May 11, 2023 | English

The church history course I am currently taking has taken us on a journey from the first-century church through the church fathers, the Roman Catholic era, the Medieval and the Dark Ages, the Pre-reformation, the Reformation, the First and Second Great Awakenings and now going through the Restoration Movement of which we as ICOC are a part of.


Course Question: Give a brief history of the ICOC. What good has occurred from the movement? What changes did God bring about in the movement from 2003 to today? What do you see as the future of this movement of churches?

The International Churches of Christ (ICOC) has its roots in the Restoration Movement and more specifically in the Churches of Christ, one of the three offshoots from the Restoration Movement. The other two are the Disciples of Christ and the Independent Christian Church.

In the 1950s the Churches of Christ experienced tremendous growth as they literally doubled their membership in the United States and outside the US. But the human cycle of a Cooling Off period (after periods of great enthusiasm) towards the end of the 1960s will see a plummet in growth. The socio-political climate seemed to have also contributed to this cooling off – the 1960s were a period of many revolutions, assassinations, wars etc.

With all the changes that were happening in society, the churches of Christ had cooled down. The positive side was that young people in society and in the Churches of Christ were hungry for change, with the desire to invest their time and energy into bringing about meaningful or lasting change.

This translated into the birth of a revival starting with Chuck Lucas in the campus ministry of the University in Gainesville, Florida. The growth of the International Churches of Christ basically came from there as they focused on the Lordship of Christ, on having Soul Talks (which later became Bible Talks) and practicing Prayer Partnerships to foster mutually beneficial relationships (which later translated in to hierarchical structure driven one-on-one discipling relationships).

The Crossroads Campus movement which was born through the initiative would train campus ministers based on the above principles and send them out to lead campus ministries within the Churches of Christ across the nation. This led to conflict because there was a revival going on within the campus of these Churches, thereby creating a group within the larger Church – the rest of the church members were not willing to follow the same principles. Over 100 splits took place because of the resulting tension.

The International Churches of Christ came into existence through an invitation that was extended by the Lexington Church of Christ to Kip Mckean who was one of those Cross Roads trained campus ministers. This led to the gathering of what came to be known as the “30 would-be disciples” as Kip Mckean called every person to be fully committed leading to spectacular growth in the years that followed. In 1982 missions teams started to be sent to Chicago and outside the US – with the London planting. Within a few years, the growth went from 30 committed members to over 120,000 members across different continents.

With such growth came the creation of structures like the geographical sectors with the world sector leaders at the top. These eventually disintegrated into a structured and authority-driven ministry style which had replaced the Spirit-led approach of their earlier years of what came to be known as the Boston Movement. By the early 2000s, there was an outcry for change leading to the LA Unity Meeting in 2002, during which leaders expressed their anger and frustration towards the rigid and harsh leadership structure – this led to the dissolution of some of the world sectors and the resignation of some world sector leaders.

A lot of the numerical growth came out of the Evangelization Proclamation in 1994. It consisted of a 6-year goal to plant a Church in 111 nations with a city of at least 100,000 people. At that point, we were only in 49 of the 160 countries in that category.

Some of the good that came of out include:
• breaking the world into sectors and planting churches in cities with over 100,000 in population
• first world churches providing the finances to plant the second and third-world countries.
• starting Hope Worldwide as the benevolent arm of the ICOC to help the poor
• using money to train Church staff as opposed to buying and erecting church buildings

Some mistakes:
• spreading out too quickly thereby stretching the resources really thin. Africa for example, had about 50 nations to go to in such a short period and we ended up planting Bible Talks in many countries, rather than churches.
• the hierarchical discipling relationships that developed.

In the meanwhile, Kip Mckean resigned because of character challenges and their kids had left the faith. In his resignation letter, he confessed the need to deal with his arrogance and refusal to listen to others, always thinking that he is right. Other leaders insisted on maintaining authority-driven relationships both in discipling individual members and entire churches using the discipling tree approach and pillar churches. Teachers wrote great articles and books to address the need for change but their drive to bring about a top to down change failed.

In February 2003, the Henry Kriete letter was released addressing these same ills but this time, the change was driven from the bottom up and it came at a high cost as many were called to resign from the Church staff etc. The letter resulted in a total meltdown and this lasted for a couple of years till the Unity Proposal was drawn up by 9 brothers in 2006 – with the goal of bringing about cooperation between the churches without the top-down central leadership structure that had existed before. This also addressed the need to take care of foreign missions – an aspect that was affected by the crisis. Many Churches signed the Unity Proposal which is reminiscent of John Smith’s Unity Proposal in the 1800s.

Going forward, I personally believe we are due for another revival. My prayer is that God’s Spirit will use the new spirit of scholarship and mutually beneficial relationships to bring about change. It is time we learn from the lessons of History. I pray we can share the lessons we are learning from this timely course within our circles of influence to bring about a change of heart in our congregations. Restoration has persisted through the past two centuries and I believe God will find willing hearts to continue with what His Spirit has ignited.


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