The Story of
the Milan Mission Team Church Planting
Boston/International Churches of Christ
- A Chronology
- January 1992
- February 1992
- March 1992
- April 1992
- May 1992
- June 1992
- July 1992
- August 1992
- September 1992
- October 1992
- November 1992
- December 1992
- A List of Lies Told by Movement Leaders
- Milan Church of Christ Testimony
Nov 7, 1991: The 23 members of the Milan Mission Team arrive in Milan and stay in a one-star hotel until housing is secured and until everyone is set up with jobs. (No one but the staff had jobs).
Dec 1991: Giovanella Piccinnu is restored, she had been baptized in Chicago in 1986 but fell away.
Jan 1992: Ten weeks into the planting, Gian Porcu, Giovanella’s boyfriend, and Juan Gil, an American, are baptized. After 4 months there are 2 baptisms and a restoration. Bob and Laurie Tranchell are leading the Church, Joe and Annie Silipo, who also are evangelist and women’s counselor respectively, co-lead. Alex Presenza and Damiana Pagnucco are on staff as interns (Damiana was baptized in London, Alex in Toronto). Alex begins expressing to Joe his concerns over the lack of finances and the generally poor preparation that went into the planting. Everyone was broke, eating poorly, and feeling guilty asking for financial help. Members feel that proper advice should have been given to them before departing. The Evangelists seem to have plenty of money, as well as nice apartments.
Feb 1992: No baptisms.
Mar 1992: 5 baptisms: 2 Italian guys, 2 women who still smoked, and an American model who was leaving Milan the next day, over whom there is concern not to baptize… but Bob feels we need the baptisms. He is never seen or heard from again.
April 1992: Two baptisms (a girl and a Peruvian guy who was here illegally and still is to this day). At this point another thing begins to happen. Twice this month, Alex talks to Bob about the need to be kept better informed by Joe and himself. Alex thinks this to be fairly normal since we kept hearing messages on close friendship and relationships. Nothing changes.
May 1992: INAUGURAL SERVICE. All the head European Sector leaders are in town -Randy and Kay McKean, Mo and Amani Bishara, Al and Gloria Baird. We baptize Alex’s next door neighbour, Riccardo, and his wife. Alex had expressed concerns about baptizing the husband since he still smoked and was not open to correction. Both Bob and Joe had taken over studying with Riccardo and counted the cost with him, and said he could go down (get baptized) after the Inaugural Service. Up till now, in the first 6 months we have had 9 baptisms (6 Italians and 3 foreigners). A lot of Bob’s leaders meetings sound the same: basically John 15, emphasizing fruit bearing (i.e. converts only) and where we ought to be numerically as a mission planting. This is despite the fact that Bob never brought a single visitor to church in his nine-month tenure in Milan. Laurie did bring one girl to church.
In a leaders meeting on May 16th, Bob goes around the room and gets projections for the month of May. We come up with 11 potential baptisms for the last half of the month. We have no more baptisms in May. Why? On a May 19th discipleship time with Bob, Alex tells Bob he felt that he is not being realistic with the Italian leaders and that a more conservative but realistic goal would leave the Christians feeling better by the end of the month. He tells him that the continual emphasis on numbers hinders us from building family here, which is essential to the Italian mentality since the family is such a strong influence in Italy. He tells Bob that John 15 was being over-used in his opinion, leaving people feeling tired and guilty.
Bob’s response: “If you are tired Alex, it’s due to your lack of faith. Instead, Alex, you should be saying “AMEN!” Let’s go for the 11 baptisms and work harder than we’ve ever worked in our lives.” Alex believes that he needs to try harder to see what Bob was saying, but he also feels that there was something wrong with the way Bob simplistically dealt with his concern about the church. The same month Joe and his family leave Milan due to not having demonstrated what it takes to lead the Rome planting in January 1993. Before leaving Joe tells Alex he was intimidated by Bob and therefore he didn’t tell him all that he thought about the Milan situation. Joe encouraged Alex not to hold back in challenging Bob.
June 1992: Two baptisms, one Italian girl who is still smoking and an Australian guy. The girl falls away THE NEXT DAY. Now we’re beginning to wonder what’s going on and a lot of questions are coming up. At this time the girl baptized in March has not come to services since April but is not being recorded as a fall-away on paper. So in Boston things look better than they really are. It is mentioned to Bob again that we need not to be going JUST for the baptisms. Bob says we need to look at the heart more.
July 1992: Two more members leave the church but won’t be reported to Boston as fall-aways until August. The girl who fell away had stopped coming to church in May and had never stopped smoking.
Bob and Laurie get called back to Boston. The stated reason: To build a Super Church in Boston (Official bulletin of the Boston Church of Christ). The reality: The Boston congregation of 3000+ members had a net growth of only 15 for the first half of 1992. Boston ended the year with 701 baptisms but a net growth of negative 476. Simply put, the church had nearly 1,200 fall-aways in 1992. Half of those fall-aways were in the first half of the year and the second half were in the second half of the year. So it wasn’t because of the discipleship talks that took place in the last half of the year. At any rate, they told us that Boston restored most of those who were put out of the church during the discipleship talks.
In July there were no baptisms but had a girl move to Milan from London. Bob tells Alex that it’s time for him and Damiana to take over the church. Alex and Damiana feel challenged but ready. Bob tells Alex and Damiana that this is their chance to rise up. As far as recording the fall-aways, he says to do it next month.
So up through July 31, 1992 there are no fall-aways on record for the Milan planting. Amazing! Two Italian interns are added to the staff.
Alex flies to Paris to get with Dave Eastman and Mark Mancini during the send-off for the Montreal team. He is feeling that the new interns are unsupportive and really need a lot of training. He also feels that the interns do not understand that they are to be trained and as a result he is always having to call Bob and settle disagreements. Mark and Dave both tell Alex that Bob should have ordered the relationships and that he absolutely should stay in the ministry and to set up an appointment with Randy McKean in Berlin. In Berlin Randy can’t get with Alex. Bob then asks Alex why he wanted to get with Randy. So he tells him. Bob says he will take care of it when he gets with the staff for a talk. Things get better for about a month but the same problems keep resurfacing and nothing really changes although the relationships between the interns do get better. At this point, the church was not getting the support from Bob that it needed. This, along with other emerging differences on the approach to the ministry, make Alex begin to wonder if he should stay in the ministry. He begins to speak to Bob about this.
Aug 1992: We’re beginning with 5 fall-aways on record for the year. We end the month with one baptism (a Puerto Rican girl at the Berlin conference). NO FALL-AWAYS in Aug.
Sept 1992: Two baptisms and a move in (both baptisms are Italians and the guy is a guy that Alex and Damiana personally met in a restaurant) Alex and Damiana feel the need for a lot of training in:
- The word of God (on one occasion the lead girl was about to do a devotional on “the fig tree” (Luke 13:6-9). Not only was it going to be used to scare the tar out of people but the lead girl said that was the only way she ever heard it used in London. That was all she knew).
- Knowing how to bring people around and not to repeat some of the errors of the past (i.e. smoking).
The interns agree and draw up a list of topics that are essential: ex’s:
- Division of the covenants.
- Original sin: In Italy this is an issue.
- Gifts of the spirit.
- Leadership qualities in Jesus.
- The Trinity. (Jehovah’s Witnesses are the 2nd largest religion in Italy and there are about 150,000 in Italy. There are about 6,000 just in Milan.)
- Dealing with Catholicism. (Italians seem to have a hard time with Peter.)
This month no one falls away and everyone is feeling like things are starting to happen.
Oct 1992: Three baptisms and one fall-away
Nov 1992: Two baptisms and 0 fall-aways. Both Italians and non-smokers. NOW THIS IS WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING!
At this point Alex did not have a deep relationship with Mark and Rose Miller. Rose was the accountant not only for Milan, but also responsible for 6 other European churches. Mark helped Rose out overhauling the European churches’ computer systems. Overall, Alex and Damiana never had any problems with this couple since leading the church. BUT they did not know that they were being asked to come back to Boston. They were told by Bob Tranchell that they were a burden to the staff in Milan and that they were not model mission team leaders. When Mark Miller apologetically told Alex he was probably going back to Boston, Alex asked “why?”. Mark thought Alex was joking and Alex didn’t understand why we were about to lose another couple, when we needed all the experience we could get out here teaching and discipling. (At this point 9 mission team members were called back off the mission team. Mark had been converted 15 years ago in Gainesville, Florida, and Rose had been converted in Boston 12 years ago, and frankly 75% of the staff in Milan felt they were needed). Mark told Alex that Bob had told him that the staff was pretty unanimous on them leaving.
Dec 1992: No baptisms and 1 fall-away.
Jan 1993: A Workshop is scheduled to start the year. The staff felt that everyone had a pretty lousy holiday and were feeling very guilty. So instead of going over the same studies again the staff felt the Christians needed their confidence built up and needed to understand grace a little better.
Bob felt the need was to be out evangelizing and looking for people to study with: To teach the Christians how to study with people, again! So we compromised and did a bit of both. We all want Italy to hear the gospel too, but we didn’t think the needs of the Christians were being met. NO baptisms and no fall-aways that month.
Alex has a disagreement with Bob (over the telephone) on approach to the ministry after having received the 1992 World Report in the mail. Bob was surprised that Alex had a copy of this, since only “spiritual people” could see this information. The disagreement consisted of:
- pushing people
- an unhealthy view of God and the fact that many Christians have an unhealthy self-esteem due to theological mistakes
Based on the 1992 statistics, 17,000 people left the movement. Boston and 50% of the other ministries all had negative growth.
Alex, after getting a copy of the Worldwide Report from Boston, asks Bob why we lost 17,000 people in 1992 and only baptized 20,000; and why Boston lost about 1200 and only baptized 700, and why Toronto baptized 346 and lost 343 and why in general were the stats so pathetic if nothing was wrong at the root level.
Feb 1993: Alex gets a call from Bob who tells Alex that the Millers may not be open to leaving Milan and so they may be disfellowshipped. Bob said he “cleared it with the elders” and that he would need Alex’s support. Alex said OK.
Bob said he would be coming into Milan at the end of the month (Feb 93) and that he would talk more about it. Once in Milan, Alex asks Bob when the first 2 warnings took place regarding the Millers, because if he was going to have to back up a disfellowshipping and a potential marking, he wanted to have it clearly settled in his conscience since disfellowshipping is a pretty major issue. Bob’s answer to that was that the Millers were warned in Boston already, all that remained was the actual disfellowshipping be executed in Milan if they refused to go back to Boston. Their sin: BEING REBELLIOUS.
Later that night Bob tells Alex he is disloyal and has some “kingdom bends”, his concerns prove it. He should be much more loyal and he shouldn’t have these types of concerns because the movement alone is the Kingdom of God.
Alex says he wants to know more about what is going on with the stats and with the Millers situation, in order to prevent the same errors that were made in other ministries, including serious abuses of authority on the part of evangelists, elders and zone leaders both in the past and now. The Millers get with Bob and Laurie, and basically they have by the end of Feb to decide to go back or be disfellowshipped. Bob tells Rose that the Boston office really needs her skills there and that her job is calling her back and her skills are no longer needed in Milan.
NOTE THE FOLLOWING: After getting with Bob, Mark Miller can’t believe this is being backed by Boston. So he calls Gordon Ferguson in Boston. WELL, Gordon tells Mark that the disfellowshipping was NOT approved in Boston and that he and Bob had a 2 minute conversation in passing. To say the least, it wasn’t cleared. Mark was shocked. Mark calls Alex and Alex tells him to talk to Bob. Bob receives a call from Gordon the same day. Bob decides not to go through with the disfellowshipping. Apparently, even Randy McKean didn’t think it was a clear enough issue on which to disfellowship a person.
Bob still says to this day he had the right to disfellowship the Millers. In a 3 hour phone conversation later in the week, Alex tells Bob that he would not support a disfellowshipping like this one and he tells Bob that in order to have his support he would like to speak to the Millers himself. Bob says OK, they are in your church! After speaking with the Millers, Alex realized the Millers knew of no prior warnings AT ALL. Now things are really getting sticky. Alex calls Bob back and tells him this. Bob says that they were warned but they just didn’t know it.
Alex tells him that this is not possible, biblically. THEY SPENT 3 HOURS ON THE PHONE and there was no misunderstanding that they parted disagreeing on this fundamental point (how to disfellowship a person). NEVER FORGET WE ARE TALKING ABOUT BROTHERS AND SISTERS… people who have devoted their lives to the Movement in good faith. The Millers came on the mission team with the agreement to come for two years and TO HAVE NO CHILDREN. NOTHING was said about going back if the leaders changed their minds before the 2 years were up.
Bob says it’s automatically implied and was supposed to have been understood. When you ask someone to make a move for 2 years, have them think about it, sell their belongings, give up a Ph.D., (or whatever) and then change the plans after 9 months, you can’t just expect people to jump and say OK WITHOUT trying to resolve where it may be that God wants them. Especially on a slip up on the leaders part. In fact if it was not stated beforehand; it was Bob’s fault and he needed to let them live out their 2 year dream.
THIS IS THE POINT: Rose is an Italian, and she had always dreamed of coming to Italy because she loved the people. (Remember Paul – Rom 9:1-2) She also had family here and they felt that things were just starting to get going in the language and in their careers again, so if they were not being a problem for anyone, why push the issue? And why make the issue REBELLION towards God and His leaders? The whole situation was handled pathetically. How many other brothers and sisters are put out of the church like in the case of Milan? Seems to us like our Leaders have got some things to face about our authority and the issue of conscience with regard to dreams that God puts on peoples’ hearts. Perhaps this may give us a little bit more insight as to why 17,000 people left in 1992.
Up to this point there also has been a lot said to the staff about the Millers’ “sin”, but what about Bob’s sin and the manipulating of the facts earlier? Alex tells Bob he will continue to study out some of these issues and they will get together in July at the Paris conference. NO ONE else in the church knows anything at this point. Alex tells Bob he wants to be officially cleared of all his responsibilities by the end of March. Bob asks if he can hang on until another couple from Boston arrives.
June 1993: Andy and Staci Yeatman arrive to take over the church. Staci is Al Baird’s daughter. PARIS CONFERENCE is coming up. Alex decides to talk to Bob on the issue of his integrity on the way things were handled (an abuse of authority) and the way the elders allegedly cleared the disfellowshipping.
July 1993: In Paris, Alex sees Bob and asks him if it would be possible to see him, Gordon and Mark all together so we can clear up the story. He says OK.
July 3, 1993: (in Paris) Gordon is pretty apologetic and admits that in the disfellowshipping some short-cuts were taken and a few mistakes were made but no sin on their part. Alex says that was not the case and that he had some questions about Bob’s way of handling the situation. For example:
- Why were the Millers told that the staff in Milan unanimously felt that the Millers were a burden to the staff when this was not the case?
- Why did Bob tell Mark and Alex that he had cleared it with the elders when he hadn’t at all?
- Why does Bob teach that a person can be warned from Matthew 18 and not know about it?
- Why does Bob still feel that even after all this, he still had the biblical right to carry out Matt. 18, but he decided not to? And that when the Millers did not take the advice to go back to Boston when the leaders said “go”, that they were rebelling against God?
Alex then asked Bob in the presence of Mark Miller when he actually carried out the first 2 steps of Matthew 18? Bob said “in Milan”. Alex reminded him of the 3 hour talk they had on the phone in Milan when he told Alex that the first two warnings had taken place in Boston. Bob said he made a mistake and that it was a technicality. Throwing someone out of the movement and into hell is never a technicality. Alex asked Bob if he did warn them in Milan then why was he now changing the story? And if it even was the case, who were his witnesses based on Matt. 18? Bob said that Laurie was a valid witness in this case. Mark did a beautiful job from the Scriptures showing that a minister’s wife is not the wisest choice, due to obvious reasons. Alex asks why he wasn’t pulled in on this matter?
Alex saw no real admission of error or sin, but yet Mark and Alex were supposed to repent of their attitudes. Their characters were made the issue. Earlier that same Saturday morning, Bob in his message (to the men) says that “If you haven’t borne fruit since the Berlin conference (last Aug. 92), then you have a serious problem with “your heart” and how are you going about seeking the Kingdom first”. At the leaders meeting in Paris for the evangelists and interns, Randy preaches that same message; that John 15 is “ONLY converts” and that he is sick and tired of people trying to make it anything else! So naturally, Alex asked Bob if he had borne fruit personally since the last Berlin conference. And Bob said that “one plants and one waters” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8). Alex said “Not good enough Bob. It was clear in your message that you intended something else. Stop preaching stuff that leaves people feeling guilty if you haven’t done it yourself”.
Alex also tells Bob that he thinks he is dangerous to the church if he continues to be sloppy (a reference to the Matt. 18 incident and his comment at the conference) and especially if he continues to minimize his errors and sins. Alex is given an ultimatum: to go to Boston or Toronto; but that he could no longer stay in Milan and be part of the church. Alex says this would not be possible at the present time due to the fact that there were responsibilities here that he couldn’t just leave (lease on his apt; a new job he just started; a relationship with Simona), and that he did not agree that the ultimatum was appropriate. Gordon says, “We may have to mark you right here in Paris,” Alex says, “Go ahead”. It didn’t happen.
July 5, 1993: Gordon flies into Milan to meet with Alex again and Andy Yeatman, the newly appointed evangelist in Milan. An agreement is reached: There are irreconcilable differences and there will be an announcement made to the church. There will be no attacks on the character. This agreement was violated early by the new evangelist when in a leaders meeting he used John 6:66 to describe Alex. Alex heard about it and called Gordon, who in turn probably spoke to Andy.
July 6, 1993: Gordon meets with the staff in a coffee shop and notifies them that Alex will no longer be part of the church. The staff wants to know why? They are told they need to trust and possibly support a marking if necessary. Two interns refuse (out of three). They want to talk to Alex and hear his reasons why he is not going to be part of the movement anymore. The interns meet with Alex and Gordon later that day. Alex summarizes his concerns:
- Abuse of authority he has seen over the years not changing (due to theological problems).
- Misuse of the word of God to get results (Ex: the unbiblical and constant reference to numbers/fruit; throwing people out of the “kingdom” of God, this shows a serious SCRIPTURAL misunderstanding of what the Kingdom of God/church really is; UNSCRIPTURAL use of loyalty to leaders and the movement).
- The lack of real changes: too many cosmetic changes.
- Motivational problems and poor self esteem on the part of members often produced from: i.e. guilt, fear, performance goals leading to a works mentality and excessive LEGALISM to merit God’s approval; using and misrepresenting numbers to justify anything,
July 7, 1993: Andy and Staci call a mid-week devotional. Andy announces that Bob Tranchell and Gordon Ferguson are in town. Andy explains that Bob, Gordon and the staff of the church are involved in a deep talk and therefore cannot be there.
July 8. 1993: The church meets again. Bob tells the story of the Milan church, stressing the challenges and struggles it has gone through. Gordon presents himself as a father for all the Christians and he expresses his love for the Milan church. After a long premise Gordon announces that Alex had some things in his heart which had remained unrevealed for a long time and that he openly expressed during the talks in Paris. The talks revealed that Alex and the top leadership had “irreconcilable differences” about some doctrinal issues. There was no sin specified to the church. These disagreements caused Alex to leave the movement.
Gordon also advises the church:
- Not to talk to Alex
- Not to talk among each other
- To express doubts and reservations directly to the authorities
Most of the church leaders react asking for more details about Alex’s decision and why. Bob and Gordon refuse to go into details and ask the church to respect this. They just say that Alex had some problems with the biblical concept of authority. Every answer given to the members’ questions sounds evasive and unsatisfactory. Bob and Gordon ask for 100% trust and some people decide to be behind them.
July 9, 1993: Gordon teaches a lesson on authority and stresses that members of the Movement need to be in submission to the leaders. After the lesson new questions arise. Bob and Gordon explain that whoever leaves the movement is not considered a Christian anymore/not saved. With this they obviously meant that Alex is not to be considered A BROTHER anymore. They also add that in order to be restored he will have to repent and admit his sin…(but the leaders wouldn’t have to admit any sin). They confirm their decision not to explain any further and now it is time to trust 100%.
They also recommend not to be emotional towards Alex but to be objective and to see him as someone who has left the church because of “heart” problems. The way to love him is to give him time to repent… this causes uncertainty and doubt in the church. The members want to know what the issues are since they can’t even speak to the interns. Almost everybody starts studying the Scriptures in order to get personal convictions about authority and blind obedience and loyalty. We thought we needed to be like the Bereans and see what the Word of God said.
People are not to talk about anything they are studying, and anyone who has not yet decided to give 100% trust and is found talking will be considered divisive. INTERESTING! Surely the facts as to what happened in Alex’s case wouldn’t confuse us would they? Some details are given about Alex’s situation and concerns remain about how the situation is being handled and the way Alex is being defined: Lost!
At this point Alex is no longer part of the church. Most of us knew that Alex was reaching out to a doctor and that he was trying to get him into a study. Concerns are expressed over the fact that when Alex baptizes someone, where will they go to church? The older members on the team start asking whether the Kingdom of God equals only the movement? Can someone be saved without belonging to the Movement? Can one decide not to be part of the Movement and still be saved? Do the “leaders” have the right to “declare” someone no longer part of the Kingdom of God? Reading Matt. 13:24-30 and Matt. 13:36-43 (Kingdom parables) this right is reserved for the ANGELS (vs. 41) not any man. Can people be commanded in grey areas? Is it “disloyal” to disagree with a leader? These questions were put to Gordon and Bob and they were reluctant to admit that the Movement itself is the result of A DIVISION from an already existing church.
A group belonging to the “mainline” church of Christ that decided to leave and start a new congregation in Boston. In 1985 Kip took over an ALREADY EXISTING movement after Chuck Lucas’ termination and at that point the movement was in contact with about 50 other churches of Christ. Did Kip and others behave divisively? Are some of the people who still belong to the mainline church of Christ saved and therefore part of the one Kingdom of God? Are new congregations that spring up part of the Kingdom of God? Can any person, MAN, draw the line and say who is in and out of the Kingdom of God? Not even angels did that! (Matt. 13:24-30; and read the explanation in verses 36-43. PLEASE READ…Be Bereans always and never be intimidated).
Discipleship talks begin. These are sessions, one on one where things get talked through, so we thought! Andy and Staci state that the Boston Movement is the only Kingdom of God on earth and anyone outside of the movement is LOST. They also stated that every Christian needed to make a decision to trust the leaders 100% or leave the church, 99% trust would not be allowed because it revealed a heart problem in the disciple. (Not even Paul demanded such foolishness.) (Acts 17:10-11). They also stated that there needed to be an admittance of sin and repentance on the part of the church regarding the following issues:
- Grumbling and divisiveness
- Lack of loyalty and trust towards the leaders
- Not being sold out for the movement
Instead of discussing these issues and reasoning from the Scriptures, people were told that these were set as conditions that every Christian must fully accept to be considered part of the church. Who is actually being divisive now?
In the following days discipleship talks continue but the situation doesn’t change. Many Christians struggle to give 100% trust to the leaders and accept their present behavior. Yet these same Christians declare their love for God and willingness to follow Him.
Fri. July 16, 1993: Devotional: Andy accuses the church of three major sins:
- Ingratitude toward Boston
- Loss of convictions about who is lost and who is saved. (Probable reference to Alex)
Andy compares himself and his wife to Moses and Aaron leading Israel (OT). The preaching sounds like a threat to the church and he looks very angry. Andy explains that the rebellious and chatting people of Israel were “killed”.
As the situation gets more and more intense Andy asks for help from Boston and Bob and Gordon fly into Milan again. (One of Andy’s most memorable statements is “We all know that in Christianity there is much freedom but, as Christians, you have no rights!(therefore, you should submit…”).
Wed. July 21, 1993: Bob comes to Milan with the conviction that the Milan church has a heart problem; members are simply told they are disunified, lack love and lack trust. According to him, a part of the church is following Andy and a part of the church is following Alex. Gordon Ferguson compares the church to the traditional churches of Christ. He accuses the members of arrogance and is very sarcastic in his tone and behavior. Bob says that first he is going to talk about doctrine and the next night (Thur.) he will talk about life. Then the last night there will be a party for the new Milan church.
Bob comes to Milan with the conviction that the Milan church has a heart problem; members are simply told they are disunified, lack love and lack trust. According to him, a part of the church is following Andy and a part of the church is following Alex.
Gordon Ferguson compares the church to the traditional churches of Christ. He accuses the members of arrogance and is very sarcastic in his tone and behavior. Bob says that first he is going to talk about doctrine and the next night (Thur.) he will talk about life. Then the last night there will be a party for the new Milan church. Gordon gives a lesson about fruit and admits that the word is used in different ways in the N.T.: ex: fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22); fruit=financial giving (Phil. 4:17); fruit of repentance (Matt. 3:7); bringing souls to Jesus (Rom. 1:13)
An interesting point to note here is that in the private sessions, Staci Yeatman admitted that there had been a misuse of Scripture with reference to the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9. She admitted that this is not referring to a Christian bringing visitors to church, but to the nation of Israel about to be cut off from God. Bob later that night preaches on the Kingdom: He says: “We need to decide tonight who is in the Kingdom of God! You can’t leave the church without leaving the Kingdom because the Kingdom and the church are the same…and if you leave the church where will you go? The problem is your hearts..!” His closing remarks (boastings?!) are: “Tomorrow we will see who has the POWER!” There is no time for questions on the part of the members.
Thurs. July 22, 1993: Bob: “Tonight is going to be the most important decision of your life. Either you stay or you go. You have a worldly and Italian concept of authority… As an evangelist I have the authority to rebuke you and correct you…”
Gordon, the principal spokesman in most of the meetings, starts by saying that the problem is rooted in Mark, Rose, and Alex. He explains that Mark, because of his character and age in Christ, was not someone just anyone could disciple and the only reason that he brought on the mission team is because of his wife… she was the accountant for the church and spoke Italian. (The truth is, since his wife had dreamed for years of coming to Italy, that Mark was in fact the one who was strongly recruited for the Milan team. Gordon goes on to say that Mark, after poisoning his wife, won over Alex and had developed critical attitudes. Alex then passed on these attitudes to the interns, who in turn, passed them on to others… and so on.
A week earlier, the ultimatum had again been put to the Millers: Move back to Boston immediately or be put out of the church. After Bob, Laurie and Gordon again fly to Milan, for a week they plead with the Millers that, if they loved the Milan church as they so affirm, then to move back to Boston to get “help” and save the church from experiencing the pain of a disfellowshipping. Before this evenings services begin, the Millers break down and agree to return to Boston — strictly in order to spare the Milan Church the hurt. In almost the next sentence, Bob then tells them: “I’ve changed my mind, I’m disfellowshipping you tonight anyway. It will be automatically lifted upon your return to Boston”.
Mark enquired, “But haven’t you pleaded all along that we should agree to return and spare the Milan Church this agony?” Bob’s reply, in the presence of the Millers, Gordon, and Andy: “I just reneged on my promise.” The Millers are disfellowshipped and marked. The action is qualified with the proviso that they will only be allowed in the church if they move back to Boston to get the “help” they need. The Milan Church must no longer have anything to do with them, no communication, phone calls, social interaction, etc. The church must be protected from them. No acknowledgment is made of any wrongdoing on the part of leadership, only that, “at times things were handled in exactly the way that the Millers would have liked”.
Again, no questions are allowed.
Fri. July 23, 1993: Bob Tranchell’s final act: Tonight is decision time. The subject of the message: Humility. Bob asks the church: “Are you going to leave just because some leaders leave?”. Humility and 100% devotion will keep you in the Kingdom tonight. The leaders you need to trust are: Kip and Elena, Gordon and Theresa, Randy and Kay, Bob and Laurie, Andy and Staci… “Judge for yourselves who you want to serve!”
Then he asserts that Alex doesn’t even believe in the canonization of the Bible anymore! It is at this point that one of the interns (Corrado, an Italian baptized in London) closes his Bible.
At this point everyone is asked to line up against the wall and an imaginary line is drawn on the floor.
“Here stands the leadership of the Milan Church. Whoever is prepared to give 100% support to the leadership, cross this line. The rest of you can leave.” At the end, 12 people crossed the line, 17 did not. As the 17 leave, some try to ask questions and are rebuffed. Bob presents the new International Milan Church of Christ. They have a party.
Sat. July 24, 1993: Gordon sets up separate meetings with the Millers at 1:00 pm, and with Alex at 4:00 pm. Alex goes along with the Millers at 1:00 pm. Also present are the Tranchells, Gordon, and Yeatmans. Mark mentions that Leadership’s assertion that the unsupportive staff is “following” Alex is irrational, as the staff, of all people, knew Alex’s strengths and weaknesses quite well (better than his accusers) and would not have hesitated to depart paths with him had his character and motives truly been the issue. Bob admits that the sole reason he publicly brought doubt upon Alex’s belief in the Bible was to “discredit him in the eyes of the church”, and that he would do it again to protect the church. Bob predicts that in 5 months, at the most, everyone (except the Millers and Alex) will go back to the world. Interestingly enough, 7 months have passed and not only has no one fallen away, but 3 more people have left the Milan movement and joined the group that was thrown out.
As the meeting ends, the decision is made to mark Alex out of necessity. We all pray. At the end of the prayer, Alex looks up and quips: “Can I mark all of you tomorrow for dividing the Kingdom?” Everyone laughs, gives each other hugs, and we go our separate ways.
The group that “left” spontaneously started to meet for informal church services: people were disillusioned about the Movement but still completely willing to follow God. (The movement group subsequently had another 4 fall-aways).
God had given us visitors in church and this week there was an Italian girl baptized into Christ. Alex never said to anyone that he was going to start his own church. He did say that he refused to stop sharing his faith and doing what he knew to be right, and if that resulted in “new Christians” then so be it.
We know this has been long, but we felt it necessary to present our side of the story since some have only heard “what they wanted you to hear”. Many of you don’t know us, but some of you do, and we just want to say that we consider you our brothers and sisters in Christ, and if there is ever a way, we hope to be able to meet one day to share Christ with each other. We’ve only heard about you, good things.
But we feel that this position we’ve taken is for our good. We did not leave the movement; it is important to understand this — we were thrown out. We are also happy to say that we have not had any fall-aways since the split and we are doing very well, despite the deep wounds we have in our hearts. We hope that by writing this, we have been able to spur others to stand up for what is written in His Word.
We’ve seen things happen here in Italy that are not right, and though the cost may be high, we are here to please God first. We seek only to hold out the same gospel to the other Italians, because we know that the gospel truly is the power of God to the “salvation of everyone who believes”(Rom. 1:16). We want to evangelize Italy, and by the power of God we will. We have tried to be fair in our assessment of the situation. We believe there are some fundamental problems with authority in the movement.
Former Milan Interns
Lies told by Movement Leaders
Whether it is intended or not, in any disagreement there are always 2 sides. Europe has seen many movements (the BM is not the first) and fear causes people to do some pretty crazy things.
Please read carefully:
1. Gordon said to the Milan church that Alex had some things in his heart that remained unrevealed for a long time, but recently came out in Milan.
This is not true. Concerns like this had been discussed in the past with various discipleship partners (we will refrain from using names) in Toronto in the past.
2. Bob said on Fri. July 23, at a devotional in Italy that “Alex doesn’t even believe in the canonization of the Bible any more.” This made Bob lose a lot of credibility in the church’s eyes that night.
Bob did not deny saying this…he admitted it was a complete distortion of something that Alex talked to Gordon about earlier. He acknowledged it as a lie but felt it was necessary.
3) Bob told the Millers first that the Milan staff felt unanimous about wanting them out of Milan.
Without speaking to Alex and after the interns found out about this, the brother on staff expressed to Bob that he never felt that way.
4) Bob told Alex that the Millers were warned in Boston in Dec ’92 according to Matt. 18:15-17, with witnesses (during a 3 hr. phone conversation).
In Paris, in the presence of Mark Miller, he said the warnings actually took place in Milan in Feb ’93.
5) Bob told Alex first, then Mark, that he had got the elders’ OK in Boston on the disfellowshipping.
Gordon admitted to Mark that this is not so in Feb ’93.
6) In Toronto: Alex was now doing poorly, even smoking cigars now.
Absolutely not true. A brother shared that with Dave Eastman (we will not name him). Later, when Alex talked to Dave Eastman, Dave named the brother and apologized to Alex.
7) At a zone meeting in Toronto, Ron Hammer declared that Alex was in town calling young Christians and trying to pull them out of the church.
Yes, Alex was in town, but up to that point did not deliberately call anyone except Peter Ottman, one of his closest friends, because he knew he was moving to London. Alex called Dave, and Dave apologized after Alex approached him on the subject.
8) Alex threw his Bible down and said in anger “I’m going to start my own church.” (Who said that?).
Not true. Many people in Milan can witness that Alex never pushed for building a new church. The newly formed group was just the result of a spontaneous gathering of people who had been kicked out of the Movement but still wanted to live Christian lives in community. As the most experienced person, Alex was asked to help, together with the Millers, to organize the group.
9) It was preached in many churches in Europe and America that:
a) Some people in Milan decided to leave the church and the Kingdom.
Our personal feeling is still that we were roughly kicked out: No chance to disagree and have personal ideas, we were left with an ultimate choice to trust 100% and submit to people (the so-called authorities) who did not show any will to test the validity of their behavior and ideas about Christianity. Crossing the line that night (see chronology) would have meant approving unspiritual conduct and arrogance. What kind of leaders would we blindly follow?
b) The people who “left” were just young Christians.
This is not true and was said to minimize the problem, when necessary, in front of the other churches. The truth is that, among the people who left there were:
- Of course, Alex Presenza and Mark and Rose Miller, the three of them having been Christians for more than a decade;
- Three out of four of the people who were on staff (including Alex), having been members of the original mission team;
- A couple (husband and wife) that, a few months before the split, the leaders had asked to go to Boston to be trained to become an evangelist and women’s counselor respectively;
- A majority of the people being part of the leaders’ group (BT leaders and assistants).
Did all of these experienced people become, all of a sudden, deceived and unable to distinguish between good and evil?
c) The people who had left the church had serious heart problems: they were defined as rebellious and unsubmitted, sinners, possessed by Satan, and in many other discrediting ways. (In some churches (ex. Paris), members were given a list of the people in Milan who were still to be considered brothers and the people Christians should avoid to have contacts with).
It should be clear at this point to the reader that this process of “demonization” of the people not being part of the church was intended to lower their future credibility and unbuild their reputation in the eyes of the Christians still belonging to the movement. One girl in Milan witnesses: “I called one of my dearest friends in the States, the girl I studied with after meeting the church in New York, because I wanted to explain to her the situation in Milan. She didn’t want to talk to me because she had been warned not to. All of my attempts to convince her that I still wanted to be a Christian even if I did not intend to follow the movement anymore were in vain.”
John 21:23 “Because of this the RUMOUR SPREAD AMONG THE BROTHERS that this disciple would not die…”
Rumours are nothing new and they usually serve as the best foothold for Satan. These lies and probably many others have hurt people and have hurt their relationships with God. We all want unity and we all want the world to know Jesus. But when a church or Christian can justify lying and rationalize it away in the name of “their movement” it is a sad time for that movement.
Milan Church of Christ Testimony
“To SIN by silence when we SHOULD PROTEST, makes cowards out of men.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox – from JFK – Oliver Stone
Dear Kip McKean,
We appeal to you as the leader of the Boston Movement because you have always been described to us as a spiritual person who deeply loves God and His people. We love God and His teachings and want to live the lives of disciples according to what the Bible teaches. Among us there are several people who worked for the Church and even people who had the dream to become an evangelist or women’s counselor. All of us deeply believed in God working through the Movement and were committed to having it grow throughout Italy.
However, we have become disillusioned about the Movement and about how the leaders dealt with the Church here in Milan. The situation was handled in an ungodly manner. Those leaders were convinced that the Movement is the Kingdom of God. If they have love, if they are in charge of shepherding God’s little ones (Mt 18:6,10) and trying to make sure not one is lost (Mt 18:14) as our Father is, how could they ‘snatch’ souls out of the Kingdom (Jn 10:28) and into (what they believe) damnation for not ‘backing up the leaders 100%’? Are we to have blind faith in our leaders? (Ac 17:10-11) Must we all have uniform thoughts with no questions? (Rom 14:22) What are the Scriptures for, if not to guide us? Weren’t we encouraged to delve into the Scriptures? But when we put that into practice we are told we are being prideful and not submitting. It seems to us that despite what is taught, the possibility of each Christian investigating the Scriptures for himself is only theoretical. Even Paul never expected such loyalty. (Ac 17:11). Twenty-four people out of thirty-five are no longer in the Milan Church, from new Christians to 15 year members. What will those responsible say before God? Have you ever thought about this?
There are people no longer in the Movement who were hurt, unrighteously challenged, humiliated and even insulted. These people are wounded, some do not know what to believe or trust anymore. Why? They had put their faith in a church and in leaders they thought they could trust. That was their mistake. God has shown us that we can blindly trust in Him, but not in any man. (Jn 2:24-25).
It’s sad. It’s so sad because the Boston Movement has a lot of great things going for it. It is preached to be serious about God, not to be lukewarm or wishy-washy about Christianity. Many people have come to hear about Christ through the Movement’s evangelistic efforts. These are all good things – great things. The problem is, once you make converts, what do you do with them? They are misled and manipulated through a misuse of Scriptures. People are not permitted the freedom to mature in their faith. There seems to have been a lack of integrity in many cases. When people delve into their Bibles and start becoming aware of this, their trust for the Movement is broken and they become devastated. They thought they could trust their leaders to be honest and open, the way they themselves had been taught to be.
For the Movement, advancing itself has become more important than God. They are not one and the same. The Movement can work for God, but cannot be substituted for God; therefore it must not go against God’s Word to meet its own ends.
Some of the issues involved in the split are the following:
- The leaders asked for 100% trust and loyalty and set this as a condition to be considered part of the church. Since when has this been a prerequisite to remain in “God’s Kingdom” ? Why did the leaders create this situation and why were they consciously ready to remove us from “God’s Kingdom”, and for an unbiblical reason? No one had wanted to leave the Church. Why were we forced to do so?
- There has been abuse of authority by the leaders, a lack of (or reluctant and played down) admittance of this sin and a perseverance in this abuse.
- There has been, in the Milan Church, admission to the deliberate misuse of the Scriptures regarding fruit (cursing of the fig tree). This relates to much emphasis on numbers and stats. (does the Church really believe the Spirit works powerfully if it is so concerned about keeping track of converts and fall-aways – human techniques of business management?) There is misuse of authority (advice is often given as a command), of the Kingdom of God (inception in 1979 in Boston MA) and others.
We have been told that we need to repent and humble ourselves in front of the Church if we want to come back and still be a part of it.
Our ultimate questions are: What exactly do we need to repent of? There is a handful of baby Christians who don’t even know what happened, they only know that they were told to leave. Are we the only ones who need to repent in order to be reconciled? Is there space for constructive dialogue and opportunity for some changes in the movement? You yourself, Kip, said “Restoration is an ongoing thing.” Will a leader ever say “I was wrong” and prove his repentance by his deeds?
What really is the Kingdom the Bible talks about and can any man (and remember, Kip, all leaders are only men) decide to change another man’s citizenship in Heaven once it has been determined by God? And finally: Should we expect from you the same treatment we had from the other leaders?
We are writing this letter in good conscience and faith. We are open to dialogue with you, or at least hearing your views on this whole situation. Our forced choice to leave the Movement has been interpreted and turned as if we followed Alex, Mark and Rose; in fact most people made their own independent and conscientious decision while the rest (young Christians) were simply given up on.
We have been labeled as divisive, unspiritual, proud, rebellious, fallen away, no longer part of the Kingdom of God… We have been preached around the world in this manner and defined as the ungodly ex-Christians who left God. This breaks our hearts because we thought Christians believed in integrity and truth.
We enclose herewith a short chronicle of the Milan Church of Christ.
Back to other articles about the International Churches of Christ.