INTERNATIONAL CHURCHES OF CHRIST (ICOC)
INTERNATIONAL CHURCHES OF CHRIST TIMELINE
1954 (May 31): Thomas (Kip) McKean was born in Indianapolis, Indiana.
1976: McKean married Elena Garcia-Bengochea.
1979: Kip McKean became minister of the Lexington Church of Christ in Lexington, Massachusetts, which later became the Boston Church of Christ (Boston Movement).
1988: Crossroads Church of Christ severed ties with the Boston Movement.
1992 : Kip McKean wrote “Revolution through Restoration Part I: From Jerusalem to Rome: From Boston to Moscow.” The Boston Movement was renamed the International Churches of Christ (ICOC)
1993: ICOC established Discipleship Publications International
1994 (February 4): World Sector Leaders of the ICOC gathered for the signing of the Evangelization Proclamation , written by Kip McKean.
1994: McKean wrote “Revolution through Restoration Part II: The 20 th Century Church.” ICOC established the Kingdom News Network.
1994: Indianapolis Church of Christ left the ICOC movement.
1996: REVEAL, an organization of former members of the ICOC, was established.
2001: McKean was asked to resign from his position as Lead Evangelist of the Los Angeles International Church of Christ. He took a sabbatical from church leadership to engage in spiritual reflection.
2002: McKean was asked by church leaders across the globe to resign his position as the World Missions Evangelist for the International Churches of Christ. He resigned and apologized publically to ICOC congregations.
2003: Henry Kriete (London ICOC leader) posted “Honest to God: Revolution through Repentance and Freedom in Christ.”
2003: McKean wrote “From Babylon to Zion: Revolution through Restoration III.”
2003-2004: Leaders of the ICOC sectors came together to dissolve the ICOC leadership structure and began establishing a loose brotherhood or “family of ICOC churches” that composed a larger network of affiliated ICOC churches (now the ICOC Cooperation of Churches).
2005: “Brothers’ Statement to Kip McKean” publically rebuked McKean, asking McKean, now at the Portland Church, to repent of his sins of pride and arrogance.
2006-2007: Kip and Elena McKean and small group of members moved from the Portland Church of Christ to establish the City of Angels International Christian Church (ICC) the “Sold Out Discipling Movement.”
2008: ICC Portland Church led by Steven Johnson moved away from McKean and the ICC and back to the ICOC Family of Churches.
2012-2013: McKean established the non-accredited International College of Christian Ministries.
Thomas (Kip) McKean [See photo of McKean at right] is the founder of the Boston Movement/International Churches of Christ(ICOC) and the more recent International Christian Church (ICC)/Soldout Discipling Movement. McKean was born on May 31, 1954 in Indianapolis. His father was an admiral in the U.S. Navy, and McKean lived in several states during his high school years and graduated from the University of Florida. It was there that McKean was baptized into the Crossroads Church of Christ (then associated with the mainline Church of Christ) movement in Gainesville, Florida and was exposed to the discipling philosophy that shaped the core beliefs and practices of his Boston/ICOC/now ICC movement (McKean 1992).
McKean married his wife, Elena Garcia-Bengochea, in 1976, and the couple had a daughter and two sons. Elena was born in Cuba in 1955, immigrated in 1959 to the U.S., and grew up in Gainesville, Florida. She was baptized into the Crossroads Church at the University of Florida during her freshman year. Elena has functioned as a Women’s Ministry Leader in the ICOC and now in the ICC/Soldout Discipling Movement. McKean’s brother, Randy McKean, and his sister-in-law, Kay McKean, were also deeply involved in the founding of the ICOC and top leaders in the organizational structure of the movement. Currently Randy and Kay are a Lead Evangelist and Women’s Ministry Leader in the ICOC Cooperative Churches.
In 1979, with the support of a group of thirty committed members of the Lexington Church of Christ, Kip McKean founded the Boston Church of Christ, later renamed the International Churches of Christ. In 1992, McKean wrote “Revolution through Restoration Part I: From Jerusalem to Rome: From Boston to Moscow,” a document that recounts the history and growth of his movement and reaffirms their “Revolution in Christianity – a return to the doctrines and lifestyles of the first century church.” In the telling of the history of the movement, McKean paints a story of unique Christian conviction and revolutionary commitment as he lifts up his family heritage, recalling an ancestor who signed the Declaration of Independence: “Thomas McKean,” who “signed the Declaration of Independence…was the President of the Congress of Confederation, the highest office in the land.” McKean (1992) writes he “was inspired by those who refused to compromise and were willing to sacrifice everything” for “the worthy cause.” His heroes became John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus, who McKean describes as paying “the ultimate price” for their dreams. In 1994, Kip, Elena, Randy, and Kay McKean, as well as other core leaders of the movement, signed their “Evangelization Proclamation,” a visual performance of democratic evangelical revolution through a contemporary Christian Restoration Movement.
In 1994, McKean’s movement claimed to have 146 churches with over 75,000 attending services (Evangelization Proclamation1994) [See the Evangelation Proclamation document at right]. By the year 2000, the ICOC leadership claimed to have fifteen churches that had over 3,000 “in attendance.” The movement boasted of representation in major cities like Boston, Chicago, New York City, Atlanta, Mexico City, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Manila, Moscow, and Kiev, and of hundreds of smaller “plantings” across the globe (ICOC 2000). However, in the midst of these claims of growth, power struggles and concerns with the authoritative structure of the church caused internal conflict.
The Indianapolis Church of Christ left the movement in 1994, and by the turn of the century McKean had come under sharp criticism by several top leaders in the ICOC movement (e.g. Kriete letter of 2003). McKean was discipled by church leaders regarding his “pride” and “arrogance,” took a brief “sabbatical” from leadership, and then resigned his position as the leader of the world movement in 2002. In 2003, as regional and sector ICOC leaders were contemplating how to approach the dissolution of the movement, McKean wrote, “From Babylon to Zion: Revolution through Restoration Part III,” a reflection on the condition of the ICOC movement, a confession of his own mistakes/sins, and his intentions for a revival of his vision of a restoration movement. He moved on soon after to lead the Portland Church of Christ and then reestablish his vision through the International Christian Church or Soldout Discipling movement (ICC).
As the unified ICOC movement came apart, top leaders and many original ICOC congregations maintained the ICOC name, establishing a “family of churches” that presented themselves as working in “cooperation” with one another and rejecting the centralized authority structure of McKean’s vision (See the ICOC Cooperative Church website). McKean took roots in another direction, working to rebuild his movement, first in Portland Oregon, and then in Los Angeles with the newly formed International Christian Church Soldout Discipling Movement. McKean’s presentation of the ICC Soldout Discipling Movement/ICC as exceptional regarding growth and evangelical energy mirrors the early Boston/ICOC narrative of heroic effort and fast growing evangelical success through discipling. McKean’s ICC movement is attempting to revive their world missionary outreach, claiming the ICC movement to be the “fastest spreading Christian movement in the world,” and noting “60 congregations in 26 nations” (See McKean’s page with the City of Angels ICC).
In a recent move to perform legitimacy and obtain funds for his vision, McKean established a non-accredited degree-granting private college in 2012-2013, the International College of Christian Ministries. Tuition for each (three) four month trimester in a calendar year was set at $2,000 (Washington D.C. ICC 2013). The ICCM bestowed the degree of Doctorate to Kip McKean, noted on their website as the Founder and President of the ICCM. Elena McKean was named the Dean of Women.
The ICOC’s mission was deeply tied to their belief that they would “evangelize the world in one generation” through their discipling system, a practice born from the discipling philosophy that took shape in the Crossroads Church of Christ (CCOC) in Gainesville, Florida. In the late 1960s, CCOC’s Chuck Lucas became the force behind the University of Florida’s Campus Advance discipling practices that involved an intensive Bible study training study, daily submission and confession of sins to someone with more time in the church (a “Discipler” or “Prayer Partner”) and active proselytizing and discipling of younger (meaning time in the church) Christians. The seeds of the Crossroads/Boston Movement evangelical beliefs and practices of discipling can be found in Robert Coleman’s 1963 publication, The Master Plan of Evangelism.
In his 1992 treatise, Revolution through Restoration Part I, McKean explains the nature of the ICOC’s version of discipling. He writes that he developed a series of nine Bible studies on the “first principles” (Hebrews 6:1-3) and that “members of the church were called to memorize these studies and then teach others to become Christians.” He stresses the study on “Discipleship,” as the most impacting: “from my study of the Scripture, I taught what was clear in Acts 11:26: SAVED=CHRISTIAN=DISCIPLE, simply meaning that you cannot be saved and you cannot be a true Christian without being a disciple also.” McKean states his purpose here was to “draw a sharp biblical distinction between the Lexington (later named Boston) Church of Christ and all other groups.” While members of the Boston/ICOC movement were told that individual Christians outside the group may be saved upon inspection of their daily beliefs and practices, the leadership also made clear that anyone who was a true disciple would want to be part of the ICOC movement and join the revolution. Leaders in the movement also stressed the unique diverse racial/ethnic character of their churches as they highlighted racial division in contemporary society (e.g. Ferguson 1997:85; Jenkins 2005).
McKean and the ICOC claimed exclusive status as “God’s true and only modern movement” and the “only church with a plan to plant churches in every nation of the world” (Jubilee 2000). The unified ICOC movement routinely noted those in attendance and not membership numbers, which gave the impression of fast growth to match the ICOC’s claims. At its height in the 1990s, the leadership boasted of over 100,000 disciples baptized worldwide (Jenkins 2005).
To be a member of the Boston/ICOC church, an individual had to pledge a commitment to McKean’s version of discipling and complete McKean’s First Principles Bible study series. They had to then be baptized in the church (even if previously baptized in another Christian tradition), commit to proselytizing in daily life, engage in mandatory interaction with a Disciple or “Prayer Partner,” and attend regular meetings with smaller discipleship groups, generally composed of people from similar life positions (married, singles, etc.). Married couples met as well with husband and wife teams who offered discipling/marriage counseling. Disciplers were “Older Christians” (meaning time in the ICOC church) and assigned according to gender. Women did speak and testify at large events and services, but the focus of women’s discipling and leadership efforts and authority was primarily over other women. In many local ICOC churches disciples were broken into smaller Discipling Groups (“D-groups”) that met weekly in their larger discipleship “Family Groups” composed of individuals from their local congregation. While officially a hierarchical mechanism meant to offer encouragement as well as correction and rebuking, manifestations of discipling in individual relationships varied from congregation to congregation and were inevitably shaped by individual character and status/time spent in the movement (Jenkins 2005).
Weekly services in the ICOC movement were held generally on Sunday and Wednesday evenings [See ICOC religious service at right]. Smaller gatherings of family and other groups during the week were common, as were large events where hundreds of members in community sectors or larger geographic regions would come together under themed gatherings like “Marriage Enrichment Day” or similar events for singles or children (Kingdom Kids ministry). The current ICC movement offers similar types of services and events, for example Women’s and Men’s Day retreats and weekend retreats for single members. In the early years of the unified movement, local congregations rented spaces in hotels, convention centers, schools and other venues rather than purchasing property. Members were encouraged to bring friends and possible converts to large regional and zone events to worship, watch Kingdom News Network films, and engage in weekend retreat workshops. Movement films and media were often featured at these events to showcase the unique power of discipling relationships and the exceptional growth of the ICOC (Jenkins 2005).
In the years of the unified ICOC movement, members were expected to give ten percent of their incomes (tithing) to the church as well as contribute two times a year to special collections that could represent anywhere up to twenty times one’s regular tithing obligations. In some congregations, monies were collected in small discipleship groups to insure cooperation. In the current ICC/Soldout Discipling movement, members are still expected to tithe, in addition to giving to special missions contributions throughout the year.
Before the unified ICOC movement fell, Kip McKean held the top leadership position as the World Missions Evangelist and Elena McKean was the Women’s Ministry leader. Following in leadership position were World Sector leadership couples (Evangelist and Women’s Ministry leaders), that were broken into smaller geographic sectors led by an Evangelist and Women’s Ministry Leader. Local church congregations were also led by married couples, as well as several paid ministerial leaders who ran specific ministries (such as the families ministry and singles ministry) and unpaid staff members in charge of youth and teen ministries (Jenkins 2005). The discipling structure mechanism supported the hierarchical nature of the leadership. The current ICC Soldout Discipling movement appears to follow a similar organizational structure.
The current ICOC Cooperation of Churches, a loose brotherhood or “family of ICOC churches,” has an organizational structure that resembles a more democratic form. Their website in 2016 states they are composed of “657 individual congregations in 32 Regional Families in more than 153 nations.” Regions (e.g. West Africa, China, Eastern Europe, Canada, Florida, New York) appoint “delegates” who carry a vote at annual ICOC meetings, conduct regular meetings with leaders in geographic regions, and choose leaders and members of service ministry teams. The current formal leadership structure continues to support male delegates in the role of Evangelist, and women as Women’s Ministry leaders.
The ICOC has its own publishing company, Discipleship Publications International, a video/movie wing, Kingdom News Network, and a humanitarian wing, HOPE Worldwide (acronym for “Helping Other People Everywhere”) that they present as providing care to children in orphanages and offering medical care for the poor and aging across the globe. The current ICC Soldout Movement has developed a similar media wing, Discipleship Media , and a film-producing entity, Good News Network. The ICC/Soldout movement also established Mercy Worldwide as its charity organization, based on the ICOC’s HOPE Worldwide model.
Ex-members, journalists, psychologists, campus ministers, and exit counselors have labeled the Boston Church of Christ/ICOC a dangerous cult. Examples can be found in Steven Hassan’s book, Combatting Cult Mind Control (1988:114-21), Giambalvo and Rosedale’s edited volume published by the American Family Foundation, The Boston Movement: Critical Perspectives on the International Churches of Christ (1996), and Maurice Barnett’s The Discipling Movement: A Study of the Neo-Crossroads Philosophy Among Churches of Christ (1989). ABC News reporter Barbara Walters of 20/20 (October 15, 1993) introduced the movement in a piece titled “Believe It or Else,” by noting they found “former church members with dramatic stories of coercion and brainwashing and scare tactics.” Campus Chaplains and students at Boston University, together with the Rev. Robert Watts Thornburg, Dean of the Marsh Chapel at Boston University, produced a pamphlet noting that the Boston Church had been officially banned from the campus and stating that the “methods” of the BCC had been “destructive to many Boston University students, and to others.” The pamphlet lists the dangerous techniques as
“Recruitment works best by deception and harassment”
“Indoctrination beats learning…and no questions asked
“Your time is no longer your own, and neither is your money”
“You can do without your family and your friends…they’ll replace them.”
“It’s time to put you to work now!…members are expected to work at pulling in as many new people as possible.”
Ex-members continue to offer harsh criticism of McKean’s discipling movement as too authoritarian, controlling and prideful.
McKean’s efforts to evangelize the world in one generation have consistently been shaped by dissent and criticism from within primarily aimed at his claims of greatness, exclusivity, and the authoritative and demanding nature of discipling and the ICOC’s centralized leadership structure. Early in the history of the ICOC (1988), the Crossroads Church of Christ disassociated from the Boston Movement. In 1994, even as McKean and others signed their Evangelization Proclamation, the Indianapolis ICOC congregation split from the movement because of disagreements over core ICOC principles and leadership disagreements. In March of 2000, leaders David Medrano ad Natercia Alves left the Madrid Spain church.
In 2002, a charismatic leader and author in McKean’s movement, Gordon Ferguson, published a book together with ICOC leader Wyndam Shaw titled, Golden Rule Leadership, a text that challenged McKean’s leadership hierarchy and “one-over-one” discipling practices. In 2003, Henry Kriete, the leader of ICOC’s London church posted an “open letter” to the “elders, teachers, and evangelists” in the movement. His letter, titled “Honest to God: Revolution through Repentance and Freedom in Christ,” captured feelings of unrest and a need for a peaceful revolution in the ICOC. These involved seeing “Four Systematic Evils” at work in the movement: a “corrupted hierarchy,” an “obsession with numbers,” “shameful arrogance,” and “seduction by money.” Kriete stressed the authoritarian nature of many ICOC relationships: “We have become a religious hierarchy [with McKean at the top] that has created, fostered, and sustained a culture of control and dependence on men, rather than freedom.” Kriete also charged that the evangelical duties placed on women in the church made them “conflicted,” writing that “our western model of the ‘total woman’ has by and large been forced upon almost all of our women in the full time ministry.”
McKean’s response and impressions of these criticisms and dynamics can be found in his 2003 essay, “From Babylon to Zion: Revolution through Restoration III,” where he writes about the state of the movement, his “sabbatical” from leadership, his resignation, the condition and dissolution of ICOC churches across the globe, and plans for rebuilding his Restoration movement and reaffirming the importance of discipling. McKean rebuilt his vision in Portland Oregon, and then in Los Angeles with his International Christian Church Soldout Discipling Movement.
The ICOC Family of Churches now claims to have abandoned the pride, boasting, exclusivity, and heavy centralized authoritative leadership of the unified movement and adopted more of a sense of “voluntary cooperation and collaboration by congregations” (Ross 2012). Recognizing the controversy around discipling and the leadership hierarchy of the early years, the ICOC presents its congregations as loosely tied together around a strong evangelical core that acknowledges a need for discipling as articulated in early ICOC top leader Gordon Ferguson’s 1997 book, Discipling: God’s Plan to Train and Transform his People and his new edition of The Power of Discipling (2001). Both are books advertised on the ICOC’s Discipleship Today Media Store. Current leaders in the ICOC stress that they recognize discipling in the early years of the movement was too authoritative and claim the reformed ICOC has abandoned excessive control and influence over new members, as well as its claim to exclusive one true church status (Ross 2012).
In addition to the ICOC Family of Churches and McKean’s ICC/Soldout Discipling movement, some smaller local congregations born during the unified ICOC years evolved into their own independent churches.
ABC News 20/20. 1993. Believe It or Else. Transcript #1344.
Boston University Students. n.d. Do you Know who you were just Taking to? Pamphlet produced with the cooperation and support of the Rev. Robert Watts Thornburg, Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University.
ICOC. Jubilee 2000: Even Greater Things. November/December, 2000. Published by Kingdom News Network.
Barnett, Maurice. 1989. The Discipling Movement: A Study of the Neo-Crossroads Philosophy Among Churches of Christ. Second Edition. Gospel Anchor Publishing.
Coleman, Robert E. 1963. The Master Plan of Evangelism. New York: Revell
Ferguson, Gordon F. 1997. Discipling: God’s Plan to Train and Transform his People. Woburn: Discipleship Publications International.
Jenkins, Kathleen E. 2005. Awesome Families: The Promise of Healing Relationships in the International Churches of Christ. New Brunswick Rutgers University Press.
Kriete, Henry 2003. “Honest to God: Revolution through Repentance and Freedom in Christ.” Accessed from http://www.reveal.org/library/stories/people/hkriete.htm on February 27, 2016.
McKean, Kip. 2003. “From Babylon to Zion: Revolution through Restoration Part III.”
McKean, Kip. 1994. “Revolution through Restoration Part II: The 20 th Century Church.” Upside Down Magazine (Kingdom News Network).
McKean, Kip. 1992. “Revolution through Restoration Part I: From Jerusalem to Rome, from Boston to Moscow.” Upside Down Magazine (Kingdom News Network).
McKean, Thomas. “Kip McKean: Preacher, Missionary, Theologian, Reformer, Humanitarian.” Accessed from http://www.kipmckean.com on February 10, 2016.
Ross, Bobby. September 2012. “Revisiting the Boston Movement: ICOC Growing Again After Crisis.” The Christian Chronicle. Accessed from http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/revisiting-the-boston-movement-icoc-growing-again-after-crisis on 10 February 2016.
Washington DC. International Christian Church Newletter. Vol 2(5). February 10, 2013. “ The International College of Christian Ministries.”
Image #1: Image is photograph of Kip McKean delivering an address at the London ICOC church.
Image #2: Image is a photogaph of the ICOC’s Evangelation Proclamation document issued in 1994 asserting that the church would establish a church in every major nation in the world within six years.
Image #3: Image is a photograph of an ICOC religious service in Boston, Massachusetts.
15 March 2016