British charismatic Christian evangelist and author, Mike Pilavachi, co-founder and former leader of the Soul Survivor charity in Watford, England, has been suspended from ministry as of April 2023 due to an ongoing investigation into safeguarding concerns. The suspension comes amid revelations that ministry leaders in the U.K. knew about allegations concerning Pilavachi for nearly two decades but did nothing.
Pilavachi played a crucial role in establishing Soul Survivor in 1993 along with worship leader Matt Redman. He also founded Soul Survivor Watford and is a recipient of a prestigious Lambeth Award from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The festival attracted crowds of about 30,000 between 1993 and 2019.
In April 2023, Soul Survivor Watford announced that Mike Pilavachi had stepped back from all ministry while safeguarding concerns were investigated. Pilavachi also resigned from the church board and all related charity boards at the time. However, on Saturday, Soul Survivor Watford released a new statement, saying it had suspended Pilavachi, its associate pastor, “with immediate effect” while the investigation continues. The statement added, “It has been clear that this more decisive action should have been made earlier and we have acted to correct this now.”
Originally described as “non-recent,” more recent concerns have come to light. The Daily Telegraph reports the allegations spanning at least three decades, with some as recent as 2020. Concerns regarding Pilavachi’s relationships behavior were first brought up in 2004 but left unaddressed.
The allegations involve “inappropriate massages” and “inappropriate intimate relationships” with young adults participating in the Soul61 Christian gap year project. A story published by The Daily Telegraph also claims some victims were encouraged to receive full-body oil massages in their underwear and engage in lengthy wrestling matches.
Pilavachi has been accused of running “a cult” in which young men received full-body massages on his bed and were pressured to engage in extended wrestling matches. Survivors claim Pilavachi abused them spiritually and psychologically, leaving “a trail of broken, young male adults scattered all around the world.”
Paul Martin, founder of Soul Survivor USA, reported hearing about allegations in 2002, corroborating further claims of inappropriate behavior with UK leadership. Some former staff members describe a pattern of young men aged around 18 to 21 from troubled backgrounds being manipulated.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, announced his full support for the investigation in May 2023 amidst critiques of the Church of England’s internal inquiry process and his delayed response to the situation.