This is the third in a series of letters written to new or prospective members of the International Christian Church (ICC) led by Kip McKean. These are things that I wish that someone had brought to my attention at age 18 when I joined, and before I wasted 15 good years of my life.
The purpose of the church is control. The church exists to control. If the church is not controlling, it is not fulfilling its function.
The church does its best to control every aspect of your life, from your finances, to who your friends are and aren't, how you spend your free time, where you live, what you think, who you date and marry, the list goes on and on. It takes a very "hands on" approach to applying Jesus' teachings to every aspect of your life.
I actually loved this about the church when I first joined. It made my life simpler and easier to have others making many decisions for me, and made me feel loved and taken care of. It mimicked the childhood that, at 18, I was just leaving behind.
The church creates a bubble world for you where you are protected from many of the trials and tribulations of the outside world. You have instant friends. A noble identity as God's chosen. The knowledge that you are in the light and everyone else on the planet is in the dark.
One of the key words that the church uses is "discipleship." Follow Jesus the way his original disciples did. A central part of that is to take advice from your "discipler," a person appointed over you to help keep you doing what the church wants you to do and to give you advice and input in every area of your life - what you are doing right and wrong, and what you should and should not be doing.
I never minded discipling much. In fact, I liked it pretty well. It gave me confidence and direction that I sometimes lacked, and helped take me off the hook for whatever I did, as long as I was "following advice," I was OK.
(Here are a couple golden nuggets of advice I received from my discipler.)
However, as I had been warned many times by friends outside the church, the system of discipling is set up for abuse. It has been tried many times, I am told, and every time it works great for a while and then breaks down miserably. The system sure broke down in my personal case, as my discipler extorted money from me, threatened me, and then with his discipler, threatened to try to destroy my family.
(VGSr also enjoyed setting me up to fight with others in the church. Maybe I will tell some of those stories some time.)
Yes, my discipler had a discipler. Everyone in the church has a discipler. It forms a big tree, with Kip McKean at the very tippy-top. I was pretty close to the top, since there was only one person (referred to here as VGSr) between me and Kip. I was VGSr's right-hand man, and VGSr was (and is) one of Kip's top right-hand men.
Kip is the only one in the church without a discipler who tells him what to do. Theoretically, he has a group of guys who supposedly tell him what he needs to hear, but there is no question whatsoever who calls the shots. It is Kip.
And while I may have enjoyed some of the short-term effects of discipling, the long-term effects were to destroy my confidence and make me rely even more on the help and advice of the church. The church's advice only really helps you do well at church and not in any other arena. So my professional life stagnated, as did all relationships outside the church. Now that I am out, I am trying to get some direction in my life and rebuild the relationships with my family, and make up for 15 years of lost time.
I could have completely paid off a home by now if I had not had my finances under church influence.
A church leader once asked me, "Were you forced to give your money to the church?" The answer to which, of course, is NO. We are never forced to do anything. Even if someone were to hold a gun to your temple and threaten to pull the trigger if you don't comply, you are not being forced, per se, because you can still choose to comply or not. However, there are huge consequences if you don't comply. The church uses every argument and methodology at its disposal to get you to comply. Social pressure, manipulation, guilt, promises of God's blessings, wearing you down, more guilt, repetition, even yelling and threats.
Another big area of control in the church is use of time. Members are expected to go to several church functions throughout the week. When I was in leadership (unpaid, of course) I had church activities every day of the week. From work, go to a meeting, or Bible Talk, or discipleship time, or midweek service, or church service, or something else. As my kids were born I felt like, am I even going to see these kids grow up? And all is with the aim of gaining new members, who can also subject themselves to control.
I remember wanting to date people and not being allowed to. To spend time with my family and not being allowed to. Wanting to take a job and not being allowed to. Wanting to start a business and not being allowed to.
Do you want to be a grown adult and have someone over you telling you what you may and may not do, for the rest of your life? If you do, then the church may be just the place for you.