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Takeaway for those who don’t know about IHOP – use caution when following Christian movements
Takeaway for those who do – urge caution as well as redefining IHOP’s mission

If you are not familiar with the International House of Prayer (IHOP), it is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week prayer and worship ministry in Kansas City, Missouri that started in 1999. To get a feel for the size of the ministry, their annual youth conference has around 25,000 attendees and their main prayer room is on television somewhere in the world round the clock. Mike Bickle, the leader, is a wonderful man who has an exceptional gift for calling people to devote their lives to Jesus. From ’99 through about 2010 I was heavily invested in their ministry – going to most of their conferences, reading their materials, listening to hundreds of sermons, as were many of my Charismatic friends. One of his main messages during that time was that God was going to raise up thousands of houses of prayer all over the Earth.

This week I listened to Bickle’s message entitled “Toronto: The Convergence of the Missions and Prayer Movements.” In this message, from 20:10 – 26:30, he radically redefines the latter part of this message.  He says, “A house of prayer is not what I’m doing in Kansas City with IHOP – the International House of Prayer…That is not the house of prayer in Kansas City.” What?! Instead, “the house of prayer in Kansas City is the whole body of Christ, the thousand congregations that call on the name of Jesus in truth.”  As to the number of ministries like IHOP, he said “I don’t believe it will be thousands. I believe it will be tens.” At 23:50 – 24:30 of the message he relates why IHOP can be bad for the prayer movement. “If they come and want to be IHOP we’ve probably set them back ten years.” Indeed.

To clarify – houses of prayer are the local churches in a city who truly trust in Jesus and prayer. Houses of prayer, like IHOP, are not houses of prayer, but instead are boot camps to train people to live lives of prayer and then send them out to their cities to live the message in the local church.

Everyone I know who heard Bickle preach in the early days assumed that he meant that there would be thousands of IHOPs all over the world. This message pained me because I know many people who devoted their lives and fortunes to implementing Mike Bickle’s message, and suffered badly. The problem is not what he says in this message – I like the idea of having regional prayer boot camps where people can learn how to cultivate lives of prayer and then get sent out – the problem is that he said this in 2010, not 1999. The problem is that he didn’t say sorry. In the message, he repeatedly says things like “I say this all the time.” Maybe he said those things in private conversations, but not in public. At least, that’s not the way anyone I know understood him. At the very least, he should acknowledge that using the phrase “house of prayer” to mean two different things without ever clarifying which one you are talking about is poor communication.

Be careful about giving your heart to a movement that isn’t pastorally oriented, meaning the organization is more important than the people in the organization. Some ministries churn through people, particularly ones that are good at drawing people as those who leave can always be replaced. Also, don’t give your life to a message that isn’t absolutely clear in the Bible. In this case, in my city of 100,000 we had two or three ministries at one time trying to set up a 24/7 prayer room based on their understanding of Bickle’s message.  They all ended in frustration, as Mike says they would (after the fact).

For leaders, be quick to say you’re sorry. We are all human, and apologizing for failures, even unintentional failures, is a sign of strength not weakness.

Why I Am Still Going to Learn From IHOP
Having read the above you might assume that I don’t like IHOP or Mike Bickle. Actually, I love both the ministry and the man. Modeling sustainable, continual prayer and worship is incredibly helpful and important. There is value there, and if we cut off every ministry that does something poorly we will be staying home on Sunday morning. Recognize that every ministry has pluses and minuses as the ministers are broken people just like us. Receive the good things and reject the bad things.