An American Christian Chapter III — Master’s Commission and Generation Training Center
If you haven’t read Chapter I yet, please start here.
My church started Lewis County Master’s Commission in the fall of 1997 with just four students, one of whom was Lauren Jones. The first year of LCMC was mainly taught by Pastor Ben and one or two guests, but it was the starting point of a much larger institution. Year over year, the program grew a little more, adding Lauren as a leader and bringing on recent MC graduates from our sister church in Oklahoma to help staff.
By 1999 Devon was in the program and very quickly assumed a leadership position. By the time I was enrolled in 2002, there were three permanent leaders: Lauren, Devon, and Noah, who had come from Oklahoma. This was Noah’s home church, but he had moved to Oklahoma in 1996 to join another Master’s commission program, completing three years there. The average class size included first, second and third years, adding up to around twenty students. While most of us came from different backgrounds, we all shared a commonality: Wanting a deeper connection with God.
My senior year of high school was an unusual time, to say the least. There was 9/11, then the war, The Barfening that occurred at a Lakewood Taco Bell, and my first ever date-that-wasn’t-really-a-date. This non-date turned into a non-girlfriend because my church looked down upon that, and I couldn’t be a disappointment. I eventually had to have a non-breakup with my non-girlfriend before the school year started, her going to college, and me doing MC. Once in the program, I was no longer allowed to talk to her, but we’ll get to that.
During this time, I decided that as much as Master’s Commission seemed like a noble thing to do, I wasn’t sold on the idea of it altogether. I wanted to go to college, and I wanted to get the hell out of the area where I grew up. Small towns breed small-mindedness, and I wanted to expand. However, in a decision that my mother soon regretted, she insisted I do at least a year of MC. I was told that despite my efforts, she and my father would not help me out at all if I went off to college but would cover everything if I joined our church’s Master’s Commission. Which is similar to how Liberty University recruits most of its students. This was a major bummer, and I should have just owned the disappointment and went to WSU like I was planning. However, despite my early application, I never received a rejection or acceptance letter from them.
At least not in time.
I eventually received word of my acceptance in October, followed by a few phone calls asking if I would attend the winter quarter. Of course, by that time, I was already two months into Master’s, and I was told by MC leadership that this was a clear sign that it was God’s will for me to be there. Why else would the call come so late? My mother’s regret came later that same year when the program had completely taken over my life. My dedication to it was paramount, certainly more so than my own needs or family, despite my still living at home. Regardless, She insisted that I was doing God’s will and tried to convince my brother, four years later, to do the same. Fortunately for him, she had a change of heart a few months before it was supposed to start.
Half-way through my first year, the leadership decided to change the name from Lewis County Master’s Commission to Generation Training Center. They felt like Master’s Commission had become too broad of a title because of the lack of a centralized structure. It meant too many things to too many churches, often operating in name only. Plus, Lewis County sucks. They wanted a name that sounded more polished, more centered around what they thought they were doing. Thus, GTC Northwest was born.
The structure of the program was reasonably similar to a school, just saturated heavily with Pentecostal influence. We attended regular classes Tuesday through Friday, a prayer meeting at the Church on Saturday nights, two Sunday morning services, and a Sunday Evening service. We also attended Youth Group on Wednesday nights plus a college service on the local Community college campus, also on Saturday nights. This was later changed to take place on Wednesday as well, after Youth Group. The opportunity for sleep or rest was infrequent at best. Monday was the only actual day off we had. That is if we didn’t have Monday Club, which I’ll explain later.
We officially started at 7:30 am and spent the first half-hour together in worship. This was followed immediately by one hour of personal devotion time, where we would pray and read the Bible on our own. We met back up at 9 am to share any revelations we had during our devotions and discussed the day’s schedule. We then had a 30-minute break to do whatever we wanted before coming back and starting class. The days alternated between a taught class (usually just an in-depth sermon), working on our Berean Bible Course, memorizing scripture, or studying a particular Christian book. We also had ministry training, human video practice, community service (which we only did for the church community), one-on-one accountability, and weekly group accountability. For that, they separated the guys and girls and spent a great deal of effort grilling us on whether we had masturbated that week or not.
This is something that came up quite frequently. We were continuously asked if we had masturbated. If we had, whether we were looking at anything while doing so and how many times. This led to secret forms of punishment, like being sidelined during ministry trips or being excluded from activities that involved the opposite sex.
At the end of the day, we would go to a local fitness center and work out or play wallyball. It was sold as a way for all of us to stay active and healthy but was a way to make sure the girls stayed skinny, and the guys looked toned. It was also extra time for Devon to spend in a sleeveless shirt while passively comparing everyone. Body dysmorphia and anorexia developed among several students. We were taught that our spirit and body were linked, and a body not in shape was indicative of a lazy spirit. Having a body type other than skinny or muscular was not a good representation of the program or a person close to God.
We could afford the memberships because we were required to clean the entire gym after closing time once a week. This generally involved a rotating group of students tasked with the 2–3 hours of work at 11 pm on a Saturday. Although Devon occasionally showed up to inspect our work and belittle us if it wasn’t up to his standard, leadership did not participate.
Master’s Commission was often jokingly called Movers Commission because of the amount of time spent moving large and heavy objects for the church or some of its congregants. We were often just an easy source of unpaid labor, especially since it wasn’t voluntary. While the work was usually safe, there were times when it was incredibly dangerous. I once fell through part of the sanctuary ceiling while changing a light bulb in the crawlspace 30 feet above the stage. Despite facing my own mortality slash hospital stay, I still did it the next time a bulb went out.
Rules and Punishment
In Chapter II, I mentioned that Ben Jones is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever known and that this was a trait he passed on to Devon, who magnified it exponentially. Ben had wanted his MC program to stand head and shoulders above the rest, and Devon wanted it to be known by the church world.
The evangelical world is a strange sort of beast, something I will drill down into in another part. Although Christianity’s purpose is to spread the gospel and save souls, there’s a lot of unspoken competitiveness. Churches often pit themselves against one another, trying to steal each other’s congregants more often than not. This is done in every passive-aggressive way imaginable, often racking up enormous expenses. The worship has to look more like a concert, the graphic design needs to be slicker, the online experience needs to be more significant. Nothing is ever enough, and “no expense is too big for God, so let’s break out those pocketbooks!”
This kind of competitiveness led Ben to implement a more stringent version of every rule that the other programs had, plus a few additional draconian ones. While most other discipleship programs have some form of regulations similar to these, I so far haven’t found any others to be this extreme, although I wouldn’t be shocked to find out I’m wrong. Each infraction was rewarded with a “slip,” which was precisely that — a slip of paper, each color-coded to represent a different infraction. Slips were almost exclusively given out by second-year interns rather than leadership. There were slips for everything from showing up late to not having your scripture memorized. There were standard rules like no drugs or weapons, but you also absolutely could not be LGBTQ+, let alone supportive. If they thought you were, they prayed for you to be released of “that spirit that binds you.”
The spirit of the law was also more important than the letter, and those that found and exploited loopholes were often chewed out and made examples of.
The official form of punishment was Monday Club. This was a form of early morning detention that took place on Mondays (our only real day off) at 6 am and went for as long as any of us had wracked up time. Each slip we received was worth one hour, no matter how minor. Those unlucky enough to have an infraction of any sort would show up at the church at 6 am and usually do menial cleaning work.
In my effort to prove myself, I took up being in charge of Monday Club my second year. This wasn’t so bad, except I lost my only day to sleep in. When word got back to the leadership that I was a benevolent Monday Club leader, I was directed to have a specific student clean the same tiny bathroom floor for over two hours. I felt like an absolute bastard. Occasionally, Monday Club was moved over to the Joneses house to do free, manual labor. Ben Jones was able to get an entire rock wall built for his landscape this way. It was exploitative, manipulative, and a downright cult-like way to distribute punishment.
To better grasp how oppressive these rules were, here’s a brief list (which does not include all the unspoken rules):
- No “sugar-coated swear words”: darn, dang, gosh, golly, gee, shoot, crap, butt, heck, freaking, frickin’, pissed. This also included name-calling by using slurs like dick, skank, and butthead. (A lot of people were called “punks.”)
- No guys and girls together alone (outside of family). One has to leave the room if there is only one person of the opposite sex, never be in a car together alone, or even sit together unless it was unavoidable. Leaders often sat between male and female students.
- You were late if you were one second past the time given; five minutes early was considered “on-time.” There was an official clock and an official time-keeper.
- If you were late for Monday Club, you would receive another hour for the following week.
- Could not stay up past 11:30 pm or get up before 3 am on weekdays,
- Could not sleep past 9:30 am on your own time.
- No movies above a G rating unless it was sanctioned by leadership (We all went to a screening of Passion of the Christ). This included our TV watching as well. If there was swearing in it, we had to turn it off or leave the room. The Joneses loved the Keira Knightley version of “Pride and Prejudice” and would mute the tv to cover up the word “ass.”
- No secular music and no Christian genre music other than contemporary or worship
- Your desk area was to be kept neat at all times, including having your chair pushed in. If you didn’t, even for a few seconds, you received a slip.
- No dating; however, you had the opportunity to court during your second year.
- Guys and girls were not allowed to pray together unless it was a larger group. Most prayer included the laying on of hands. You were taught to reach your hand towards the opposite sex, but not touch them.
- For girls, no sleeve length shorter than the arm’s quarter-length and no skirts or shorts at or above the knee.
- Girls had to wear a bra at all times, no matter the situation or company, unless alone.
- The dress code was always business casual except for retreats and weekend prayer meetings. Jeans were allowed, but shirts had to have a collar or equivalent. Shorts were only allowed during free time, retreats, or casual time on a trip.
- Specific outfits, essentially uniforms, were worn on all ministry trips. This included one branded t-shirt and one long sleeve button up (different styles but similar looks for guys and girls) and two pairs of jeans, generally from American Eagle or Aeropostale.
- No phone calls to the opposite sex
- Any tattoos you had were to be covered at all times. This was often done with bandaids to cover small tattoos on the back of the neck, wrist, or ankle.
- No more than two piercings in each ear for the girls, none for the guys. Nose rings became acceptable later on with permission. However, no other kind of piercing was allowed.
- On Sundays, Guys had to wear a formal shirt and slacks with a tie, and girls had to wear a dressy, floor-length skirt and blouse or a dress.
- First-year students were not allowed to have a job, which was later allowed if absolutely necessary. This also included up to a month off or more during the spring for ministry trips. You were allowed to stay behind on trips to work only if you were behind on your tuition.
- Required to exercise a minimum of three times per week
- All personal spaces at your home had to be clean and tidy, including your vehicle. There were random inspections of vehicles and calls made to the family you were staying with.
- No student was allowed to live alone. You stayed with a host family or at your family home.
- All authority was God-ordained, and you were to obey it as if it were God. This included the leadership team in the program and the church.
- Guys were not allowed to have a hair length past the ears. This was later changed when Devon grew his hair out.
- Shoes must stay on at all times.
- No laying prostate unless explicitly directed by leadership or the Lord.
These rules were a requirement the entire year, which extended into the summer if any of us intended to return. Here is an excerpt from the summer guidelines given to students returning for a second or third year.
We went over these before graduation, but we would like to just remind you as well as have them written down so that there is no confusion. As with everything we do in Generation Training Center, the bottom line is not the written code, but it is the purpose behind why we do what we do. There is a shortcut to every guideline, but there are no shortcuts to character and integrity. We simply ask you to follow these with your heart and see the bigger picture. If at any time you have a question or need some clarity or advice, you know what to do. Talk to us and let’s work it out together (guys with guys…girls with girls!).
All guidelines are the same as they are during the GTC year (entertainment, relationships, etc.)
• If both genders are represented at the location, everyone leaves at midnight.
• All day trips must be approved the day before. A “trip” consists of both genders leaving town together for an extended period of time (i.e., the beach, etc.) No Overnight trips when there are both genders present.
• Please call or talk to a leader one on one, away from people if permission is needed for an event.
• Please guard the frequency with whom you are spending time with..spread yourself around and be on guard for potential emotions developing towards the opposite gender.
• What is my purpose for attending? Would I still go if a specific person of the opposite sex was not going to be there?
As you can see, the most prominent issue leadership had was people of the opposite sex spending time together. I’ll share why this was utter hypocrisy in a later post.
The unwritten rules, which I’ll cover in part two, were often made up on the spot. While on the surface, the rules feel like more of a nit-picky hassle than oppression, one cannot fully understand how frequently these rules were used to abuse students. Since all authority was considered God-ordained, questioning anyone in leadership about any rule, unwritten or not, was akin to questioning God himself.
Because of the length of this chapter, I’ve split it into two parts. The next part covers the unwritten rules of the program and a first-hand account of how a particular rule affected a student’s health.