In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
Paul writing to the church at Phillipi in the mid-first century AD.
In addition to bounding member’s choices and using special language MCM used other methods of reinforcing a member’s commitment to their radical cause.
MLTS (Maranatha Leadership Training School), which I described in a earlier post, was one such tool used to keep the flock in line.
Now, MLTS was very important to MCM for four reasons, only one of which I grasped at the time.
I will speak to three of these reasons in this post and will address the fourth in a future post.
Readers who were NOT in MCM should keep in mind that something like MLTS is common in most sociological cults even if the methods described here differ a bit from those in other such groups.
The Importance of MLTS
Interaction with, and the monitoring of, the members and local ministries
The first reason that MLTS was important to MCM was the opportunity it gave Bob Weiner, Joe Smith and Bob Nolte a chance to interact with local ministries from around the country (and later the world). This would help ensure that the Pastors of these ministries, along with their members, were complying with the will of the leadership.
MLTS also helped the local pastors gauge who was willing to commit the time and funds to attend. Failure to attend MLTS marked a sheep as having problems. Let me make this clear: failing to attend MLTS would get you counseled, possibly booted, marked and shunned.
Furthermore, MLTS attendance by members from the local campus ministries was carefully monitored by MCM HQ. Local Ministry leaders (pastors) meticulously counted and reported to HQ the attendance at weekly services. MLTS provided a way for HQ leadership to check that the attendance numbers (“attendance stats”) reported by campus pastor were real. A difference between reported local site attendance stats and the actual attendance of these members at MLTS would bring the wrath of HQ down upon this Pastor. MCM leadership constantly demanded membership growth from the local sites. A drop in MLTS attendance from a site would result in quick counseling for the poor pastor whose ministry was losing members or even worse, mis-reporting their attendance stats.
MLTS allowed the leadership to continue to bombard the MCM flock with urgent prophetic messages supposedly directly from God; and to also set the general direction and vision for the global ministry (which BTW would zig – zag crazily over my five years of membership).
Using these prophetic utterances the leadership could demonstrate that they were in touch with God’s ultimate plan for the earth and for the members. Leadership would also provide specific direction for the local ministries and lay out both the tactics and expected results for the coming quarter at pre-meeting pastor only meetings. These pre-meetings could be brutal for pastors. Those pastors not performing would be targeted for public criticism (humiliation) or even worse for demon exorcism (in front of their peers).
Reinforcement of Leadership’s authority and their hold on MCM
The third reason MLTS was important is that it kept in place the feedback loop from the flock to the leadership which reinforced the charismatic authority of the collective leadership. (Please note: I use the word charismatic here in the sociological, not the Pentecostal, sense).
Studies of sociological cults have shown that the charisma of the leader, or a group of select leaders, does NOT RESIDE IN THE LEADER(S) themselves but in the feedback loop between the leader(s) and the followers.
We tend to think of charismatic leaders as exceptionally good-looking, or being eloquent speakers, or very extroverted, or having some other external quality that attracts people to them.
Frequently charismatic leaders do have these qualities, but these qualities are NOT the source of their standing and power in a sociological cult. [This idea is more fully explored by Janja Lalich in her book Bounded Choice True Believers and Charismatic Cults].
For example, Bob was not particularly good-looking nor was he was physically imposing. There were also better stump speakers in MCM than Bob (although Bob was a particularly good speaker).
The source of Bob’s power, as a charismatic leader, resided in his unflinching (and if you spent any time with him, his irritating) hyperactivity and his seeming ability to deliver the results laid out in MCM’s grand scheme of evangelizing the world by the turn of the century .
We might consider these behavioral traits as the engine that drove Bob’s charismatic authority. The fuel for this engine derived from the affirmation and praise of his Maranatha devotees. This affirmation and praise in turn reinforced Bob’s own feeling of specialness (that he was called for a divine special purpose by God as an apostle for the end times).
Bob’s ability to deliver the results of his plan, plus his publicly proclaimed conviction of his special calling, reinforced members’ feeling that Bob WAS anointed of God and WAS the leader God selected for His special mission.
Compounding and multiplying this reinforcement loop was Bob’s narcissistic personality. He acted like everything, and everyone, revolved around his special mission and were present on the earth to serve him.
Bob’s grand scheme, in the late 70s (this would change over time), was to evangelize the world before Christ returned (hence the name Maranatha).
And he continually showed his ability make that evangelization of the world a possibility however distant in time.
From my own personal perspective I can tell you that I was repeatedly blown away when I saw the results of his preaching; especially during my first two years in the movement. The first time I saw him in action at my frat house was but a singular example of the feedback loop required for Bob to wear the mantle of a charismatic leader.
The following paragraphs, with thanks to Dr. Lalich, illustrates how this all worked and allowed Bob to become the charismatic leader of MCM.
If Bob Weiner, or any charismatic leader, stood in a roomalone he would not be a charismatic leader.
And if Bob was in a room with only four other people he probably would NOT be seen as a charismatic leader by this group. In fact he would probably just scare the heck out of everyone sitting there.
However, put him in a room with 200 people, 100 of which are telling the other 100 how awesome he is. Let him give a rousing emotional service, with the loud amens, clapping and shouts of praise from the crowd during his speech; let him evidence success in his cause with 20 or 30 people being brought into MCMC due to his preachin, and suddenly he IS that charismatic leader with power.
Let this happen month after month and year after year and combine this with a narcissistic personality and voila!: a classic authoritarian charismatic leader of a sociological cult now exists.
The same held for Joe Smith one of the other MCM charismatic leaders. Joe promised miracles and prophesies direct from God and then apparently delivered them to the members of MCM.
Everyone (and by that I mean the members who came to Auburn to plant the ministry) at MCM told me about the signs and wonders that Joe would perform which he then seemed to performed. He directed personal prophecies to almost everyone at Auburn; seemingly saying things that only God could say and knowing only things that God could know.
But Joe and Bob could not regularly preach at every campus ministry as MCM grew in size. This constraint limited their ability to maintain the reinforcing feedback loop necessary to their maintain standing as charismatic leaders of the group.
MLTS thus allowed Bob (and other high-ranking leaders) to keep the reinforcing charismatic feedback loop going and in the process maintain their influence over MCM members.
Furthermore, MLTS allowed MCM to showcase a steady procession of highly regarded Christian leaders from outside of MCM who provided Bob , Joe and MCM external validation. This external validation also helped Joe and Bob maintain their status as God’s chosen end time apostles in the minds of MCM members.
These Christian leaders, such as Larry Tomczak, Winkney Pratney, Don Northrup and C.J. Mahaney, would praise Bob and MCM as being blessed and anointed by God Himself.
Later some of these key leaders, when confronted with the terrible reality of Bob and MCM, would repudiate these endorsements.
But that would come later after much damage had been done to MCM’s rank and file membership.
Don Northrup was one person who became especially angry in the mid 1980s with how Joe and Bob abused his trust. I spoke with Don years afterwards, before he passed away, and he saw his association with MCM as one of the true regrets of his life.
“I wish Tik,” he told me, “that I had stood in front of those cheering crowds [at MLTS] and told them that this entire thing was straight from the pits of hell.”