ICOC leaders keeping quiet on recruiting church members

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, April 11, 1999
By Beth Pratt

If leaders of the International Church of Christ are having success recruiting members in the Lubbock area, they are keeping it quiet.

Rodney Plunket, pulpit minister at Broadway Church of Christ, said that "Brian Akins (minister of the church-planting team) after putting out that ad (an open letter published in The Avalanche-Journal), went underground. He won't talk to anybody."

Candace Troke, coordinator of residence education and academic development in Tech's housing department, said she believes the group has cut back on recruiting or internalized its efforts.

"At the beginning of the semester, students were approached quite a bit, but not much now," she said. "My feeling is that students are better educated and they're choosing not to be involved.

Greg Elkins, associate dean of students, said he had contact with the group before the spring semester began, but hasn't had any recent contact. "I don't know what they're doing on campus now or if they're doing anything at all," he said.

David Langford, minister at Quaker Avenue Church of Christ, said he has little contact with students on the Texas Tech campus, "so I really haven't heard a lot. My guess is the blitzkrieg (of publicity) raised awareness and may have made them a martyr of sorts, giving them more credibility than they really deserve."

The ICOC evolved originally in Gainesville, Fla., out of a Church of Christ campus ministry at the University of Florida. Locally, it is known as the Lubbock Christian Church.

Langford was involved in campus ministry in Lubbock when the movement, first called Crossroads, was gaining recognition. Campus ministry leaders from Lubbock went to the national campus ministry evangelism seminar at the Gainesville Church of Christ, which hosted it because the Crossroads Church of Christ was having such success.

"They came back and introduced us to the soul-talk model. We wrestled with it in the beginning. Most of us here were skeptical because it was such a hard, manipulative model."

The justification was "the environment in which kids were coming out of near-pagan lifestyles, extraordinarily immoral. To some extent strong shepherding made more sense."

Langford said, "a lot of our leaders ended up in the Crossroads Movement and continue in it to this day (as the International Church of Christ). I've got a half dozen or more friends still involved."

Like most movements, he said, the ICOC grew and thrived because there was a void, a lack of deep spiritual commitment, in the mainline churches of Christ from which it sprang.

The movement also attracted young people from many denominational backgrounds.

Tina Carraway of Levelland read the open letter ad by Akins that ran several weeks ago in The Avalanche-Journal. "He made it sound like they were being persecuted. I don't think so. I see it as an awareness, giving people a choice."

When people are away from home and get emotionally involved with a group, sometimes choice is taken away, she said. "But they don't really understand that the choice was taken away because they don't see anything else."

Carraway was a member of the 3,000-member church in Boston when it was still known as the Boston Movement.

When her "discipler" told Carraway to leave the band she played in, she decided it was time to leave the church.

"I appreciated how zealous they were, but after a while some of the people in it were asking me to change in ways that weren't biblical," Carraway said. "I think they were well-meaning," she said of her friends at the Boston Church of Christ, where she was a member from 1990 to 1993.

"I'm a professional musician. That world is very male dominated. I had just recently joined a band in 1992, and my discipler told me she didn't want me to be in the band because I was the only girl in it."

Attacking her music, which she considers a gift from God, went against all her career aspirations, Carraway said. "That was the big one for me, but there were a lot of personal criticism too. Probably, it was just the person who was my discipler."

Carraway was surprised to see that the group she knew as the Boston Church of Christ is now called the International Church of Christ. She recognized the names of the leaders in recent news articles about the group's efforts to establish a church in Lubbock.

Carraway left the Boston area, married and, until January, had been on the road performing. She is teaching in the commercial music department at South Plains College in Levelland and awaiting the birth of her first child.

She had joined the church in 1990 after a friendly encounter at Walden Pond with members of the church, who invited her to services. She grew up in the Lutheran Church.

While a member in Boston, "I learned a lot as far as in my relationship with God, and I grew a lot. That was my springboard; then, when they went overboard, I left.

"How I left was pretty extreme. I cut myself off completely. I knew I was vulnerable, and that they would try to talk me out of it. Unfortunately, I hurt some people."

Nevertheless, she does not see the group as a cult such as David Koresh's Branch Davidians or the Heaven's Gate followers.

"I don't understand why they won't talk, if they didn't have anything to hide," she said. "That seems kind of cultish."

She also was bothered by the group saying it is the only church and its members the only ones who will go to heaven. "I thought that doesn't sound right."

Carraway did not experience any pressure to give money to the movement other than the emotional appeal that "if we don't support our church, it will fall apart." She gave willingly. "They had special contributions once a year, and gave you a certain amount of time to save up to give 10 times what you normally gave. I did that too. I believed it was a godly cause."

Nevertheless, her experience with the discipling "turned me off church as far as organizations, but I never, ever strayed away from God. They say when you leave their church you fall away from God, but I never did."

People need to be aware of how controlling they can be, she said. "Keep in mind, you should think for yourself. They would use the Bible to try to keep you from thinking for yourself. There are some gray areas that I think God left there on purpose."

Although leaders encouraged converts to ask questions, Carraway said, they "would shy away from them like they are doing now by refusing to talk. That is disturbing. I don't speak against them. I wouldn't want them persecuted."

Brian Akins, pastor of the church, declined to comment last week.


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