Is the International House of Prayer a Cult?

A few days ago I came across an interesting article that a friend shared on Facebook: a blog essentially arguing that the International House of Prayer is a cult.  I know very little about IHOP and my general reaction to such articles is that there is usually a couple nuggets of truth mixed with a whole lot of exaggeration.  That’s about all I have to say on it, but fortunately the friend that posted the link was in a similar internship with the Zadok House of Prayer and she agreed to be this site’s first ever guest-blogger!  Check out what she had to say (and if the colour choices are hard to read, let me know and I’ll try something else):So I recently read this blog about how IHOP is a cult, and it was written by a past IHOP intern. I went to ZHOP – the Zadok House of Prayer for an internship 3 years ago, and I didn’t think it was cult like at all. ZHOP is a plant from IHOP and was run by Kirk Bennett who is the founder of 7thunders ministries, and I went to ZHOP for their THIRST internship after my first year of university. The writer set out a few reasons why they thought it was a cult, and how their personal experience backed that up. I guess I’ll just go through the same things, sum up their experiences, and add my experiences as well =)

The reasons are numbered and bolded, the writer’s response is in red (as it was on the original blog, although I’ve summarized and paraphrased their thoughts), and mine are in purple (because purple is my favourite colour…).

  1. A destructive cult tends to be totalitarian in its control of its members’ behaviour. Cults tend to dictate in detail what members believe, wear, eat, when and where members work, sleep and bathe, and how members think, speak and conduct familial, marital or sexual relationships

The writer shared how their days as an intern were closely monitored and that they were unable to leave the IHOP premises without express verbal permission from a community leader except on their days off (This is pretty much word for word…) They share how their days started early, and ended late, and that sleep for them was minimal and un-restful. They then shared a bit about sleep deprivation tactics and how it is a commonly used tactic by cults as it makes a person more susceptible to embracing the doctrines taught by said cult.

Well, when I was at ZHOP, my days were long too. They started early at times, and usually ended late – but I knew that going in. It was also not any earlier or any later than days I already pulled at University and in many ways were easier. Yes, I had mandatory prayer room time and class time, but I was informed of all this before I even signed up for the internship – and what I did during the prayer room was pretty much my decision. At times there was a purpose for the set (sets were what we called the 2 hour blocks that the worship teams rotated in), but usually those purposes were because of a recent crisis such as earthquake or something – things that I would have been praying for even if I wasn’t at ZHOP “forced” to be in a prayer room.

At ZHOP I was allowed to go wherever I wanted, provided I was where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there. No one told me that I couldn’t leave the premises, and no one told me that I wasn’t allowed to go places on my days off. I was renting a room from a very nice family and they gave me all the privacy I wanted while still being extremely welcoming and helpful, and also let me sleep as I wanted. They also gave me quite the comfy bed. =)

As for what I was allowed to wear – pretty much anything I wanted to within reason. I mean, I didn’t dress like I was going clubbing (ha! I don’t even go clubbing, nor do I have “clubbing clothes”), but I dressed in tank tops, short shorts, jeans, skirts – anything. Nothing different from any moderate Christian group out there, I don’t think. I was able to eat what, when and where I wanted to as long as it didn’t interfere with my commitments, and ample time was provided to do so – so it’s not as if they were trying to stop me from eating by not giving me time. I took showers at the house I was staying in whenever the bathroom was free and all my relationships were as I would like them to be. No one told me I should leave my family and join ZHOP, no one told me I shouldn’t speak to non-ZHOP-ers, and no one told me I should be speaking to certain people.

  1. A destructive cult tends to have an ethical double standard. Members are urged to be obedient to the cult, to carefully follow cult rules. They are also encouraged to be revealing and open in the group, confessing all to the leaders. On the other hand, outside the group they are encouraged to act unethically, manipulating outsiders or non-members, and either deceiving them or simply revealing very little about themselves or the group. In contrast to destructive cults, honourable groups teach members to abide by one set of ethics and act ethically and truthfully in all situations.

The writer mentions how there was a strict disciplinarian process and how “punishments” would mean, at a minimum, losing their day off and having to do manual labour. They had to participate in weekly groups where they were “interrogated” and pressured to open up and share their personal struggles etc. They also mentioned that they had weekly journaling assignments that they were forced to complete and then discuss with a leader – in addition to any revelations that they had received from God. The writer mentioned that a lot of the “prophetic” seemed to directly correlate with what they had written in their journal.

We had a discipline system as well, but it was pretty much, if you broke a rule, that you were informed of, then you would have to forfeit your day off to help around the building, or to help out another member. It wasn’t “manual labour” in the traditional sense, it was more like chores. We had times scheduled into our schedule where we were supposed to help out the family that we were staying with however they wished. Usually I ended up babysitting their kid – and seriously, what future teacher wouldn’t want to spend a morning with a cute kid? =)

Having worked on residence as a Discipline Facilitator, I can tell you that being “punished” by babysitting a kid, or by vacuuming the place where you living is pretty much as lax as it can get. Working for the university, I could fine kids up to $300 for having their music too loud…I could have them pick up garbage around campus, I could have them write essays…When I worked in summer camp, we “punished” 10yr olds by making them do a minimum of 100 push-ups…

As for the rest of it, I have nothing. I didn’t have any mandatory journal assignments, nor any weekly meetings – in a group or individually. People would come and check up on me occasionally and they would ask if I wanted to talk, and always reassured me that they were there if I wanted to discuss anything. Never, however, was I forced to write anything, speak to anyone or let anyone read my personal diary.

  1. A destructive cult has only two basic purposes: recruiting new members and fund-raising. Destructive cults may claim to make social contributions, but in actuality such claims are superficial and only serve as gestures or fronts for recruiting and fundraising. A cult’s real goal is to increase the prestige and often the wealth of the leader.

The writer talks about an underlying pressure to bring people into IHOP and how there were always huge campaigns to recruit new interns. They talk about how they weren’t allowed to have jobs and still had to pay what they felt was an unfair fee for what they were getting.

I never felt any pressure to bring people into ZHOP, nor did I see any huge campaigns to recruit new interns. I actually approached them because I wanted to do an internship there after they had come to my church for a weekend advance (we don’t call them retreats at my church).

As for the fees, I paid 1000 for the month. Just over 500 of that was for the rent, which is pretty much what I pay now, except that now I have to pay to do laundry and for internet as well – so that was actually better in terms of rent. The rest was used for the materials that I got, and general upkeep of the building or whatnot. Whatever. I got a lot of great materials that I still have and refer to and it wasn’t that much in terms of money. Compared to what I pay for university stuff, I think it was more than fair.

  1. A destructive cult appears to be innovative and exclusive. The leader claims to be breaking with tradition, offering something novel, and instituting the ONLY viable system for change that will solve life’s problems or the world’s ills. But these claims are empty and are only used to recruit members who are then surreptitiously subjected to mind control to inhibit their ability to examine the actual validity of the claims of the leader and the cult.

The writer said that Mike Bickle used a lot of “them and us” statements and that they were given a sense of being on the “cutting edge” because they were ahead of the church and were doing something new and innovative that was going to sweep the world. They say that it sounded good so everyone wanted to be in on it as a “forerunner” and liked the label of being on the front lines and therefore no one dared to question it.

…I didn’t get the vibe that we were an exclusive group…I got that we were different and there were some things that were definitely innovative I suppose, but I don’t think they were wrong =P Never did I think that this was the ONLY way, and never was that presented to me. I don’t think anyone tried to seize control of my mind or that my ability to examine the validity of what was being taught to me was inhibited. While I was at ZHOP, questions were encouraged and often when I asked questions people were more than willing to discuss with me what I thought, and why I thought it. Sometimes, we just agreed that neither of us were wrong, and that our opinions simply differed.

  1. A destructive cult is authoritarian in its power structure. The leader is regarded as the supreme authority. He or she may delegate certain power to a few subordinates for the purpose of seeing that members adhere to the leader’s wishes. There is no appeal outside his or her system to a greater system of justice. In a destructive cult, the leader claims to have the only and final ruling on all matters.

The writer goes into how they knew a family who started to question Mike Bickle’s teachings and wanted to speak to him. Mike apparently just brushed them off and eventually just told them that “this is how we do things here. This is just how IHOP is. It’s not for everyone.” Apparently there was no accountability for things deemed unbiblical or wrong and that in order to understand the IHOP culture you had to assimilate yourself into it.

When I was at ZHOP this was radically different. We always had to biblically back up our views and what we thought, and things were always open for discussion. That being said, they weren’t going to change how they were doing things, just because a 19yr old girl thought it was wrong – and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Everything that they presented they were able to back up biblically. Nevertheless, I’ve been to mega churches where the pastor’s words are taken almost on par as the Bible, and that has always bugged me, but I didn’t get that sense at ZHOP at all.

  1. A destructive cult’s leader is a self-appointed messianic person claiming to have a special mission in life. For example, leaders of flying saucer cults claim that beings from outer space have commissioned them to lead people away from earth, so that only the leaders can save them from impending doom.

According to the writer, they were forced to listen to the history of IHOP on tapes, that young people are being set up for disillusionment as they are set up to believe that they enjoy the “high” of God’s presence 24/7 and that can be all that they live for. They also claim that the primary target is youth and that they are told that if they don’t fit in at their own churches, then it’s because they’re on the cutting edge, that they are called to be leaders and that IHOP will train them to be such. The writer goes on to say that once leaving, they experienced a type of “culture shock” as they could not function in the “real world.”

Ummm…yeah. None of this was true for me. I wasn’t indoctrinated with ZHOP or IHOP’s history, and I still have no idea exactly how ZHOP came to be. I did enjoy God’s presence, but no one made me feel like that was how it was going to be ALL the time, I didn’t go there to be a world leader, or because I didn’t fit in with my youth group or church. And I had no problems functioning once leaving…

  1. A destructive cult’s leader centers the veneration of members upon himself or herself. Priests, rabbis, ministers, democratic leaders and other leaders of genuinely altruistic movements focus the veneration of adherents on God or a set of ethical principles. Cult leaders, in contrast, keep the focus of love, devotion, and allegiance on themselves.

…The writer didn’t say anything as they didn’t want to be redundant.

While I was at ZHOP, I rarely heard Mike Bickle’s name, and no one religiously followed anyone other than Christ. It was very Bible-based.

  1. A destructive cult’s leader tends to be determined, domineering and charismatic. Such a leader effectively persuades followers to abandon or alter their families, friends and careers to follow the cult. The leader then takes control over followers’ possessions, money, time and lives.

The writer says that many youth simply up and leave their families and give up a ton of stuff to be part of IHOP.

Maybe that’s true, but I think that can be said for any religious movement. I talked through it with my family, most of my funds came from my parents’ friends, and I raised all the funds in a week. It was truly a blessing from God.

Conclusion

I don’t know what goes on at IHOP, I wasn’t there except for a OneThing Conference in 2006, and that was amazing! But it was also only for a few days. I was however at ZHOP, and at least there, things were great, and very Bible-based. There were rules, but nothing I wasn’t aware of before going and those that I weren’t aware of were very reasonable. There was a schedule, but I knew of it before entering, and was even warned that it might be slightly gruelling, however it was nothing that a healthy person my age wouldn’t be able to handle – in fact, there was an older woman doing the same internship I was, and she kept up fine with the schedule. Naturally, there were things that were different from what I was used to, but nothing that was life shattering.

In the comments of this post some people mentioned the lifestyle of fasting and how many people were forced into fasting. While that may or may not be true at IHOP, it wasn’t at ZHOP, and I was never forced to fast – I was informed that others may be fasting, but no one looked down upon me for not fasting food completely. Some people weren’t allowed to fast food, but were encouraged to fast other things if they wanted to participate – said people were those who were pregnant, had previously fallen victim to eating disorders or had other health issues.

People also mentioned stuff about raising funds and how key people within IHOP were getting salaries and then raising funds on top of that. I don’t know how IHOP works, but as part of a missionary family, my parents have to raise their own funds, and they also have a salary – but they have to raise their salary. The reason they have a salary is so that they don’t fall victim to greed and focus on raising funds instead of serving God. Maybe IHOP is different, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I had a great internship at ZHOP, and that I grew a LOT from it and was truly blessed by their ministry, teachings and community.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.