After leaving the Jesus movement, I moved my family eleven times over the next 23 years through almost 20 different groups and movements that claimed to offer what I hoped for.
My name is David. Born in the Fifties, I was raised as a Catholic. My parents were good people who loved me and tried always to do the right thing. In spite of this, as an adolescent I rebelled against their middle-class expectations and discarded my Catholicism. I journeyed through my adolescence in the counterculture of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and then into the Jesus Movement.
I found in the ’60s counterculture a moral compass I thought I could actually follow. At least in the beginning, the counterculture held out a much more worthy dream than just the pursuit of pleasure. My friends and I wanted to love one another. We rallied under the banner, “Make love, not war.” We wanted to bring peace to the world, not more division. We wanted justice, not exploitation. We wanted to do everything together and share, not compete with each other as individuals. We wanted to be real, and expose the hypocrisy we saw all around us. And we wanted to be a part of something significant, something momentous that could make the world new and better.
It seems laughable now, but back then, for a short while, the “Woodstock Nation” seemed very real and attainable. We were actually going to set up a new culture, a new nation, in opposition to the one we had rejected. Our hopes soared. Then they crashed and burned. The pursuit of pleasure together was not an ethic capable of making the rest of that dream real. On the contrary, it destroyed it.
By the time I was 21, I was burned out, torn up, lonely, and hopeless. Then in 1976 some of the “Jesus People” came to my hometown of Olympia, Washington. This particular group was from a ministry called Gospel Outreach. They had begun in Eureka, California, with a handful of young, burned-out druggies who had become Christians in the early days of the Jesus Movement. This handful of young men had gone to a local real estate broker, Jim Durkin, looking for a place to establish an outreach to the hippies. A former Assemblies of God pastor, he was leading a small Pentecostal church in addition to selling real estate and building up his own real estate holdings.
Jim gave these young men a place to establish an outreach in one of his broken-down buildings. In time, the leader of the group left. Those that remained asked Jim Durkin to be their “elder.” He agreed, and after some time he acquired an abandoned Coast Guard station south of Eureka, which they dubbed the “Lighthouse Ranch.” The young men moved their outreach ministry to the Ranch.
This small community exploded in size, drawing in hundreds of the multitudes of counterculture young people that were constantly traveling though the area, hitchhiking the Pacific Coast Highway. The Ranch would send out people to pick up hippie hitchhikers and bring them to the Ranch for the night. There they were introduced to a Jesus very different from the one they had known in the middle-class homes they had been raised in.
This Jesus, like them, was a rebel determined to expose the hypocrisy and unreality of the religious leaders and institutions of His day. He was so effective in exposing their hypocrisy that they tortured Him to death. This Jesus loved justice and mercy and wanted to set people free. He promised forgiveness of sin and eternal life to all who would believe in Him.
Over the course of three years several thousand of these hippies responded to Jim Durkin’s version of the gospel — the standard Charismatic Evangelical Christian message with an additional “discipleship” step added in order to appeal to the radicalism of these counterculture young people.
They sent out dozens of groups of these young people to establish communities in other places, bringing their version of the gospel with them. Some of them came to Olympia. They set up a Gospel Outreach house called the House of Mercy on one of the town’s busiest streets.
In June 1976, in despair, I walked into their home looking for someone to talk to. They looked like freaks, just like me. They lived together and shared everything. Unlike any Christians I had known, they seemed real. They seemed radical and outside of the Establishment. All of this completely disarmed me. They preached their gospel to me, and I accepted it.
What was this gospel they preached? Realize that you are a sinner, ask for God’s forgiveness based on the fact that Christ died for your sins, and ask Jesus to come into your heart. Do this, and God will forgive you, give you His Holy Spirit, and write your name in the Book of Life. Overwhelmed with guilt and despair, I gave my life to God according to this gospel. I cried and had a huge sense of release. Then I went back home to the house I was renting at the time.
When I got there, I realized that I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to be with those who had led me to God. I went back the next day and told them I really wanted to do more than I had done. In response, they told me about Christian discipleship.
Once you were saved, if you wanted to become a whole-hearted follower of Jesus, you had to be willing to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him. You had to forsake everything you owned by giving it to Gospel Outreach and live in community with them according to the pattern in Acts 2 & 4. You should then “obey them that have rule over you” and serve the Body in whatever way you were asked. You were told that Jim Durkin was one of God’s Apostles, sent in restoration of the government of God outlined in Ephesians 4:11. True discipleship was only possible under the authority of the government of God. Of course, all of this was for those who wanted to go the extra mile and be disciples, not just saved believers. It was an optional “second mile.”
Having realized that Jesus gave everything for me, it seemed completely reasonable to take the second step and pay the price to be a disciple. I went home, got my stuff, gave it all and moved in the next day. For the next eighteen months, I lived as a single brother in community with seventy other people. I gave myself to serving as best I could in whatever way I was asked. I found it a wonderful way to live. There were problems and messes and chaos at times. But we were together and it seemed back then that we could get through anything as long as we hung onto God and each other. My hopes for a meaningful life rose to the heavens during that time.
There were about 2,000 people scattered through the different branches of Gospel Outreach. Similar things happened in dozens, even hundreds of other groups, to hundreds of thousands of young people. For a while, it seemed we had recaptured the reality of the early disciples of the Book of Acts.
In spring of 1978, I was sent to Phoenix to help plant a new community there. Stopping in Eureka on the way, I discovered that Jim Durkin had not forsaken his own real estate holdings. On the contrary, he was buying old fixer-upper homes, having the disciples fix them up, and then charging them high rents to live in them. Fish rot from the head down.
When I got to Phoenix a week later, I found that Gospel Outreach had decided that forsaking all and living in community was limiting our effectiveness in reaching the lost and isolating us from the rest of Christianity. The elders had already gotten their own homes, and staked out territories for their own personal businesses that the rest of us were expected to stay out of. We sheep who arrived later were free to live together if we wanted, but now it was optional.
Very quickly the life we had signed up for virtually disappeared. All of the strong ones who had been supporting the weak left community life to seek selfish gain as middle-class Christians. The weak that needed care all scattered into the wilderness of society, completely disillusioned. What was left was just another extremely small sect among 50,000 plus Christian sects. Within a few months, I left “G.O.” for a large Charismatic church to pursue my own self-directed and selfish middle-class life while still being a disciple of Jesus.
What is astounding and tragic is that the most idealistic young people of that whole generation, who had dreams of countering the culture that they despised, were diverted into a totally hypocritical middle-class Christian life — a life that you could not have forced them into at the point of a gun in the beginning.
Within a few years, through the ministries of men such as Chuck Smith, John Wimber, and Jim Durkin, this explosion of hunger for God was diverted into either despair or a middle-class Christianity different from the world only in pretense. We began by living together and sharing the Word, and ended up in pews. The weak perished while the strong died inside from the cares of life and the deceitfulness of riches.
In my first self-confident flush of freedom from the burden of having to pour my life out for the weak, I met the woman who became my wife. I still thought of myself as a radical disciple because of my experiences. I confidently got married, expecting to successfully pursue middle-class living and still be a true disciple of Jesus. I expected that my life would bear good fruit in my wife, my children, and the Kingdom of God.
Within a short time after I married, my conscience began to gnaw at me. I realized that the huge Charismatic Church we attended was not what it appeared to be. When we attended a young married class and the associate pastor justified abortion and gross sexual perversions within marriage, we could not go back. Within a year, three of the pastors at that church had divorced their wives. I then began a 23-year search for a holy people that could give my conscience peace. I knew I had to find a City that had foundations, whose builder and maker was God, or there was no hope for my wife, my children, or me.
I expected my search to be easy. After all, what I was looking for was plainly in the Word of God, so it must exist in Evangelical Christianity! Here are a few of the Scriptures that drove me, the measuring stick that everything that I found fell short of:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent me, and have loved them as You have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need… The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35)
True love, true unity, and true community, with genuinely apostolic leadership and vision, would be the self-evident fruit of the Gospel, it seemed to me.
I moved my family 11 times over the next 23 years, through almost 20 different groups and movements that claimed to offer what I hoped for. I would find a group that promised apostolic authority, community, and love, throw my life and family into it, and then get crushingly disappointed. This happened over and over and over again.
Three separate times I grew so hopeless of finding anything real that I took the proud step of trying to bring it into birth myself, starting at different times a street-level outreach, an urban neighborhood community church, and an apocalyptic rural Christian commune. I knew deep down I was in no spiritual condition to genuinely help anyone; it was the blind leading the blind all over again. I was unable to proclaim the true gospel because I had never received it or obeyed it myself, much less been sent from a people that had.
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate has father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… So, likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor… it is neither fit for the land nor the dunghill. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Luke 14:25-27,33-35)
According to the very words of Jesus, the most radical, self-congratulatory groups in all of Christianity, including the ones I presumed to lead, are not even fit for the dunghill. Of course, I got what I deserved. I tried to save my life and almost lost it. I tried to serve God and money and deceived myself. I even became a deceiver myself. I lost most of my family. I utterly wasted the best years of my adult strength.
At first, my wife and children believed me when I told them the Kingdom of God was the most important thing on earth, that it was the only thing that had eternal reality. But they could not help but see that every time I claimed to have found God’s Kingdom, it turned out to be a mirage. They could not help but see the hypocrisy in my life and the life I led them and others into. Gradually they lost respect for me. The nice Christian family façade by which I kept my conscience at bay finally crumbled completely. I was teetering on the brink of utter destruction behind my successful Christian businessman and family man façade.
Then, on November 21, 2002, I stumbled upon the Twelve Tribes website. The name seemed odd, but I was so desperate that I pushed past that. What I found astounded me. I read and read, and grew more amazed. I wrote four e-mails to them that night. To my amazement, they wrote right back and invited me to a large wedding of two of their young people to be held on the next Saturday.
My oldest daughter and I drove 200 miles to the wedding. Within 30 minutes after I walked in, I was utterly undone. For the first time in 48 years on this earth, I saw the Gospel and the Kingdom of God in a real demonstration of the love of John 13:35, the unity of John 17:21, the life of Acts 2 & 4, and the good government of Ephesians 4:11. They preached the true Gospel to me in the power of the Spirit. I believed in it, and will forever.
In obedience to the true Gospel, the one that unlike all the others is actually found in the Gospels, I have surrendered myself utterly to God to serve Him where He is — with His people and nowhere else. I am a new man. For the first time in my life I have a clear conscience and the power to do the will of God with my brothers, rather than try and fail alone.