The Christian Chronicle interviews Kip McKean

The Chronicle speaks with the controversial former leader of International Churches of Christ

Christian Chronicle/January 21, 2004
By Bailey McBride and Erik Tryggestad

What do you feel are the greatest strengths of the International Churches of Christ? What can mainstream churches of Christ learn from the ICOC?

I very much appreciate The Christian Chronicle for directly asking me these questions. The leaders in the ICOC have prayed for guidance from God's Word from our earliest days. Some of the strengths God has forged in the ICOC are:

1) The call for each person who is baptized to have a heartfelt relationship with God. We believe each person who becomes a Christian (baptized disciple) is called to have the same level of commitment as Jesus, the apostles and the early church.

2) We believe every disciple should have the same mission as Jesus - to seek and save the lost.

3) We also have a collective dream to evangelize the world in our lifetime. In a relatively short time God's Spirit has established many churches in mainland China, Europe, Central and South America, the former Soviet Union, Africa, Australia and the Middle East including Iraq and Afghanistan as well as some of the largest churches in the US. Approximately half of our churches and membership are outside the United States.

4) During the '80's in Boston, we preached what we believed was the Bible pattern of one church in each city. Because of that teaching, our churches reflect the demographics of their city. Therefore, we do not have "black churches" or "white churches" or "Hispanic churches," but simply congregations with races united in Christ. To effectively lead these churches, the leadership is also usually diverse in its ethnic makeup.

5) Through the missionaries' making disciples of nationals, God has blessed us with strong national leadership in every church on every continent. In spite of this diversity, we have remained unified in our purpose and not been split into different groups.

6) Also, we encouraged women to serve in the full-time ministry and in non-full-time ministry in leading and discipling other women as seen in Titus 2:3-5.

7) Small groups (Bible Talks, family groups, sectors) are the key for multiplying disciples, meeting each disciple's need and giving each one a place to use his or her gifts.

8) Our worship services have been very dynamic and inspiring. We believe and practice both a capella and instrumental music in our worship.

These are some of the strengths God has given us.

What is your core message in "From Babylon to Zion," your latest manuscript to the ICOC? (

I have always been moved by God's refining his beloved but sinful people through the captivity in Babylon. After those difficult days, God returned them triumphantly to Zion (Jerusalem) when their focus on God and his Word was restored. (Jeremiah 29:11) There were several reasons why I wrote this letter. I felt the need to express my personal apology for any and all hurts I had caused to all of the members around the world. (Please read pages 3-7 in From Babylon to Zion.) I shared in my letter the difficult time that my family had been through and our struggle not to become bitter or angry toward those who had hurt us. Now I see that God refines all of us through difficult times. It is sad that in the history of so many Christian movements, when leaders go through difficult times, the church attacks them to the point that many leave the ministry and some even leave God. I still have a deep conviction that I was called into the ministry to serve our Lord. I wanted to assure everyone that even though no single individual leads all the churches, I feel similar to Paul's love as a "father through the gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15). So in my letter I wanted to reaffirm my heartfelt concern for all the churches.

Specifically in my letter I pleaded for people not to respond to those who were calling for autonomy from each other, but to continue the unity God has forged among us and to continue the calling for world evangelism to honor the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. (See pages 40-42)

I also tried to offer suggestions as to the changes that we need to make to mature the church and to more closely follow God's Word. (See pages 32-33)

Why did you begin your sabbatical in October of 2001 and resign in November of 2002, as leader of the ICOC? Your statement posted on the Web site seemed to emphasize sin and personal failure, but The Boston Globe (May 17, 2003) reported that it was mostly because your daughter decided to leave the church. What is the accurate view?

In an effort to protect my family, I originally did not mention the issue of one of my children's leaving the church while attending college. However, this was the precipitating event for several of the most influential leaders in the ICOC to no longer back me as leader of our churches. They believed if I was to lead all the churches, I had to live up to the requirement of being an elder that includes all of your children being faithful, though I never claimed to be one. I was encouraged at this time that my closest brothers discipled me, urging me to look inward to see what hurt my child's faith. God revealed to me that the character weaknesses and sin that hurt my family were also the ones that hurt my ministry. To be accurate, though, many of the ICOC leaders no longer backed my leadership, not just because my child left the faith, but because they (many with roots in mainline church theology) opposed the central leadership that I represented for all the churches. Though it hurt beyond words to see some of those whom I had trained and sent out on the mission field turn their back on me at a very dark hour, I see now that this was God's way to break me of my sin and to refocus me on my relationship with him -- not my accomplishments, my sin or the adoration of the people, but to accept that God's grace is totally sufficient for my life. I felt the best thing was not to blame my child for my resignation, but to take full responsibility myself for my shortcomings.

Presently, in the Portland Church, I have tried to surround myself with brothers in best friend relationships who help me in my own walk with God, keeping my heart pure in my devotion to God.

What was your original vision for the ICOC? What did you seek to accomplish that the mainstream church of Christ did not have, in your view? Do you think that vision has been fulfilled?

I took my vision from God's dream that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4) It was clear and simple:

1) That the members of every church would be composed of only disciples. In serving as a young minister with mainline churches in Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas and Tennessee, I saw so many churches in which a large percentage of the members were not truly committed to Christ. For example, only half of the people who attended on Sunday morning would go to midweek services. Also, most mainline preachers and members felt evangelism was a "gift" instead of Jesus' mission.

2) I believe that in Boston, God gave us a plan that would evangelize the entire world with the gospel using Jesus' principle of one disciple making another disciple. Donald McGavran, the foremost denominational authority on church growth at the time, noted that we had a unique plan in our age. In 1981 with the Boston Church's membership being composed of only 500 disciples, we committed to God (Proverbs 16:3) to plant churches in all the major cities of the world - New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Moscow, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Cairo, etc. By the power of God, this is what happened. We called these churches "pillar churches." From these pillar churches, likewise composed of only disciples, we sent mission teams led by trained evangelists to plant churches in the capital cities of the surrounding nations. By 2001, God had reached 171 nations - more nations than McDonalds is in. From those capital churches, mission teams would be sent out to smaller cities. From these churches teams would be sent to the towns and villages so that everyone could know the gospel in our lifetime.

3) We believed in only one church in one city as in the New Testament. I also envisioned that these churches would be unified throughout the world. They would not be autonomous (independent of each other), but would be tied together by relationships - in particular relationships of evangelists throughout the world similar to the original apostles, Paul, Timothy, Titus, Barnabas, Epaphroditus, etc.

I continue to be an evangelist and member of the ICOC even though all central leadership has been dismantled. There continue to be enough evangelists who believe in evangelizing their regions throughout the world to direct the evangelism of the world if they are willing.

The ICOC has followed a controversial model of one-on-one discipling. Define that model. Do you consider it an essential practice for maturing Christians?

I believe it is biblical for us to imitate the relationship Jesus had with the apostles and the relationships they had with one another. For example, the apostles had a student/teacher or younger brother/older brother relationship with Jesus. They also had adult/adult relationships with each other. Jesus paired the apostles for the mission. (Matthew 10) Both types of relationships are essential to lead people to maturity. Another text that demonstrates the student/teacher relationship is in Titus 2 where the older women are to train the younger women.

Another biblical path to maturity comes from studying the "one another" passages in the New Testament such as "love one another," "encourage one another," "serving one another," "pray for one another," and "confess your sins to one another" and so on. When those are applied in a godly way, we mature the body and God is glorified. Ultimately, to become mature, the responsibility comes down to our willingness to have deep convictions from the Word that we put into practice. (Hebrews 5:11-6:3) Each Christian must take full responsibility to have their own deep convictions from the Word that they put into practice.

As ICOC churches and mainstream churches in the U.S. and abroad begin to dialogue, how do you view the possibilities for these two groups to be united? Are you actively encouraging it? Why or why not?

I believe that true unity must come through the Spirit, the water and the blood. In time, true disciples in both churches will feel akin to each other and those who have compromised their faith to the point of lukewarmness will also feel akin to each other. Since the ICOC no longer has a central leadership, I believe that some churches, like other historical religious movements, will become complacent and lukewarm and there will be divisions. In my travels around the world, I have been able to see a wide variety of churches. Though I believe there are many disciples in the mainline churches and in other parts of the Restoration Movement (such as the Christian Churches), many of these congregations do not enjoy a vibrant worship, deep fellowship or life-changing evangelistic outreach. They are not growing. However, the mainline congregations that are striving to practice the Bible principles to produce these characteristics, will be united in spirit with our churches who remain true to the Scriptures. In the past I have spoken at mainline churches and will certainly consider such offers in the future.

We must remember that God's ultimate goal for us is not to be the mainline church and its many divisions or to be the ICOC with our failings. The goal is to be Jesus' church. We must remember the point of unity is to honor God, not to please leaders or members. When we have biblical unity, we have brotherhood and world evangelism.

We understand that a great many changes have taken place within the ICOC following your sabbatical and resignation. Describe the nature of these changes.

The number of people who have left the church has caused us to examine ourselves according to the Scriptures. It is like the parable of the sower. Some chose to no longer follow Jesus. Some left because their roots were shallow and their faith withered under trial. Others became distracted with the cares of the world and sought a more comfortable Christianity. What touched my heart the most was that some left because they were not treated well. Every person's loss of faith is troubling, but I feel very responsible for those who were not loved as they should have been. In my letter I apologized to everyone whom I have wronged directly or indirectly and I beg their forgiveness.

God's disciplining hand has been on the ICOC (Hebrews 12:5-11). Collectively and individually, we are learning many lessons in humility, grace, depth and maturity as God is changing us to be more of whom he wants us to be. Gideon doubted the presence of God because he did not see the miracles. God did awesome things with him once he believed. For me, I pray this will be a great time of learning from brothers and sisters in the ICOC or from the mainline. I personally am open to dialogue with any brother or sister who wants to advance God's church and who loves him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.

Many of the changes that are taking place in our fellowship, and that need to take place, I have outlined on page 32 - 33 of my letter to the churches. These include: the paramount importance of the cross; practicing the greatest commands of loving God and each other; stressing grace; the power of the Holy Spirit in our daily life; the value of each and every member of Christ's body; biblical conflict resolution; our purpose is to glorify God and our mission is to evangelize the world; our primary motive is to please God; preaching the Word for the young and the mature; and servant leadership. Although God has worked through us and the principle of discipling to raise up many powerful evangelists, we have not raised up enough elders, deacons and teachers who are needed to shepherd the flock to maturity. I strongly believe God is preparing us for a harvest of righteousness and peace if we will listen to him through his Word and the Spirit.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to share my thoughts with the members of the mainline churches of Christ. These comments only represent my thoughts and opinions. I pray we can continue to help each other seek God. My greatest desire is that we will all "be brought to complete unity" by making the cross paramount in our lives, loving God, loving one another and loving the lost. I pray we will live to see the day that every person in the world has heard the gospel. Please pray for the Portland International Church of Christ to boldly preach the Word.

Kip McKean: Quotations through the years

January 21, 2004

There is no shortage of literature from without and within the International Churches of Christ. In the past 25 years many people have used print media to voice their praise, concerns and even confusion about the movement. Following are excerpts from several historical documents that track the ups and downs of the movement and it's former leader, Kip McKean.

"In many ways, then, the Boston movement constituted an effort to revitalize traditional Churches of Christ. ... 'True restoration occurred,' McKean explained of his movement, 'as first-century Bible doctrines were once more rediscovered.' But McKean had not grown up in Churches of Christ, and in fact he largely rejected the understanding of restoration that prevailed in the mainstream tradition. ...

"McKean based his definition of true and authentic Christianity on a notion central to mainline Churches of Christ since the days of Alexander Campbell - namely, that the chief task of a Christian is evangelism ... But mainstream Churches of Christ had grown lukewarm regarding this notion by the late twentieth century and seldom engaged in serious evangelistic outreach. McKean, on the other hand, was passionate about it. ..."

Richard T. Hughes

From his 1996 book "Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America"

"While we have serious concerns about some of their viewpoints, we do not believe those viewpoints begin to compare with the vast number of beliefs we have in common - beliefs that run the gamut from the doctrine of God and Christ, to the inerrancy of the Scriptures, to the plan of salvation, to a cappella music, to the one body, the one church."

Howard Norton

Editor, The Christian Chronicle, in a 1986 editorial

"It seems to me that there is entirely too much mystery about the Boston/Crossroads churches. We continue to read and hear quite a bit about their success in converting people and in establishing new congregations. We receive no information, however, explaining how they acquire or exercise 'their uncanny ability to identify, teach and baptize lost men and women into Jesus Christ.'"

Excerpt from unpublished 1986 letter to the editor of the Christian Chronicle, in response to editorial "What about news from Boston?"

"The truth is that we find ourselves increasingly concerned about the excesses of this movement. We also feel that we have the responsibility to spell out what we believe to be some of the more serious errors in the teaching and practice of this segment of the Restoration Movement ...

"We do feel the responsibility to let the brotherhood know ... that we consider this to be a dangerous movement within the body of Christ because it robs people of freedom in Christ, turns Christian leadership into an authoritarian power structure and divides the body of Christ almost everywhere it appears.

Howard Norton

Editor, The Christian Chronicle, in a February 1987 editorial

"We invite and urge every disciple to attend the last Boston World Missions Seminar. Any sacrifice required to attend will be well worth these four life-changing days with disciples from around the world. We are also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Boston church and the renewal of God's plan for world evangelism through his Kingdom. In the past 10 years God has used this church to plant and reconstruct 29 churches around the globe while building a church of nearly 5,000 here in Boston.

"Discipling ministries are multiplying! This year alone there will be 30 domestic and foreign church plantings including our first fourth-generation churches in Melbourne, Madras and Jakarta.

Excerpt from the program for "Like Men Who Dreamed," 1989 Boston World Missions Seminar, signed by Kip McKean, missions evangelist, Boston Church of Christ, and the Boston church's elders - Al Baird, Bob Gempel and Gordon Ferguson

"The church, which rents facilities rather than erecting its own buildings, sponsors rallies in hotels and arenas such as the Boston Garden and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. One congregation is formed per city. As each expands, it is broken down into 'sectors,' which supervise 'zones,' which in turn run the neighborhood Bible-study groups that are the church's main recruiting units.

"Each baptized member is subject to a personal 'discipler,' who gives advice not only on spiritual problems but also on daily life. Dropouts complain that the advice, which members are expected to obey, may include such details as where to live, whom and when to date, what courses to take in school, even how often to have sex with a spouse. One former convert says he was led through a detailed financial inventory to ensure that he would contribute heavily. Despite such extraordinary intrusions, many insist the group has uplifted them. Boston chiropractor Ken Lowey, for one, says that before he and his wife Ann signed up, 'there was a real emptiness, no sense of purpose in our lives.'"

Excerpt from the 1992 article "Keepers of the Flock" in Time magazine

"Controversy ... centers around Kip McKean being the leader of the movement and it is said that he has absolute control of all the ministries. We believe in Colossians 1:8 that Jesus is the head of the church ... But we are believers in leadership and maintain that being led and being controlled are two different things. I will follow Kip as he follows Christ, but I strive to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8). The early church had its leaders and Paul was certainly the most prolific in planting churches as Kip is for us today. That doesn't mean that McKean makes any claim to apostleship like Paul could ...

"Kip is our leader not because of a puff of smoke from the Vatican balcony or a twisted theology. He's simply further out front than anyone else I know; so, we follow and God has blessed us."

Steve Johnson

Editor of ICOC publication Upside Down, in the January 1993 issue

"A religious sect accused of brain-washing techniques has expelled up to 400 members because they failed to attract new recruits and were not 'true disciples.'

"The decision by the 1,200-strong London Church of Christ may have drastic emotional consequences on the expelled.

"(An) Italian journalism student who joined the group in July, lives with eight 'brothers' in a flat in Putney but is among those who have been forced to leave.

"'I've repented my sins to the leaders several times in the past few days, but they all refuse to believe what I'm saying,' he said. 'They have told me that I'm damned.'

"'I've had problems evangelizing. I've tried my hardest but it's not easy. Because I haven't brought many people into the church they have told me to leave. I've got nowhere to go. I don't know what to do.'"

Excerpt from the story "Worry over 'disciples' as church sect expels 400,' that appeared in a 1993 issue of the London Evening Standard

"So how, then, to respond to all this? Many of you who read this have studied the Bible and have made a conscious and free decision to be a disciple of Jesus. If your family is distressed by the direction your life has taken, you are at least a possible candidate for a surprise 'intervention.' The best prevention is to avoid the situation altogether. A staff member of the New York City church suspected her family of just such an attempt. She called them and cancelled her plans for a trip home after a frank discussion of their intentions. They have resolved the issue now but not before it was an open, honest discussion. As Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:21-22, 'Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.'"

Excerpt from "Who's Brainwashing Who?" printed in a 1993 issue of the ICOC's "Upside Down" magazine, reported by Roger Lamb, Tom Jones and Declan Joyce.

"On Saturday, November 7, over 17,000 witnessed God's fulfillment of a dream: a dynamic worship service of the LA Church at the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Disciples and their guests looked around in amazement as more seating sections were opened to accommodate all who came. Excitement filled the night air with powerfully performed music and personal testimonies by Speech and Yolanda Thomas (his band, Arrested Development, was a two-time Grammy winner). Lead Evangelist Kip McKean preached a visionary message. Cheers filled the stadium as 10 new souls were baptized into Christ, and Luis Martinez led the ultimate song about dreams for the LA Church, 'Glory.' Three years after Kip urged the church to pray to meet at the Rose Bowl, God made the dream a reality."

Excerpt from a 1997 issue of "LA Story," an ICOC publication produced by Kingdom News Network

"Thomas 'Kip' McKean, (the ICOC's) charismatic founder, has stepped down. Its world governing body has dissolved and dozens of local church leaders have resigned or been fired, in part because churches can no longer afford to pay their salaries.

"Behind the story of a teetering church empire is the tale of the autocratic visionary who built it and his independent-minded daughter, now a Harvard senior, whose decision to leave the church sparked turmoil in the already troubled group.

"'It caused her father to have to step aside and it caused the group to reexamine itself,' said Michelle Campbell, executive director of REVEAL, a nonprofit organization that provides information and support to former members of the church. 'It was sort of inevitable that Kip would fall. The standards he set, no one could meet. Not his children, not even himself. The very thing that he created came back and bit him.'"

Excerpt from "A Christian community falters - Loss of leader, governing body hurts group formed in Boston," in the May 17, 2003 issue of the Boston Globe.

"Kip's resignation letter, although sincere, is not enough. His letter was very moving (I cried for a couple of days), but his personal life and failures as a man are not of greatest concern. Every one sins. Many leaders fall and will fall, including great men of God. The truth is, the way we have structured and sustained things, Kip's fall was Biblically inevitable. ...

"This is no longer about Kip or a few high-profile resignations - the future and integrity of our movement is at stake. Our hierarchy, 'formalized' discipleship structure, legalism and systemic abuses must be admitted as a failure - no matter how painful it will be for any of us, including Kip. ... "

Henry Kriete

ICOC church leader, in his 2003 document Honest to God

"The ministry staff of the New York City Church of Christ would like to offer in writing an apology for the sins and shortcomings, which we have committed over the years. We know that many of you have suffered much pain and hurt because of our mistakes."

Excerpt of letter read to all New York City International Churches of Christ Oct. 1, 2003

"'Nobody is stepping into a clear leadership position,' said James Walker, president of (cult watchdog group) the Watchman Fellowship. 'They really haven't replaced the leadership position that Kip held. They are like a ship without a rudder and a hemorrhaging people.'

ICOC spokesman Al Baird disagreed, telling Charisma the church is a 'movement in progress' and that the facts don't bear out Walker's statement. 'We're going through transition, not chaos,' he said. 'We're growing, not dwindling.'

"Baird described the changes as a 'maturing of the movement from a one-person to a consensus-style leadership' and 'a move in the right direction' toward its stated goal of trying to restore New Testament Christianity."

Excerpt from "Future of Controversial International Church of Christ in Question," from a 2003 issue of Charisma magazine.

"What McKean once referred to as a remnant gleaned from 'mainline' and 'campus ministry' (i.e. Crossroads) churches that was 'clearly now a movement of God' is having to face the reality that it is far from being the paradise it seemed.

"Our interest here is not to rejoice at the problems that are troubling the ICOC or to say 'We told you so!' ... For those of us in mainstream congregations, we need to understand that nominalism and lukewarmness helped create the ICOC. In terms of growth, only God knows the price that we may have paid. ... "

Wayne Turner

Co-editor of Gospel Herald, a publication for churches of Christ in Canada, in a 2003 editorial

Kip McKean/ICOC timeline

January 21, 2004

1967: Chuck Lucas (at right in photo) begins campus ministry in Gainesville, Fla., at the Crossroads church of Christ. The ministry experiences many baptisms.

1972: College freshman Thomas "Kip" McKean, a Methodist, is converted by Lucas at the Crossroads church.

1979: After working in campus ministry, McKean calls 30 "would-be disciples" to be totally committed to Christ. The group moves to Lexington, Mass., and plants Boston Church of Christ. Group rents Boston Garden for worship services.

1982: The Boston church has eclipsed Crossroads Movement and hosts first Boston World Missions Seminar. Churches planted in Chicago and London.

1983: Boston church reaches 1,000 in attendance. Group is often referred to as "Boston Movement."

1986: Church "reconstruction" plan reports first success in Jamaica. Boston church's first Special Missions Contribution nets more than $1 million.

1987: Boston church abandons church of Christ-style autonomy. Howard Norton, editor of The Christian Chronicle, writes "Second Thoughts on Boston," an editorial that states Boston Movement "robs people of their freedom in Christ." Boston church founds mission group HOPE Worldwide, reaches 3,000 in attendance.

1988: Boston church banned from campus of Boston University after resident assistants overhear members pressuring students to attend meetings. Crossroads church disassociates itself from Boston Movement.

1989: McKean, right, and wife Elena move to Los Angeles to plant church. Church appoints World Sector Administrators.

1992: Church growth authority John Vaughan, first refers to the "International Churches of Christ." Moscow Church baptizes 850 in first year.

1994: "Mainline" church and ICOC authorities agree to omit International Churches of Christ from directory "Churches of Christ in the United States." Church groups, media continue to allege that group is a cult. ICOC launches Kingdom News Network (KNN) in Los Angeles.

1998: More than 17,000 people attend ICOC service at California's Rose Bowl. ICOC Disciples sent to eight Middle Eastern countries.

2000: ICOC announces fulfillment of 1994's Evangelization Proclamation - a church in planted in every nation that has a city with a population of 100,000 or more.

2002: After a sabbatical, McKean resigns as leader of International Churches of Christ, citing sins of pride and family concerns. He begins working for the Portland, Ore., ICOC.

February 2003: ICOC missionary and church leader Henry Kriete, right, issues "Honest to God," a 39-page document criticizing church's leadership and financial management. Los Angeles ICOC posts apology and lists 10 sins, including "authoritarian discipling."

July 2003: McKean releases "From Babylon to Zion," a 49-page document detailing problems in ICOC and challenging church to recapture vision.

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