It’s ironic that in a movement built on prophetic dreams where God supposedly reveals the secrets of the world, apparently nobody ever receives a dream about the credible allegations of sexual abuse going on in the church.
Mike Bickle is the latest example of such allegations, following in the steps of his former fellow leaders Paul Cain and Bob Jones in what Matthew Taylor says, “bespeaks a leadership culture where charismatic authority has utterly overtaken institutional or communal accountability.”
Previous leaders of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City — known commonly as IHOPKC — released a statement Oct. 28 saying they told IHOPKC’s leadership team about “serious allegations spanning several decades concerning its founder, Mike Bickle.” According to their statement, they believed the “allegations of clergy sexual abuse by Mike Bickle to be credible and long-standing” and based “on the collective and corroborating testimony of the experiences of several victims.”
“Mike Bickle used his position of spiritual authority over the victims to manipulate them,” the former leaders charged.
You might have missed this story in the last quarter of 2023. Yet it was one of the biggest news stories of the year in American religion. It emerged from such an odd subculture of American Christianity, though, that average churchgoers among Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and even evangelicals might have no clue what any of this means.
Yet there are some common themes related to stories of abuse in churches of all kinds. This is a story that matters because it connects to the many other stories of abusive behavior perpetrated by religious leaders under the guise of spiritual growth or discipleship.
What is IHOPKC?
Matthew Taylor, creator of the Charismatic Revival Fury podcast series, explains how IHOPKC fits in to the broader history of Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity. He identifies the three primary strands as:
- Pentecostalism, rooted in early 20th century revivals
- Charismatic renewal movements that brought Pentecostal-style spirituality into Mainline Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism in the mid-20th century
- Independent charismatics
Taylor identifies the Latter Rain movement as a revival movement born from Pentecostalism in the late 1940s to the early 1950s, a movement that became skeptical about denominations, connected the “fivefold” spiritual gifts of Ephesians 4:11-12 with the end times, and focused on end times prophecy and revival.
In the 1980s, Bickle joined with descendants of the Latter Rain movement in a circle of friends that became known as the Kansas City Prophets. While Bickle spent the 1990s associating with John Wimber’s Vineyard churches, Taylor says Bickle decided to start IHOPKC “based on various prophecies and revelations from the Kansas City Prophets.”
This entire subculture is drenching in prophecies and visions and supernatural revelations and experiences.
Bickle’s demonic ‘black horse’ trilogy of betrayal
Thus, it might not be so unusual that one particular member of the IHOPKC community claimed to receive a vision of these accusations against Bickle — Bickle himself.
He says the Holy Spirit told him in 1976 “that in the future many would oppose me.” Then he says there were prophetic words in 1982 that “I was not to answer accusations against me but to bless my accusers and say, ‘Let the will of God be done.’”
Two years later, these accusations allegedly were revealed to him by Michael the archangel, who gave him a vision of a black horse demon.
He explained: “In September 1984, my first episode with the demonic attack (symbolized as a black horse): In a dramatic visionary experience, a powerful demon appeared as a large ‘black horse’ that struck me on my right knee. Michael said that when ‘I go to the east,’ I would be attacked with demonic rage.”
Bickle went on to explain how after starting a church east of Grandview, Mo., in December 1989, “a pastor friend betrayed me by attacking me with many false charges.”
The demonic black horse attacked again in 2010, according to Bickle: “Another intense Holy Spirit seminary season was to begin in days ahead where we must respond rightly to horrible accusations by blessing various groups and people who accused us, without defending ourselves in any way.”
After two years of accusations started in 2012, Bickle says there were “internal ‘family’ accusations led by five young emerging leaders at IHOPU.”
IHOPU is the school the church started to train prayer and worship leaders.
Bickle wrote that “Episode #3” of the black horse began with a Zoom call in 2020 about the end times where “the accuser of our brethren” attempts to persecute Christians but unleashes a martyrdom that “causes the kingdom to grow rapidly.”
One man’s prison sentence to birth and defend Israel
In his final sermon at IHOPKC Oct. 22, knowing the allegations against him were about to be made public, Bickle invoked the story of Joseph in Genesis, who just so happens to be betrayed by his brothers and falsely accused of sexual abuse by Potiphar’s wife.
“The nation of Israel was born because Joseph went to prison,” he reminded his congregation. “He’s thrown in prison because of the betrayal of his brothers.” Then he concluded, “The nation of Israel was born in the context of a man responding right in a family betrayal that put him in prison for a while.”
Then Bickle connected Israel’s birth in Genesis with Israel’s salvation in the end times, which he believes happens through the prayer and worship movement he started. He claimed leaders in Israel told him his movement started “the most dramatic shift of the body of Christ in history for Israel,” during which “5 million Gentiles” prayed for Israel in May.
Referring back to his alleged 1984 face-to-face meeting with Michael the archangel, Bickle discussed “the rage of Satan” and quoted a passage from Psalm 55 where David talks about being accused by a “familiar friend.”
“The Lord said this is going to happen,” Bickle preached, knowing the accusations against him were about to be made public. “But I’m not thinking of me. I’m thinking of the global body of Christ. This is going to start happening. Because it happened to David and it happened to Jesus. And I’m thinking the global body.” Then he added uncomfortably, “And I mean I’m part of it, so yeah me too.”
If Bickle were to make the story about defending himself, he likely wouldn’t have a chance given the current focus in our culture on exposing abusers in the church. So instead, he made it about defending Israel.
“I’ve seen this series a bunch of times. I don’t love it, but I just like to watch it,” he said of the series Einsatzgruppen, in which the Nazi “mobile killing units” committed genocide against the Jews. “I’m grieving for Israel because I believe great trouble is coming to Israel and the first line of defense for Israel is the praying church.”
Rebuking the fires of betrayal and persecution to save Israel
The story he appears to be implying is that the birth of Israel began with a man going to prison after being betrayed and falsely accused of sexual assault, and that the salvation of Israel in the end times will begin the same way for another man.
“It’s the praying church that’s been refined through the fires of betrayal and persecution,” he said.
“That’s when I start travailing, ‘cause I’m looking at the Israel thing. And that’s when the Lord makes it clear, ‘I have a preemptive strike.’ … And so I just start travailing and I’m just groaning and, but it’s for Israel! And then the Lord makes it clear to me. He said, ‘The betrayal is all about getting you guys all, the global body of Christ, out of sync so you’re not in place to be salvation for Israel.’”
In other words, if future accusations against Bickle were to be believed, then Israel might not be saved.
In other words, if future accusations against Bickle were to be believed, then Israel might not be saved. Bickle’s solution, then, is to prepare his church not to go too far in their discipline: “Father, we take authority over the plans of the evil one that seeks to go beyond the boundaries of the discipline you’ve ordained for Israel. And we could say this about our own lives. God’s ordained discipline in our lives. But some men take it beyond the boundaries, that black horse raging.”
Notice how he doesn’t even claim the accusations are false. Instead, he warns the church not to take the discipline too far. Those who take the discipline too far are part of the raging black horse demon’s strategy to derail the salvation of Israel.
“The Lord rebuke you and the rage to go above and beyond the discipline that’s been ordained,” he said. “We resist you and we say, ‘We cut off your assignment, your demonic strategy. And all of us probably have somebody in our life, somewhere in our families … or somewhere in the workplace where they’re speaking negative about you. But we know it’s about Israel. We know that the enemy just wants to get us derailed so we get off course related to Israel.”
Recruiting minors to ‘the greatest worship movement ever’
While Bickle’s claims to have been visited by the archangel Michael and to receive prophetic revelations will sound peculiar to most Americans, this kind of language is the stock in trade of Pentecostal preachers like him. And it somehow motivates others to follow him.
Imagine being a 16-year-old with musical or singing abilities, perhaps some father wounds, a passion for worship and a growing curiosity about your future career, and hearing these words from Bickle at the One Thing Conference in 2009: “The Holy Spirit right now, in this hour, is raising up full-time singers and musicians in the worship movement across the earth. I am talking about singers, musicians and intercessors. This will be their full-time occupation. I do not mean just the worship pastor, the one guy or gal. I mean thousands of them. We are praying for a million full-time singers and musicians to be paid to be in houses of prayer across the earth.”
In case there was any confusion over who he was recruiting, he specifically named “young 18-year-old drummers, 16-year-old singers and violin players.”
Bickle described his movement as:
- the greatest worship movement ever in history
- the greatest love songs in all of heaven
- the greatest love songs of history
- the most powerful prayer and worship movement in history
- a worship movement that has never ever been seen before
How did Bickle plan to pay for these full-time jobs? He prophesied, “There will be billions of dollars year by year financing singers and musicians” with “supernatural finances.”
“I know a number of guys right now,” he claimed. “They have set their heart to give a billion dollars to the worship movement.” He said he knows four or five who have promised to give a billion dollars to his end-time worship movement, adding, “The Lord is opening the way right now for me.”
As if that weren’t enough, he then said he doesn’t have 50 years to come up with $100 billion. So he called on God to “blow the lid off this thing and see where it goes.”
All you have to do is follow Bickle. And the money.
But then we contrast the talk of saving Israel, meeting with Michael the archangel, defeating black horse demons, and being a part of the greatest and most powerful worship movement in history with the cold reality on the ground in Kansas City, Mo.
Blaise Foret, who was on staff at IHOPKC for four years and is discussing the story on his podcast with his wife, Christina, paints a more complicated picture of life in the Global Prayer Room, IHOPKC’s live-streamed 24/7 worship chapel that has been going nonstop for 20 years.
“I was there for four years. The type of people that go there, it’s a very wide dynamic of people,” he says. “You have really intense, spiritually healthy people that are just really on fire for God. … You have a lot of other kids that go at age 18, haven’t even gone to school yet, they’ve gone through all kinds of stuff.”
The students are required to raise their own support from family, friends and other churches.
But rather than receiving comfortable salaries funded by Bickle’s billionaires, the students are required to raise their own support from family, friends and other churches. So they all cram into cheap shared living spaces to make it work.
“There would be like 12 guys living in a house in Grandview,” Foret explains. “Everybody’s paying like $25 a month to split 17 people in one room. I am exaggerating on that. But just cut it by 50%, and that’s probably what it was. It was broke, battered, busted people because you’re raising support to go be an intercessor. You’ve got people with all kinds of emotional baggage.”
And remember that lack of accountability Taylor mentioned? Apparently it extends beyond just the leadership.
According to Foret: “Most of what we do there is pray, is sit in a room and pray, and you can sit on a laptop and read or browse the internet. Nobody’s controlling what you’re doing, even as an intern or staff member. So you’re really just there to pray. So it actually garners lazy people. It attracts lazy people. There’s a lot of lazy people who go there. I’m not saying everybody there is lazy. … But it attracts kids that don’t want to do a lot and they kind of like have issues.”
The 2019 GRACE report
According to a 2019 report by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment — known as GRACE — IHOPKC hired Brad Tebbutt in 2012 as an intern, despite Tebbutt admitting to “inappropriately” touching a 16-year-old girl he had a “parenting role” with when he was 28. One year later, IHOPKC hired Tebbutt on staff. And then in 2015, they promoted him to be the director of their internship program.
As a result of their investigation, GRACE recommended: “Brad Tebbutt … must never be allowed on the property when minors are present. In addition, he must never be allowed at, or granted participation in, any off-campus IHOP activities in which minors are present.”
But IHOPKC responded to the GRACE report by hiring Tebbutt to be in charge of recruiting for IHOPU.
Christina Foret said, “Imagine trusting your child in the care of a ministry and they have somebody recruiting to this university who molested somebody the same age as your child.”
Special treatment to become the next big worship leader
There are far more stories of inappropriate conduct than can be presented in this article.
One woman claims when she was 19, the 42-year-old Bickle told her she was “going to lead thousands of Esthers.”
“He begins to tell me that the Lord has spoken to him and that Diane (Bickle’s wife) is going to die and that we’re going to get married,” he said, claiming this conversation happened around 100 times.
In addition to relaying this vision, she said Bickle gave her a private apartment and a key to his office.
One night, on a trip to Paris, Bickle gave her alcoholic beverages and kissed her, she says, adding that she blacked out and doesn’t remember what happened that night.
“It wasn’t until she heard about how Bill Cosby allegedly abused women using alcohol that she began to question her own experiences with Bickle.”
According to her testimony, she and Bickle engaged in everything except sexual intercourse. It wasn’t until she heard about how Bill Cosby allegedly abused women using alcohol that she began to question her own experiences with Bickle.
In addition to this woman’s testimony, there are leaked emails of a conversation between her husband and Bickle that demonstrate to any objective reader how manipulative Bickle can be.
Another former worship leader named Joanna May shared a similar story: “I was an intern in the fall 2002. Following my internship, I was approached with an opportunity to be the next Misty by Mike Bickle and another woman. This offer included an apartment in Herrnhut and the exhortation to really ‘give myself to this calling.’”
Misty Edwards was an IHOPKC worship leader star whom the students looked up to. Joanna said she didn’t want to become Misty but preferred to be herself.
Regarding Joanna’s story, Christina Foret responded: “I can’t imagine how many people they did that to. And if somebody came up to me and I was 17 and they were like, ‘You can be the next Misty, and you can have your own apartment,’ I would be like, ‘Sounds good.’ Especially if it was like the head and they saw something special in me.”
Connecting Bickle’s final sermon to his personal statement
In a personal statement issued Dec. 12, Bickle wrote: “I sadly admit that 20+ years ago, I sinned by engaging in inappropriate behavior — my moral failures were real.” But he vehemently denied “false allegations of sexual abuse” and repeated the lines from his final sermon about not defending himself, blessing his accusers and not giving into Satan’s division that might distract their plans.
He did not say what those sins were 20 years ago and he separated those from “false allegations of sexual abuse” that were being “circulated against me” more recently.
Because of these 20-year-old sins: “For an extended season, I will not engage in my public preaching ministry (conferences, social media, zooms, etc.) — I see this as God’s ‘delayed’ loving discipline on my life (Heb. 12:6, 11). I will look to other leaders to determine how long this season will last — it may be long and it may even be permanent. I will only reengage in my public preaching ministry, if God confirms it through others.”
“If he is guilty merely of consensual sex more than 20 years ago, why did he mention possibly going to prison?”
Given how his personal statement used specific words and images deeply tied to his final sermon, it seems reasonable to wonder what he meant in his final sermon about one man possibly going to prison for a while. If he is guilty merely of consensual sex more than 20 years ago, why did he mention possibly going to prison?
On Dec. 22, IHOPKC leaders announced they now have cut all ties with Bickle.
“Since taking over management of the crisis, the Executive Committee has received new information to now confirm a level of inappropriate behavior on the part of Mike Bickle that requires IHOPKC to immediately formally and permanently separate from him,” spokesman and crisis management consultant Eric Volz said in a video on YouTube.
A plea to young worship leaders
Those of us outside the ministry can look at the statements made by IHOPKC and realize how completely inadequate and harmful they have been. When pastors are warning the congregation not to look back or they’ll turn into a pillar of salt, and when Bickle’s friends are warning people not to discuss the matter on social media, the coverup is obvious. And there are literally hours of content available online of people discussing all the angles.
For the young worship leaders who are currently a part of IHOPKC, sorting through all the allegations and institutional responses can be overwhelming. But they are the ones who have gotten drawn into this community, and they are the ones at risk.
So, I’d like to share a few thoughts to them in particular.
Your desires for connecting with self, neighbor and God are good. Your excitement for the future and your willingness to give it your all is commendable.
I did the same thing when I was 21. I moved across the country to lead worship at a church for free. But in the years ahead, I began to experience spiritual abuse from the pastor I looked up to. And the amount of meetings and conversations we had to sort through it all was devastating to my body, mind and soul.
But give yourself some grace. Bickle says, “Jesus will give the fullness of his power to release justice only when night and day prayer comes forth from the earth.”
“The salvation of Israel does not depend on 16-year-old singers and violin players in Kansas City worshiping at 3:00 in the morning.”
That’s too much for you to bear. The salvation of Israel does not depend on 16-year-old singers and violin players in Kansas City worshiping at 3:00 in the morning. So please, lay that burden down.
And finally, you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have regrets about the amount of time you’ve spent investing in churches, businesses or even worship ministries. That’s part of life. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s to be expected.
Ultimately, if you’re investing in worship ministry, I’m going to assume your primary concern is your relationship with Jesus. If Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing,” then we shouldn’t be surprised to discover we didn’t know what we were doing at age 16 when we committed to certain ministries and visions that people 20 to 40 years older than us were pitching to us.
So have the security in your relationship with Jesus and the humility about the human condition to embrace regret. Notice how all the language you were pitched to about “raising up the greatest” and “the most powerful” worship movement ever is not language of humility. It’s the language of using worship as the sugar that helps the power dynamics go down unnoticed.
Then do what you know is right. Love yourself, love your neighbor as yourself, and then walk outside Bickle’s tower. There is no black horse demon out here. But there are people to know and love. And maybe that’s a vision of a life worth investing in.
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a bachelor of arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He completed a master of arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.