by Rachel Lindsey
This has been a long time coming I left the ICOC over 7 years ago, and have just recently felt as though I can have a relationship with God. It has been hard not to feel guilty about leaving the ICOC. I had some good friends in that church. Very few have continued to be my friend after I left. As you read this, please know that Im not doing this out of bitterness or hatred. I am doing this to put this chapter of my life behind me and to be healed of what I went through as a member of the ICOC.
It was October 1991. I had recently graduated from Seattle Pacific University and was looking for a different church. I had been going to a church in Federal Way. One Sunday morning, the minister encouraged everyone to start speaking in tongues. Then he said, If you look around and see youre the only one not speaking in tongues, come up here and let us pray for you so that you can do speak in tongues too. When I got home, I looked in the Bible and knew that was wrong. According to the Bible, not all people have the same gift (make a note of this).
The next week, in my Economics 101 class at North Seattle Community College, Lorna invited me to a Bible Talk. What great timing God has, I thought. When I did finally go to that Bible Talk (only took 6 weeks), I was the only visitor, so they decided just to do a study with me the Discipleship study. When asked the 3 ending questions are you a disciple? Are you a Christian? Are you saved? My answer was According to YOU Im not.
That was the beginning of an intense two-week Bible study with the International Church of Christ. I was VERY reluctant to study again, but I did maybe out of wanting to be friends with Lorna. At any rate, on December 15th, I was baptized into the Seattle Church of Christ. And, as it so happens, that was actually my first time to see the any church service in that church. It was very different than what I was used to, but I liked how vibrant it seemed to be.
Three weeks later a new evangelist started to lead the church Rob and Pam Skinner. Though Im not sure why Joe & Edie Garmon left, I heard rumors of some kind of sin. Thus we had new leaders. They were quite hard-lined. The first message Rob preached I remember not wanting to talk with Lorna, my discipler I felt guilty from the message. I did however meet Chip, this great guy who had just moved up from the San Francisco Church. We talked for a bit, as I was trying not to make eye contact with Lorna. After talking with Chip for a little bit, I finally sat down with Lorna and one other campus leader to talk about sharing my faith. Now, I am a fairly quiet and reserved person. Im not the best at meeting and talking with absolute strangers. But I was told that I needed to share my faith and that this week was going to be a sharing blitz. So, being the obedient new disciple, I caved in.
That week I invited people to church. Although it was hard, I did it. I did it to be obedient to Lorna, my campus leader and to the evangelist. As my campus leader said when I told her that I just didnt have it in my heart that this is what I should do, she responded, If you just do it, your heart will follow. What a motto. To some extent it was true. But it is a basis of the control at the ICOC.
A few months went by. I always had a Saturday night date all the campus brothers asked me out. And finally Chip, the great guy from San Francisco, asked me out. We had a great time getting to know each other. It was a fun date. The next month he asked me out again. Thats when I knew that I could fall for him. After the advised amount of time, I asked him out, and then we went out every other week until he finally asked me to be his girlfriend 3 months later. Let me say one thing here: as soon as I had gone out on my 2nd date with Chip, not one other brother asked me out on a date. Which was, I thought, really odd considering I ALWAYS had a date. Guess it got around that Chip and I liked each other .. whether that is good or not, Im not sure!
Anyway, everything was great while dating. We were both in the singles zone and ended up leading a Bible talk together. Things were going very well. I was doing the things that I was told good quiet times, inviting people to church, always coming to any and all meetings of the church, I started discipling other women, etc. I prayed constantly that if Chip and I were to date longer than 2 months, that he would be the one. Two months came and we were still together. So I knew that he would one day be my husband.
On February 10, 1993, Marty Fuqua & Preston Shepherd came to speak to our church on Wednesday. They told us that Seattle was awesome, and that there were some needs in other ministries that we could fill. Marty preached a lesson on God testing people. He ended the sermon with Acts 8: 1-4 and Acts 11:19-26, where the disciples were scattered and the churches continued to spread. He then told of the Dallas church that was split and in 1-½ years, it tripled in size. Then the bombshell: of the 300 disciples in the Seattle church at that time, 50 were going to be moving to Los Angeles, 100 to San Francisco and the remaining 150 would stay in Seattle. Rob and Pam would be moving to San Francisco to prepare for leading the church in Japan. During the next week, as the leaders decided where everyone was going to go, we were told to talk with our leaders and let them know if we had any inkling of where we wanted to go. Next week Marty and Preston came back, this time with Al Baird. They read the list of names of those moving to LA and SF.
Now, being born and raised in Seattle, I loved the city. My whole family was here. I really didnt want to move, but you cant tell the leaders you wont move. I wasnt too surprised to hear my name called for those moving to LA. Luckily my best friend Heather and my boyfriend Chip were heading down there too. The challenge that we were given was within 2 weeks (by March 1st), we needed to be in LA. There were those that had to take a bit longer to tie up all the loose ends up here, but if you were one of the 150 that were moving, you needed to leave sooner, not later!
We were immediately separated into 3 different groups LA, SF and those staying in Seattle. We met separately and got new discipling partners from within those groups. It was weird at how fast things changed. It almost seemed as if we couldnt talk or associate with anyone who wasnt part of your group.
Anyway, the trip to LA was good. For the first 2 weeks I was in LA, I stayed at Lisas house. She was the zone leader and ended up discipling me for the first few weeks. I really clicked with Lisa. She became such a good friend quickly. But, as all good things must come to an end in the ICC, I was told I was moving in with 3 other sisters, Erica, Tanya and Lee. I was being moved into Ericas zone, and she was to be my new discipler. OK, I thought. LA is giving me a new start. I am giving my heart without any reservations, and I am going to be completely open with Erica. Boy was that a mistake!
One of my first d-times with Erica, we walked around the neighborhood and talked and prayed. I expressed to her that I was missing my family, especially my mom, as this was the first time I had been a way from her for so long. Well, this kind of freaked her out. She thought that I was completely struggling and would be falling away. The next night at Wednesday evening, the new discipling chain was announced. I was going to be discipled by Keri, but as Erica was reading off the list, she scratched out the name of the person I was going to disciple and changed it to someone else right in front of everyone! Talk about frustrating! I was still supposed to co-lead a Bible Talk, but not disciple anyone. I was mad, but there was nothing I could do about it. I have learned that you cant argue with the leaders. Thats the way to get rebuked!
Shortly after that, the some of us who had moved to West LA into the singles and married group met with Reese Neyland, our Sector Leader. It was an informal time at his house. Basically it was a how are things going kind of meeting. Several of us expressed our concern at the lack of spirituality that we had seen, such as short or almost non-existent quiet times, almost no double-dating going on, lots of independence. But it was very surprising to hear Reeses response: we, the ones from Seattle, had it wrong. Seattle was a weak church that it needed to be split up. Since there was no other church that could handle these weak disciples we were sent to LA, and LA did not really want us. So, quit complaining and do what the disciples do down here. Talk about being shocked! The whole line that Marty gave the Seattle church and need being filled in other churches was a lie? No way? Why would a leader lie?
We brushed that off and tried to fit in. Of course things went down quickly for Chip and me. We ended up leaving the church, and found an apartment to move into together. But, at the last moment, Chip changed his mind and decided to go back. And I followed. However, in order to be let back in, I had to withstand a 2-½ hour rebuking session with Mary Kay Neyland. Let me just say that I left and never wanted to see her again! It was really hard to just sit there and take it from her. But I did. I was trying to be humble. It was all I could do to keep myself from getting up out of the chair and leave her house. And I followed all the directions she gave me, or any other leader gave me.
I was moved to a new zone and moved back in with Lisa, who I had stayed with originally. I was excited about that. Lisa was such a good friend during that time, as was my new discipler, Doris. I was a basket case for the next month, and then, as the ICC does, I was hit with another bombshell. Not only could I not date Chip, but now I was not to even TALK to him at all! I had to completely ignore him and give him the cold shoulder. OK. So here is a man that I love, a man who was my best friend and now Im told that I cant talk with him. I obeyed. Didnt want to, but knew I had to. Luckily after a month of not talking, Chip finally talked to the leaders and got an OK for us to speak. Then over the next 6 weeks, we began spending more time together, went out on a few dates and ended up going steady again.
During this time, as I had the pleasure, if you can call it that, of babysitting the Neylands kids during the leaders meetings. Now, Mary Kay wasnt really one of my favorite people. But when asked to do something by the leaders, you better do it. I ended up babysitting for 5 months, every Sunday, for 2-3 hours. Maybe that was their way to make sure that I stayed faithful or humble. I remember dreading Sundays because I had to go over to their house to baby sit.
Chip and I dated 3 months, and then he proposed. I was very surprised! But I finally felt as if things were looking up. And the ICC changed things once again. I loved my roommates, Lisa and Sali. I loved my discipler, Doris, and the Bible Talk I was in. But since I was engaged, I had to move zones again. And in moving zones, you get a new discipler and new roommates. My discipler this time was Tina. She was one of the people who moved down from Seattle. She had discipled me prior to moving to LA and it was horrible. We did not click. Nothing I could do or say was good enough for her. She had a very snobbish attitude that I guess only those not in leadership could see. When I found out she was my new discipler, I BEGGED for it to be changed anyone but her, I told our zone leaders. I let them know about my prior experience, but it didnt matter. She was my discipler, and I had to make the best of it and make her my new best friend.
So then I begged that if I couldnt change disciplers, let me stay in the household I was in. At least then I knew that I could be discipled by my roommates. But I was told no and that I had to move into a household with 3 other women, who I did not know. I had briefly met 1 of them before, but that was it. Since there was no way out, I accepted my fate and moved into the new house with Nancy, Charon and Michelle. We ended up being friends, and they helped out tremendously throughout my engagement from stuffing envelopes to helping at the reception.
My discipler, Tina, was getting married a few months before Chip and I. I really did not want to go to her bridal shower, seeing as I really didnt like her, but I felt obligated to go. I went with my best friend, Heather. We stayed for about 45-50 minutes. Long enough, I thought, since this was the day that Heather and I had planned 2 weeks before to go looking for my wedding dress. Well, let me tell you, I got quite the earful the next day from Tina because I left her shower early. It was very selfish of me to leave early, even if I did go look for a wedding dress (there are plenty of other days you could go). I should have stayed there to support her. And here I was again. Feeling completely humiliated and like I could never do anything right.
There were so many engagements in our sector that you were pretty much assigned a wedding date the date for us was May 7th. I wanted to have an afternoon wedding like around 2pm. However, when we talked with our zone leader, Mike, he let us know that May 7th was the day of the all-church basketball league playoff championship. So, we should have it at 11am, just in case our sector made it that far (as the game was supposed to begin at 2 oclock). So, thats what we did, luckily. Our sector did indeed make it to the championship. In fact 45 minutes into our reception 90% of the disciples left so they could go to the game. It was quite disappointing.
From the time that Chip and I got engaged, we made it clear to our disciplers, Bible Talk leaders, zone leaders and everyone else that we wanted to move back to Seattle in the not too distant future. Everyone just encouraged us to pray about it, and God would make it obvious. So thats what we did. About 5 months after we got married, Chip got a job in Seattle. We were very excited! We told everyone that we would be leaving LA on October 11th. We rented a U-haul, gave notice on our apartment, asked a friend (a non-disciple) if he would help us drive up to Seattle, and told all my family that wed be back soon.
Up to this point, the only direction we had received was to pray about it and God would show us what to do. I think getting a job is pretty obvious, right? Well, the last Wednesday night we were in LA, our new evangelist (I cant remember his name, but he was from Texas and could be the long-lost twin of Chuck Norris), pulled our zone together to say a prayer for Chip and myself for God to look out after us on our drive and in Seattle. We said our good-byes, and then this evangelist pulled us aside and told us that we should not move. If we did, we would fall away up in Seattle. We just thought, why werent we told prior to tonight? We had been completely open about our desires, and now we had to change them?
We moved to Seattle, and hooked up with the church. It was an odd feeling going back to where it all started. The Sunday attendance was around 300. We went to all the services, and we even discipled an older couple after a few months. However, I started having a hard time with the church. One issue was the requirement to serve in kids church for a month. Now, I believe that you do need to serve in an area that is near to your heart. But I always had a hard time teaching kids church because I did not have any kids. And when it was your turn to teach, there was no getting out of it. I think that you have to have a positive attitude going into it and being told that you had to do it wasnt a good way to make my attitude positive. Anyway, I ended up doing it for a week and then not showing up for the next week. My discipler finished out the month for me. I changed my attitude, got focused back on Jesus and started to do a bit better.
At the end of May, the discipling chain changed once again. I was going to be discipled by the same person. My husband and I talked about it in passing since nothing was changing for us. Then I got a call from my discipler. She said that she wanted me to disciple someone. A major red flag went up in my head. First off, I knew who it wouldnt be since my husband was not asked to disciple anyone. So, that left 2 women who were going through divorces. They both had kids. One of them had a horrible time with here ex-husband, and her children were scary. I, on several occasions, had to give them rides to church. Her kids often called her a bitch in front of me, had no respect for her and would give mean, hateful glares at me. There were several times that I was a bit scared. The other womans husband had just recently left the church and she was having a hard time knowing what to do (he was getting drunk and had little respect for her, but knew that the church would never recommend that she divorce him). She also had 3 kids. Anyway, here I was, a newlywed with no kids. I really did not want to disciple either of these women. So I said that I didnt want to do it. My discipler said. If you dont do it then you dont love God. I said, fine, I guess I dont. There was silence on the other end. I said good-bye and hung up the phone.
After I hung up the phone, I thought, how dare she say that I dont love God simply because I wont do what she tells me to! I talked with my husband about it. He tried to change my mind, not to leave, but I felt like I had to stick with my decision. I went to church with my husband that the next Sunday. I was an emotional wreck! I knew that I loved God, but didnt know what to do. I felt very empty sitting there. I felt as if everyone knew that I was struggling. It was a very odd feeling.
The next month was the Special Contribution. My husband and I had saved up the money. We talked about it in light of me not going to church anymore. He said that since we had saved it for this, we should give it all to the church. I said, no, half of it is from me. He can do what he wants with his half, but I wasnt going to give my half to that church! That Sunday, he went to church, and I moved into our spare bedroom. I knew that our marriage was over as it would be impossible to be married to a disciple and know that he would think that I was going to Hell because I am no longer a member of that church. When Chip got home, we talked, cried and yelled, and he finally convinced me to move back into our room. He said that no matter what, he loved me. That was very reassuring to me with everything else that I was feeling.
Chip continued to go to the church until October. Then he came to the conclusion that it was going to have to decide between his marriage or the church. He chose his marriage and left the church.
Since we left, it has been really hard for us. The indoctrination that leaving the church is leaving God has been the hardest part to get over. There have been times where we feel guilty for not going to church, so we try to find one. But it doesnt seem to follow the Bible, or the people are not friendly, or a million other things seem wrong with it. We have talked with several pastors of different churches about our experience in hopes of getting over this feeling of emptiness and abuse. Nothing ever seemed to help. Sometimes I just wished that I had never joined. I mean, I had a love for God before joining the ICOC. They just quenched it with all the things I had to do in order to love God according to them (like daily quiet times, inviting X number of people to church, desiring to be a leader, discipling someone, serve in the capacity they told me to serve).
There are been only a handful of friends from the church that we are still on contact with Lorna, Heather & Jeff are the ones who continued to be our friends even after we left. Most people want nothing to do with us. We have invited several friends over at different times, and we usually do not hear from them. Really makes you feel like they are being Christ-like! Holidays are also difficult for us as both of Chips sisters and their families are disciples. I remember having a talk with Kellie, his younger sister, and telling her how awkward it is to be around them because they see Chip and myself as leaving God and bound for hell. She didnt say much to that. But how can she? I mean we are the evil ones for leaving God or rather the church, right?
It has been 7 ½ years since I left the church. There have been lots of ups and downs in my life, marriage and love for God. I was talking with my mother-in-law one day about why I left the ICOC and she said something that finally got through to me after all this time. She said that there is no perfect church out there. All you can do is find a church that follows the Bible, one that encourages you to love God and one that has members who are loving God as well. She was right! It comes down to the Bible and loving God. It doesnt have anything to do with disciplers, getting advice, being told where to live or how to serve, dating only in the ICOC, going to a specific church, being a leader, or inviting people to your church. All that matters is loving God and following the Bible. And you know what? I do love God. Regardless of what the ICOC thinks or believes, I do love God.
©2003 by Rachel Lindsey. All rights reserved.
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