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Matt Redman speaks on film about Pilavachi’s conduct

09 April 2024

Former worship leader at Soul Survivor describes experiences

Phos Media LLC

Matt Redman speaks in the documentary Let There Be Light

Matt Redman speaks in the documentary Let There Be Light

THE first worship leader at Soul Survivor, Matt Redman, has described how Mike Pilavachi would wrestle him, directly after counselling him about the sexual abuse that he had experienced as a child.

He has previously described enduring “harmful behaviours” from Mr Pilavachi, the founder of Soul Survivor who was found by the National Safeguarding Team to have exhibited “coercive and controlling behaviour” that led to inappropriate relationships, the physical wrestling of youths, and the massaging of young male interns (News, 8 September 2023).

In a video, “Let there be light”, published on his own Youtube account on Tuesday, Mr Redman provides more detail about his experience. He also answers questions about his reasons for remaining at Soul Survivor for so long, and how Mr Pilavachi’s behaviour was allowed to continue. Last year, he described being “ignored, patronised or gaslit by those in leadership” (News, 14 July 2023).

Now aged 50, and a Grammy-award-winning songwriter (News, 12 August 2016), Mr Redman was 13 when he first Mr Pilavachi, the youth leader at St Andrew’s, Chorleywood. In the video, Mr Redman recalls how, during a youth weekend away, he told Mr Pilavachi that he was being sexually abused. Mr Pilavachi helped him to go to the authorities.

Mr Redman was seven when his father took his own life. His stepfather was imprisoned for sexual abuse.

“It’s an interesting thing for me, because, I think, because of that, I had an undying loyalty to him,” Mr Redman reflects, concerning Mr Pilavachi’s response to his disclosure. “He started to counsel me about my sexual abuse, which, looking back, I don’t feel awesome about, because he wasn’t a trained counsellor. . . I was telling the deepest, darkest things, and he was asking me for the details of what happened.

“The real problematic thing to me about that is he would often wrestle me afterwards. Wrestling was definitely his thing. I know a lot of people who were physically wrestled by Mike. Honestly, it was quite often in a hidden room in the church, or it would be round his house, away from everyone. Looking back, I don’t feel great about that. It didn’t feel good at the time. I didn’t really like physical touch that much, because of what had happened to me.”

The video includes contributions from Mr Redman’s wife, Beth Redman. The two met at the Soul Survivor church in Watford. Mrs Redman is also a songwriter, and led Soul Sista, a ministry affiliated to Soul Survivor and aimed at teenage girls. She is the author of several books, including Soul Sista: How to be a girl of God (Hodder & Stoughton, 2000). The couple now live in California.

In the video, Mrs Redman describes a pattern of behaviour that has been reported by others who worked for Mr Pilavachi at Soul Survivor, including “ghosting” (News, 9 February 2024). After an initial warm relationship, she was ignored for months: “I felt like I was shrinking as a person.” After coming to the conclusion that her “boss” and “spiritual leader” was “effectively bullying me”, she went to her GP for help. When she told Mr Pilavachi that she could no longer work for him, his reply was: “I’m Greek.”

She describes how both she and Mr Redman were “frozen out” after going on a date, during which Mr Pilavachi had been unable to contact Mr Redman on the phone. The “silent treatment” had lasted for months after their engagement, until the night before their wedding.

“At first, it feels like, he would bring you in,” Mr Redman recalls. “But then, it would go to the complete opposite, where you’d be completely shut out and silent treatment, stonewalled.” On one occasion, this response had been triggered by Mr Redman’s adding a worship song to a set without first checking with Mr Pilavachi. He describes how, during one trip with Mr Pilavachi, during which they shared a ferry cabin, Mr Pilavachi had spoken to him only to answer yes or no questions about the songs, or other practical matters.

Among Mr Redman’s songs is “The Heart of Worship”, a song about Soul Survivor’s emphasis on worship directed towards God rather than performance (News, 9 June 2023). Earlier this year, a former Soul Survivor intern told the Soul Survivors podcast that Mr Pilavachi had demanded “humility” from those seeking to lead worship. The intern recalled spending “ten years just trying to train myself to be smaller” (News, 9 February).

Over the years, celebrated worship leaders have emerged from Soul Survivor, including the Revd Tim Hughes, now Priest-in-Charge of St Luke’s, Birmingham (News, 5 May 2023).

In response to Mr Redman’s video, Mr Hughes, and his brother, the Revd Pete Hughes, pioneer minister at King’s Cross Church, known as KXC, issued a statement on Instagram. They confirmed that they had spoken to both the National Safeguarding Team and the independent review currently being carried out by Fiona Scolding KC (News, 9 February).

They wrote: “The ministry of Soul Survivor holds a special place in our hearts. We saw God move in remarkable ways among thousands of young people. Mike was a spiritual father figure, mentoring us from our early teenage years through to us both serving in leadership positions at Soul Survivor. His influence, investment, and teaching in our lives were significant.

“However, much like others, we also both experienced what we now know to be psychological and spiritual abuse at the hands of Mike Pilavachi. Whilst under his leadership we also experienced the wrestling and massages that have been well documented.

“These events have caused years of pain and confusion. Over the last 20 years we’ve both been on journeys of healing from the abuse we experienced, through counselling, prayer ministry and a process of acknowledging the abuse and choosing to forgive.”

They wrote that, in 2004, they “confronted Mike regarding his damaging behaviour and then subsequently brought it to the attention of the Chairman of the Soul Survivor Ministries Trustees. . . Unfortunately, the process was not received well and our concerns were not taken seriously, leading to breakdowns in relationship and eventually to both of us leaving Soul Survivor soon after. We’ve both been deeply saddened to learn of the stories of abuse that have continued since that time.”

The Redmans stayed at Soul Survivor until 2002. In the years after, they joined church-plants, including The Point, in West Sussex, and Passion City Church, in Atlanta, Georgia. They returned to the UK to join St Peter’s, Brighton, a church-plant of Holy Trinity, Brompton, in 2010.

In the new video, Mr Redman says that “the hardest question to answer is why I stayed around so long — and it’s actually very complicated and nuanced. I’m this 13-year-old boy who’s been rescued out of being sexually abused; so I had this undying loyalty to him, for sure. And also you love what God’s doing through this ministry. You’ve got this amazing groundswell, this momentum, at a time when they say young people are leaving the Church. We had tens of thousands of young people journey with us, and it was just very evident God was breathing on this. It didn’t feel like human momentum: it felt like something beyond that. . . I honestly wish I had left a lot earlier than I did. I don’t feel I protected my wife very well.”

Mrs Redman says: “You tried to stay because you were passionate about the people, and the mission and the ministry. We loved Mike, and wanted to be in ministry with him.”

During their time at Soul Survivor, young men who worked for Mr Pilavachi sought help from the Redmans. Mrs Redman recalls: “There was a cycle: there was a pattern of these precious people coming and going, these young guys coming to live with Mike. They would come to be his intern, they would live in his house, and they were starting to have this same experience. . .

“We wanted to help them, and they would come to us. The chaps went to the chair of the trustees, just said, ‘This is what is happening,’ and described these patterns of behaviour that had been going on, at this point, for quite a few years, and basically, in summary, [he] just said ‘You are silly boys. You need to grow up.’

“It was completely shut down. It wasn’t validated, wasn’t concerning; it was a maturity issue. That was really brutal. And the last thing you want is for someone to suggest you are causing trouble, or being disruptive, or it’s on you. It’s a very shaming, confusing moment. . . So off we all went.”

She goes on to describe how, years later, after the Soul Survivor festivals ended in 2019, and in the wake of the pandemic, someone came to Mr Redman with “a really horrifying story that took it to a different level”. The person was speaking on behalf of ten interns who had been massaged in their underwear on Mr Pilavachi’s bed. At this point, the couple had approached a “senior leader” at a church in London. The person had said: “That’s just Mike: nothing will be done.” This was a phrase used many times, Mr Redman says.

Eventually, Dr Amy Orr-Ewing, a former President of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA), helped the couple to report Mr Pilavachi’s abuse. In the video, Mrs Redman says that she had been unaware of the existence of the National Safeguarding Team. “I would have definitely gone to them earlier, had I known.”

In 2022, Dr Orr-Ewing said that she regretted not “pushing harder” when sexual-abuse allegations against Ravi Zacharias, the founder of OCCA, first emerged (News, 15 February 2021). In the video, she says that “misuses of power” are “endemic in the Church”, and describes how some of the survivors of Mr Pilavachi’s abuse have lost their faith in God.

Both Mr and Mrs Redman speak positively about the Soul Survivor movement. Mr Redman describes himself as being “privileged” to have been a worship leader at the beginning. “Those years were very, very special. It just felt like God was breathing on something. It was amazing seeing tens of thousands of young people come together, usually over a thousand people at the summer festivals becoming Christians. No doubt, to me this was something God was doing, and it was an absolute thrill and a joy to be part of it.”

But, he also suggests, Mr Pilavachi “got away with a lot more than he would have” as a result of the apparent success of the movement. He describes as a “huge lesson” that “if you hear about abuse, you have to report it: it doesn’t matter who the person is.”

Mrs Redman says: “There’s been so much providence and so many precious people connected to Soul Survivor that we have got to do life with, and be friends with. So much good has come from it, but there has been so much pain and so much damage.”

She explains that the title of the video is a prayer that she has repeated over the years: “God, I don’t know what to do. There are all these people going to the festivals. This is wonderful. There are all these people coming to faith. Nobody wants to tear that down; nobody wants to hurt the Church. I don’t even want to hurt Mike. I just want this to stop.”

Mr Redman says: “Jesus is an expert on bringing things to the light, and I think that’s what’s happening in this whole process. I don’t think it’s because ‘Oh, finally this thing came out.’ I think Jesus is doing this. I think this is Jesus cleaning up his Church, and bringing something into the light that needed to be in the light. . . This isn’t about forgiveness. I’ve forgiven Mike. This is about accountability.”

The video contains quotations from survivors of Mr Pilavachi’s abuse. They include one from a former intern who, on disclosing past sexual abuse trauma to Mr Pilavachi, was met with “anger that I hadn’t told him sooner”. They had been kept “at arm’s length” until they apologised, and had subsequently undergone years of psychotherapy.

The video ends with a notice reporting that “close to 150 people have identified themselves as victims,” and that Mr Pilavachi “has not been subject to significant sanctions by the Church”. Earlier this year, it was announced that he had received a “written warning” under the Clergy Discipline Measure (News, 26 January).

On Thursday, a Church of England spokesperson confirmed that “the investigation into the concerns raised relating to Bishop Graham Cray, for failing to pass on information in the Mike Pilavachi case has concluded and under House of Bishops guidance, appropriate risk management steps are being taken. We cannot say anymore at this stage.”

Bishop Cray, a former Bishop of Maidstone, held roles as the Archbishops’ missioner and team leader of Fresh Expressions. He was the chair of Soul Survivor, serving as a director from 2000 until his resignation in 2020.

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