church. There was also strict personal accountability. We had to fill out scheduling sheets and turn them in every week. Every hour of the day was to be accounted for. We would have totals at the end of the week. For example, how many hours were given for prayer/bible study/evangelism/discipling time, and sleep. Our sheets were passed around and reviewed by fellow staff members.
At staff meetings, we would also discuss members problems or their sins and how to disciple/ rebuke/correct/counsel people. Someone had shared about a certain husband committing adultery. Confidentiality was never honored.
I started feeling like the leader I didn’t want to be. I was feeling pressure, so I began putting pressure on the girls in my zone. When we had our group discipling times, I raised the accountability. For example, I would ask questions like, “Did you share your faith?” “How many times, with whom, and did you get their phone numbers?” If they hadn’t been active in sharing their faith this week, I would ask the questions, “Did you have a quiet time with God today?” “Your heart must be bad, there must be sin in there because God isn’t blessing you.” I was becoming a tyrant and hating it. People started fearing me. I started to suffer the consequences of my stress. I attribute some health problems because of tremendous pressure of being of staff.
In 1988, Ed and Bobbi decided that
the church would join the Boston Movement. They would go to
The reconstruction began in June of 1988. John and Nancy Mannel came from the Chicago Church of Christ and moved into Ed and Bobbie Power’s house for the summer. This couple wanted daily meetings for the staff from 8 – 3 for the next two weeks.
That next week, Ed and Bobbie were
in a meeting in
The staff meeting was
horrific. We were rebuked for even
listening to Ed try to back out of the reconstruction. We were told that we would never be on staff
We continued these meetings for the next two weeks. They taught us how to be tough with our people and hold them accountable. They talked about what was wrong with our church. In the area of contribution, we were taught to ask people about their finances and tithing. They said a lack of tithing was a symptom of a bad heart. If people in our group weren’t tithing, we were not leading our people right. We were considered cowards if we couldn’t be direct in this area.
the small group confessions. The staff
women met one evening and each person had to confess their sins. The
Then came the life-talks. Each member sat down with a leader and talked about their spiritual life. The goal was to talk about sin in each person’s life and to discuss the possibility of re-baptism. The talks were harsh and direct. My talk was extremely harsh. Those notes at the confession group were definitely brought up. One of the leaders said that I should re-think my baptism. She also told me that the group I led was very unspiritual and disappointing to her.
In August, the
They made the announcement to the
congregation one night. In a matter of
24 hours the
I went back to my previous job but felt miserable. It was a hard time; it was amazing how people would say negative and sarcastic things to me. When someone is praised by a leader, the respect is high, but when someone is ‘demoted” the respect will change.
Since the majority of the staff was
In February of 1989, I began dating someone that I really cared for. This girl was on me like a ton a bricks. She constantly said I wasn’t open enough. We got engaged in August of 1989, which was great. It was difficult joyfully planning a wedding while being under complete control. I remember going to a department store to write out our bridal registry. Of course we had to share our faith too. She actually called me a liar when I said we had shared our faith too. Later that week, I had an appointment with my brother in law to go over the music for the ceremony. She was very angry because I had missed a discipling time with her. She threatened me with the fact that I was putting the wedding before God, and I needed to be careful or God just might take this away.
When it came to choose our wedding date, we were going over the dates we wanted with this couple. They said absolutely NOT on this date the evangelist wants it to be this month and you will not get married before this date. I was furious. But I wanted to get married more than I wanted to fight with this controlling witch. I thought I would be smart and say, darn it, I wanted you to be in the wedding, but since the date is farther away, I guess it won’t work out because of your pregnancy due date. She jumped at this and said, “Yes, I’ll ask the evangelist’s wife and make sure it is okay. I’ll let you know.” Of course she came back and said yes. My mom was furious that a nine-month pregnant woman was going to be part of the ceremony. She bullied her way to be part of the wedding party. Should I have spoken up knowing that the wedding might be threatened again? I didn’t want to take that chance so I remained quiet. I was very on guard until we got married.
About two months after our wedding, the evangelist had given direction to the church that we should share with three people that week. At our leader’s meeting, I was asked if I had done this and said no. She yelled at me saying, “You disobeyed the evangelist of the church, what is wrong with you?” I had to remind myself that I was a grown, professional woman.
In April of 1990, my father had a heart attack and had bypass surgery. He was very sick and I was very concerned about him. After the surgery, his leg didn’t heal completely and it was amputated. My discipler didn’t call or ask how he was doing. She waited a couple weeks and then said I need to get busy getting more bible studies with non-members. How dare a life circumstance interfere with church productivity? She said she had mercy and was patient in tell me this because my dad’s condition. I started to wonder if I should leave the church. Another time, she called to get some stats on my bible talk. It was around and I had to work the next morning. I said I would call her back tomorrow and said good night. She called me right back and told me that I was very disrespectful and to not talk to her again like that. That day was my birthday.
Sometime in May, my husband was
laid off. He diligently searched the
area for jobs but came up short. During this time, it was special contribution
for the church. We didn’t have the money
to give, but the evangelist told us to make a pledge anyway because he felt
like the job market was good. So we made
a pledge to give to the special contribution fund, while our funds were slowly
being depleted. After 3 months of job
searching, he had a job offer in
We moved to
In October, the evangelist and wife
were fired and asked to move to
In February of 1991, my sister
called me and told me that my father had died in his sleep. It was very hard to accept and my heart was
broken. I really missed him and felt sad
for a long time. I went back to
In 1992, another couple discipled us. I think we frustrated the last couple. So we were handed over to the Nazi disciplers. At this time, I was pregnant. I was also very sick. It wasn’t just morning sickness; it was for the entire day. One Saturday evening, I was up all night getting sick and didn’t go to church the next day. That didn’t go over well. I got a phone call that afternoon. It wasn’t hello how are you, it was I don’t feel good about you not being at church.
For the next few months, I tried my best to give to the three girls I was discipling. Under the circumstances I was very proud of my effort and felt like I was pleasing God and sacrificing even when I didn’t feel well physically. My discipler had a talk with me. And told me that she was upset because I was not giving my best to the kingdom and worried about the girls under me. I told her that I was giving my best and it would be good to talk more about this with someone else listening. Two other sisters joined in this confrontation. I asked my discipler if she believed that I had been sick from my pregnancy, she said, “No.” I asked her if she thought I had been lying, she said yes. The other girls just sat there and stared, not saying a word for several moments. Finally, a lame apology was given to me. The meeting was closed. At our next discipling time, she told me, let’s not have that happen again. Okay.
I was also a babysitting service to this girl. She even called me one time when they all had the stomach flu, wanting me to come over and take her sick kid to my home so they could sleep. I told her No, because I didn’t want my child getting the stomach flu.
Later, we were told about a
leadership conference held in
Another hurtful event was during my second pregnancy in 19994. I was still with the same discipler. I was three months along in my pregnancy, and started having complications. I went to the hospital, had an ultrasound. The doctor listened for a heartbeat, and then told us that he was truly sorry but the baby was dead. We went home and made a few phone calls. That night, I was taken to the hospital, and delivered the unborn baby. It was a hard time for me. What I really needed was some attention and compassion. I got nothing. I had been babysitting this girl’s baby two days a week while she was working, free charge of course. I told her that I needed some time. How much? I said about a week. After a week, I still wasn’t able, and told her I needed more time. She grew frustrated with me, and just said, “Okay, but I really need your help.” Not a card, flowers, sympathy, nothing, but “hurry and heal so you can serve me.”
One evening, we set aside time to
pray together with this couple at our house.
They finally came about 30 minutes late. They were fighting. They came through our front door without
saying hello and asked for the telephone to call their discipler and to talk
for a while. Without an apology for tardiness, they went home. During our next
discipleship time, she told me that they had gotten their fight resolved. I asked her why they didn’t even apologize to
us for being late and rude. I also asked
her if she was getting help with her anger.
She was furious with me. In the system of hierarchy, a person underneath
does not challenge the person over her.
She said she got the necessary help and already apologized to her
discipler and husband. The next evening,
we were summoned to their house. My
husband and I sat across the room from this couple. Her husband rebuked, corrected, and lashed
out at me. He told me, “YOU
This couple also was struggling financially but still giving a huge amount of money for their weekly contribution. They asked what we made and began to correct. “You make more than us and yet we give more contribution than you. You need to check out your heart and make sure that you love God because your actions are not showing it.” We raised our contribution.
In 1994, I received a phone call
from our evangelist's wife about
We finally were assigned to another couple. I was so glad. It was a chapter in my life that I wanted to forget. I did speak up when things weren’t right and the reaction to my voice wasn’t received very well, but I had courage.
We were brought back into leadership and were appointed shepherding couples. We were very happy in this role; we really enjoyed taking care of people. We delivered communion messages and spoke at the new Christian fellowship gatherings. One communion message, I shared that I would remain part of this church for the rest of my life.
The church did well for a while. Larry was a very persuasive preacher. He had a way of getting people to do just about anything. The coat, toy, and food drive were successes.
We began to have campaign months 4 times a year. This was a month of intense evangelism, bible studies and special events at the church to invite people to. We had extremely high baptism goals set for each group. Every member was expected to be in a study, and the group leaders were held accountable to make sure this happened. We had to turn in stat sheets every Sunday. The staff wanted information for every member. They wanted to know how
many times they shared their faith, if they were in a bible study, and if they were at church services. We worked very hard each month of the campaign. Every night was consumed with an activity. After the campaign month was over, all the members took a sigh of relief and continued to work their full time jobs. The staff went on group vacations for a reward.
The church started to have financial problems. The membership contribution kept growing but so did the expenses. Each staff member had a credit card from the church without limitations. We were completely oblivious to this rising debt; we trusted leadership and kept sharing our faith. We had a couple in our group with two small children. The husband lost his job, and their family needed food. We asked the church if they could help. They said they would have to write a letter explaining their situation, make a budget, and submit a plan of how they were going to find a job. This may be helpful information, but they needed food now. So my husband and I bought them $200.00 worth of groceries. We were puzzled as to why we gave so much contribution, but when someone needed help it was not received well.
The church was like a baptism
machine. Members that were hard working were
praised. It was very hard on the members
who had children. Family life was given
a low priority. The Reeds were asked to
lead another church and moved away in 2000.
Chris and Jackie McGrath moved to
January 2003, we had a midweek service and were told about a letter that was written by “an unhappy leader complaining about the church.” I wasn’t going to read the letter because I had been taught that reading negative information about the church was spiritual pornography.
In February, I had a close friend
read the letter and email it to me. The
letter talked about corruption, problems of the hierarchy system, misuse of
finances, and control among members. As
I was reading the letter, I began to feel validated about these issues I had
been taught that it was my sin, my prideful heart. Instead I saw that many people had felt the
same way, I was not alone. It was good
to step back and get a perspective of what I was part of. I started to read other websites and felt
disappointed about how cruel and corrupt my church had become over the years. I
read stories written by ex-members that had when through similar harsh
discipling that I had. I began to
realize that the ICC had done its own spinning of the
We began to hear rumors about the church’s debt so we decided to make an appointment with the administrator to see the church’s financial records. We were disgusted about the misuse of money. One year, $76,000 was spent on staff travel expenses, $13,000 on phones bills/cell phones, and $1300 on benevolence. We were sick. It was an area where we trusted and now felt betrayed. We talked to the leaders and saw little remorse about their spending. After we had talked to the Reeds, we had a staff member call us and wanted to know if they could help because she heard we were spiritually struggling. I was so mad! We were definitely struggling with disgust at the leadership.
It was difficult and frightening to change my thinking about ICC after 22 years, but I finally saw the church for what it was. I experienced years of turmoil, sleepless nights, harsh treatment and seeing my self worth become dependant on works and leader’s opinions. I saw a church that I felt disgusted and ashamed to be part of it. It was a self-serving system that cared little for the lives of its members.
My husband and I decided to leave the church in August of 2003. We called our people in our group, close friends, and the couple discipling us. Some felt disappointed, hurt, and angry. Others felt like we had betrayed them, and were walking away from God.
One person said it was going to be his goal to get us back. We received many phone calls and some members showed up at our door. We stopped talking to many people, because they were very demeaning to us. For the first several months, I had thoughts that I was going to hell because I was not part of the ICC. I began to read some very helpful books on spiritual recovery. I learned that many of the things I had believed were religious lies. I talked to ex members quite a lot. The support was very valuable. My confidence and self worth has really changed. It is not up and down anymore, but remains constant. I can’t spend my life trying to please a group of leaders, or hoping that my performance is good enough.
I am enjoying spending time with my husband and children. Happiness has returned.
©2004-2005 by Diane Turner <firstname.lastname@example.org>. All rights reserved.