The Story of Debbie Campbell

The Nashville Experience: Debbie Campbell’s Story

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Introduction

It has been over a year since I left the Nashville Church. It has taken me a long time to heal and write my story. I wouldn’t say I am completely healed or over it, but with God all things are possible.

My story started in the year 1992. My husband and I had some marriage problems and our marriage was headed for divorce. One of my husband’s co-workers became his friend and studied the Bible with him. My husband was re-baptized on Thanksgiving Wednesday 1992 into the Nashville Church.

The Nashville Church is part of the International Churches of Christ who believes they are the “only true church who are going to heaven.” Nevertheless, with my husband a disciple, his first fruit should be his wife-of course! That would be me. My name is Debbie Campbell.

When my husband got hooked up (figuratively speaking) in the ICC, he became different. He didn’t pressure me. This was because he was being “discipled” to let the women do that. He was constantly busy, having quiet times, studying the Bible with others, sharing his faith, going to Bible Talk, going to church services, going to parties or social events of one kind or another.

At that time in my life, I was in college and worked full time and had two small kids, 3 and 4 years of age. They were quite a handfull. I remember Debra Patterson, member of the Nashville Church, calling me every so often and asking me if I wanted to study the Bible with her or go here or there. I would say “not now” because I had to study for an exam.

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Bible Study 101

The point where I started studying the Bible with the members was when my husband begged me to go to a marriage retreat with him up to Mount Eagle. He said it wouldn’t hurt our marriage any. I had to agree with him on that point. I decided to attend and see what all the excitement was all about.

I remember that weekend because I took my school books with me so I could study for upcoming exams. I didn’t even get to open any books. The retreat was “awesome.”

When we got home I started studying the Bible. I had to go through “The Word,” “Discipleship,” The Kingdom,” “Sin & Repentance,” “Denominationalism” and last but not least “Counting the Cost.” I was finally baptized in April of 1993, a month before I would graduate from college.

I studied once a week for several weeks after coming back from that retreat. I prayed that I was making the right decision. I prayed to God, “Father if this is not you kingdom please make it obvious to me.” I believe God showed me in 1997 that the Nashville Church or the International Churches of Christ (Boston Movement), is not the “Kingdom.”

One thing that still sticks out in my mind (and should have alerted me) was when I told my discipling partner that I was going to go out to the local Christian bookstore and buy some materials to read for my “quiet times.” She gave me a rather odd look and told me that that wouldn’t be a good idea, that those people would not have the same convictions as I need to have.

I soon found out that this also applied to contemporary Gospel music as well. It was encouraged to buy books and music only from their publishing company, DPI (Discipling Publications Inc.)

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Discipling in the Church

While a member of the church I was assigned a discipling partner (DP). This is a person who was supposed to be more “spiritual” than you to help lead you and to whom you confessed your sins to. Basically, they were to keep you on the straight and narrow road to heaven.

What I found out was that this is where you’re taught to be controlled and where you learn to control others. A DP is not someone a person picks for themselves. Leadership gives them to you. My first DP happened to be the person who studied the Bible with me. This was fine with me — we got along fine.

But one of my problems with discipling partners is that they come and they go. So if you are having serious problems with a particular situation, it may never get resolved because your discipling partner changes and you have to start from scratch. So you are constantly explaining and the problem never gets dealt with.

I also had problems trusting my discipling partners because I would hear people talking about things that other people were struggling with. I felt this was gossip, but was reassured that it was constructive criticism and therefore would not be classified as gossip.

There were some discipling partners (DP) that I could relate to and “open up” to (The DiCicco’s) but others that I felt were just too immature to help. We needed people in our lives that could help us with our problems and be the examples we needed. It was brought up that we needed to have people that had “awesome” marriages in our lives. My husband and I were asked why we didn’t “hang out more” with mature married couples. These mature married couples were not our DP and our time was consumed as it was. I just never had time to “hang out.” All my time was consumed sharing my faith so I could meet the quotas that was being placed on me. After all you’re not saved unless you are baptizing and sharing your faith. (I’ll get into that a little bit later.)

So I had a hard time “opening up” and “becoming relatable” to some of my discipling partners. It was preached that you are not to have bad attitudes toward your discipling partner and you should follow their advice because God has put them in your life. This was a constant guilt trip if you even suggested to have your DP changed or asked to keep your DP. Don’t let me forget — your DP needs to be your best friend and if they are not then you have sin. In fact I was harshly rebuked for my DP not being my best friend.

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Bible Talks

After my baptism we would meet once a week in our Bible Talk (BT). This was a group of disciples that you were placed with. Over each BT were BT Leaders. Visitors were the main reason for BT meetings. A scripture was read that would cause people to ask questions and hopefully would lead the visitor into the Bible Studies.

Several weeks after I was baptized the church started up an accountability quota. This is where you were told to reach out to 5 people a day. You had to call your BT leader to tell him/her how many people you reached out to and how many people would be coming to church. This got to be so tiring that a lot of us in the BT stopped doing it. When we did, we got reprimanded because we weren’t obeying the leaders and helping the BT leaders. We did this several times a year.

I used to hate the accountability and the quotas because I felt this was forcing the hand of God, and it was more about what man was doing and less about what God was doing.

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Contribution

It is mandatory for you to give your 10% before taxes for tithe. The ICC calls this contribution. If you could not give your 10% then you would set a goal of being able to tithe your 10% within a year. Twice a year they would require you to write down how much you make, how much your contribution should be, and how much you were paying.

Contribution was taken up on Wednesdays night services, which were for members only. In this way, it was more manageable to know who gave and how much money was given. Each Bible Talk Leader had an interoffice envelope with the name of everyone in their Bible Talk and how much money each person paid. If Wednesday night service was missed then one had to turn in the check or money in on Sunday or the following Wednesday. To miss any contribution was frowned upon and you were considered “struggling.”

Special Contribution is a contribution that is over and above the regular contribution. The purpose of this Special Contribution is to help finance missions in the Third World Countries and the U.S. A certain percentage also goes to HOPE Worldwide.

When I first started attending church in May 1993, the special contribution was at 16% of your regular weekly contribution. So if a person had a regular contribution of 60.00 a week the special contribution would be 16 times this $60.00 making this person have a total of $960.00 to give for special contribution.

Once collected (June of each year) Special Contribution was given to the BT Leader who kept account of every one in their BT who gave and how much they gave. Each church of the ICC would have set a “goal” to the amount of money it was responsible for raising. People would “sacrifice” and sell things to meet their amount. The Church highly recommended using your income tax return for Special Contribution.

The last Special Contribution amount that was placed on the congregation before I left in 1997 was 18%. In 1998 the Special Contribution was 19%. It usually goes up 1% each year.

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The House Dilemma

I really started “struggling” in 1996. My husband and I had entered a program to buy a house. We had asked our DP before taking any step toward this program. We explained the program and they thought it sounded like a good program. They told us to “go for it!” This program was supposed to help us build a new home and we would pay them a certain amount of money each month that they would hold in an escrow account. We purchased the land and they started building.

After a month of building the house the builders stopped. They filed bankruptcy after using over half our money and all we had was a foundation, framing, and roof. It was not completely dried in. It sat like that for 3 months, from August till November, before we found out about it, so we were stuck trying to finish the house by ourselves. There were about 60 other people in this program as well.

After talking to the majority we felt that it was best to go to the news media to see if they could help us. So we went public. It aired around May 1997, which was Special Contribution planning time.

I just knew that I could get my church to rally around us. After all our church is so different from “those other denominations.” After all we are the “remnant and are devoted to each other.” My friends that were not in the church knew how dedicated my family and I were to the Church. They would encourage me by saying that our church would surely help us out. I had the opinion that everyone in our zone/sector would volunteer and help us finish this house out on budget. I also thought this would be a good witnessing tool for the neighborhood. I was dismayed about the situation but excited by what the results would bring.

Then my husband told me what our Zone Leader, John Kennedy, had whispered to him one Wednesday night before services. He had told my husband, “to keep quiet about your house problem and not to talk about it.” Why? I don’t know. I was so overwhelmed! I couldn’t understand why this leader would say this to my husband. Yet other Zone Leaders, Margaret & Chris Ziglar, had come up to us and told us if there was anything they could do to let them know. I thought this was great. Even though I was doubting the “Kingdom,” I still had faith in God.

Nevertheless, I was downhearted because everyday my husband would work his full time job and then go work on the house till about 11 pm. I was handling working full time, children, Church activities, children’s school (I’ve a special needs child), the household, Girl Scouts and every day life. Every time we got with our discipling partner they complained because all we talked about was the house, yet they would ask us how it was going.

They could not comprehend that everything was dependent on this house. We went into this program so that we could get into a house and I could quit work to help my special needs daughter. Yet it was costing us more than we ever wanted to spend to finish this house. My husband and I felt we had the weight of the world on our shoulders that the DP could not or rather would not comprehend. We were not getting any encouragement from anyone in our sector or zone.

I was becoming depressed and felt like an outsider in church. My husband was concerned about this and went to the Zone Leader, John Kennedy, with his feelings. John Kennedy felt that he needed to talk to me. So my husband arranged for me to meet with the Kennedy’s. He told me that it was not a “discipling time”, but John just wanted to see how I was doing spiritually and offer me some encouragement.

He offered me encouragement all right. He offered me encouragement right out the door of the ICC. Here is how it went.

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The Breaking Session

That particular Wednesday night in July, 1997, my daughter got into some poison ivy. We ran her to the clinic to get it seen to after getting off work and before going to church. The doctors decided she need a shot. This shot makes her extremely itchy.

When we got to church it was Kingdom News Network night. (KNN night is a video of what is happening in the ICC Worldwide). I left during the video to go get some medicine and came back and administered it to my daughter. That medicine made her extremely sleepy. So after services, she begged me to take her home because she was sleepy. I explained to her that I was supposed to meet with the Kennedy’s and then we could go home.

My husband had told me the meeting would be immediately after services. Fifteen minutes after services, John came up to me and said it would not be too much longer. Then he went to “fellowship” for another fifteen minutes before coming back — by that time everyone had left. So here my daughter is begging to go home and we are just now getting with the leaders thirty minutes after services.

They sat us all down and we have our discipling partners there. (No one told me they would be there). John opens up with an introduction and then says, “God has made me a leader for whatever reason.”

Then he starts asking me questions like how I’m doing spiritually, and told me I couldn’t be doing good spiritually because I was depressed. He said that he has been seeing this coming for the last six months. He told me my heart was prideful and full of sin. He told me I was arrogant and I had a hard heart and that I couldn’t even see my heart because I was so prideful.

He then asked me who were my best friends. When I told him who they were, he told me that my DP should be my best friend. He also said that the Church was under no obligation to help us with our house whatsoever. During all this rebuking, I had not cried and therefore to him I didn’t seem to be “broken.” Then he told me that I was not a Christian and have never been one.

That was the last straw. I didn’t go to him to be rebuked. I honestly thought he was going to help me. Needless to say, what he said left emotional scars on me. I went back for two more services and then I decided I couldn’t handle this church anymore.

My husband later told me that John Kennedy had went up to him before our “breaking session” and told him “if I see one ounce of sin in her, she is out of here!” I really would love to have an explanation to this. Is there anyone out there without “an ounce of sin?” What I don’t understand is how you can say something like this to someone and then just vanish out of their life. I did not receive one phone call from Mr. Kennedy, his wife, or my discipling partner (nor anyone else in the church) on helping me with all the “sin” in my life. Yet they could point the finger at me and strip me of my Christianity.

My husband later confronted John about the way he had behaved toward me. All John Kennedy said was, “I may not have handled the situation well but she needed that rebuke.” I have never received an apology from Mr. Kennedy.

Just recently, I found out from my Bible Talk Leader that they had wanted to help us so bad with the house. They had asked many times their DP (who was also the zone leader and same guy who gave me the “breaking session”) who each time would tell them “No.” They have recently called and apologized to me for not being there when I needed them. They too have left the ICC.

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Salvation Based on Works

Another thing that made me question some of the teachings of the ICC was when the Cozburgs came to Nashville. They replace the other evangelist and were hard-line, to say the least.

After they arrived, the men and women split up so the women’s counselor could preach to the women. One Wednesday night she had everyone that had produced fruit to stand up. (That means someone that had invited, studied the Bible, and baptized someone). She did this at intervals of 6 weeks, 6 months, and 1 year.

When about a quarter of the room was standing she stated that the people that were sitting down should be ashamed of themselves and that they, “needed to be seriously doubting their salvation.” When I heard this, the warning bells ringing in my head were saying “something is seriously wrong here.” Only God can save a person and people’s salvation is not based on how much “fruit” they produce. If this was the case then the evangelist themselves would be on the brink of losing their salvation because out of all four lead evangelist and women ministry leaders that was in the Nashville Church during my conversion, not one of them was “personally fruitful.”

After hearing that sermon, I realized that the Nashville Church (or the International Church of Christ) was not the church that they lead me to believe they were. Then when I was confronted demeaned because my discipling partner was not my best friend, I realized that I had allowed this group to control me. My husband and I were considered “high maintenance” — people that took too much of the church’s time. I was not personally fruitful during my four years of membership and, therefore, to them I was a waste of their time.

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Epilogue

I am now considered a “fallaway” from the church. To the church, I have turned my back on God and, as it states in the Bible, am “like a dog that returns to it vomit.” I guess that is why, when I pass a member of the church on the street, they don’t say hello. This is very upsetting, especially to my daughters.

I have had a lot of emotions to work through. I was suicidal because of the hope that was taken from me. I felt that to be dead would make everything all right because I was going to hell anyway.

There are nights that I still wake up from nightmares where the Zone Leader is pointing the finger at me and telling me that I’m not a disciple and have never been one. I know now that what he said was wrong. I am slowly getting better, and with time I will be able to put this experience behind me.

I am beginning to understand that one person can not measure another person’s spirituality. I also know that the Nashville Church, or the International Churches of Christ, is not the “only church going to heaven.” I am now in search of a healthy church that will meet the needs that my family and I have.

Since we have left the church, the problems that my husband and I had in our marriage have gotten better. We sought professional help, and are now able to communicate more effectively and resolve disagreements. I now consider my husband my best friend and can talk to him about anything.

Debbie Campbell
Jan 4, 1999

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©1999 by Debbie Campbell <[email protected]>. All rights reserved.


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