ABSTRACT: A brief history of a restoration movement’s evolution.
It was a watershed moment in the history of the International Churches of Christ. The conference meetings were long, and filled with tears. Church leaders were venting their years of pent-up frustration with each other. The conference began with the movement’s leader resigning, and by the end, everyone was uncertain about his or her own future. Two of the top leaders in the movement walked out together at the end of the last meeting, exhausted and emotionally spent. One ominously said to the other, “It’s over, we are done!” It was 2002, and many were predicting the end of the International Churches of Christ (the “ICOC”) 1 . The firestorm that started at a leadership conference in Long Beach spread rapidly through the ICOC fellowship. Everyone in the ICOC was about to experience God’s refining hand. Many predicted the end of the ICOC.
Fast-forward ten years and not only did the ICOC churches not disappear, but they are better situated to face the future than ever before. The International Churches of Christ have successfully reorganized and redefined themselves, beginning a whole new chapter in their history. Against all odds they have survived the firestorm and moved from survival to revival.
The history of the ICOC is a remarkable story. In one generation, hundreds of churches were planted around the world and tens of thousands were baptized into Jesus. With the rapid growth came tremendous spiritual and organizational challenges. The movement wrestled to meet the demands of a fast-growing body of young converts. These challenges were faced in countries and cultures all around the world as a system of leadership and organization developed over the years that initially produced highly effective results. Later, it became burdensome and overbearing. The ministry methods drew critics who attacked this movement from its earliest stages. As time went on, the movement became increasingly controversial and critics rose from within. In 2003 a firestorm of criticism from within burst across the fellowship that made it appear the movement had run its course and was finished. The firestorm exposed weaknesses in structure, methodology and leadership mistakes. From 2003 through 2004 most of the evangelists and elders of the ICOC made public apologies to their congregations and Interview Roger Lamb, March 30th, 2013acknowledged that God’s disciplining hand was upon them. Over the next four years the ICOC scrutinized and questioned itself in everything from doctrine to methodology. This led to a an amazing turnaround.
The following history is only a brief summary. As with any historical account, it is the responsibility of the writer to present what seem to be the most significant details for an accurate understanding of what transpired. This account is the result of numerous interviews of participants and eyewitnesses. Of course, it also reflects my own perspective as a participant for the last 30 years.