The International Church of Christ is the most recent name of what had been called the Boston Movement and before that the Crossroads movement. Since the 1960’s when the Crossroads movement first began until now the group has been in constant change. For many years it grew rapidly, but between 2002 and 2005 they had a large internal division and shakeup over Kip McKean; the group’s main leader, and the preacher at the Boston Church of Christ. The result was a self-reported membership decline on the ICOC.ORG website that went from over 135,000 to less than 89,000 in that span. They do report a growth since that time to make a total membership just shy of 100,000 in 2012. The ICOC lists being in 152 countries with a total of 634 churches and a total membership of 99,478 on the ICOC website according to Disciples Today (An ICOC publication). Of local interest there are 8 churches in NC and 5 in SC. The ICOC has shifted from trying to take over congregations like it did in the 70’s and 80’s to an attempt to “plant” congregations in large cities that commonly have college campuses nearby. It is this shift that has cut down significantly on their interaction with many of the faithful congregations in our brotherhood but they are still alive as a movement.
From their beginnings on the Florida University campus in Gainesville Florida until now they have concentrated their efforts largely on young adults especially college students. They noticed something long ago that many of our own congregations would do well to learn. The majority of people that leave religious organizations do so between the ages of 18 and 25. Many college students are on their own for the first time, they are looking for meaning in life, they want to feel connected to something and they are very teachable. This can be an exciting and wonderful time in a young adults life, but it can also be a point of great danger. The ICOC has focused on them and built their congregations around what resonates with them. If there is anything positive to learn from the ICOC it is how important it is to not ignore the vulnerable young adults in our congregations. We often give great focus to them until they graduate high school and then throw them to the world. There are a lot things that can end up happening to our young people when they leave home. Unfortunately far too many in our brotherhood ended up in the ICOC.
Back in the 70’s and 80’s as the now ICOC is known was getting started, they intentionally infiltrated congregations like ravenous wolves as Paul warned the Ephesian elders of in Acts 20:29-31. Many congregations faced fierce battles over control in those times including the one that I serve with now. If it were not for a few faithful brethren the congregation that I serve with would not exist due to some that had snuck into it unaware in the 1980’s. The Boston Movement was worse than any denomination, because at least most denominations will leave others alone and not try to destroy congregations from the inside. A change in their strategy to not try such confrontational measures is a welcome change, but the church “planting” method that they currently employ is still very much alive. They have not gone away even though less of our brotherhood currently interacts with them on a regular basis.
What are the current differences in the ICOC and the congregations that most of us are a part of in the churches of Christ? One of the main points of difference is in the structure of the congregations. Most of our congregations have deacons that take leadership roles in service and elderships that also serve but in specifically spiritual matters. The role of elder has authority for spiritual matters and they have the responsibility to shepherd the flock. (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; Acts 20:26-35, 1 Peter 5:1-5) The ICOC instead has a hierarchy of disciple partners and prayer partners that connect everyone in the congregation. Each individual has someone over them to “disciple” them all the way to the top. Although making disciples is the pivot point of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); the disciples are to be disciples of Christ and not of any human person or personality. Dr. Flavil Yeakley was invited by the Boston Church of Christ to do an independent study of their congregation in 1985. He conducted interviews and conducted psychological studies on over 900 members of the congregation. The findings in great detail are contained in the book The Discipling Dilemma that Dr. Yeakley wrote after the studies. He also interviewed members in what are usually referred to mainline churches of Christ and even some denominations to see if test results were similar. He also compared studies done of various cults. The results showed that only less than 5 percent of members at the Boston Church did not switch personalities after conversion. The opposite of that was true for mainline congregations in which almost no one changed personalities after conversion. At the time they claimed that Kip McKean’s personality; which the majority took on, was the personality of Christ. It doesn’t take a very careful look at all to see that the apostles had vastly different personalities and these were men that were directly discipled by Christ. Behaviors need to change when one becomes a Christian, but there is nothing wrong with personality differences.
Although it is biblical to confess our sins and shortcomings to one another (James 5:16), it was never commanded as a prayer partner or a subordinate and leader relationship. It is also never commanded that we confess things beyond the scope of who knows about the sin. For instance, if a sin is between two individuals then there is no need to take it beyond that if the two can work it out together.
A quick look at the current ICOC website shows them worshiping with instruments and it also gives details of conventions with delegates representing individual congregations in making decisions. They claim non denominational status, but look very much like the Community Church movement that is so prevalent today. The errors that exist at this point would be far beyond the scope of this publication to address, but be aware that they continue to exist and the lessons learned in dealing with their pervasive methods should not be forgotten.
Clint Rowand is the minister for the Augusta Road church of Christ in Greenville, SC.