What Should We Think about the International House of Prayer (IHOPKC) and Mike Bickle? Part Two7
Last week I spoke about Mike Bickle and answered some of the questions that people ask concerning him. Today I will address the International House of Prayer for which he provides leadership.
Some of you have never heard of IHOPKC while others have only read about it on the blogs and websites of its most vocal critics. Even fewer of those reading this article have actually visited the house of prayer or spent much time taking advantage of what is offered. Let me begin by highlighting some of the more prominent features of IHOPKC, after which I’ll address some of the concerns people have.
(1) The International House of Prayer is not a local church and by no means intends to replace the church or the mission that God has given it in Scripture. It is a para-church ministry and by its own definition, “an evangelical missions organization that is committed to praying for the release of the fullness of God’s power and purpose, as” they “actively win the lost, heal the sick, feed the poor, make disciples, and impact every sphere of society—family, education, government, economy, arts, media, religion, etc.” Their “vision is to work in relationship with the wider Body of Christ to engage in the Great Commission, as [they] seek to walk out the two great commandments to love God and people.”
There isn’t much to criticize in that, unless you are by nature a cynical and suspicious person. Although IHOPKC is primarily a place devoted to round-the-clock intercessory prayer, it has grown and expanded over the last 20 years into a multi-faceted ministry center.
(2) Virtually all those who join the staff at IHOPKC raise their own support. They live frugal and comparatively simple lifestyles in order that they might devote themselves wholly to prayer, praise, and the study of God’s Word. At the same time, there have been wealthy individuals around the world who at various times have contributed substantially to IHOPKC and have made possible their purchase of numerous properties that now serve to house several prayer rooms, a coffee shop, a bookstore, an apartment complex, and the school where both men and women are being trained in a variety of biblical disciplines.
(3) If you are wondering what the primary focus is at IHOPKC, it is their commitment to prayer, fasting, the Great Commission, revival, and living as “forerunners” whose desire is to call and prepare the church for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Just as John the Baptist served as a forerunner to prepare for the first coming of Jesus, the people at IHOPKC envision themselves as operating according to that pattern. They don’t claim that the Bible explicitly describes them in this way, but they find in John a principle and a precedent that they have adopted and applied to themselves.
(4) Contrary to what many have said, the leaders at IHOPKC do not believe that everyone is called to be an “intercessory missionary.” They do not suggest that others in the body of Christ who have different gifts and callings are any less devoted to the Lord or are operating at some sort of sub-standard level of spirituality. The tendency for some at IHOPKC to draw unwarranted conclusions about their comparative importance in the body of Christ is no different from the same problem we face in local churches worldwide. But I can assure you that if there is any expression of spiritual elitism or pride at IHOPKC, it is not because Mike Bickle or other leaders have promoted it. Mike has consistently over the years maintained a humble posture. IHOPKC is his calling, but he would never insist it is necessarily yours (much less that it is the calling of all Christians).
(5) Having said that, IHOPKC most assuredly believes (as I do; and as I hope you do) that all believers are called to a lifestyle of prayer, fasting, and worship. Not everyone is expected to live this out in the same manner, but these are normal features of any expression of Christian obedience.
Mike and other leaders look to two individuals in the Bible as providing a pattern for what they believe God has called them to do. They are “Anna, one of the first evangelists and intercessors in the NT, who prayed and fasted for over sixty years before Jesus’ first coming (Lk. 2:37), and King David, who organized and paid 4,000 musicians and 288 singers to worship God night and day (1 Chr. 23:1–25:31).”
It’s important to know that some have criticized Mike and IHOPKC for suggesting that the practice of David in 1 Chronicles has been restored or re-established in the form of what happens in the prayer room. This is not true. They are careful to say that what they are pursuing today is “in the spirit” of what we see in the OT. They find in David and what he set in place a pattern that aids them in their approach to prayer and praise.
(6) As for the practice of fasting, some critics have charged IHOPKC staff members with making this a badge of spirituality, as if those who do not fast with the same regularity as they do are falling short in their commitment to Christ. Again, if this mentality exists among anyone at IHOPKC, it is due to their misunderstanding of Scripture and emotional immaturity, not to the teachings of leadership at IHOP.
Those who join staff at IHOP commit to what they have called the Global Bridegroom Fast. It is held the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of every month during the months of January to November, and the first Monday through Sunday of December, making a total of forty days of fasting each year. Careful guidelines for fasting are available, and if anyone is inclined to view this spiritual discipline as a meritorious work that puts God in their debt, the failure is again on their part and not because leadership at IHOP have promoted this misunderstanding.
(7) Those who join staff (somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 at present, which includes staff, students, and interns), commit to spending 50 hours every week in ministry. The time is divided between extended sessions in the prayer room, studies in the classroom, and works of service in the community and evangelism.
(8) In 2009 the leadership at IHOP committed to combining their prayers for justice with works of justice. At present, this includes such ministries as “inner-city outreach with on-site food distribution, discipleship programs, provision of food and clothing for our children’s outreaches, street clean-up, and a prayer room operating in the inner city ten hours a day, working towards night-and-day prayer [called Hope City]. Other outreaches include Children’s Justice Initiative to serve orphans and children at risk, and Exodus Cry helping victims of human trafficking. [They] are partnering with Women’s Life Center, a local crisis pregnancy center helping women who refuse abortion and choose life. In the future [they] plan to provide homes and restoration programs for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence, and prostitutes who respond to the gospel.”
If I may give you one example of the focus at IHOPKC, my wife and I were present a few weeks ago during the Friday morning prayer and praise service. Following worship and a few prayers by leadership, the microphone was made available to anyone who felt led to pray for the orphans and homeless, specifically asking God to raise up families who will either adopt these kids or take them in as foster children. I wish you could have witnessed the 50 or so people, young and old, who prayed fervently for God’s mercy in this regard. Is that the sort of thing you think should be criticized or ridiculed? Would that we all were as equally committed.
I mention these things because some are under the illusion that the only thing they do at IHOPKC is pray. I dare say that I don’t know of many (any?) local churches that incorporate the wide range of ministry and service activities as does IHOPKC.
If that were not enough, IHOPKC is “committed to raising awareness of modern-day slavery and human trafficking and to helping victims of these injustices. Additionally,” they “send donations and relief teams to areas of the world devastated by natural disasters, e.g. Myanmar Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the Haiti earthquake of 2010, and the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, in 2011.”
(9) The distinctive international flavor of IHOP is seen in their All Nations Prayer Room. This expression of prayer is “staffed by internationals whom the Lord has brought to the International House of Prayer, and currently [is expressed] in nine languages: Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, German, and French.”
(10) If you think IHOP is exclusively for the young, think again, “The Simeon Company is a gathering point for fifty-and-overs, married or single, who desire to give their lives more fully to prayer, worship, service, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of justice.”
(11) Perhaps you wonder what IHOPKC believes in terms of their Statement of Faith. You can read it in full at their website, www.ihopkc.org. But I can probably save you the time by telling you that it was largely written by yours truly! When IHOP first began, Mike adopted the Statement of Faith from Metro Christian Fellowship, where I served on staff for seven years. There are a couple of places in the current document that have been modified to reflect IHOP’s unique theological distinctives, specifically their eschatology (what Mike calls “apostolic premillennialism”). Aside from a few small differences on that point, I can personally and wholeheartedly endorse the Statement as it now exists.
(12) The Bible school at IHOPKC provides tracks of study in numerous areas: theology, music and worship, media (with a focus on film and post-production), preaching, local church leadership, ministries of justice, as well as youth leadership, just to mention a few. They have recently launched a track of study that is taught entirely in Chinese!
(13) Then there is the Night Watch, a team of intercessors who are committed to maintaining intercessory prayer from midnight to 6 a.m., seven days a week. The text that energizes them is Psalm 134 – “Behold, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who by night stand in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord. The Lord who made heaven and earth bless you from Zion!”
(14) Of course, as you would expect, there are numerous opportunities available virtually 24/7 to receive healing prayer and prophetic ministry.
(15) Yes, there is a local church that exists alongside the house of prayer. Forerunner Church hosts services on Friday night as well as two services on Sunday morning. They provide classes for children (ages 1-12) seven days a week, as well as Jr. High and Sr. High ministries (several summer camps are also available). There are small groups to join (called Friendship Groups), evangelistic outreaches in the city, compassion ministries to the hospitals and nursing homes, as well as widows and shut-ins. Other ministries include Codependents Anonymous, a Men’s Purity group, and pre-marital counseling for young couples.
Although I could list numerous other features of the house of prayer, I think what you’ve just read is sufficient to give you a sense for what they are about. Needless to say, over the past 20 years there have been several concerns and criticisms launched against them. I’ll mention those that have been brought to my attention.
Some have accused the people at IHOP of fostering a modern form of Gnosticism. The latter typically takes two expressions. One is a disdain for the routine, mundane tasks and responsibilities of life (holding a steady job, building relationships, getting married and raising children, pursuing an education, etc.) in favor of what is perceived to be a hyper-spirituality. There have undoubtedly been some at IHOP who have put on hold or have altogether forsaken one or more of these pursuits in order to be wholly available to pray and worship. One of the things that supposedly fuels this approach is belief in the imminence of Christ’s return. When that return, or the revival believed to occur in conjunction with it, does not happen, disillusionment can set in.
Once again, though, is this a problem unknown in traditional local churches or other para-church ministries? Probably not. There will always be some who justify their neglect of what we consider to be essential Christian and civic responsibilities, all in the name of one’s single-minded devotion to Jesus. As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, it is probably unavoidable. The question is whether or not Mike Bickle and the leadership at IHOP foster and promote this perspective. I am persuaded they do not.
The second feature of modern-day Gnosticism, in keeping with its name, is the idea that a select group of super-saints are made the recipients of a special knowledge or insight into divine matters that are unattainable or unavailable to average Christians. In a ministry like IHOP where the revelatory gifts of the Spirit are in operation one can only expect that some might be inclined to draw such a conclusion. But I doubt if this is much different from the same tendency that occurs in your typical charismatic congregation. Once again, the issue is primarily whether or not leadership endorses this perspective or warns and teaches against it. And again, I am confident that IHOP leadership would strongly deny ever encouraging this way of living the Christian life or this perspective on what we might call “extra-biblical” (but never anti-biblical) revelation.
It’s not uncommon to find an elitist mentality associated with modern-day expressions of Gnosticism. There is always a tendency to think that, because one has devoted one’s life exclusively to spiritual pursuits and practices, one is a member of a unique and highly favored group among God’s people. Have there been people at IHOP over the years who have given the impression that they regard themselves as more holy and more in love with God than ordinary Christians? Undoubtedly so. Have they then judged or treated with a measure of disdain those who appear not to be as committed to Jesus as they are? Undoubtedly so. But there is nothing in IHOP’s belief system or actual practice that would ever give credence to such a perspective.
Then there is the problem of asceticism, or the idea that true godliness consists primarily in what one doesn’t do, eat, drink, or participate in. To deprive oneself of ordinary physical and relational blessings is believed by some to signal one’s superior holiness. This, of course, has been a problem in Christianity for the last 2,000 years! One need only read Colossians 2:16-23 to see Paul’s analysis and denunciation of this form of asceticism. I suspect that even when a person at IHOP does not embrace this take on the Christian life, the mere fact that he/she lives a somewhat more singularly focused daily existence could be interpreted as an implicit judgment by those who don’t, almost as if outsiders are thinking: “Oh, I bet you think you’re better than I am and closer to God than I am because you pray more than I do and worship more than I do, etc.” And that, notwithstanding the fact that the IHOP participant most likely never once thinks any such thing!
Some have criticized IHOPKC, and Mike Bickle in particular, for his openness to certain expressions of Christian mysticism. We dealt with this issue when I was still in Kansas City and on staff at the church. Mike’s approach has always been to look for the best and most helpful elements in all branches of professing Christianity, at the same time he firmly denounces any aberrant or theologically suspect teachings. Whereas some would reject altogether everything in anyone who is Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, Mike has faithfully exercised discernment in his effort to glean what he can from such diverse expressions of religious experience. I’ve often heard him denounce and warn against the teachings in certain medieval mystics, while at the same time identifying in them those elements that could prove beneficial to our own devotional lives today.
A few over the years have taken offense at what appears to be the failure of certain prophetic promises to come to pass. IHOPKC is the fruit of a number of such prophetic words, many of which have been fulfilled in remarkably supernatural ways. Other such “words” have not as yet come to pass. It’s only natural for Christians to react with confusion, even a measure of disillusionment. But to reject altogether the blessings that IHOP has produced and to despise the gift of prophecy itself because there are as yet unfulfilled promises, is to run afoul of Paul’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. Mike has never insisted that every purported prophetic word was genuinely from God. As Paul reminds us, “we know in part and we prophesy in part” until such time as “the perfect” arrives (1 Cor. 13:9).
Another objection frequently heard is the approach to prayer and praise at IHOPKC. Mike has put in place what he calls the “harp and bowl” model for ministry (see Rev. 5:8), in which prayer and singing are intertwined and inter-dependent. Can it become, at times, overly repetitive? Yes. But if that is the worst that one can say about it, I hardly think it is reason to reject the ministry of IHOP.
I also think that much, if not most, of the concerns that outsiders have with IHOPKC is due to the latter’s charismatic theology and practice of the full range of spiritual gifts. Some cessationists probably are not inclined to find anything of good in this ministry for the simple reason that they believe it is founded upon and promotes what they regard as an unbiblical view of spiritual gifts, a view they are persuaded ultimately undermines the finality and sufficiency of Scripture.
IHOPKC has been criticized for believing in and praying for a global revival in conjunction with the second coming of Christ. I simply don’t understand why this is grounds for so much of the angry criticism they receive. You may not believe that Scripture provides warrant for such a belief, but even then, is it not a good and godly thing to pray for? Christians from a variety of traditions throughout history have held similar views of the end times. IHOP’s approach to the question is not outside the boundaries of what has been deemed orthodox belief.
Related to this point is their belief that the intercessory prayers of the church is one of the main instruments God has chosen to employ for the release of his judgments against an idolatrous and spiritually rebellious world. Perhaps you believe that some have taken this to an extreme, but all of us must reckon fully with what we read in Revelation 8:3-5 (read it now!). We read this on IHOP’s website: “This should not lead to a caricature of renegade believers roaming around calling down judgments as some have portrayed it; however, in dismissing such caricatures, we cannot dismiss the scriptures that indicate a connection between prayer and the release of God’s judgement in the Antichrist’s evil empire. John Piper himself has written:
“The utterly astonishing thing about this text is that it portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument God uses to usher in the end of the world with great divine judgments. It pictures the prayers of the saints accumulating on the altar before the throne of God until the appointed time when they are taken up like fire from the altar and thrown upon the earth to bring about the consummation of God’s kingdom.” (http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-prayers-of-the-saints-and-the-end-of-the-world)
In conclusion, my mind goes back a few weeks to that Friday morning as Ann and I sat in the prayer room in Kansas City. I looked around and said to myself: “Hmm. What’s going on here? Well, I see the very young, the very old, and a lot of middle-aged folk praying, worshiping the Lord, and studying their Bibles. My, my,” I said to myself, “that’s certainly subversive and spiritually unhealthy. We can’t have that going on.” Yes, I’m being sarcastic.
In a time when so many are pursuing every manner of sexual immorality, lobbying for the right to kill unborn babies, and fomenting racial hatred, couldn’t we use a few more passionate people who love Jesus, believe and obey what’s in their Bibles, and delight in extended seasons of praise? I think so. If you don’t, go ahead and tear apart IHOPKC and Mike Bickle. Launch your angry tirades. Pick them apart for the way they devote themselves to the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel.
In the meantime, as someone once said, “I prefer the way they do it, even if it isn’t perfect, to the way you don’t do it!”
[Note: For more information on where IHOPKC stands on certain controversial issues, check out their Affirmations and Denials at the website, www.ihopkc.org.]