In this article we want to help youth leaders think about how to care for themselves and others, in light of allegations made against Mike Pilavachi, in the press and on social media. Youthscape seeks to serve young people and their leaders, so we primarily feel that it is important to offer guidance in this way. However we also want to acknowledge our long association and friendship with Soul Survivor and Mike Pilavachi. In seeking to be fully transparent, we also want to clarify some particulars about the connections between our organisations; you’ll find these in Section 2.
Mike Pilavachi’s influence is such that a significant proportion of Christians in the UK and beyond will feel some connection to the ministry of Soul Survivor. Most directly that includes young people who went to the festivals until 2019, adults who took young people to Soul Survivor events, and of course parents, youth workers and other adults who went to the festivals when they were teenagers themselves. For those working and leading in youth ministry, the connections are multiple.
While the investigation is ongoing it is not possible or appropriate to comment on what the conclusion might be, or what that will mean. However, we can acknowledge that there are a number of people who have taken the very courageous step of talking about their experiences and whose testimonies need to be heard and taken seriously. We can also acknowledge the wider significance of what is happening now, and the ways it affects us and those we care for.
For those who are in Christian youth work, the news raises questions, and will have provoked a range of feelings and thoughts. Some of these questions might be practical and some theological. We might feel worried, uncertain, angry, curious, confused, ambivalent or afraid. Our thoughts may take us back in time to certain memories, to people in our lives right now, or to imagined futures. And for some young people and adults, the news of such an investigation recalls other particular painful or traumatic experiences.
In this article, we aren’t seeking to speculate about what is going on, but to encourage you to acknowledge your very valid thoughts and feelings, and to find a safe context to express these. As we do this for ourselves, we are better equipped to create supportive contexts for others to do the same, including young people and parents. In order to discuss this, we’ve decided to address some of the questions that have been articulated, publicly and privately, about the situation:
SECTION 1: FOR YOUTH LEADERS
1. The investigation is ongoing, and we don’t know anything for sure. Isn’t it better not to say anything for now?
Guesswork about what is going on and assumptions about the outcomes don’t help – whether privately or publicly. It’s important we all respect the limits of our knowledge about this situation. Instead of trying to fill in the blanks of what we don’t know, we can talk about what we do know: the information that’s in the public domain, and what we think and feel personally.
It's up to each individual and organisation to decide whether, and how, they acknowledge and discuss the investigation. But we don’t think it helps to stay silent. Doing so can communicate that it’s not ok to acknowledge safeguarding concerns or allegations, especially when they relate to high-profile and powerful people. We should also acknowledge the possibility that there could be those in our churches who may have allegations or information about this current investigation. Details of who to contact can be found at the bottom of this article.
2. How do I process this myself?
A good place to start is to notice, acknowledge and accept what you think and feel at this point (which may evolve as time passes and more information comes to light).
This news is likely to be disorientating. It could be causing us to question memories or experiences of the festivals we hold dear. We might feel disappointed, angry, or betrayed hearing that someone we trust is under investigation in this way. Some of us might be concerned about the potential of speculation or discussion to destroy Mike Pilavachi’s reputation. Other investigations or similar news might come to mind, leaving us wondering what is going on with so many of our leaders? We may find ourselves reflecting on our own relationships and boundaries, thinking about the times we’ve got these right or wrong, or how we’ve experienced safeguarding incidents in the past.
You might be thinking about all or none of these. But wherever you find yourself, we would encourage you to talk it through with someone you trust.
We would also encourage you to reflect with God. Prayer is not a replacement for necessary social, emotional or institutional processes when there are allegations of abuse. There will be the need for many kinds of support, reflection and accountability now and in the future. But prayer can ground us in God’s love and perspective, and guide us toward right action as well.
In times of uncertainty, we have a guide and a comforter. One way to reflect in prayer is to follow these steps.
1. Ask yourself what you, or those you care about, are thinking/feeling in response to this situation. Be really honest about how you are feeling; there are no inappropriate feelings with God. He knows them all and can handle them all.
2. Reflect on what might be going on at a deeper level. Why do you feel like this?
3. Recall passages of scripture that deal with similar themes, thoughts, feelings, or experiences, as well as wisdom from other sources.
4. Identify what God might be saying to you in these, and say to God whatever you want to in response.
We pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to you through scripture, your own heart, and people you trust.
3. How do we begin to process this with young people?
You will need to decide whether it is appropriate to raise this with young people, especially if they are so far unaware of the allegations. However a possible framework for healthy discussion might look like this:
“This is an ongoing investigation, and we don't know the outcome, so let's remember that in the way we talk about it.”
“In cases like these it takes a lot of courage for people to come forward and talk about their experiences, so let's pray for them.”
“You might feel all sorts of things about this situation, and they're all valid.”
“If the allegations are true, it doesn't undermine everything that happened at the festivals, programmes or church. God is good, and he is bigger than the weaknesses and failings of leaders. Throughout the Bible, we see the brokenness of leaders. That brokenness does not diminish God's ability to work in other people's lives. Any failures of an individual or an event do not negate what God was doing in spite of them. And God working through someone, doesn't mean God doesn't care what they do. Our God is just, truthful and compassionate. He defends the abused and vulnerable, and calls us to do the same.
“If you have had an experience of God through Soul Survivor, and this seemed real to you, you don't have to abandon it, whichever humans were involved in leading at the time.”
“You might not want to talk about it, but do carry on thinking, praying and talking about this, as much as you need to.”
4. No one at church has said anything about this yet. Should I bring it up?
There could be lots of reasons we are hesitant to acknowledge the investigation in our local contexts. Many of those with connections with Soul Survivor, or who we introduced to Mike Pilavachi’s ministry, will have graduated out of our youth groups and moved on from our churches. We might feel that to bring this up with young people or young adults could have an adverse effect on their faith. We may be worried that we’ll be accused of stirring up gossip, or even that we might receive safeguarding disclosures that will be difficult to process.
You will know your context, but we would suggest that it is better to say something than nothing. It may be the case that people haven’t brought it up because they haven’t heard about the investigation. But it’s also possible that no one has said anything because they don’t know if they should. This is a moment where you can demonstrate that it’s right to acknowledge these difficult experiences in the Church. If you are a church-based youth worker this might involve working with those in leadership to communicate to parents, young people, or other church members, that your church is aware of the investigation. You can then think together about how each group can feel supported in processing this information themselves.
5. How can we pray?
We pray because we believe God is at work in all of us by His Spirit. We pray in words, if we have them, but also in silence and with tears for those wounded and affected by these events. Prayer is a space to be honest before God. It doesn’t require us to be anything but ourselves, coming with different experiences and emotions. It is where we can share with God our own feelings but also where we can bring before God those involved.
- We pray first and foremost for those who have come forward with direct allegations. We acknowledge their courage and pray for justice, healing and the care and love of others in supporting them.
- We pray for others impacted by these allegations, who have relationships and associations with those involved personally or through the festivals. We recognise that the pain of confronting this news extends widely and will impact people in different ways.
- We pray for youth leaders whose own faith has been forged through their experience of Soul Survivor when they themselves were young people and the questions and emotions this situation may raise.
- We pray for youth leaders searching for the right words and wisdom in talking with young people about these allegations. For these next few weeks of youth group meetings, conversations and sharing together.
- We pray for young people, whose faith has been shaped by Soul Survivor festivals and celebrations – some now with questions about those experiences that run to the heart of their faith formation.
- We pray for all our churches, that we find deeper honesty and openness where there is any form of abuse or harm.
- We pray for Soul Survivor church and for those leading it through this process and beyond.
- We’re encouraged in Scripture to pray for everyone, and that includes those who are subject to investigation. We pray that Mike Pilavachi knows God’s grace and presence at this time - and that he will have the support and counsel he needs.
Our prayers are a conversation with God, so we also want to listen for God’s voice – for his love and compassion, but also for his challenge and call to the church to become more Christ-like in response to this and any allegations of abuse and harm. Lord, renew your church.
6. You still haven’t said anything about…
With the investigation still underway we have focused on these points right now. But we know there are likely to be many ways we need to support the youth ministry community going forward, as well as to reflect on what we need to learn ourselves as well. We’re committed to doing that, and welcome your thoughts about how best to do that.
SECTION 2: YOUTHSCAPE
7. We’re coming to Satellites in the summer, but I feel a bit hesitant about the idea of Christian festivals right now.
We are committed to Satellites being a safe and positive experience for all young people and their leaders. We have worked in consultation with Thirtyone:eight since the establishment of the event to ensure that it is as safe and reviewed and updated safeguarding policy in 2022. However, we accept that the best policies and processes only take us so far - they need to be implemented well and we are committed to doing so.
Satellites is an event that bears a lot of similarity to Soul Survivor. We gather young people for worship, teaching and ministry. We invite the Holy Spirit to move among us, and include elements of the charismatic tradition, among others. Since the foundation of the event, we have also sought to do things a bit differently as we seek to build on the legacy of the Soul Survivor events. This includes the way in which we host, teach and lead ministry through a diverse team, and the fact that we mainly seek to enable youth groups to pray for each other rather than focussing on a call to the front. We also draw strongly on the contemplative tradition, and invite young people to explore more ancient forms of spiritual practice.
We’d love to talk to anyone who feels uncertain about the Satellites event right now. Please do get in touch.
8. Why did Youthscape wait to make any statement about this?
We have been, and remain committed to supporting the youth ministry community in processing this incredibly difficult news. We have been deeply concerned by the stories of those who have come forward, and we again commend their bravery.
However since limited details were initially made available, we did not want to become drawn into speculation and so chose to delay making any comment. We believe it is not right to maintain a silence which communicates to all survivors of abuse that their voices are not taken seriously, but we are also aware of the shortcomings of social media which can tend toward a 'cancel culture' even in a vacuum of information.
Recent newspaper articles - and in particular a Daily Telegraph article published on 1st May – not only gave much more clarity to the nature of the allegations, but also brought this news into the mainstream. As an organisation dedicated to supporting youth workers and young people, we recognise our responsibility to help both as they process this news.
We recognise that, for those directly affected, and for some youth workers looking to us for support, four weeks has already felt too long. This longer article (we made a brief initial social media response on 3rd May), has taken some extra time and care to assemble. We are committed to reflecting on how we've responded, and doing better in the future where we need to.
9. Isn't Youthscape connected to Soul Survivor and Mike Pilavachi ?
Yes. We’ve been great friends with Soul Survivor for many years, and some of our staff are connected to the church and their leaders, including Mike Pilavachi. This is the nature of our connections at the current time, and over recent years.
- Mike Pilavachi invited us to launch Satellites as a successor to Soul Survivor (along with two other events), which was an event that played a key role in the transformation of thousands of lives over many years. We continue to believe that God has called us to launch this event, and remain entirely committed to its vision of helping young people place God at the centre of their lives.
- Soul Survivor made a significant financial gift to Satellites in December 2019, in order to help us to get the event off the ground. This was given without any specific stipulations about how the event should be run. We also received a grant in 2021 from the Christian Youth Challenge Trust, of which Mike Pilavachi was a trustee.
- Mike Pilavachi has spoken at various events including a Youthscape team retreat in 2019 and the National Youth Ministry Weekend in 2021. He was invited to speak at Satellites in both 2022 and 2023 but declined both invitations.
- Various members of the Soul Survivor team have spoken at Youthscape events, including Satellites. They have endorsed our work, activities, and books written by Youthscape staff.
- Youthscape’s Board of Trustees include Rev Canon Tim Lomax who works for the Diocese of St Albans and has an oversight role with Soul Survivor. He has stepped back from this role during this period of investigation to ensure Youthscape’s Board can act independently in offering support and advice to youth workers. Rev Andy Gardner was also a trustee until recently when he resigned to become a Trustee of Soul 61, the Soul Survivor gap year scheme, to provide input to the project once the allegations had emerged.
[EDITED - 10th May]
Since we published this article, we have realised that we overlooked a few additional links between our organisations - these are listed below:
- Robbie Thomson, who works as part of the Youthscape team delivering our events (including Satellites) also worked as Production Manager, then Event Manager at Soul Survivor (Ministries) from 2010-2017. He also served on the Soul Survivor Leadership Team from 2013-2017. Our Satellites Programme Manager was formerly employed as Soul Survivor Watford's Assistant Youth Pastor between 2017 and 2019, and is married to Soul Survivor Watford's former youth pastor (from 2015 to 2019). Other former members of Youthscape staff have also either worked at Soul Survivor, or spent time as part of their gap year scheme.
- Various staff and Board members of Youthscape have spoken at Soul Survivor summer festivals including Matt Summerfield, Rachel Gardner, Chris Curtis and Martin Saunders. Youthscape also organised groups of young people from our base in Luton to attend Soul Survivor over several years before the festivals ended in 2019.
Youthscape has made a commitment to our staff to ensure there is opportunity to talk about the impact of these allegations on our own faith and practice. We’ve done that at team meetings and our staff retreat and have an internal reflective session scheduled for later in May.
[END OF EDIT]
The Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team and the St Albans Diocesan Safeguarding Team released a joint statement which can be read here, inviting anyone with safeguarding concerns related to the investigation to contact them. The statement also says that “If you or anyone you are in contact with are affected by this news and want to talk to someone independently, please call the Safe Spaces helpline on 0300 303 1056.”
This blog from Thirty-one:eight may also be helpful: https://thirtyoneeight.org/blo...