In the spring of 2023, accusations were placed in the English media regarding Mike Pilavachi, the founder of Soul Survivor UK. In an earlier statement, we said we were very shocked by these reports and expressed our sympathy to all who have come forward with their stories. We shared the contact details of the research team in England and emphasized that we would cooperate with them. We also indicated that an extensive response would follow when the investigation was completed. The results of the research are now made public. On Thursday, September 6, the Church of England shared the following conclusions from their research:
‘Mike Pilavachi has been found guilty of mental, emotional and psychological (power) abuse. Which was characterized by a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behavior and led to inappropriate relationships. In which, among other things, wrestling with and massaging young male trainees took place*.’
* Mike had two or more interns working with him every year. These have always been young men who accompanied him as a training year to grow in leadership.
As Soul Survivor Holland we want to respond to this situation. We are relationally connected by the name we share and our history with Mike. He was involved in the early days of Soul Survivor Holland (around 1997). Over the years he has been present as a speaker at our festivals. The last time he was with us was in 2015. Even though the investigation took place in England, we believe it is important to respond to this situation. We have not received similar stories in the Netherlands, neither through the Safeguarding team in England, nor through our own relations or the media in the Netherlands or abroad. In a way it feels far away, but also very close. The movement originated in England and Soul Survivor Holland was founded as an independent organization. Due to the origin and relational connection though, we feel responsible to respond to the results of the investigation.
Introduction to our response
Before we respond to the conclusions of the Church of England, there are two things that we consider important to mention:
We want to acknowledge and understand that the news surrounding Mike may provoke a range of reactions. Sadness, fear, anger, misunderstanding, questions, dismay, confusion, and so on. When a leader makes a mistake and disappoints us, it has a huge impact. It is extra difficult when this message brings up disappointment from old pain about other people with an exemplary function. A parent, youth leader, teacher, pastor, or other parental or authoritative figures.
We are aware that everyone has their opinion about this situation and how to respond to it. We try to respond with integrity and love to the pain, complexity and sensitivity of this subject. It is our heart to contribute to justice and recovery. We want to guard against denying and covering up errors. And we also do not want to fall into ‘canceling’ a person who has made mistakes.
In the midst of all the feelings and opinions, we want to keep looking at Jesus. He who has compassion on everyone and committed His name to a broken world. He sees us in all our feelings, mistakes and holds us in our differences. He who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Here below you can read our responses to the various parties involved in this situation. We have translated the responses to the victims and Mike himself into English. And we have sent our reaction to the Safeguarding team with the request to share it with them.
As Soul Survivor Holland, we endorse the importance that an investigation has taken place into the accusations made against Mike Pilavachi. We deeply respect and admire people who have come forward with their stories in England*. That takes a lot of bravery and courage! We want to say to them:
We are aware of and acknowledge the pain and anger you experience. This should not have happened. Leaders should always be concerned about creating a safe space for you to develop as a person and grow in your love for God, the church and this world. It makes us incredibly sad, as the leadership team and board of Soul Survivor Holland, when we think of what happened. It is our hope and prayer that you feel heard in your feelings and receive what you need in your recovery process.
* We have contacted the National Safeguarding Team in England. Throughout the entire investigation, they saw no reason to include Soul Survivor Holland in the investigation.
It is very important that people take action to protect people from unhealthy leadership. And that they find recovery for what happened to them. And yet, the story doesn’t stop there. It is important that we also have attention for the person that has made mistakes. To continue to see their dignity as a human being. We would like to say to Mike:
Now that the results of the research are known, we as a board and leadership team from Soul Survivor Holland would also like to send a message to you. The results of the research evoke all kinds of feelings: disbelief, shock, anger, incomprehension, compassion and especially sadness. We carry unanswered questions about how you look back on the past years and your leadership. We understand that the results will have a big impact on you. The damage caused by the unhealthy aspects of your leadership will undoubtedly feel overwhelming, shameful, and painful for you. During this period, as you are confronted with your imperfections and mistakes, we hope and pray that you feel loved by Jesus at the same time. The most faithful friend, in all the days of our lives. We hope and pray that you too would be heard in your feelings and receive what you need in your recovery process.
We are aware that this news also has an impact on (former) visitors and employees of Soul Survivor Holland. We want to say to them:
In recent months, several of you have contacted us regarding the reports about Mike. Your sadness, anger and disappointment is so understandable and we as a leadership team and board have also felt it. Especially when you have experienced Mike as a role model or when you have felt personally connected to him. We understand very well that this news may confuse you and raise questions. It can impact your trust in leadership, ministries, structures and everything around it. Especially when you have experienced the effects of unhealthy leadership yourself or in those around you. If you would like to talk about this news with us, we kindly ask you to send an email to email@example.com.
Maybe you only came into contact with Soul Survivor Holland in recent years and you don’t know Mike Pilavachi at all. Or you were not aware that Soul Survivor is also located in England and that we carry the same name. We would like to give you some background information, so that you would understand the situation better. As you have read before, Mike Pilavachi is the founder of Soul Survivor. In England, Soul Survivor is a church in Watford and from 1993 to 2019 it organized festivals that attracted tens of thousands of young people.
In 1997 there was the family conference ‘In Your Presence’ in the Netherlands and Mike was one of the speakers. He emphasized that the work of the Holy Spirit is for every believer, regardless of age. He also spoke passionately and with great humor about the grace that Jesus proclaimed on earth. In addition, he was able to demonstrate the work of the Holy Spirit in an accessible (‘naturally supernatural’) way. After that conference, there was a growing desire to establish Soul Survivor Holland. In 1998 we had the first Soul Survivor Festival in the Netherlands. Independent organizations called Soul Survivor also emerged in other countries (including South Africa, New Zealand and America). We had strong relational ties with Mike and the rest of the leadership team at Soul Survivor UK in our early years. This is what we would like to say to our current visitors and volunteers:
Even though you may not know Mike, we still want to reach out to you. To make sure you are informed and because we are aware that this type of news can cause confusion and questions. Especially when you have experienced the effects of unhealthy leadership yourself or around you. If you would like to talk about this news with us, we kindly ask you to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frequently Asked Questions
We have received several responses in the last couple of months. Most of these responses can be boiled down to two questions:
What have been your considerations in terms of reporting on Mike?
What has Soul Survivor Holland become aware of through this situation?
Since we desire to be a place of openness and transparency, we want to address these questions. We are aware that some people will agree with our answers and others do not. We do not answer these questions to justify ourselves. We also do not want to pretend that we do everything perfectly. We hope that our openness will lead to a dialogue about how to deal with painful, complex and sensitive situations like these. It is our prayer and hope that this leads to a healthier emotional and spiritual climate for the next generation.
Why are you only now providing an extensive response?
When reports about Mike appeared in the news, we decided to wait with an extensive response. We did not want to anticipate the research and instead chose to first wait for the results. We did not want to draw any conclusions from the media reports. This is the statement we posted at the time:
‘As Soul Survivor Holland, we are shocked by the reports surrounding Mike Pilavachi. It saddens us and we find it very painful. We think of and pray for all parties involved. Soul Survivor Holland is an independent organization. We carry the same name and are relationally connected. We would like to emphasize that the independent investigation into the allegations is still ongoing. We await the results of this. Mike Pilavachi has been a speaker at several festivals in the past and was last with us in 2015. We have offered our cooperation to the National Safeguarding Team, if they deem it desirable. If people would like to share their experience with Mike Pilavachi, they can contact the National Safeguarding Team in England. This team can be reached via email@example.com.’
Why haven’t you communicated on your socials or website before?
We asked ourselves several questions when the news about Mike came out. What message do we want to communicate now? Who do we want to reach and which outlets increase the likelihood that we reach them? We eventually distributed an initial statement in April 2023. We believed it was important that former visitors and employees in particular read this. We estimated that we could best reach them through the Dutch media and our own network. Our social media channels and the website are mainly visited by young people and current visitors, often people who do not know Mike. We finally referred to the statement in our newsletter before the summer, because the results of the research took longer than we expected.
It has become clear to us that we had no insight on the situation in England. To the outside world we appear to be one organization, but we are separate and we are not accountable to each other. We will have to discuss this with each other and with leadership in England in the coming months.
It is important to continue evaluation of leadership structure and culture periodically.
We endorse the importance of an external safeguarding team and confidential counselor within our organization for visitors, volunteers and leaders. We will continue to actively communicate about those to our team of volunteers and visitors.