Curtiss Hayes emailed us this moving account of his time in the ICC in April 1997. It is republished here with his permission. Curtiss invites people to email him if they wish.
My ICC life
By Curtiss Hayes.
First, let me say that I believe most of the members of the International Churches of Christ love God and are following the leaders of the movement because they think by following the leaders they are obeying God. I respect the majority of the members. I have no respect for any of the leaders on staff. This includes sector leaders and above. What I think of them you may read in the Bible passages below. I may sound harsh in describing some of the acts of the members (disciples) but really, they are just deceived people who are following blind guides.
- Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. Matthew 23:15
- Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:23-24
- Don’t let others spoil your faith and joy with their philosophies, their wrong and shallow answers built on men’s thoughts and ideas, instead of on what Christ has said. Colossians 2:8
- Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Colossians 2:20-23
I was met by a member of the International Churches of Christ in January of 1993 while a hospital patient in Dallas. I was in the hospital for a suicide attempt and stayed for ten days. We studied the first two studies of the ‘First Principles’ series which the International Churches of Christ use to determine if a person is ready for salvation. I didn’t know the church affiliation at the time. I was told that it was a non-denominational church that simply believed in going by the Bible.
The first study was “The Word” study and it impressed upon me the fact that I had not been taking God’s word seriously. It teaches you that the Bible is the standard we should live by and that it is relevant to everyone, at anytime and in anyplace. I started thinking, “This is it. I knew Jesus was real. This guy is really teaching the Bible and I’m sure, living it too.” He asked me was I willing to go by the Bible and not let my feelings, past beliefs, or anything else stop me from doing what the Bible said. I said yes to all of the questions. I wasn’t sure where all of this was going but I was suicidal so almost anything would be a step up. I was still depressed, however, because I didn’t see any way out of my problems, yet.
The second study was “The Discipleship” study and it’s the one that knocked my socks off. He told me that a saved person was a christian and a christian was a disciple and that in the Bible the term almost always used to describe a saved person was in fact ‘disciple’, not christian. That being the case, he reasoned, let’s find out what the Bible says a disciple is. In those days, people were called christians because they resembled Christ, proving to be his disciples. Today, it was pointed out, that people call themselves christians even though they do not resemble Christ, proving themselves to not really be his disciples. He then proceeded to show me that I wasn’t a disciple because a disciple makes other disciples, puts Jesus first, is submissive to God, has counted the cost before deciding to become a disciple, will go anywhere and do anything for God and after all of these criteria have been met, is baptized into the family of God. I had been baptized before but it was invalid according to what he was saying because one had to be a disciple before he/she could be baptized and since I wasn’t really a disciple, (no one is until they decide you are) I was a christian in my mind but not in God’s. I was stunned, shocked, and totally confused. It had never occurred to me throughout my life, after I confessed Jesus, good or bad as it was, that I may not be a christian.
I went back to my room and read the Bible for three days and finally became convinced I wasn’t a christian. How could I be? I definitely had not held to the letter of the law. After that, we proceeded to ‘The Kingdom’ study which took place at my house since I had been released from the hospital and there was now more than one man studying with me. I was impressed that the ‘disciples’ even came to study with me at the hour of midnight. I was on leave from work and so I could sleep the next day but they had jobs. I felt like these were really some wonderful people. I also began attending the church services and again was blown away. They acted like I had always believed christians should act. These people seemed different from most that I had known. Everyone seemed extremely happy. There were a lot of smiles and hugs. I was made to feel very welcome and the service was really alive, not dead like many other churches I had been too. I thought I was looking at God’s church.
‘The Kingdom’ study showed how the Old and New Testament fit together and particularly how the Old Testament prophets talked about the Kingdom; when it would come, who would be in it, the signs that would accompany it, etc.; and how the New Testament fulfilled the prophecies. The conclusion was that the kingdom came at ‘Pentacost’ and only disciples were to be a part of it. So only disciples are in God’s kingdom today and only those in God’s kingdom are really disciples. Since the ICC is the only group teaching that one must be a disciple before baptism, the conclusion must be reached that the ICC is God’s kingdom. Anyone not with them is lost. All of this wasn’t completely clear to me at the time but what they said seemed to be fitting together. My life was changing for the better too. I had a new conviction about sin and other ills and wanted to get closer to God. Also, since I now believed that I was lost, I needed these people to help show me the way to God. I was raring to go. They were the one’s who actually slowed down the frequency of the studies. I found out later that they wanted to be sure I was ‘all there’. With the suicide attempt and all, I guess they weren’t too sure about me at first.
The next study was ‘Light and Darkness’. It was stated in this study that everyone is either in the light or the dark, saved or lost. There is no middle ground. Once a person is convinced he is lost, the next step is to study out how to be saved. Sin separates us from God, so to be saved, you must get rid of your sin. Repentance of sins is what the Bible declares we must do. They claimed repentance meant not only turning from your sins but also, confessing all known sins. The men studying with me proceeded to confess sins that they were involved in before becoming baptized disciples. Most of it focused on sexual sins but Galatians 5:16-24 was used as a guideline to help with the confessions. Then it was my turn and I spilled my guts. Most of mine focused on sexual sins too but I told everything I could think of. I felt so relieved afterward because there were things I thought I would take to my grave with me. They then suggested that I write a ‘sin letter’ to God in which you list out all of your life’s sins to God. I had no problem with it. I just wanted to find God and was trusting them completely by this time. They wanted to read the letter to make sure my heart had really been ‘cut’. They approved of the letter and the next study was ‘The Cross’.
It was impressed upon me in this study that Jesus died for me. Sure, he died for the world but I needed to personalize it so that I could really understand how it was my sins (some which were brought up that I had confessed in the previous study) that had personally crucified Jesus. They read a medical account of the crucifixion which explained in detail what Jesus must have gone through physically, emotionally and spiritually. They kept saying, ‘Curtiss, it was your sins that did this to Jesus. You crucified him.’ The purpose was for me to feel the guilt of Jesus’ death and then to respond in the appropriate manner which, of course, meant the way they thought I should respond. They needed to see that I was ‘broken'(so guilty for what I had done to Jesus and so thankful to them for pointing it out to me that I would basically do whatever they deemed necessary to get myself right with God.) If I didn’t appear ‘broken’ than that was proof that I had a hard heart and was not ready to proceed down the road to become a baptized disciple. They were satisfied with my response and on Friday we had a ‘chariot ride’. This is taken from the Ethiopian eunuch conversion story in the Bible when Philip entered the Eunuch’s chariot and introduced him to Jesus. It was a motivational night to help those who were studying to be more urgent about becoming disciples. God used Philip and now he was using them. Those of us who were studying could go on our way rejoicing, just as the Ethiopian eunuch did, if we listened to the men God had sent to us just as he had listened to Philip. We then proceeded to do ‘The Church’ study.
I was shown here what God expects from each member of his church. This was where I was taught such things as obedience to leaders, expectations for contribution, attendance requirements, not to be divisive, leaving the body (ICC) meant leaving God and more. I was told that they were not a cult because they told us what was expected up front. And it did seem that way.
They counted the cost with me a few days later which was a rehash of what we had studied plus a few other personal questions to see if I was really ready to be a disciple. Was there anything I wouldn’t give up to follow God? On a Sunday I was baptized.
I was separated from my wife, three days later and divorced, nine months later. My three children lived with me during the separation and I received custody of them after the divorce. My two oldest, who were teenagers, became baptized disciples within six months of my baptism.
I was a bible talk leader for most of my time in the ICC and had aspirations of moving up the leadership ladder. I was very zealous in my evangelism and in serving God to the utmost. I was constantly on the go despite being a single parent. I had no time for my kids but I thought this was God’s will since I was about my ‘purpose’ of making disciples. Nothing else mattered to the leadership and so nothing else mattered to me. I remember at one point my eight year old son wrote a letter that fell into the hands of a teacher at the church. He was talking about killing himself because I cared more for other people than I did for him. This caused me to think of slowing down for awhile but I never really changed my schedule. I just found it very hard to tell the leadership, no. I was pretty much at their beck and call and they becked and called all of the time. The leaders would call meetings whenever they felt like it and you were expected to show up. At 2:00 p.m. I’d get a call at work that all singles had to be at the sector leader’s house at 10:00 p.m. for a meeting. It didn’t matter if you had plans or simply felt that you should stay with your kids; you were expected to be there. Rebukes were forthcoming if you decided to do otherwise. Personal decisions were frowned on.
The kingdom came first. Individuals did not matter. We were told to have a kingdom mindset which meant that whatever you thought of doing you were to think, ‘How does this affect the kingdom’. Never were you to think of yourself before the kingdom because that was selfish, prideful and just plain, sin. It seems that everything became sin. If you questioned a leader, you were in sin. If you were late for a service or decided not to go, you were in sin. If you didn’t give contribution, you were in sin. If you didn’t get advice about something, you were in sin. I was rebuked for not going to a church sponsored movie with all of the other leaders. I was rebuked for my bible talk(group of disciples) having six visitors at church when we had estimated that forty visitors would come. I was even rebuked for having six visitors when we estimated only one would come. Can you believe that? Is something wrong here or what? We had a ‘stat’ sheet which was used at leaders meetings to track our progress for the week: people invited to church, people who had fallen away (left God’s church), contribution, members present, visitors present, bible studies set up or in progress, etc. You would have thought the ‘stat’ sheet was the Bible. It had so much power. The leaders had decided over the years that for every three people committed to come to church, one would show up. So that was the ratio, 3 to 1. And the ‘stat’ sheet didn’t lie. If your bible talk was too far off the ratio you would hear about it. It was not about the people, it was about the methods. We discussed the studies (people who were studying) to determine the best way to proceed with them. Were they moving along at the expected pace and if not, why not? Did we need to get some more capable brothers in on the study? Were they admitting that they weren’t saved? Were they prideful (which meant not agreeing with us)?
Since I was so open to being challenged and told what was wrong with me and what and how I needed to change while I was studying, I didn’t see a lot of the harshness, meanness and uncaring attitudes that usually prevail when the ‘disciples’ study with someone. It does appear as if they care but I now see the complete lack of love for people. One time the sector leader, myself and one other disciple were studying with a 16 year old. We were counting the cost with him and the sector leader asked him had he been involved in a certain sin in the past week. He honestly said yes and instead of receiving ‘credit’ for being honest he was criticized for not volunteering the information. He was then instructed that to prove his repentance before God that he must pray a certain amount of hours or he was not really serious about the sin in his life. He was actually told by the sector leader not to come back after praying an hour and a half. Then he asked the other disciple if he agreed and he said yes and expounded a bit. He then asked me did I agree and although I felt that what had just taken place was not right, I said that I agreed and expounded a bit. The pressure to conform is immense. Even at the expense of others. And this was just a teenager. Pharisees and legalists have no heart. They are loyal to a system that has been put into place and the system is bigger than anything or anybody. If people are not willing to bow down to the system (idol) in any and everything they are considered not to be ‘open’ and written off as a study.
All of the ‘love’ a person was receiving miraculously disappears, proving that it was never genuine. Love does not hurt people. What the ICC does, destroys people.
I remember the first time I started having reservations about the group. I had been a member for about two months and I noticed my discipler handing the ‘stat’ sheet to the sector leader. It was the first I had seen of it. My heart immediately skipped a beat and I asked my discipler what it was. He said it was just a sheet they used to keep track of their ministry but I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh man, what have I gotten myself into.’ So I requested a quick get together right then with the person who had met me, my discipler and the sector leader. We went into a side room and I asked again what was this stat sheet and that I was feeling very uneasy about what it seemed to be to me. I felt like it was a scorecard that we had to turn in and that we might be measured by it in some way. It just didn’t feel right when I saw it and heard them discussing it. I was asked, ‘Who’s telling you that you have to do anything.’ And I thought, well, I guess no one has actually said I had to do this or that. Not yet, anyway. So I kind of bought there argument that it was just a tool that was used in the ministry but was in no means a binding sort of thing. I let it drop but never felt completely at home about it.
As a matter of fact, I brought the issue up from time to time with my discipler and others during my three years there and became more convinced as time went on that it was not only used to beat people over the head with but it literally helped to steal the joy from a lot of the members, especially leaders. It was all about stats and growth and brother you had better pull your weight or they would put somebody in your position who would. This was often stated. The leaders had no shame. This was the system that was passed down to them. They were loyal to those above them and we had better be loyal to those leading us.
I dreaded going to leaders meetings so much of the time because they had become sessions where we went over our stat sheets for the majority of the time and you had better have good ‘numbers’ or you were likely to get confronted like a little child in front of the group. These meetings were very often humiliating and demeaning to someone in the group. Whatever the sector leader decided was appropriate to say or do was put up with by the leaders under his command. Not only were you to put up with it, you were actually suppose to be thankful to him for exposing your sin or humbling you. The sector leaders would say things like, ‘Brother, I’m embarrassed for you’ after rebuking someone for not having the number of Sunday commitments the leaders had asked us to have. And the brother would hem and haw, looking completely ridiculous while everyone else sat around feeling uncomfortable, yet saying nothing. If a brother attempted to defend himself it just made things worse on him. Now, not only was he in sin for not following the leaders instructions but he was also prideful, arrogant, critical and on and on. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for questioning a leader, especially publicly. The sector leaders very rarely lose a verbal argument. Humility is null and void for those on staff, for the most part.
I was a part of many group meetings where people were singled out for ‘sin’ and rebuked in front of everybody. It was, actually, pretty commonplace. There was always some ‘discipling’ (showing others where they were wrong in a certain area) going on. The group is built on demeaning others. Love also builds up, it doesn’t tear down. If you were humble you would accept the criticism from God’s leaders, even if they were wrong. I seldom saw a leader apologize to a person for criticizing or rebuking them. There were occasional admissions of ‘sin’ from the pulpit but nothing ever changed. Repentance of sin means turning from them.
One brother was rebuked for not coming up with a name for his bible talk. He had been asked over a period of about three weeks but he just kept forgetting. So he was rebuked in front of about forty leaders. The worst part was that the rebuke went on for at least thirty minutes and no one spoke up about it. It was one of the worst things I have ever experienced in my life.
The brother left a few months later and I’m sure that he never recovered from the ordeal. I know other leaders felt the way I did but we all kept quiet. This sort of thing happened all of the time.
There was one particular time when I was accused of being critical of the sector leader. The Bible Talk leaders were having our usual Sunday night meeting at the home of one of the disciples. The sector was not doing real well at the time and the sector leader was concerned. He thought it was time to expose sin in the camp. Because of the ‘discipling’ relationships, a person’s sins usually became known up the ladder. You confessed to your ‘discipler’, he would pass it on to his ‘discipler’, if he thought it was necessary, and so on. It would go as high up the ladder as deemed appropriate by the leaders. Anyway, at the meeting we separated, men and women. There were a number of single brothers in the room who had really been struggling with sexual and loneliness issues. There were about 15-20 men in the group and the sector leader singled out the first ‘struggling’ brother that he was aware of and rebuked him in front of the group for his particular sin and then a few other brothers volunteered their ‘constructive’ criticism. They did this with each brother that the leader pointed out. Then he turned to me and said, ‘Brother, you are critical of me.’ I responded that I did not consider myself critical of him but that I had questions about some of the things the leaders were saying, doing and teaching. In particular, I had begun to question the ‘dating system’ that was in place. There were unspoken rules and regulations as well as spoken ones.
They loved using two particular phrases when it came to ‘discipling’ singles: ‘Stay focused’ and ‘Get set up for success’. Brothers were encouraged to have a date every Saturday but with a different sister. And you were only to double date with another couple. There was no kissing allowed, no hand holding either. Even though this was the only church of ‘true’ disciples, there were no singles who could resist sexual temptation. It’s amazing to me that the same people who could not be trusted to be alone for a few hours, were put through such strict rules, that many did not marry for years because they failed somewhere along the way to follow the rules. Their double dating rule is proof that they recognize that their is such a thing as sexual temptation but the burdens that are manifested through their rules prove that they don’t really care about a person’s needs. There is a lot more sexual immorality going on than they like to admit. And much of it they contribute too. If an interest did develop between two ‘compatible’ people, they had to talk to their discipler’s about it and let the discipler’s talk amongst eachother about what was the best way for this brother and sister to proceed with this relationship. When they thought it was okay, they would ‘allow’ you to become a dating couple. Now you could kiss each other one time at the end of your Saturday night date.
Also there were limitations on your telephone conversations during the week. Usually once or twice a week was considered plenty. Any more and you were neglecting your ministry and losing your focus. So people were even pressured into working harder for the church to prove they weren’t focused on each other. They didn’t want to jeopardize their relationship. But if both or one of their ministries began to suffer (commitment/visitor stats declined, etc.) they were often encouraged to break up until they could prove that their focus was back where it belonged. And that ,of course, was up to their discretion as well. Again, you were expected to obey or you had a ‘heart’ problem. I was once asked why didn’t I want to follow godly advice after I had questioned a leader about some of these rules. ‘Getting set up for success’ meant that the advice (actually rules and regulations) was only suggestions which, if followed, would enable a couple to date in a godly way (not falling into sexual immorality or losing focus) and eventually marry, if they were the person God had for you. The leaders were always trying to set up ‘equal spiritual partners’ because that would be best for the kingdom. They wanted ministry couples. You were discouraged from marrying anyone ‘above’ or ‘below’ your spiritual level.
So, I told the leaders at the meeting how I had been feeling about the rules, being focused, etc. No one agreed with me. Some of the brothers tried to disciple me by saying they respected me but I was basically getting a little too high and mighty. I needed to trust the leaders more. I feel as if some of them actually felt sorry for me or maybe even agreed with me but, as usual, no one spoke up. So often, people would watch others be thrown to the wolves but they had to protect their own skin. The fear of repercussion was real. If you spoke up to defend a brother against a leader, somehow, you knew you would pay. I was told I was becoming a pharisee.
In the Bible the pharisees were a group of Jews who were known for their strict adherence to the written law (which puffed them up with pride) and who also were condemning of others who didn’t (or did, for that matter). They were legalist; more concerned about how you did something instead of what you did and why. If you pulled a drowning child out of the river by their leg, they would find a law which stated you should have grabbed them out by their arm. The fact that a life was saved is irrelevant: the method used to save the life is what becomes relevant. That’s the way it is in the ICC. The fact that people need to be saved is irrelevant: the method used to save them is what becomes relevant. They have decided that they are the only ones since the first century church who have figured out exactly, one hundred percent, the perfect God given method to save people. If you are not willing to do it their (God’s) way, you become irrelevant. The ICC is a group of pharisees, yet they accuse others of phariseeism. And then, after I had been labeled a pharisee, one brother in the room had the gall to state that anyone who wanted to attack his sector leader would have to go through him first. I halfway expected him to come across the room and hit me. His anger at me was evident. His loyalty is misguided. Our loyalty should be to God, not men.
These confrontations are what the critics of the ICC call ‘lynch mobs’. The ICC may deny them but it’s more than denial. It’s a flat out lie. They do exist and there are many casualties to prove it. But, still, all of this discipling in ‘love’ had its desired effect on myself and the other ‘struggling’ brothers. One by one, we broke down and repented of our sins. I was crying and the brothers were all telling me they loved me and praise God that I had repented. (By the way, one of the young men in the room was my teenage son who is still an active member of the ICC.) And I actually felt grateful for these godly men who had helped me, once again, to see the deceitfulness of my own heart.
The thing is, a person can be in the group for years before their eyes open and they realize that the great deceiver has deceived them. It is an almost unexplainable feeling to realize you’ve been had. You just can’t believe it. But the process they use to ‘trap’ you is built on mind control and manipulation that has been proven to work over the years and not beginning with the ICC. If you read accounts of Jehovah Witnesses, the ‘Moonies’, Mormons, Local Church and many others you could easily insert ICC’s name in the title. The methods used are the same, only the names change.
As time went on I became more and more disillusioned about what I thought was the kingdom of God. I couldn’t put my finger on anything concrete but I knew that something was just not right. I was being told to trust, when I began questioning things. I was told that I really needed to mature in this area of trusting leadership. After all, God was in control. (Well, maybe, but Kip McKean was steering the wheel.) My zeal for inviting visitors began to wane. I had reservations about bringing someone into this. Then I began to stumble in some of my convictions about sin as well as convictions I had held about the church. Not too many people really knew I was struggling somewhat. I was still faithful in giving, attendance, encouraging others and pretty much carrying on as I always had. But I was becoming a prime target for what would come next.
I was called one day by a sister who was new to the church. She was of my race and about my age so she had been encouraged by her discipler to give me a call. We hit it off right away and began to talk on the phone quite often. Way too often for the leaders. We had one date but our next date was called off by the leaders because we were getting to focused on each other. Over the next several weeks, we both became more and more upset with the control being put on our lives. Her discipler was especially hard on her even though she was a new disciple. We finally requested to start dating every other week which was standard procedure before becoming a dating couple. After a week or so her discipler told me that we could date every three weeks. I said, ‘Good, I’ll pencil her in for three weeks from this Saturday.’ I was then told that I was being legalistic. I was told that just because I had permission to date her every three weeks to not be legalistic about it. Just every month or so I was suppose to think’ ‘Oh yeah, I think I’ll ask that sister out again?’ I didn’t agree with her discipler and she told me I was prideful. Just as the pharisee calls others a pharisee, the legalist calls others a legalist.
The sister I was interested in asked if she could come by one night and I said yes but then found myself being so afraid that a leader might come by and ‘catch’ us talking with each other without having gotten advice about it first. I decided that it was ridiculous to have to live this way. I was scared, angry, disillusioned, untrusting and ripe for the picking. We fell into immorality that night. The next morning as we talked on the phone I told her that we needed to confess to the leaders what had happened. She freaked but eventually, I talked her into it and we each told our respective discipler’s and sector leaders. Her leaders wanted to get with her and mine with me. My discipler and myself went over to the sector leader’s house and for the next few hours scriptures were read to me to impress upon me what a vile sinner I was. And criticism came at me not just for the immorality but for other ‘sins’ I had committed. I was rebuked for having bought a house one month before without getting advice. I was criticized for deciding to coach my ten year old’s city recreational basketball team. I was rebuked for having manipulated the sister’s discipler, which I never did (The sector leader had been told this by her discipler but he never tried to verify it. He just accused me of it). He told me that since the sister was new to the ‘kingdom’ that she might not be able to fight off Satan’s attacks now; she may not be strong enough. He basically made me feel the responsibility for her soul if she ended up in hell. The sector leader even said that sometimes he wished God still did like he did in the Old Testament and killed those who blatantly sinned. How arrogant. As if he would escape God’s judgment.
Again, at the time, however, I thanked these brothers for exposing my heart. I was so wicked. How could I fall into sexual sin? I was the most deceitful man on earth. It occurred to me months later, after I had left the ICC that the Bible says that those who are spiritual are to restore gently, one who has been caught in sin. I wasn’t even caught. I confessed and I was still beat up. This is love?
Needless to say, I was taken out of leadership which was fine with me. I had been contemplating getting out for months. I had been afraid that if I got out of leadership I might continue to fall spiritually and end up leaving the ‘movement’. So I had stayed in leadership. For someone so entrenched in what I now believe is a cult, it was almost unfathomable to even consider leaving. But I felt some pressure lift when I was taken out of leadership. The sister and I were told not to see each other and wait for the leaders to decide what should be done. We got permission, after a few days, to talk on the phone about once a week and then nothing more was forthcoming. We were told to just wait. The leaders would get back to us (in their own time, of course). Well, we were both feeling drawn to each other and we began talking more than permitted. When I was questioned about it, I told the truth and was rebuked for not following the advice and for not leading the relationship. Brothers were always told to ‘lead’ the sisters. Sisters were told to be submissive to the brothers. I asked a few times if the leaders were looking into our situation and was told to be patient. Finally, one day, my discipler called me at work and I asked him what if we just wanted to get married. He said that was fine but right now I just needed to concentrate on making disciples. I said okay and we hung up. We had our Midweek service that night and I had every intention on going but over the next hour or so, I just snapped. I began to feel hopeless that I would ever get married in the ‘kingdom’. I was accused many times of being too emotional and I am in fact an emotional person. I was accused many times of being too anxious and I am a bit anxious at times. I wanted a relationship and would become easily infatuated. The leaders, I believed, were going to make me overcome these weaknesses before they would allow me to marry. I didn’t know if I could change enough in those areas to receive their blessings. At one point the sector leader had even asked me how did I know God wanted me to ever marry again? I realized that I couldn’t go to church that night. I was just feeling overwhelmed.
I also decided at that moment to get married. I had known the sister four and a half weeks. I also knew that if I didn’t show up for church, the brothers would be calling me and if they couldn’t reach me, they would come by to see me. I knew this because I had done my share of chasing people down. I had confronted disciples in parking lots when they got off work, staked out their residences, etc. So I knew they would get inside my head and figure out what I was going to do and they would then proceed to convince me not to do it.
Most of the leaders were very intimidating which was one of the reasons they had such control. I decided that I had to be married before any of them ever heard from me or talked to me again. We got a marriage license on Friday and since you have to wait a minimum of three days to get married, we split town for the weekend. We were paranoid that they were following us or would somehow find us and I remember thinking, ‘Man, you would think we were in a cult or something’. I still was not thinking along the terms of really being in a cult but it was probably the beginning of realizing it. We visited both of our parents in West Texas and New Mexico to inform them and came back to Dallas on Monday and were married by a JP.
The disciples had already figured out what must have happened. I hadn’t even told my kids exactly what was going on because I knew the leaders would be after them for information. This whole situation was extremely tough on all of us. I just asked my kids to trust me and I would explain everything to them in a few days. The phone started ringing when we got back. The leaders weren’t happy for us. They basically said that what was done is done and now they just wanted to help us stay faithful to God and become an ‘awesome’ couple for God. We did not receive one card or gift from any of the seven hundred plus disciples, over one hundred of which were in my sector. Again, the fact that we were married was irrelevant; it was the method by which we got married that was relevant. We did not date and get married the ‘kingdom’ way so we were not to be treated with honor as a obedient couple would have been.
Well, we were both struggling with whether to go back or not. Remember, to be a part of this group is enslaving. The phobia that is instilled within you that if you leave them you leave God, is a hard one to overcome. And then some of the disciples called because they really cared. There are a lot of people in the ICC who got in it because they believed they were serving God and they still believe that. They just don’t realize that they are being deceived and manipulated by the leaders (sector and above) to accomplish Kip McKean’s agenda. I had decided that I could not go back until I at least spoke with the lead evangelist and then my return would be based on what happened in that meeting. When we finally got together he congratulated me on my marriage but was surprised at my impulsiveness. I explained my hopelessness and he understood. I told him my ideas about ‘focus’ and ‘set up for success’. He didn’t agree with everything but he understood where I was coming from. He apologized for the way the ‘disciplers’ and sector leaders had handled the whole thing. He apologized on behalf of the whole church. He said since we were we middle aged that we should have been allowed to date immediately, if that’s what we wished. He said that there was sin on my part too, and I should apologize to my sector leader for the way I handled myself and he then called the sector leader and told him where he was wrong and that as a church maybe they needed to rethink some of the ways they were treating people. He realized that people were not having their needs met. He said that he wanted the church to give us a wedding and that he would begin a collection of money, starting with himself, to send us on a honeymoon. He also stated that he needed men like me who weren’t just ‘yes’ men. Men who could help him see and correct things in the sectors which needed to be corrected. I was in shock but this time, in a good way. I had really expected to get more of the same treatment: rebukes, criticism, etc., until I was broken. I had other issues I had wanted to discuss but since it had gone much better than I expected, I figured we could deal with them later. So we decided to go back to the ICC. Our homecoming was to last less than a week.
The sector leader’s attitude toward me changed completely. Even though the lead evangelist said to him many of the same things that I had said, somehow they miraculously made sense to him now. He even treated me with respect and listened to what I had to say. He said that he welcomed my input to things I noticed in the sector. We went back to church on Sunday and it felt pretty good to be back but it was a little strange. From Sunday to Thursday I received two phone calls from disciples. One call was to see how I was progressing with my ‘special contribution’ (annually each church in the ICC is given a dollar figure by the LA Church, led by Kip McKean, that it is expected to raise for world missions. Usually it is between fifteen and twenty percent of the church’s weekly contribution which translates to each member in the same way). The other call was to see if I was reaching my goal of meeting five people a day which had been passed down from the leadership to the members as our agenda for the week. My wife received no calls at all. Still, I went to Midweek service and that’s when I realized that I couldn’t really go back, completely, until the other issues I had were addressed. Before the service started the sector leader told me that the evangelist and elders had decided that my wife and I would need to write a letter to our sector apologizing for our actions. It had been discussed earlier that we may need to either write a letter or speak to the sector about our part in everything that happened and how we had sinned. We were asked which we preferred and we had opted for speaking to the sector. Now, it had been decided that we should just write a letter. My guess is that they were concerned about what we might say. More than likely they would have looked the letter over first and not allow it to be read until they edited it. Anyway, when the service began I saw the deceitfulness that was used in the services. I had seen it many times before but never saw it as being deceitful.
Before most services the leaders would meet and talk about the upcoming service. One of the things done in these meetings is to find people in the leadership group who have ‘good news’ to share. ‘Good News’ means somebody who has done well following the leaders agenda for the week. So this week the sector leader wanted to know which leaders had met five or more people everyday that week. Those who had would explain the details of their week and he would decide which had the best story or ‘good news’. He would then tell them to raise their hands during the part of the service when he asked was there any good news to report about the week’s challenge which the leaders had given us. When he got to that part of the service, this night, he said, ‘Okay, who has good news to share about the five a day challenge we had this week.’ Hands shot up and he looked around as if he was randomly picking people and for the first time I saw the deceitfulness in this. He and all of the leaders already knew who he was going to pick and here they were all cheering and raising their hands to give the other members the impression this was not choreographed. He then proceeded to choose the leaders he had chosen beforehand in the leaders meeting (of course I wasn’t in this particular meeting but I had been in hundreds of other meetings and I knew how it worked). Occasionally, he would call on a ‘regular’ member just to make things look good, I guess.
I sat there, stunned. I had seen this happen many times and never did it occur to me that it was deceitful. I later talked to some ‘regular’ members about this and they said no wonder they never got called on. They had felt slighted many times but thought maybe it was just in their head.
The whole system is set up to build the system. They believe that growth is the only real evidence of God’s grace. So they push, push, push their people to ‘make’ disciples. Everything, ultimately is focused to that end. Discipling relationships (a younger disciple is paired with an older or more mature disciple who instructs them and helps them grow spiritually) are to be fruitful as well as Bible Talk groups, Sectors, Churches, etc. If limited or no growth continues for an extended period of time (could be weeks or months) this becomes proof of weak leadership and any or all of these groups may be changed, restructured or dismantled to try to produce the desired effect. An individual’s needs, feelings or wants are completely irrelevant in determining what changes take place. You do not choose a person to disciple nor do you choose a discipler. And even if two people really bond and become the best of friends, when the leaders decide (for the kingdom’s sake) that these two need to be in different discipling relationships, they are just torn apart. They have no say about it. Oh, if they raise enough cane, they might be left together but remember you don’t stand up to the leaders unless you’re willing to suffer some repercussion. Since the Bible states that God arranges the parts of the body exactly as he desires them, the members are led to believe that disciple relationships are actually given by God, not men. So if you complain, you’re actually complaining against God. The ICC control is stifling. You just can’t win. You either succumb to the manipulation and become a Kip McKean disciple or you leave.
I decided to do my own research on this ‘multiplying ministry’. The ICC states that what makes them so different from other churches is that they grow by multiplying, not just adding. Other churches, they teach, only expect the preacher to bring people into the church so they only grow as fast as their preacher is effective. They believe that a disciple makes a disciple who makes a disciple who makes a disciple and so on. By their own legalistic expectations a disciple should make, at least, one other disciple a year. Since they claim to have begun ‘God’s modern day movement’ in 1979 with thirty disciples they should have over 7 million disciples by now. Even accounting for ‘fallaways’, if one out of every three disciples leave they should still have over 200,000 disciples because the multiplying factor is seriously reduced. But there are about 70,000 disciples at this time. The ICC doesn’t even report their attendance numbers publicly, in terms of disciples. They report their public attendance numbers by ‘total attendance’, which is disciples + children + visitors. And this number is about 138,000.
Obviously, they report it this way because it is a little more impressive to outsiders and to the average member. But their numbers are not reflective of a multiplying ministry of disciples. Their first few years were very impressive with growth rates of over 100 or 200 percent. But the next 10 years they stabilized at between 40 to 60 percent growth which was still impressive compared to a lot of churches. The last two years, however, they have had a growth rate of approximately 8 percent in each of those years. They just could not keep up the pace. The members don’t realize it. They just keep seeing all of the new churches that are displayed on their KNN (Kingdom Network News) video which is produced and distributed by the ICC and shown to all of their churches around the world. The ICC began as gangbusters just as many new movements do. But now it is going the same way as many others. They may keep up the image of miraculous growth for awhile but inevitably the numbers will be to embarrassingly obvious to ignore.
I thank God, every day, for not only getting me out of this cult but also for not allowing me to be so mentally, spiritually and psychologically messed up that it would take me years to function effectively. Many people who have left have never recovered. Some have finally recovered after years of therapy or because of loving family members and friends. The same family and friends who were said to be ‘evil’ and ‘of the devil’ when their loved ones were part of the ICC. I apologize to all of my family and friends that I hurt with my arrogant and judgmental attitudes when I was in the ICC. I just hope they realize that I was completely sincere, albeit deceived.
Now, the many people in the ICC that I still love and appreciate may be hurt and angry about this letter. But I must obey my conscience and speak the truth just as many of them believe they are doing. God says to test everything and hold on to the good. The ICC fails the test. The evil that they perpetuate needs to be exposed. I hope my letter will cause disciples to question things in the ICC on a more constant basis. Do not blindly follow. I also hope this letter discourages anyone who is thinking of joining. This group is not of God. In the words of the ICC leaders (when discussing any churches outside of the ICC), ‘Do not walk away; run.’ I really hope that from the sector leaders on up to Kip McKean, that there will be repentance from their sin of idolizing growth instead of Jesus Christ. Your blind allegiance to the wrong god has caused you to put aside the plan of God for your own agenda. It has caused you to cease to see that God is not about law, he is about love. I don’t care if you spread to every nation, if it’s not done out of love the Bible says it is a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. I know I will be ‘marked’ by the ICC and not permitted to talk to the members or they with me. But I urge any who want to know more about what your involved in to call me. The truth has nothing to hide. If your fearful of calling me, even that should cause you to question some things. If you are truly ‘free in Christ’ than you are free to talk to whomever you please. You are free to look at both sides of an issue and make up your own mind. Don’t be a slave to men. Your only master is in heaven. Fear enslaves; truth sets you free.
To my son, still in the ICC, I love you and pray that God will open your eyes soon to the deception which is controlling you and I apologize for bringing you there to begin with. God IS in control.