The International House of Prayer (IHOPKC) movement has cut all ties with its founder, Mike Bickle, after concluding accusations of sexual misconduct were true. Tim Wyatt explains what has been happening
The internationally-renown ministry IHOPKC, which has run 24/7 prayer at its base in Kansas City since 1999, has been embroiled in a complex dispute over allegations against their founder Mike Bickle since October 2023.
Bickle has since admitted some “moral failures” but denied “more intense sexual activities”. After months of delay, just before Christmas IHOPKC announced it had received new information which confirmed the allegations. As a result, their spokesperson Eric Volz said the movement would “immediately, formally and permanently separate from him”.
Now, several more alleged victims have come forward to accuse Bickle of abuse and misconduct stretching back to the very start of his ministry in the 1970s. An investigation commissioned by IHOPKC has concluded it was “more likely than not” that the allegations are true.
Who is Mike Bickle?
Bickle came to prominence as one of the so-called Kansas City Prophets in the 1980s and 90s. This amorphous group became well-known Christian leaders in the charismatic renewal movement, with a big emphasis on prophecy, a recovery of apostolic leadership and the supernatural.
In 1999, Bickle left the church he had been leading at the heart of this movement and set up IHOPKC, based around the vision of a 24/7 prayer room. IHOPKC has since grown to include a college of 1,000 students, a music label, conferences and multiple other worshipping sites across Missouri.
What were the original allegations and how did IHOPKC respond?
On 28 October 2023, three former senior IHOPKC executives published an open letter revealing they had passed on allegations against Bickle to the church’s current leaders. They said they had spoken with several victims of Bickle who had shared corroborating testimony of “clergy sexual abuse” and “inappropriate words and actions”. “The allegations seemed out of character to the man we thought we knew, but they were so serious we could not ignore them,” the letter states.
While the letter does not go into detail, it does accuse Bickle of not “honouring” his marriage covenant and using spiritual authority to manipulate others. They said the female victims wanted to remain anonymous, but that they had gone public with the allegations on the victims’ behalf after a private approach to Bickle had been rebuffed.
At first, the IHOPKC leadership appeared to cast doubt on the accusations. In November, they released an initial report: of the eight women who had allegedly made complaints, three had publicly repudiated them, one had not wished to engage with the investigation, and another’s complaints predated the founding of the church in 1999, they said.
While the leadership did ask Bickle to stand down from public ministry while the complaints were investigated, they said “the collection and presentation of the allegations by the Complaint Group lacked any semblance of reliability or due process”. They also claimed the three former pastors advocating for the victims had made financial demands of IHOPKC and threatened to “escalate disclosures” if their demands were not met.
This initial response was strongly criticised by church abuse advocates. Many criticised the IHOPKC leadership for not appointing an independent organisation to investigate and instead using a local lawyer, reportedly a member of the congregation.
At the same time, a trickle of other women were making similar accusations against Bickle, including some who reported the leader had used supposed prophetic pronouncements to manipulate and groom them into one-sided sexual encounters and relationships.
On 10 December a new executive committee at IHOPKC took over the management of the crisis. They also brought in Eric Volz, an experienced crisis management consultant who hit the headlines two decades ago when he was falsely convicted in Nicaragua of his girlfriend’s murder, to act as spokesperson. Volz said the movement had asked an independent law firm to investigate and were determined to get to the truth.
What was Mike Bickle response?
On 12 December Bickle published his own statement on social media, admitting to “moral failures” more than 20 years ago for the first time.
“I want to express how deeply grieved I am that my past sins have led to so much pain, confusion, and division in the body of Christ in this hour. I sadly admit that 20+ years ago, I sinned by engaging in inappropriate behaviour - my moral failures were real. (I am not admitting to the more intense sexual activities that some are suggesting).”
He said he had wanted to make the statement back in October when the complaints first became public but was advised not to in case it appeared he was also admitting the charges of sexual abuse.
“Since late October terrible things have been written against me in various communications (blogs, articles, posts, etc) that describe me and various sinful things that I allegedly did. There are many misrepresentations of my words and actions in these communications including statements that are out of context, greatly exaggerated, or blatantly false,” he wrote.
He did, however, pledge to stand back from public ministry for an undetermined period of time and would only resume preaching if other leaders and God confirmed this was right.
Volz acknowledged that Bickle’s statement was a welcome “step in the right direction”. He also noted the distance between what Bickle had now confessed and what he had been accused of, “which is 100% why we need an independent investigation.” He also insisted the ministry was not trying to cover up anything and urged anyone with information on Bickle to come forward.
The wrangling continued throughout December regardless, with some criticising the new appointed law firm. Boz Tchividjian, a well-known church abuse advocate and a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims, questioned whether the law firm could be trusted, noting the company boasts of successfully defending faith groups and Christian leaders from abuse claims and litigation on its website.
Why have Bickle and IHOP parted company?
Two days before Christmas, IHOPKC announced it had received new, unspecified information about Bickle which verified the allegations. As a result, Volz said the ministry would “immediately, formally and permanently separate from him”.
He acknowledged many would wonder at what this information was, but said IHOPKC did not have permission from the victims to go into any more detail while the independent investigation continued.
Volz did say, however, that IHOPKC would commit to implementing “any and all changes necessary to church policies, procedures and culture to ensure IHOPKC does not travel down this difficult road again”.
In the same video statement, it was also announced that Stuart Greaves, the executive director of IHOPKC, had resigned. “Words cannot describe the impact this man has had on the IHOPKC community over the last 23 years,” Volz said. “Thousands of people’s lives have been impacted by his teaching, leadership and love for Jesus.” He did not give any reason for the resignation. As head of the leadership team, Greaves had been in charge of the initial handling of the allegations against Bickle.
Volz ended his statement by urging those hurt and shocked by the revelations to not fuel the fires online. “There is a way out of these difficulties but it starts with calming things down rather than ratcheting them up. Please remember we hold steadfast to Jesus, to his leadership. The 24/7 prayer movement that God started will continue.”
What has happened since?
At least two more alleged victims have come forward in 2024 to accuse Bickle of inappropriate sexual contact with them. A woman named Tammy Woods told a local Kansas City newspaper that Bickle abused her over decades.
Woods said she attended a church Bickle was leading in St Louis, Missouri, first meeting the pastor in the 1970s, when she was 14, going on to become the family’s babysitter. Woods alleges that Bickle initiated an intimate relationship which culminated in them kissing and touching each other sexually while she was underage.
Bickle was in his mid-20s and married when the tryst allegedly began, and it continued sporadically even after he moved to Kansas City in the 1980s, finally ending in 1996.
A third unnamed woman has also spoken to the investigative Christian news journalist Julie Roys to share her account of Bickle grooming and sexually assaulting her, starting when she was aged just 15.
The alleged victim is the ex-wife of Bob Hartley, another of the Kansas City Prophets, who was himself barred from ministering at IHOPKC last month following allegations of his own sexual misconduct.
Bickle has denied these latest allegations, but not publicly responded to Woods’ claims.
What did the IHOPKC investigation find?
Shortly after the two latest alleged victims came forward, IHOPKC said in a statement it believed them and were horrified at what Bickle had done: “Words cannot express the anger, shock, heartbreak, and sadness we have experienced as we have learned of allegations and testimonies of sexual abuse and manipulation concerning Mike Bickle, founder of IHOPKC.
“We believe that Mike Bickle sexually abused and manipulated Jane Doe and Tammy Woods, who was a minor at the time. His predatory and abusive actions are sick and violate the Word of God, the marriage covenant, and holiness; we condemn them in their entirety”.
On the 100th day since the crisis began, IHOPKC also released a report by a lawyer commissioned to investigate the allegations. It concluded that it was “more likely than not that Mike Bickle engaged in inappropriate behaviour including sexual contact and clergy misconduct in an abuse of power for a person in a position of trust and leadership”.
Volz noted that some alleged victims refused to participate in the investigation because they did not believe it to be fully independent of IHOPKC, but insisted the ministry was “fully committed to making sure this never happens again”.
IHOPKC are now in discussion with the former pastors who first blew the whistle on Bickle about setting up a commission of trusted external Christian leaders to oversee reforms. Volz said now was the time for everyone in the 24/7 prayer movement to come together “in humility and love”, rather than becoming entrenched in opposition.
“There is hope, no matter how offended we are or how bruised we become. There is freedom if we all humble ourselves, find true repentance and ultimately forgive,” he said. Despite the scandal over its founder, IHOPKC remained a “safe place”, he insisted, and a blessing to people all over the world.
How will this impact the UK Church?
While Bickle is not an especially famous name within the UK, he is a significant figure within the movement sometimes known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), which has influenced a number of Pentecostal and charismatic networks in Britain, including Newfrontiers, Pioneer and the Vineyard. (And it’s worth noting all three of those movements are facing their own crises in areas of safeguarding and leadership relating to an historic abuse case and allegations against Gerald Coates and Alan Scott)
The NAR spun out of the wider charismatic renewal movement of the 1970s and 80s, with a major emphasis on restoring Church practice back to the New Testament era, building new church networks outside of existing denominations, spiritual gifts and, through spiritual warfare, seeing Christians “take ground” over different spheres in society, from the arts and business, to politics and the media.
Many UK Christian leaders, including Nicky Gumbel and others at HTB and John and Ele Mumford from the UK Vineyard, were inspired by Bickle and the Kansas City Prophets. Hundreds of charismatic evangelicals have travelled to Kansas City to learn at IHOPKC’s college and brought back the teaching and practices Bickle pioneered into the UK Church.
Why does this story sound familiar?
Bickle is unfortunately only the latest in a now very long list of prominent evangelical leaders to have been exposed as abusers. As well as Soul Survivor’s Mike Pilavachi, in recent years figures as diverse as conservative Anglican vicar Jonathan Fletcher and Acts 29 chief executive and church planter Steve Timmis have all been the subject of damning accusations and investigations.
An increasing number of Christians who have been burnt by the number of exposes in recent years have argued the Church should move away from hierarchical models, as they give an unhealthy amount of power and influence to one person.
Many have pointed at the Asbury outpouring of February 2023 as an example of a new kind of charismatic and prophetic movement which was truly leaderless and did not seek to build a platform for anyone involved. In an ironic twist, however, the very 24/7 prayer and worship model which was the hallmark of Asbury is inextricably inspired by and connected to the 24/7 prayer room founded by Bickle himself at IHOPKC almost 25 years ago.