Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interview on Witness Radio

I was recently interviewed about my ICOC experiences by Ryan Muniak, a campus minister with the Christian Collegian Network at the University of Cincinnati, for his weekly podcast Witness Radio. He did an excellent job letting me narrate my journey in and out of the cult and on the path to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Additionally he provided a good overview of what college students (and others) need to be familiar with about the ICOC. Squeezing every detail about thought reform, McKeanist doctrine, and history into thirty minutes is impossible, but I believe enough information was presented so that people who are curious - both those inside and outside of the ICOC (and ICC) - will be able to research that information. Ryan has encountered members of the Cincinnati Church of Christ's campus ministry, Disciples on Campus, on a few occasions and has a heart to reach them with the truth of the gospel of grace. We're sincerely praying that this podcast makes a difference, even beyond Southwest Ohio!

The show (Witness Radio, Episode 46) can be downloaded here.

Show Notes:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Rising Threat of One Man

Over the past few years, the outlook of the ICOC becoming a power once again seemed doubtful. However, recent events in my home town of Cincinnati, Ohio have shown that the local ICOC, the Cincinnati Church of Christ, may have reached a threshold where they should be considered a serious and very dangerous threat, especially to students at the local college campuses. This threat may help accelerate the drive of the entire ICOC back to the intensity of its controlling practices when it was lead by Kip McKean.

In the beginning of 2013, the Cincinnati ICOC hired Doug Lambert of the Baltimore ICOC as its Lead Evangelist. A little over a year and a half later, in late August of 2014, Lambert spoke the the ICOC's annual International Leadership Conference (ILC) in Singapore. He spoke the first half of a lesson entitled "Building with Costly Stones". That cost for the members of his congregation is heavy. In his lesson, we learn the following:

1. Men make the church grow, not God.
"You see, the Bible says here 'God makes it grow'. So if it's not growing, it's not God's fault. [affirmations by the audience] OK, we understand it, if it's not growing, it's not because God's not doing His part - because He makes it grow. It's not because of the workers, it's not because of the field, it's not because of the situation, it's not because of the challenges, we've got to look at ourselves and say 'am I the man to make it grow?' Because God makes it grow."

Doug Lambert - Lead Evangelist - Cincinnati Church of Christ, ICOC International Leadership Conference (Singapore) "Building with Costly Stones", August 28, 2014 [6:21-6:55]
2. Growth is the increase of the number of members and the amount of money taken in through the weekly offerings.
"And I believe that as a leader, it's important that I bring faith to my church and to the situations. [affirmations from the audience]. The church in Cincinnati was very, very stuck. Except for a few campus and teen baptisms, it wasn't growing. And we came in; we said, 'we believe all ministries can grow'. We believe the members can get engaged and that the marrieds and the singles can grow. We believe our contribution can grow. [loud 'Yeah!' from the audience]"

Doug Lambert - Lead Evangelist - Cincinnati Church of Christ, ICOC International Leadership Conference (Singapore) "Building with Costly Stones", August 28, 2014 [7:56-8:22]
3. ICOC congregations are not autonomous.
"But coming to Cincinnati, the challenges were so daunting, with the eldership and the staff and the other churches in the area, I thought: I've got to write things down. I mean, I've got to have detailed plans, four typed pages of what I need to focus on."

Doug Lambert - Lead Evangelist - Cincinnati Church of Christ, ICOC International Leadership Conference (Singapore) "Building with Costly Stones", August 28, 2014 [10:55-11:12]
In the entire context of his lesson, it appears that Mike Fontenot, leader of the Hampton Roads ICOC in Virginia may have sent or allowed Doug Lambert to go to Cincinnati. Doug Lambert apparently has influence and authority of other ICOC congregations in the Ohio Valley area (covering Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia). In other words, Doug Lambert's role and authority is no different than the role and authority of the Geographic Sector Leader (GSL) in the ICOC before 2003. Consequently, Mike Fontenot's authority appears to be that of a World Sector Leader (WSL) in the ICOC before 2003.

4. Re-establishing an eldership is not a priority whatsoever.
"We focus a lot on building infrastructure: great Sunday services, great midweeks... staff meetings, getting the HOPE work really going, women's ministry, missions, children's ministry, great events, working with our board... building a leadership group, really getting the youth and family ministry really great... We've built our campus ministry. We have ministry training programs and internships. The big focus now is on our singles and our young marrieds..."

Doug Lambert - Lead Evangelist - Cincinnati Church of Christ, ICOC International Leadership Conference (Singapore) "Building with Costly Stones", August 28, 2014 [11:50-13:00]
Note that in context, "building a leadership group" means continuing to build himself and staff roles below him in the discipling hierarchy, not establishing a plurality of spirital men to lead the congregation as elders where Lambert would work at best alongside them.

5. Needs of the rank-and-file members are subordinated to the plans to build the church (numerically).
"But having a plan requires focus, doing it well and thoroughly, and completing it and then moving on to the next task. There's still a lot to do in the church. We've got a lot of holes and a lot of needs. Part of the problem: we've raised expectations now so that everybody's saying, 'Hey, what about this and what about me, how about over here?' And I'm like, 'We'll get to it!' [affirmations by the audience] It's going to take five years. So I told the church when we came in: it's going to be five years to build what we need to build."

Doug Lambert - Lead Evangelist - Cincinnati Church of Christ, ICOC International Leadership Conference (Singapore) "Building with Costly Stones", August 28, 2014 [13:20-13:50]
6.  An ICOC Evangelist still has unilateral authority to discipline ICOC Elders, even implicitly call for their resignation.
"When we came to Cincinnati, the eldership that was in place was very divided. And we had many conversations and I finally said, 'You know, this has been going on for a long time. We're setting a five month time limit on this. And within five months, this situation will be resolved because it has gone on too long.' I believe that I have the authority as an Evangelist to discipline elders if I need to. And so after five months, we got the elders together and they met and they decided that they needed to step down."

Doug Lambert - Lead Evangelist - Cincinnati Church of Christ, ICOC International Leadership Conference (Singapore) "Building with Costly Stones", August 28, 2014 [15:07-15:43]
1 Timothy 5:19-20 clearly states that two or three witnesses are needed to bring a charge against an elder. However, Lambert did not mention any other witnesses besides himself. (Making the other elders be the other witnesses makes no sense, of course!) In addition, Lambert has the authority to correct the unrepentant elders in front of the entire congregation, but no authority to make them step down from their role.

A previous post discusses the resignation of the elders in the Cincinnati Church of Christ and its conclusions and ramifications.

7. Additional restrictions (specifically membership in a shepherding group) are required to be a member of the church and thus keep one's salvation.
"And we decided we were going to have high expectations. ['Yup' from the audience] And we were not going to compromise. We're going to expect everybody to come to midweeks, we've heard that, right? [affirmations from the audience] But that is the expectation. And then we said everyone in the church, to be a member of the church, has to be in a small group. [affirmations from the audience] You don't want to be in a small group, you're welcome to attend as a visitor. [affirmations from the audience] But you will not be a member of our church - that was not without controversy."

Doug Lambert - Lead Evangelist - Cincinnati Church of Christ, ICOC International Leadership Conference (Singapore) "Building with Costly Stones", August 28, 2014 [17:05-17:33]
8. The destructive practice of pruning has returned to the ICOC.
"And as discipling began to spread through the church, I prepared the leadership. I said... we will have more fallaways in 2014 than we had in 2013. Because as discipling spreads through the church, there will be a slow bleed. [affirmations from the audience] Because some of our members actually like the fact that there was no discipling. [more affirmations from the audience] some of our members actually like the fact that Jesus was not Lord of the church or of their lives and kind of liked the way the church was and so as we're getting where we need to be, we knew that we would lose people. Now what's been encouraging is way more people have got on board because in their hearts, deep down, they really do want Jesus to be Lord. [a chorus of 'Right!' from the audience] But we couldn't be afraid of what was going to happen if we did what was right."

Doug Lambert - Lead Evangelist - Cincinnati Church of Christ, ICOC International Leadership Conference (Singapore) "Building with Costly Stones", August 28, 2014 [18:02-18:48]
Clearly if the ICOC's upper echelon of leadership chose Lambert as an example of how to build and grow an ICOC congregation a decade after the resignation of Kip McKean and the events of the Henry Kriete Letter, then their long-term intentions are as clear as crystal. Now that the organization has stabilized, the leadership intends to return to implementing controls (albeit some slowly) across the entire organization as McKean singlehandedly did throughout his twenty-three year head of the Boston Movement and ICOC.

It's a dangerous time to be a disciple.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Eldership is Toast!

From out of nowhere came news that the three men who comprised the eldership of the Cincinnati Church of Christ: ("Lead Elder") Jim Fulcher, Joe Dilts, and Tom Meade, resigned from their positions and thus dissolved the eldership of the Cincinnati Church of Christ. Their pictures have been removed from their website (according to this post). The reason for their collective resignation is the inability for them to work together. Even with outside assistance and direction - from other International Churches of Christ congregations - they could not reconcile their differences and operate effectively as an eldership. In fact, it appears that they may have been directed by the other ICOC leaders outside of the Cincinnati Church of Christ to resign.
"[The elders] each spoke to us and said that they have tried for a while to work through the issues they had. Leaders from other [ICOC] churches were brought in to try and help them out, and give advice, but in the end they (ed: the elders or the leaders from the other ICOC congregations?) felt that what was best for the church (ed: the Cincinnati CoC or the ICOC or both?) would be them stepping down."
At this time, Lead Evangelist Doug Lambert will be leading the congregation. A process to choose new elders appears to be underway.

In my opinion, it's too early to draw conclusions and predict outcomes, but we do know the following facts and what they imply:
  • The Cincinnati Church of Christ leadership structure failed to transform from one man leading the entire church (the traditional ICOC model where an Evangelist possessed the ultimate and final power and authority for an entire congregation) to a plurality of qualified spiritual leaders shepherding the entire flock. This was one of the promises made after the events of the Henry Kriete Letter ten years ago.
  • Consequently, the elders were merely figureheads. The functional "eldership" was, and remains, the hired evangelists (Doug Lambert and John Cleghorn) and other paid staff (Michael DeAquino and Chase Mackintosh).
  • The Cincinnati Church of Christ could not resolve this situation internally as an autonomous church. They had to call in others in the ICOC for assistance to receive discipling. And that external discipling influence obviously failed to keep the eldership together.
  • Jim Fulcher failed to establish an eldership in the Cincinnati Church of Christ, even ending up as one of its elders. This is one of the reasons he was hired as the Lead Evangelist in early 2007.
  • If the most qualified men in the entire congregation couldn't work out their differences, even after decades upon decades of ICOC discipling - before, during, and after Kip McKean was over them in leadership - what does that say about their discipling system?
  • If this is the result of discipling for the most spiritually mature in the congregation, what kind of discipling is everyone else receiving and how are they maturing?
  • I'm not surprised that a dysfunctional eldership like this would have appointed a man as unqualified as John Cleghorn as an Evangelist. (See a previous post I wrote for details.)
  • How can this problem be avoided in the future? Can more ICOC-style discipling even fix this problem?
  • The Cincinnati Church of Christ, even after thirty years of existence as a discipling church, has failed to produce leaders from its own membership to effectively shepherd itself. How can it successfully replicate itself in the long-term by planting ministries and other churches?
In one sense, this event was surprising, but not unexpected. This is simply just another natural outcome of their theology. Jesus said "by their fruit, you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:15-20).

If you're a current member reading this, please think seriously about these facts and questions. There is no quick fix. Look hard at the past and look long towards the future. Do you want the discipling you receive and give to end up in a situation like Fulcher, Dilts, and Meade? Finally, don't be afraid to comment or send me an e-mail or tweet!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Validation: Gut Feeling

As Genesis 1:27 tells us, God created us human beings in His image, as the masterpiece of His creation. One of the marvelous aspects that we were created with is the ability of involuntarily reacting to our environment. Most of the time these involuntary reflexes help protect our lives. For example, if we accidentally touch something very hot with our hands, our hands, arms, and bodies will immediately recoil, mitigating damage taken from severe burns. Ignoring or overriding these involuntary actions take strength, energy, and concentration in addition to the great risk of harm that will likely come by ignoring these kinds of reflexes.

In the same way, God our Creator has not only given us involuntary physical reflexes, but mental and emotional reflexes as well. These help to avoid physical and psychological harm. The classic example is the fight-or-flight response. Sometimes it's more difficult to attribute these feelings to impeding or perceived danger, but in some circumstances, especially when they're told to an external observer, these "gut feelings" turn out to be absolutely correct.

In April of 2013, a member of the Cincinnati Church of Christ posted on the ICOC/ICC Discussion Forum on Delphi. His initial post gave typical defenses of ICOC doctrines and practices in the post-McKean era. One part did stand out (underlined emphasis mine):
I'm not thinking about leaving, and my goal isn't to "silence the criticism." I have issues myself sometimes, but I am not afraid to give voice to them, talk to leadership etc. Sometimes my issues get good answers that put them to rest and sometimes they don't. So far I don't have big enough issues with stuff to leave and stop trying to help the church grow, and I don't think there is abuse. There was a sermon a while ago that i did feel was waaayyyy [sic] strong and made me very uncomfortable (not "ouch, convicting" uncomfortable, but "this is wrong" uncomfortable) but a few weeks later he apologized to the whole congregation and said it was uncalled for and too much. Overall i don't usually feel like manipulative control is our issue.
Upon reading this, I responded to his post and affirmed that his instincts were likely correct. I also encouraged him that this was an opportunity to think and confirm that his instincts were correct. Was it just the delivery of the sermon that made him and many other members of the Cincinnati Church of Christ uneasy or was it the delivery and the contents of the delivery? I also asked him which sermon it was so I could listen to it.

He responded again:
He let his emotions about the subject cause him to go on a rant, and lost the love aspect of "speak the truth in love." That's what i mainly found wrong with it, and this was the only time in my 4 years here that I felt like I was hearing something similar to the bashings I've read about in the past.
This response didn't contain the response to the request I had made in the previous post for the sermon he was concerned about. After I had mentioned it to him again, another forum member graciously gave me the information. The sermon was based on Mark chapter 4 and was entitled "Seeds and Soils". It was delivered by Evangelist and Youth and Family Minister John Cleghorn. I wasn't surprised in the least that it was Cleghorn that went on a rant!

In the next post, the contented member of the Cincinnati Church of Christ explains the content of the sermon:

We were going through Mark, and that sunday [sic] was the parable of the sower. When talking about the worries of the world that choke our faith, [John Cleghorn] used an example of teens spending too much time on sports and got carried away, ending up saying parents were enabling it and would get to heaven to find their kids didn't make it, but hey at least they got a college scholarship.
There are many better ways to say ["]Why gain the world if you forfeit your soul?["] but that is all he was trying to say, i [sic] think.
I responded:
The scriptures clearly teach that it's the responsibility of parents to teach and model the faith once for all delivered to the saints to their children and the responsibility of the children to decide to follow Christ, whether it be early in their lives or many years later. Parents may enable their children to prioritize other things above Christ, but John Cleghorn is wrong to directly blame (and presumably lay guilt upon) [Note: keep reading this blog post because my presumption was correct!] the parents for their children not making it to heaven.

I would ask Cleghorn about those Kingdom Kids who grew up in the ICOC and whose parents made the Kingdom of God a priority, but those children are now no longer interested in Christianity whatsoever. Who's to blame there?
Although what Cleghorn was teaching from the pulpit was not obviously violating any primary Christian doctrines (as he and his cohorts have done many time in the past), what he was teaching was both clearly incorrect and highly manipulative.

Several days later, I listened to the sermon and posted a full analysis. The following is the section in question "preached" by John Cleghorn that made everyone uneasy:
"And I think in this area, I get a little scared because we've watered that down. We often don't water it down for ourself [sic], but we're OK missing church to go to something, to some sporting event, to some dance-thing, or some something and you think, 'Well, I'm committed.' But what are you teaching your KIDS? [My wife] Shannon and I made a decision with our children, they can play one sport. (And I think it's good to be in a sport or dance or something like that. I think that's GREAT. There are things you can learn on a team that you can't be taught unless you're on a team. I think that's great.) But my kids aren't going to join a sport that's going to get in the way of seeking the Kingdom first. Period! Maybe on our minds we're thinking, 'Well, they can be a pro athlete. Or they can get a SCHOLARSHIP and SAVE US MONEY.' I KNOW WE'RE THINKING THAT. WILL THEY GET A SCHOLARSHIP? SO WHAT?! WHO CARES IF THEY GET A SCHOLARSHIP IF THEY [pounds the pulpit] DON'T MAKE IT TO HEAVEN?!?! WHO CARES!?!?!? YOU'RE GOING TO BE IN HEAVEN AND GO, 'MAN, MY KID GOT A SCHOLARSHIP AND I'M FIRED UP, BUT THEY DIDN'T MAKE IT TO HEAVEN.' NO, YOU'RE GOING TO BE LIKE 'I BLEW IT!!!!!! [pounds the pulpit] I BLEW IT!!!!!!' [some clapping from the audience] 'MY KID'S EDUCATION WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOD'S WORD AND THEM BEING A CHRISTIAN.' It drives me crazy when I hear about parents that talk about if their kid did homework or not, but they didn't have a quiet time with them. They asked them more if they did their homework or if their homework was complete than if they ask they're walking with God. That STUFF DOESN'T MATTER! (Now you still need to get good grades, amen? [laughter from the audience]) But that stuff doesn't matter! 'Well, John's being hard.' No, I'M NOT BEING HARD, THAT'S WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS!! AND IF YOU THINK IF YOU'RE FRUSTRATED, GET MAD AT GOD BECAUSE HIS EXPECTATION IS THAT!! AND I KNOW SOME OF YOU ARE BLARING AT ME, LIKE 'HE'S TALKING TO ME!' YES!!!!! I'M TALKING TO YOU, AND IT AIN'T JUST ME, IT IS GOD TALKING TO YOU THROUGH HIS HOLY SPIRIT, THROUGH HIS WORD: DON'T WATER DOWN GOD'S EXPECTATION BECAUSE WE WANT THESE KIDS TO BE FAITHFUL!!! ['amens' and applause from the audience]"
His "gut feeling" was correct, as well as many other members of the Cincinnati Church of Christ. Sadly, as this follow-up post details, he did not want to accept the facts that were exposed and the conversation came to an end. As of early July, he hasn't posted much, if at all, on the forum. And why should he? From what we can tell, he recently graduated from college, is in a "sharp" ministry of young professionals (as opposed to a "weak and weird" ministry of the "unsharp"), and all is smooth sailing. He's likely on the track of good graces with his peers and the leadership to date and marry as well. Why take direction from a "fall-away" who has confirmed that his instincts are correct and risk losing everything he has in Kip McKean's Christ?

The truth hurts. Leaving the International Churches of Christ over six years ago was one of the most difficult things I've done in my life. But seven years ago I woke up and realized that I was burning. The authentic Jesus Christ of true Christianity has healed me of the spiritual, emotional, and psychological burn wounds I've suffered at the hands of their demonic system. But what will happen to those today who remain burning and who continue to will themselves to ignore benefits of common grace in order to avoid what they perceive as inconceivable pain? You can only ignore your "gut" for so long before it gives out.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Validation: Meet the New Boss

On the ICOC/ICC Delphi discussion forum, I read an interesting thread involving three current ICOC members, all of which have been with the organization from at least the 1990's.

The first, who initially quotes a former member:

"The [Boston Church of Christ] will not change until all the old leaders are either gone or die off. Sorry to be so blunt.
If you read in Exodus, the LORD had the nation of Israel wander 40 years so that everyone died off and only the new generation could ever see the promised land. God forgives, but he takes righteousness very seriously. Even Moses himself was not allowed to witness the land that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants"
you know...i had this same conversation with a couple of folks about the ICOC on the whole.

This was followed by the second current member:

That's funny - I've had the same conversation, too. Though I see the occasional young evangelist who thinks the old days must have been great and it makes me very sad...

And this was followed by the third:

Me too, actually! I have had MANY of these conversations in the last 10 years, and a few very recently. I've said here before, but the ICOC as a whole will not collectively grow or get collectively healthier while the current leadership paradigm exists. And the current old boy club ain't given up control! Heck, Steve Johnson is on the evangelist committee thingie. And too many of the young leaders aren't being taught differently, either. I don't see it changing fellowship-wide at all.

We won't get fooled again.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Enjoy The Silence

In light of the tenth anniversary of the events surrounding Kip McKean's resignation from the ICOC and the Henry Kriete Letter, I've written an op/ed on the current state of the ICOC entitled Enjoy the Silence. What is the status of the ICOC now? What, if anything, has changed? And where are they going?

You can read the paper at: http://www.reveal.org/library/history/enjoythesilence.pdf.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hoodwinked!

The Christian Chronicle, a periodical published by the mainline Churches of Christ, recently published a glowing article of the current state of the International Churches of Christ. It appears they didn't ask the hard questions necessary to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are no longer a cult of Christianity. Instead, they merely bought into the dog and pony show given to them by leaders such as Mike Taliaferro and Steve Staten.

My concern is that can even those in the mainline Churches of Christ, or even those in the general Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement (including the Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ) know what to ask them to reveal that the ICOC preaches a false gospel of tentative grace that can only be earned by pleasing men and a man-made messiah without the person and work of the Holy Spirit?

P.T. Barnum would have been proud.