Eight New Stories (7/23/2018)

Story One: "There are TOO MANY STORIES. You cannot dismiss us. We are not alarmists. PLEASE DO SOMETHING."

I was involved in this church for too much of my young and adult life. I will share only a few examples of my experience with Xenos, but I could write a book on it. I wish I could tell my story in full, but I would be easily identified by dozens if not a hundred or more people. I experienced a trauma during my attendance to this church that became known to everyone. It was something so deeply personal and devastating and every detail of the most difficult time in my life became the subject of leader’s meetings and discussions among people I had never even spoken to. Anything that was said in confidence was then quickly shared and spread. People in the college ministry have a unique way of making a horrible situation a living nightmare. They are way too heavy handed with advice that they likely shouldn’t be giving in the first place. They are experts at hurting their wounded even further. I felt as if my life was held hostage by them for years until I decided leaving was my only recourse. A therapist I later spoke with had experience in counseling patients with PTSD specifically from Xenos and he helped with my transition out of the fog that I was abandoned in. My story with Xenos is something that is almost out of a fictional novel, but it’s unfortunately true. I wish I could share in more detail but I will only share a few stories.

There are so many that are guilty of creating the cult like, group think atmosphere in this church. Before I elaborate, it is important to qualify my criticisms; the behavior of this church that has recently been buzzing is unique to that of the college and high school ministries. Unfortunately, that is the dominating and over zealous half of the church. They wear their zeal like a badge of honor and shame their adult counterparts as licentious with a lost luster. There is plenty of good that is overshadowed by the college ministry. There is plenty of good that is done by the college ministry as well, but they’ve shot themselves in the foot. The “adult” half of the church is what I would describe as a normal, healthy group of people living out their beliefs and nothing much more complicated than that.

Something that has stuck with me through the years is the memory of a test we had to take. In our Friday night “cell” group, we were forced to take spiritual evaluation tests. I use the word forced thoughtfully. It’s strong language but you didn’t really have a choice of your own as to whether or not you took the test. One was given to you, and the other was given to your spiritual leader to take the test ABOUT you. This pages long test consisted of dozens of questions that mined your most personal information from your finances to your “thought life” to your sexual life or sexual thoughts, to your relationships and so on. Then your leader answered these same questions about you. I never had anything to hide and I was always a very genuine person and an open book but this jolted me awake. I was in good standing with the church but I didn’t want to take part in this nonsense. I had the forethought to keep the test to later publicly publish it if I felt that it was needed. I understand that they have a pride in having a “high commitment ethos” but the problem is, is that they are defining what commitment should look like. A gray area defined through black and white lenses. This next part pertains to disagreeing with taking the test and also disagreeing with leadership as a general concept. They would never tell you that you had to take the test or you have to do something, but the repercussions would actually be significant if you didn’t listen to leaders. Socially you would feel ostracized, and the relationships between you and the leaders of your group would become tense. The relationships with your peers would become stressed as they often listened to the leaders. It would create an opportunity for them to fabricate a new issue where there wasn’t one. “There are deeper issues here. Why won’t you take the test?” Or “you should take this step of faith.” And until you cave, you will be “rebuked” and counseled until you fall in line with their thinking. Never mind that often I was standing on a principle and I was alarmed by the content of some of their views or more specifically, I was alarmed by this test. They were creating a paper list of my flaws that the leader would document. I just saw the bigger picture. It was a small piece to a large problem that I saw festering in our group and church. To disagree with ANYTHING leadership did would result in fall out. The discomfort was unbearable. I was shaken by these micro analytics of someone’s personal life along with control, heavy handedness, repression, micromanagement of your relationship with God and others. The word often used in Xenos culture is accountability. This eventually became a dirty word. An excuse to exercise control, manipulation, and gossip that were practiced under the guise of accountability, love, and concern. Any human can be guilty of these things, but it became a part of the church culture and they developed a blind spot to these problems. Beyond that, they justified it and taught it.

When I was in the college group, I was in school and working 2 part time jobs because I paid all of my own bills. I never spent extraneously, had any credit card debt but had barely enough money to just to scrape by. I doubt I bought a stitch of clothing in the years that I lived in a ministry house. I decided I would take a trip for a few days to visit my friend who was out of state; cost - minimal. When I returned, I was interrogated about my financial priorities because I still had not made monthly pledges to the church yet I was “able to take a trip” (where I spent gas money to get there and stayed with my friend, basically I spent money on eating in). If I wanted to participate any further in certain meetings (pertaining to leadership) I had to tithe to the church. I was in no place to be donating any kind of money as a college student who was barely surviving on my earned income and who was soon about to have student loan debt. The first instance that they suspected I spent money beyond that of my monthly necessities, they sat me down and pressed me to give to the church.

You can’t imagine how traumatic it is to be controlled and watched by your peers, having to explain yourself at every turn. Down to justifying necessary purchases of personal items to your leaders, or why you have a credit card, and having to explain why you missed a meeting when all you want to do is spend time with people you never see and scream that you’re stretched too thin. It became so terrible where I had to explain why I spent time with my family when I was only seeing them every two to three weeks. If I missed a Friday evening meeting, or any meeting really, my phone would blow up even though I told them I was with my siblings or parents, even worse, if I was spending (rare) time with friends who weren’t in church. Friendships that are fractured and lost to this day because of my commitment to the church for so long. After missing a meeting, the following week would be tense and people would show concern for you. “Haven’t seen you in a while, how are you?” I SEE YOU 4 TIMES A WEEK! Your good standing with the church would be set to zero. Any “growth” you made would be negated.

The watchful eyes and their critical nature created an atmosphere of competitive spirituality and emotional suppression among members of the group. People would put on a fake spiritual affect to get ahead, for spiritual accolades, and recognition from leaders. The genuine aspect of seeking out God became a game. Each person should take responsibility for their motives, but the critical and controlling atmosphere fostered it. The church created people pleasers and caused paranoia. Paranoia that is founded.

Peers were subtly threatened with church discipline or social ostracization if they sought higher education and accepted job offers that would demand more of their time than meeting schedules would allow. I knew so many people turning down great opportunities because it conflicted with meeting times. The tunnel vision was infuriating. You in the near future will likely be providing for a family and you are sabotaging your life to not miss meetings or to not have a crowded schedule. Someone close to me was removed from the house for pursuing his master’s degree. Few times were things ever as explicit as “you will be disciplined if…” but historically you knew that you were screwed if you didn’t obey. It never had to be explicit, but sometimes it was. In the instance of my friend getting removed, it actually was specifically said “you can choose school or you can choose God”. How can someone speak so confidently for God that way?

They will tell themselves that anyone who has written a story on your site, Mark, is bitter and Satan has a foothold on them. That just isn’t the case. If there is so much smoke, you should be able to identify that there is likely a fire. There are TOO MANY STORIES. You cannot dismiss us. We are not alarmists. PLEASE DO SOMETHING. Do not disregard these statements as made by people who are bitter or who don’t understand your “ethos” or that this is caused by their tension between “following God and being in the world” because they have the Holy Spirit. What are you going to do about this problem? They are so unaware of the problem that exists, that those reading these stories may think “It’s a real shame they had such a bad experience with others” But these same people are likely a part of the problem. They just can’t see it because they’ve created an art of justification.

You can leave. You can speak up. You do not want them in your life if they threaten a broken friendship if you leave. Get the support of your family or your friends and tell them you are going to need them for a while. If you live in a house, you can slowly move out some of your belongings or leave behind what you don’t need. Have friends help you move during homechurch or CT if you are unhappy. You do not have to stay there. Life is good and it’s ok outside of Xenos. They tell you that you cannot be happy “in the world” but finding your own life isn’t a sin, it isn’t horrible, and you won’t be doomed to unhappiness. There are other churches that can help support you, I know. They can help you transition or move out. Don’t be afraid.

Story Two: "Get out."

I was a member of Xenos for over 16 years. I was in leadership and have led ministry houses, home churches and cell groups. What you’ve read about the tactics, manipulation, Love bombing and shaming is all true. I fell for it all. I gave this cult my most formidable years. I’m in my 40s now with no college degree, no friends and no self esteem. I spend most days in regret because of it all. Please spare yourself the damage this place can do. Get out.

Story Three: "For your mental health and happiness, please stay far away from this “organization”. And if you are in Xenos, please please find a way out. "

I joined xenos for a few months during my sophomore year of high school. I was already religious and attending a church with my family regularly, but my close friend from school/band invited me so I decided to go. I have read all of the other stories about their “love-bombing” technique, and it is very real and they for sure used it with me.

Everyone was super nice at first. They asked me a ton of questions about my church and how strong my relationship with God is. I answered these questions and told them that my faith was very strong being raised in a Christian home, but they kept asking and asking more questions which annoyed me and was kind of an invasion of privacy eventually.

The atmosphere is very strange. A ton of the kids vape and smoke cigarettes, there’s a lot of cussing and even the people teaching at CT would cuss DURING the “lessons”

So a few months in, I notice I haven’t hung out with my family or friends that much. I plan to do something with my friends from middle school that I haven’t seen in a while. When I told my leader that I wouldn’t be at the hang out that night because I am seeing old friends, she literally told me “Well why can’t you do that another day?” She got mad because, you know with Xenos being a cult and all, XENOS DOESN’T APPROVE OF PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THE CHURCH

After this I decided to leave. They would text me and blow up my phone wanting me to come and try it again, but they would never check on me or ask how I’m doing, they are only concerned about their cult group. I was fine mentally just annoyed that I spent so much time with these people who never cared about me in the first place, and who tried to take me away from my friends and family

My close friend Cece, who invited me initially, commit suicide halfway through our senior year. I am convinced that this happened because of Xenos because she had been apart of the group for several years and they took over her life. I miss her so much and wish she would’ve left Xenos. One of the leaders from that group also commit suicide a few weeks before her. Not ONE person from the groups that they were in posted about the passing of Cece or the leader that took their own lives. I asked a girl from my former group about it during my first year of college, and all she said was “yeah it was pretty sad”. Xenos is doing some really messed up stuff behind the scenes.

If you are thinking about joining, don’t. For your mental health and happiness, please stay far away from this “organization”. And if you are in Xenos, please please find a way out.

- Hannah Lang

Story Four: "So I go to the bathroom to get away and to try to figure out how I'm going to escape."

Back in February 2017 I went to a house show and I met these two guys. They seemed pretty cool so we sat outside and talked for a while. I got their number and we decided to hang out a week later. We meet up for coffee and they invite me back to their place to hang out. They told that SOME of their friends would be there.

I go back to the guys house and I walk into a room full of people all sitting in the living room with bibles. I was Instantly uncomfortable because I'm not very religious, more spiritual than anything. But I play it off because I don't want to be disrespectful. I sit through a big long "bible study" or whatever. As soon as it was over I was Instantly "lovebombed", yeah you all know what I mean. Hugs, everywhere. They started questioning me about my religion and of course I told them my views. They didn't agree with anything I said and told me that I could make life changes. They kept being super pushy and wanting to know every detail of my life. So I go to the bathroom to get away and to try to figure out how I'm going to escape.

As I'm walking up the stairs I notice they have 4 bedrooms. All which are empty except two. One room had a couch and such and the other room had multiple bunk beds. THIS WAS A HOUSE FULL OF MEN AND ALL OF THEM SLEPT IN THE SAME ROOM. That's not right if you ask me.

I thought I had gotten in the mix with some knock off heavens gate people. I left the house and never returned. They all tried texting and calling me for months until I changed my number. And I still run into people who are apart of that group.

It's not fair how they try to suck you in. How uncomfortable they make you feel.

Story Five: "The point of me writing all of this is to broadcast the message that Xenos is not what is seems. There are lots of lies and shady things going on. I would not trust them or get too close to them or their members. They are manipulative and will try to destroy the things that are special to you. And if you are dealing with this, please get out."

I was afraid to write this because I am positive that many people who read this will know exactly who I am. But here I am, writing it anyways because I need people to know the truth. This will be a long story. Xenos tried to ruin my relationship.

A few years ago, I met a boy. We worked together and when I met him I had no idea he was affiliated with Xenos. I, myself, am a non-denominational Christian. I believe in God and the bible and praying but religion was always something kept to myself. Anyway, upon getting to know this boy, he made it clear to me how important his church and God were to him. I thought that was great. He seemed kind and I could tell he was a good person just trying to establish a good basis for a potential relationship with me. He wanted to bring me out to “group” (a Xenos teaching) to meet his friends and learn more about his fellowship. Still harmless at this point. I agreed to go. What I experienced was like nothing I have seen before. Immediately I was overwhelmed with everyone's interest in me and how much they wanted to get to know me. I thought they were just curious because my boyfriend, a long time member of Xenos, had brought me in.

As the story goes, my boyfriend had good intentions but the church group did not. The members of the church latched onto me like they were feeding on my soul. I was blind to this and took it as kindness. They were super overwhelmingly loving, always making sure I had a ride to the meetings, very inquisitive about my relationship with my boyfriend, trying to make plans with me all the time, and pretty much trying to fill ALL my time with all things Xenos. When I couldn’t make a meeting they made me feel awful about it because they had “invested so much in me.” Well, anyway, I should have known something was off when a leader was “assigned” to me. (“disciple” as they say.) I could tell that the other leaders were making sure this woman was always breathing down my neck. She was my main ride to meetings, I HAD to sit by her during teachings, we HAD to talk to about the teaching together after (I know she then would report back to other leaders about these convos), and she was constantly questioning my position with God and my relationship with my boyfriend. It’s one thing to be curious and care about a friend, but it’s another to be constantly monitoring someone.

A few months passed and I felt like I was starting to understand that Xenos is intense. I wrote it off as just a “church thing” but I always had a red flag in the back of my head going off as if to tell me something was not right about this group. I never listened to my gut because I knew Xenos was important to my boyfriend and he meant a lot to me. Xenos also puts it in your head that once you join, anything other than Xenos is bad and you should never leave because you’d be disappointing God. It sounds stupid but these people have brainwashing down to an art. And it’s scary. Anyway, back to the story, just when I thought me and my “disciple” were in a good place, she repeatedly made a point to hangout with me one-on-one because she did not believe that my walk with God was legitimate. She forced me to tell her the exact moment in my life that I accepted Christ and then she proceeded to tell me that I didn’t do it right so I have been living my life as a lie. According to her my relationship with God was a lie, too. She pressured me into accepting Christ the “correct” way because it was “the only was your relationship with your boyfriend will prosper.” To this day, I have kept her wording of that a secret from my boyfriend. I can’t explain why.

That isn’t even the beginning of the craziness. I fell for her pressuring comments and did as she told me. I felt like was doing everything “right” by trying to follow God the way she said was correct. Another thing that is important to this story is to know that their meetings were held in groups, usually with a group name, and that was the name of that particular home church. Well the home church my boyfriend and I were in was growing significantly. We were told by the leaders that the group was running out of space and needed to split off into another home church. I get it, a small campus house can only hold so many people. I didn’t think much of it until my “disciple” came to me with a predetermined idea of what was going to happen to me and my boyfriend. She told me that my boyfriend would be going to the new home church and that I HAD to stay with her in the old one. When I asked questions or tried to rebuke she told me that I will never grow with God if I keep prioritizing my boyfriend. She also told me I was holding him back. I told her I refused to go to a different group than him because I thought that would be a bad relationship move for us if we really are trying to learn to incorporate our faith into our relationship. She insisted I was wrong. I did not talk to her for a while after this.

When I told my boyfriend what she said and was trying to make us do, he told me that the guy leaders were telling him the same thing about me and basically gave him the same exact reasoning. This is when it was clear that they were trying to sabotage our relationship. Through all of this, my boyfriend and I were very happy and didn’t ask for any member of the church’s opinion or advice on our relationship. It was so beyond disheartening and it was so clear to us what they were trying to do to us. He and I talked about it, cried together, and even though it was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done, we made the decision to leave Xenos. It was like we both had a feeling that our relationship was bigger and more important than the toxic behavior of a corrupt church.

It has been years since we left and to this day we are happily together. We live together, and are actually engaged. We have built a happy life together and honestly, I have grown more in my walk with God recently that I ever did while I was under the influence of Xenos. Since leaving, I have found out from friends who left that after my boyfriend and I left, the people in the church started telling lies about us. They were spreading rumors that we got married without telling anyone and that I was pregnant. My boyfriend proposed to me because we are in love, not for any other reason. We have not gotten married yet because weddings are expensive. I am not pregnant, never was, and don’t plan to be any time soon.

My boyfriend, though I love him dearly, still does not believe it is a cult and has fond memories of his time in the group but I wish he understood the truth. Some of his best friends who are still in the group (that my boyfriend still cares about deeply) have not spoken to him since we left. He won’t say it but I know that this has broken his heart time and time again. I hate to see him hurt over a church so awful.

The point of me writing all of this is to broadcast the message that Xenos is not what is seems. There are lots of lies and shady things going on. I would not trust them or get too close to them or their members. They are manipulative and will try to destroy the things that are special to you. And if you are dealing with this, please get out.

Story Six: "My roommates & I all desperately needed professional therapy, but are implicitly discouraged from seeking it out by the church culture."

Hopefully something here is new / helpful. God used the church powerfully in my own life, but the issues I either personally witnessed or uncovered with some studying are too great to justify staying silent about them.

At a servant team meeting maybe a year or two ago that I attended (servant team is a group of 700 or so established, long-term church workers who have been invited to attend), I remember hearing 1992-1994 referred to as a "time for pruning in the church", but a careful reading of Xenos' annual reports and a couple essays written around the time reveal that the spiritual abuse problem was around then just as it is now, and that those 1,000+ defectors perhaps didn't leave because they decided they didn't want to follow the Lord anymore, but instead because they recognized the abuse for what it was. And, they were probably helped in their decision to leave by the following books, both of which had response papers written by Xenos elders:

[ . . . ]

Wish I had this one, but I deleted my LTC material recently in an effort to distance myself from it all. This document contained statements about the importance of pastoral or professional counseling being more of a last resort, and that lay counseling should be tried first. This was also read out loud to students during an LTC 3 course. What is unfortunate here is that the paper was addressed to Xenos kids instead of psychologists. This kind of paper is what led me, as a 21 year old trying to start a career and lead a ministry house, to not recognize or question the great danger of living with roommates struggling with suicidal depression, spectrum disorder, sleep disorders, dyslexia, and a number of others that we as a leadership team were in no way qualified to handle. My roommates & I all desperately needed professional therapy, but are implicitly discouraged from seeking it out by the church culture.

(This story with links can be read in full here.)

Story Seven: "For a long time I thought I was only one who had bad experiences with the Xenos church."

I know you get this a lot but I wanted to say thank you for making this page. For a long time I thought I was only one who had bad experiences with the Xenos church. I’m happy other people are sharing their stories.


Story Eight: "You website has brought me so much solace and relief because I can read stories and finally see that it wasn’t just me."

Hi Mark,

Thank you for this Insta and website. You’re doing great work and helping people. I have close friends who have been in Xenos leadership for years. Somehow we’re still friends even though I won’t go to Xenos. I am praying that one day they will open their eyes and leave.

In the early 2000s I was an Ohio State student. My friend was involved in the church and would always invite me to go. I did and it was beyond weird. People were using me, referring to me as “outreach,” and being very, very controlling. One day a girl and her sister went full throttle on me about why I wouldn’t commit to their “church.”  They ripped me a new asshole. I was embarrassed, hurt, and confused. I never joined because they were trying in a DESPERATE way to control me.

You website has brought me so much solace and relief because I can read stories and finally see that it wasn’t just me. They are as harmful as my gut was telling me. So many people on this site have put words on Xenos’ controlling, manipulative actions that I had not been able to express. Thank you.