*** DEBUG END ***

Angela Tilby: Soul Survivor proves point of institutional Church

19 April 2024

Soul Survivor

A Soul Survivor event at Strafford Showground in 2019 

A Soul Survivor event at Strafford Showground in 2019 

I HAVE now watched Matt and Beth Redman’s YouTube video describing their relationship with Mike Pilavachi during their years at Soul Survivor (News, 12 April). This youth-focused mission grew from New Wine, one of several ministries with origins at St Andrew’s, Chorleywood. Soul Survivor illustrates the way in which Evangelical/Charismatic life operates in the C of E through links that are more associational and personal than institutional. Everyone knows everyone else, and the appeal is of a loving, warm, and Spirit-filled alternative family — and this is where problems can lie.

Mr Redman, initially warmly welcomed by Mr Pilavachi, was one of a number of young men who found themselves pressured to take part in weird wrestling games with him — an extraordinary request, as Mr Redman had previously suffered serious sexual abuse. He was further confused by Mr Pilavachi’s behaviour: on-stage brilliance, followed by silence and sulks. There was a trip abroad when Mr Pilavachi spoke to Mr Redman only with “Yes” and “No.”

Meanwhile, thousands of young people, some of them vulnerable, were being drawn in by Mr Pilavachi’s magnetism. Mr Redman still wants to believe that God was working through Soul Survivor; after all, he witnessed the signs and wonders and conversions, and believes that the Spirit was indeed moving mightily during Soul Survivor festivals.

There is no easy explanation of how a manipulative leader can still draw people to a genuine faith. Perhaps, when God is working, evil launches a counter-offensive. But I also suspect that there is something wrong with the model on which Soul Survivor was based.

Its associational nature meant that it trusted itself and other shadowy organisations of renewal, not “inherited” church, which many Charismatic Evangelicals despise. Apparent manifestations of the Spirit are enough to confirm God’s approval. Yet scripture would suggest (read Acts) that genuine evangelism is not a festival, but a struggle: an argument with pagan culture and, finally, an invitation to martyrdom. When Mr Pilavachi was finally ordained, it seemed more in acknowledgment of his evangelistic success than as a result of any normal discernment process.

If there are any green shoots of new life for the C of E in this sad story, it is the hope that at least some of those harmed by Soul Survivor might find richer soil, where the life of the Spirit is manifested in sane structures, accountability, and what the Prayer Book describes as the Spirit’s gift: “a right judgement in all things”. The institutional Church might not hug you close, but at least it has mechanisms for reporting when the hugs turn abusive. If Charismatics do not trust the institution, they should at least have the humility to apply the same distrust to themselves. Meanwhile, one can only hope that Matt Redman continues to enrich us with his music and his ten thousand reasons to bless the Lord.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available



The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)